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Chania, Crete – Discover Greece Blogtrotters Trip: Five Senses, One Soul @DiscoverGRcom #BlogtrottersGR

By Kach Umandap December 3rd, 2016 Posted in Destination, Europe Travel Blog, Travel Blog No comments

Kach and I were invited on a press trip to Chania on the Island of Crete in Greece, where neither of us had set foot before. However, Kach had to go to Atlanta for a conference, so I decided to invite Lubos, our wedding videographer. After all, a professional video would be a great addition to the trip with Discover Greece!

Thanks to AEGEAN air, our flight to Greece was seamless and comfortable. AEGEAN air is Greece’s largest airline that offers short and medium haul services. They are proactive in promoting Greek tourism and is named the Best Regional Airline in Europe at the Skytrax World Airline Awards. Even the long wait we had in Athens was relaxing with access to the Business Class lounge!

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For most of us, we know Greece as that ‘postcard perfect’ destination where all travellers dream to go to at least once in their life. But there’s quite a lot more to it. Greece is actually at the intersection of Europe, Asia and Africa. While it is popular for its stunning beaches and shorelines, it is important to note that Greece is 80% mountainous and semi – mountainous, so there’s much more to see in this country than just beaches and clear blue water.

Two Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

For this particular trip, we stayed in Crete, the largest island of Greece where one of the earliest civilisations, the Minoana, once lived. We were taken to the beautiful city of Chania, which boasts a unique charm to its visitors. It is also known to be the multicultural place in Crete as the Romans, Byzantines, Muslims, Venetians, Ottomans and a whole lot more came here and left their own piece of culture behind.

I was excited to start our journey because the trip was designed to stimulate and use our senses to showcase the best of Chania and the local area. With our well-thought of an itinerary, our senses of touch, sight, smell, taste and hearing would definitely all be stirred up!

Monkey DividersDay 1 – Sense of Smell, Taste and Touch

Morning at the Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete

We arrived quite late the night before, and we were exhausted from the travel. However, the beauty of the gardens immediately refreshed our senses. Adding to that was an amazing lunch made only with local foods and ingredients from the garden. In here we found medicinal herbal tea, Dittani (king of Crete herbs), sage, marjoram and Thyme honey, where the bees in the gardens pollinate the plants.

Two Monkeys Travel - Live in CreteTwo Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

The fire in 2003

13 years ago, a fire totally burned 100k olive trees. After the fire and with the progress of modern life, many people lost their relationship with the local nature. That’s when some of them thought about how they could live closer to nature, just like the old days. That was the birth of the garden wherein its main objective is to teach people about nature, food, plants and herbs. It opened to the public in 2010 and is unique in Europe for the garden’s medical edible plants.

We explored the three different microclimates where they grow tropical, Mediterranean and even alpine fruits, herbs and vegetables, all in one small piece of land! Let me give you an idea on what fruits and plants grow in different microclimates.

  • In valleys where it is considered a tropical zone (citrus, avocado, mango)
  • In slightly higher areas where it is considered a sub – tropical zone (olives)
  • In higher areas where there is an alpine climate (grasses and bushes)

The Creta Diet

“In Crete, they eat even when the animals stop!”

The Creta diet is known to be one of the best in the entire world and is believed to give you a longer and healthier life. They say that you can live more than 100 years old if you integrate this diet to your lifestyle. They see healthy diet as a philosophy. They eat the leaves, the roots, flowers – EVERYTHING!

Local and seasonal products are very important. There is plenty of wild green vegetation and olive oils, which I would say are the ‘staple’ foods of Cretans. In fact, one person can consume more than 50 litres of olive oil per year in Crete. Meat is a part of the diet and these days people eat a lot more of it, but traditionally it would rarely be eaten.

Oh, and let’s not forget Raki. They say that drinking Raki can cure everything.

Two Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

The culinary influences

There are a lot of culinary influences to embrace here. They have the Turkish, Arabic, Ottoman and local Cretan cuisines.

There is even a dish with a name, but ‘no recipe’. They call it Sibeterio / Vriam. The reason for this is that they use only whatever ingredients are available at the time. Hence, it has no standard recipe.

Afternoon Break at the Minoa Palace Resort & Spa

After such an amazing experience at the Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete, we went back to the hotel to relax and freshen up.

Two Monkeys Travel - Live in CreteTwo Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

Minoa Palace Resort & Spa is a luxury 5 – star beachside hotel located in a cosmopolitan area of Platanias, Chania, Crete, Greece. It is only 30 minutes away from the Chania International Airport.

