Western Crete in five days allows time to visit Chania and Rethymnon, enjoy the beaches, hike the Samaria Gorge and see the monasteries at Arkadi and Preveli.
Even five days in this large area will be rushed, but it does allow time to explore Chania and Rethymnon, see some of the north and south coast beaches, hike the Samaria Gorge, and visit the historically important monasteries at Arkadi and Preveli.
Visit Arkadi Monastery then take the pleasant country road (signposted at the end of the car park) to the ancient site of Eleftherna, which should only take 10-15 minutes. After looking round there, continue on for another 15 minutes to the potters’ village of Margarites, where there are places to have lunch. We like the Taverna Giannousakis at the upper end of the village for its excellent home-cooked food.
Drive northeast from Margarites to visit the Melidoni Cave, which is about a 20-minute drive away. Then continue on to the north coast, to Rethymnon. You have a choice of routes.
Spend the night in Rethymnon, where you can dine by the harbour. We like the Fanari, which is further away from the main harbour where people try to talk you into their restaurants. We like the Fanari’s more laid-back approach, and the food’s good too.
Spend the morning exploring Rethymnon, perhaps taking in the museums and art galleries, and walking out to the Venetian fortress, the Fortezza. For a special lunch before you leave, book a table at Avli, one of the best restaurants on Crete.
Wander round the narrow streets of the old town, see the loggia, stroll around the harbour, and visit the public gardens.
As a change from the harbour, ask for directions to Kyria Maria, in a narrow side-street behind the Rimondi Fountain. Lamb kleftiko is a house specialty and is totally mouth-watering.
Time to leave Rethymnon and drive south across the island to the Preveli Monastery. It’s less than an hour’s drive, with the last stretch through dramatic gorge scenery. After touring the monastery (dress respectfully), head west to Plakias (20 minutes) and then along the narrow and winding coastal road to the Venetian fortress at Frangokástello, which is about another 40-50 minutes. Another 20 minutes will have you in Chora Sfakion, whose lovely little harbour makes the perfect lunch stop. We like the Livikon, or to give it its full grand name, Kitchen Stories from Samaria to Livikon.
Drive north out of Chora Sfakion past the Imbros Gorge, the entrance to which is about a 25-minute drive from the town. You could stop and walk in the gorge for a while, though you’ve an hour’s drive back to the north coast for a visit to the Allied War Cemetery at Souda. If you really wanted to walk in the gorge, you could probably skip the cemetery and drive straight to Chania for the night, which is also about an hour.
We recommend spending the next three nights in Chania and exploring from there. Enjoy your first dinner on the Venetian harbour, where we recommend the Amphora.
Spend the morning seeing some of Chania’s attractions. You should be able to fit in the market, the Archaeological Museum, and the excellent little Folklore Museum. Have lunch at Tamam, another wonderful Chania restaurant.
Wander through a different part of Chania, the Turkish quarter, to have dinner at the fabulous Well of the Turk.
Work off some of that food by devoting the day to the Samaria Gorge. You’ll need to book an excursion, as it’s a one-way hike from the mountains to the sea, so you need planned transport. It's one reason we recommend basing yourselves in Chania for three days, as this is the best place to book a Samaria Gorge hike with organised transport. It will be a very early start but you’ll be back in Chania for dinner.
For a final dinner, try the Semiramis where there’s often live music and always a terrific atmosphere. And there you have it – you’ve seen the best of western Crete in five days!