Many of Crete’s most popular tourist attractions are in the south, on the edge of the Aegean. Between Rethymno and Heraklion, Agia Galini’s beach is particularly well-liked. Several kilometres to the west, the village of Plakias, with its huge beach, hotels, cafes and tavernas, gets top ratings for the ideal family holiday in Greece.
What to do in Agia Galini
Agia Galini: A famous beach, in the sheltered embrace of the Libyan Sea
Once upon a time, this was Soulia, the port of the ancient city of Sivrytos in the foothills of Mt Psiloritis, before Saracens destroyed it in 640 AD. The modern village rises up a hill, affording panoramic views of the Libyan Sea.
A bit further east lies Agia Galini’s gorgeous beach, popular with foreign tourists since 1960. The beach boasts a Blue Flag, awarded to especially clean and well-organised beaches. Cafes, restaurants and hotels cluster round it and boats are available to take you fishing or to explore the nearby sea-caves. Inland, the ancient sites of Phaistos, Agia Triada and Gortyna are star attractions.
Plakias: A fishing village at the apex of a crescent
This small, sleepy fishing village in southern Crete has morphed over the years into a favourite holiday destination for thousands of families. Nowadays, there are several good hotels and tavernas as well as hip cafes and bars for your evening entertainment. The crescent-shaped sandy beach is among Crete’s longest. Immensely popular, Plakias beach offers a mix of organised and undeveloped sections, thus catering to everyone’s preferences, while a scuba diving centre adds even more options.
Southern beaches, unlimited choice
What’s your favourite kind of beach? Do you like beach bars, umbrellas and loungers with lots of gorgeous young people, or do you prefer out-of-the-way spots where the next group of bathers can barely be seen? The beaches south of Rethymno, one of the biggest cities in Crete, cater to every taste. Some of the closest to Agia Galini are Agios Pavlos, Agios Georgios, Triopetra and Ligkres, while Souda, Damnoni and Ammouthi are nearer Plakias.
Significant sights: The historic Preveli monastery
One of Crete’s most beautiful historic monasteries, Preveli, built in the 16th or 17th century, is a short drive from Plakias. A real architectural jewel and an oasis of serenity, this significant sight is an ideal spot to view the sea and the surrounding rugged mountains. You’ll see rare icons and a magnificent iconostasis in the main church or katholikon, built in 1836, while you’ll find exquisite and valuable portable icons in the monastery’s museum. The nearby abandoned monastery of Kato (Lower) Preveli, allows you to explore its marvellous katholikon and belfry with an engraving from 1594.
The palm forest: Preveli beach and the lagoon
In the vicinity is another of Crete’s greatest attractions. The Preveli lagoon and the famous palm forest begin where the Megas River and its Kourtaliotiko Gorge meet the sea, and promise to give your holidays in Crete an exotic flair. Despite the fire of 2010, the trees have bounced back in a display of nature’s resilience. In the summer, the beach next to the lagoon’s South Sea landscape draws colourful crowds of visitors from around the world. You can walk there but there are also boats from Plakias.
When you travel to Crete, the Kotsyfos Gorge is one of those hidden secrets you must discover. If you don’t feel like hiking the gorge, you can admire it from the road. It extends from Kanevos village to Plakias. If you do hike it, you’ll be stunned by the vertical rocks and you can take a breather at the chapel built into the rockface.
Kourtaliotiko Gorge: A lush crack in the earth
This steep gorge with its caves is truly impressive. It begins at Koxari village and ends up at the Preveli lagoon next to the sea. Soon after you start walking, you’ll arrive at the chapel of the Blessed Nikolaos Kourtaliotis in a verdant location with a spring. The hermit is said to have lived in the gorge in the mid-17th century and legend has it that the spring gushed forth miraculously when he put his hands on the spot.
Agios Pavlos Beach
Imposing sand dunes add to the beauty of this beach, which is made all the more magical by the deep blue water that spreads out before you. It’s worth spending the whole day here, in one of the most idyllic landscapes in Crete, and watch the sun set behind the golden dunes.