If you want a relaxing place to stay with amazing views all over, then this is a highly-recommended property. You can see the countryside, White Mountains and of course, the golden beach of Platanias.

You can choose rooms and suites from their Main Building & Bungalows and from the Imperial Beach Wing. The latter is connected with the main building with an aerial bridge. One may enjoy rooms with sea view and rooms with private pool!  And in just two minutes, you can quickly reach the beach front.

There is so much to do in Minoa Palace Resort & Spa, and it is perfect even for travellers with kids. Here are some of its facilities.

-Gardens with local flora
-Free parasols and umbrellas at the pools and the beach
-Four outdoor swimming pools (2000 sqm)
-Two open air Jacuzzi
-Two children’s swimming pools
-Vip lounge
-Beach with fine sand and pebble
-Mini Club for children (4-12 years old) from 09:00-17:30 daily
-Children’s outdoor playground
-Fully equipped gym (free of charge for our guests over 16 years old)
-Jewelry shop
-Mini market with foreign press, tobacco and small gifts
-Little Chapel
-Fully equipped Conference Center
-Tennis & Mini Football court with floodlit
-Spa with large variety of treatments
-Wi – fi

Evening at Verekinthos Arts & Crafts Village

We went to Verekinthos Arts & Crafts Village where we witnessed local traditional crafts and skills up close. We even had our own pottery class!

Two Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

The pottery workshop is great not just for adults, but also for kids. So if you are tagging your children along, don’t miss this fun and educational activity. There are other artists to see here as well, and you can learn different crafts such as painting, drawing, shoe making among many others. It is not your usual touristy artisan market, but a place where you can see real artists making, selling and teaching.

Dinner at Salis Restaurant

We had 12 wines paired with at least 12 courses of amazing Cretan cuisine and fresh seafood. I say – it was one of the best ways to end the night.

Two Monkeys Travel - Chania - Live in CreteTwo Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

The Story of Salis

Salis is actually the name of a native of Sudan, and descendant of African workers since the Egyptian occupation in Crete. He was a very friendly and popular person during the 60s and 70s and worked as a boatman, helping passengers with their baggage. Salis was always wearing this big, warm smile and would always lend a helping hand to the less fortunate. He was indeed, generous and a local ‘Robin Hood’ without the stealing part, of course. Salis died in a storm when fishing one day and his story became a popular local legend. Now, the restaurant named after him is equally popular among locals and tourists.

Salis Restaurant located in the Chania’s Harbor offers a modern culinary experience, but will still take you back to the traditional Cretan cuisine. Apart from the great food, the amazing and calming view of the sea makes your dining experience even more enjoyable.

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Day 2 – Sense of Sight, Taste and Touch

Morning at the Balos Beach

Stunning is an understatement to describe Balos Beach. It is considered one of the best beaches in Greece. The view is like that of a paradise, and its raw beauty has something about it that I haven’t see anywhere else. You can swim in its clear blue waters and then walk along the sand in between the two halves of the bay. I cannot emphasise enough just how impossibly blue it is! And of course, you can go sunbathing if you want to.

Two Monkeys Travel - Chania - Live in CreteTwo Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

I’ve seen a number of great sands and waters throughout my journey, but I will never forget Balos Beach. 

It is recommended that you visit Balos Beach during winter because you can enjoy the scenery without the crowd. Perhaps, visit early in the morning, or you will have a hard time looking for space to fully enjoy what the beach has to offer.

How to get there by car?

  • From Chania, pass by Kissamos.
  • Follow the road to the port of Kissamos.
  • After a 5 – minute drive or 4.7 kilometres, turn right going to the village of Kaliviani.
  • Pass by Kaliviani until you see Balos Beach Hotel.
  • From there, an 8 – km.  dirt road will lead you to a parking lot over Balos Beach.
  • Go down and follow the path to Balos. This would usually take 20 to 30 minutes. The same path is used when going back to the top.

Afternoon at Café Rotonta – Farm to table experience

We then drove to Kalathenes Village for a light lunch at Café Rotonta. In the garden of the restaurant, we picked vegetables for our meal and helped in the preparation of it as well. We had traditional bread, tomatoes and local cheeses.

Two Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

The farm to table experience was, even more, fun with the restaurant’s lovely view of the mountain. We sat down and ate at the terrace with glasses of wine and the sun shining on us.

Dinner at Apostolis Seafood Restaurant

Our dinner was at Apostolis Seafood Restaurant where you can enjoy lots of fresh seafood. It’s located next to the harbour and away from the main promenade for a very relaxing experience. The service from its staff is excellent as well. If you want an intimate dinner, or just want to have a peaceful one, then Apostolis Seafood Restaurant is highly recommended.

