A guide to chilling on Rethymno’s amazing south coast
The southern coast of Rethymno province offers one of the most unspoiled regions of Crete – think pristine beaches, hidden coves and iridescent blue waters. This is coastal Crete at its best, away from the booming beach bars and packed ranks of sunbeds.
Yes, this truly awesome coast has many devotees during the summer, but its delights can be savoured at any time of year, and out of season is the perfect time for your Rethymno road movie.
Because you do need a car. It’s fair to say that the drive to the south coast (Rethymno to Plakias takes about 45 minutes) is a delight in itself, with the road winding ribbon-like through stunning landscapes, towering round-shouldered mountains and jaw-dropping gorges.
You could easily spend a few days exploring the coast from Rodakino in the west to the busy town of Agia Galini in the east,but for a day trip from Rethymno, one section of this sublime shore – from Damnoni (near Plakias) to the tiny hamlet of Agios Pavlos is your best bet.
Damnoni, Amoudari and Schinaria
A stone’s throw from Plakias, these beaches are all gems and some of the most laid-back in Crete – the perfect balance of ‘creature comforts’ and tranquility. Damnoni is the largest and most developed, but that only means ringed by a handful of tavernas. Here you’ll also find options for water sports (windsailing, yachts, canoes and scuba diving).
With the historic Preveli monastery perched above, Preveli beach and its rare palm tree grove makes it one of Crete’s most unique and exotic sandy strips. The palm-lined river banks have great freshwater pools for a non-salty dip. The beach has a couple of snack bars, umbrellas and sun beds.
Head east from Spili and a right turn will eventually get you over the mountain to Agia Foteini. Here at the site of what was the ancient port of Kissandros, is the start of a string of isolated beaches cradled by sand dunes. You can walk to the next, Ligres, or take an adventure along the tiny winding roads that connect the villages here.
One of Crete’s most delightful and pristine beaches, Ligres is a long sweep of sand with good swimming. The one family-run taverna on this strip -Villa Maria – has a stunning beachfront location and great just-caught fish. Drivers heading direct to Ligres should get off the main highway at Akoumia.
Named after the three giant rocks which jut out from the headland, Triopetra is two beaches, the smaller to the east of the rocks, and the larger (better for swimming) to the west. A handful of chilled-out tavernas are in the middle, one of the best being Apanemia, which means ‘without wind’. The south coast often gets a lot of wind in the summer!
The next stop west is this miniscule village, not more than a couple of simple hotels and tavernas around a picturesque sandy beach and dwarfed but rugged cliffs. Agios Pavlos claims to be the place Icarus and Daedalus took their doomed flight according to ancient mythology. Despite its popularity in July and August, head to the hidden beaches behind the headland, down a steep sand dune, to find the most tranquility. In recent years Agios Pavlos has become a popular destination for yoga enthusiasts.