Where to begin. First of all, the east side of the island just so happens to have the best beaches. Think white, soft sands, water so clear you’re convinced you’re about to break both legs jumping from a pier into 7-metre deep water, and laid back beach bars not intent on taking you to the cleaners for every pint of beer you consume.
The best beaches, according to us, are as follows:
If you’re staying in Rethimno – you’re in luck, there’s a beach probably 500m from your door. This sandy stretch of beach has a sizeable sand bar that heads out well into the ocean – read: it’s a slower entry so easier to get your bits wet. The water here seems a bit warmer than elsewhere on the island too, so it’s a pleasant place to dodge the waves and relax for a couple hours. There has been known to be particularly strong swells here though, due in no small part to the wind, so just take note of whether the flags are red (no go), orange (if you’re careful, no small kids) or green (go for it mate).
Be warned though, the beach comes complete with particularly surly lifeguard: so don’t get on the wrong side of him. Quite literally.
This pebbled enclave on the south side of the island is one of a string of cosy little coves, more or less sheltered from the Cretan gusts. The water is warm and extremely clear, and it’s less commercial then many others.
The best part of this beach though, is the little shack serving up food just behind it. Nestled in a little wooded area, this trailer serves up the best gyros we’ve ever had, stuffed full of well-seasoned meat, mountain thyme and homemade tzatziki. Take a seat in their hammock and make your way through at least five of them.
The stuff Mediterranean dreams are made of. Elafonisi is arguably Crete’s most famous beach, and for good reason. With a swathe of white, sandy beach, framed by electric-blue water jutting out into the ocean where it culminates in a peninsula: there is just no way to justify this scene through a lens. Though the cerulean sea may look as inviting as bath water, it’s not as balmy as some of the seas in the Mediterannean, but on a hot day there’s nothing better than jumping in for a refreshing dip.
Tip: Leave your shade umbrellas at home, unless you plan to hold them with one hand and read with the other (which we did). The wind here is a howler, and parts act like a wind tunnel – meaning you might want to be careful you don’t Mary Poppins it outta there, clutching on for dear life.
Menies Beach (aka secret beach aka attempt in a non-4wd rental car at your own peril):
For most people, if they’ve hired a rental car – gravel roads are not high on the priority list. For us, a gravel road feat. jutting rocks, feat. unstable cliffs feat. boulders ready to undo the bottom of your car, were all just a bit of a challenge. A really dumb challenge.
If you have a 4WD (or are particularly foolish, like us), take the main road up the peninsula past Kolymbari and just drive all the way to the end. You’ve got a solid 12km ish of tarmac before you hit gravel, and by gravel we mean barely a goat track. Don’t underestimate it: this road is gnarly. But so long as you take it slow (especially those jagged rocks sticking out from the ground at haphazard angles ready to tear your tyre in half), you’ll emerge at Menies after an hour or so. If you were expecting Elafonisi, you’ll be disappointed, however.
This is Cretan rugged beauty at its best; a pebbly beach flanked by jagged cliffs, overlooking calm, turquoise water. The cliffs make for excellent dive boards too, the remains of German trenches from WW2, and there’s even ancient ruins just strewn across the countryside (it once was a temple for a woman who was chased of a cliff – so a pretty grim place of worship in all). It’s also well sheltered from the fearsome Cretan winds.
*** Also, the fitspo model vs. everyday women ratio is at the best proportion in Crete than we’ve experienced anywhere. We love the fact here that size 22s wear a bikini, right alongside the size 8s. People don’t care what you look like – and we’ve never been so comfortable letting our muffin tops and cellulite hang out for all to see.