Two Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

Monkey DividersDay 3 – Sense of Hearing – A boat trip, local music and of course, more seafood!

Morning at Sfakia

We left the hotel early and made the hour long drive to Sfakia until we arrived at a local cafe at the top of the cliff, overlooking Svakia Harbour. Here we relaxed with traditional cheese pie covered in honey and a shot of Raki, ready for our boat trip! Combined with the amazing view overlooking the sea it was an amazing way to start our day.

Two Monkeys Travel - Chania - Live in CreteTwo Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

Sea taxi to Loutro

We went to a small fishing village called Loutro via a sea taxi and the off to another small beach where it was practically empty. We took advantage of it and had a drink and swam.

Two Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

After our quick adventure, we went back to Sfakia by boat to have lunch right next to the sea. The amount of lobsters was quite overwhelming along with all the other fresh squid, prawns and other local dishes. I think that this has to be the biggest display of local cuisine we saw anywhere! We were also given a show of traditional Sfakian music by Cretan musicians, which was totally unique compared to anything I had heard before, an almost haunting element to it.

Two Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

Sfakia, a municipality of only 2,500, is a great base to go hiking as it is one of more mountainous areas in this part of the island of Crete. Its local inhabitants are known to be generous and hospitable, yet also fierce and indomitable. Let’s just say they have a long history of ‘taking care of people’ who try to oppress them!  Of course, these days, the main trade here is tourism, so unless you’re an ancient Venetian or an Ottoman Turk soldier, have no fear!

Evening Walking tour of Chania

Whenever you plan to visit Chania, I would encourage you to take a walking tour of Chania’s old town. There are friendly local tour guides to help you. Here are some of the spots you shouldn’t miss.

Two Monkeys Travel - Chania - Live in CreteTwo Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

  • Venetian Fortifications – The threat from the Ottoman Empire centuries ago forced Venetians to build huge and intimidating fortifications around the towns of Heraklion, Rethymnon and Chania.
  • The Venetian Harbour – Enjoy the great views of the sea and the lighthouse.
  • The Arsenals – Walk by the Venetian shipyards also known as the arsenals.
  • The Greek Orthodox Cathedral – This is located in Halidon street before the old Venetian harbour. The church has three aisles dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Saint Nicholas, and to the Three Hierarchs.
  • The old Jewish and Turkish quarters – To date, the alleys of the old Jewish quarter and Kondilaki street are considered to be one of the busiest streets of the old town of Chania.

Dinner at Santa Marina Beach Hotel

We had our last dinner at Santa Marina Beach Hotel, a luxury 5-star hotel with a seaside view dining area. It was a real fine dining which was a big change to the more rustic, local meals we had been eating for the past days. This experience shows how Chania can cater well to all kinds of travellers and how well the Cretan cuisine and local ingredients can adapt well to all styles of cooking.

This amazing property has bagged numerous awards which proved the high level of standards and services they provide to the guests. At Santa Marina Beach, the rooms have excellent views! Their units are perfectly designed with pastel colours and soothing lighting.

Two Monkeys Travel - Chania - Live in CreteTwo Monkeys Travel – Chania Crete – Five Senses, One Soul

The next day, we woke up very early to catch our flights back to Athens. From there, we went straight to  London.

Our trip by Discover Greece indeed stimulated my five senses! With my love for sailing now, I am starting to think that we could end up living here. Crete has so much to offer; they have amazing mountains, raw beaches, seafood, fresh vegetables, interesting architecture and most especially, hospitable locals. And based on our experience, Crete can cater to any traveller, be it someone who’s working on a tight budget, or someone who’s willing to splurge and likes a little luxury!

Note: We were invited by Discover Greece as press in the ‘Blogtrotters Trip Chania: Five Senses, One Soul’ adventure, however, all opinions are my own.

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Written by Kach Umandap

Founder of Two Monkeys Travel Group. Since 2013, Kach has visited all the 7 continents (including Antarctica) and 151 countries using her Philippines Passport. In 2016, she bought a sailboat and went on sailing adventures with her two cats - Captain Ahab & Little Zissou in the Caribbean for 2 years. She now lives in Herceg Novi, Montenegro where she's enjoying her expat life and living on a gorgeous Stonehouse. She writes about her experiences traveling as a Filipina traveler with a PHL Passport. Also tips on backpacking trips, luxury hotel experiences, product reviews, sailing & adventure travel.