Non-Touristy Greece: Off the Cretan Path

I went to Greece. And I didn’t go to Santorini. OR Mykonos.

GASP!

Instead, I went to the far, far removed island of Crete and spent my time exploring the teeny tiny 200 person fishing villages and tucked away mountain towns.

Call me crazy!

Why, you ask?

Ever since I was a little nugget, I’ve dreamed of going to Greece. I remember like it was yesterday; 12-year-old mini Casiedilla, devouring spanakopita and baklava at my local Greek diner, while gazing starry-eyed at the huge picture of Santorini plastered across the wall. Before I even understood the concept of a “travel bucket list”, Greece was my numero 1.

santorini
Edited, original via flickr @Maggie Menge

Fast fast forward 12 years; summer 2016. This past August, I finally had the opportunity to get there. OPA! However, after fantasizing about  that ever-so-famous picture of Santorini, I realized that that’s actually not the Greece I longed for. Why? It’s a DLD.

Disney Land Destination (DLD): [diz-nee-land des-tin-ay-shun]

NOUN. A ridiculously gorgeous travel destination that you’ve probably seen photos of in guide books, calendars and in my case, Greek diners. They are always perfectly maintained, overrun by tourists and every local speaks English.  (-AWC original vocabulary)

Now, I’ve ridden gondolas in Venice‘s tiny water alleys. I’ve visited Morocco’s oh-so “bluetiful”  ChefchaouenI’ve eaten Belgium chocolate in the  fairytale streets of Bruges.

After my fair share of picture-perfect DLD’s, I wanted the real deal for my trip to Greece. I wanted fat old Greek men drinking ouzo and yelling “OPA!” in a grungy tavern. I wanted to see sun burnt fisherman hauling a boat load of fresh fish from the Aegean Sea at 6 am. I wanted to be forced to try and use my non-existent Greek to get around.

YASSAS! Here’s where I went.

Hora Sfakion

A 200 person fishing village in the southern tip of Crete.

non-touristy greece

LOST & FOUND: A paradise!! Come and claim it! This tiny lil’ town is truly a scene out of a Greek fairytale. I stayed here for a few nights, using the little town as my base. Its one strip of ancient white houses and taverns align the electric blue, crystal clear Libyan Sea. Here, there is no such thing as a “non-ocean view”. It’s got 6 taverns, a bakery, a supermarket, a beach and extremely friendly Greeks. What more could ya’ need?!

Must-try: The locally adored “Sfakian Pie”. A crepe-like pancake stuffed with local cheese and topped with honey. Yes puh-lease!

non-touristy greece

Loutro

A 20-min boat’s ride from Hora Sfakion, this picturesque 50-house village is only accessible by boat. That’s right…there are no roads!

non-touristy greece

This mini village only has about 50 houses, most of which have been converted into hotels. Surprisingly, I discovered it’s far more touristic than our dearly beloved Hora Sfakion. Nevertheless, it was probably one of the most charming, breathtakingly beautiful places I’ve been to in MY LIFE. Hop off the boat and sneak away to the right of the village, where you’ll find secluded cliffs that hang over the aqua blue Libyan Sea, looking back at quaint lil’ Loutro. My suggestion? Post up here for a couple of hours, then head to….

Your must-try! MADARES Taverna. This fish taverna is the only restaurant in town that has its very own fisherman, whom wakes up at the crack O’ dawn to catch YOUR fish. And lemme tell ya’: these guys know how to grill up a mean fishy.

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Topòlia

A mountain village tucked away in the interior of the island, whose cliff-hanging taverns are worth the detour. And its baklava.

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I was passing through the village on my way back from Elafonisi and my “holy-crap-so-cute village radar” went off ; I couldn’t resist getting out of the car to explore! It’s made up of one tiny little street and a handful of taverns that look like they’re going to go tumbling off the cliff if you jump too hard. My advice? DON’T JUMP! Or look down 😉

Must try: You guessed it. The baklava at Spiliaraki. It’s TO DIE FOR. Yes. I’d jump off the cliff for it.

And finally, the more known (must-see!) spots.

Chania (pronounced Hania)

The second biggest city in Crete after Heraklion, but by far the more charming one!

non-touristy greece

Chania’s old town is jam packed with tiny winding streets, artsy Greek taverns tucked away in leafy nooks and live Cretan music bursting from every corner. Not to mention, its picturesque port and lighthouse whose reflection sparkle off the bright blue water! As Crete’s second biggest city, tourists are unavoidable. However, interestingly enough, I found most of the tourists to be Greek!

Must-try: Koutourouki , an adorable, affordable Cretan restaurant with awesome hippie-vibes. Get the grilled feta cheese and smoked pork apaki (a typical Cretan dish). But really, that grilled feta….IT’S…SO…GOOOD.

Balos Lagoon

The most beautiful piece of nature I think I’ve ever seen.

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Warning: THE HIKE TO GET THERE IS INTENSE. But I’d say it’s worth it…

Elafonisi

Magical pink sand, electric blue crystal water.

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Must I say more?

My dream-land of Greece couldn’t have exceeded my little girl, starry eyed expectations more. Do I regret not seeing the real-life version of that famous picture of Santorini I grew up admiring? Well, look at me! Whattya think?

non-touristy greece

Now, I’m just hungry for MORE! Greece, the AWC will be BACK! Until then, look out for my next post on Cretan foodie fun facts . If you go to Greece, and especially Crete, you must know these 😉

OPA! Have you explored non-touristy Greece? Find any bluetiful hidden gems? Click the button below to book this same exact trip!

4 thoughts on “Non-Touristy Greece: Off the Cretan Path

  1. Hello!
    What an inspiring post! I am planning to go to Crete this summer. I have been there before but only on a package tour. Loved it though and now I would like to see more sides of the island. I thought I would stay for two weeks.(or three?) What would be the best option: To have a few bases and make day trips or to stay at many places and have walking distance? I am travelling without car I might add.
    Greetings
    Anna

    1. Hi Anna! How exciting that you’re going back! It will be a complete different experience without a tour :) I’d recommend staying at few base cities, and taking day trips from there. It gets very tiring constantly moving hotels! If you can rent a car for a day, that would be ideal- that’s what I did. I’d recommend staying in Chania as it’s really charming and very well connected by buses to important sights. And Chora Sfakion, because it’s beautiful :)

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