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Tour of Western Crete


Having had a very successful tour of Corsica a few years ago, I decided to take another island trip. Crete has even less of a cycling culture but seemed to have the same ingredients of mountains, sea and, of course, good weather.  To avoid the worst of the heat, I travelled in the first week of June. It was a fantastic trip; one of the best of the sixteen I have done.

I flew directly to Chania, arriving at the hotel after 10 in the evening. I stayed at the Hotel Ontas, a small hotel converted from a traditional house. The hotel agreed to keep my bike box while I toured.  Whilst everywhere in Chania seems busy, the area the hotel was in was less overwhelmed by tourism than the harbour further West.  Despite the time, it was easy enough to get a meal nearby. I ate at the Chrisostomos restaurant around the corner, which had a good atmosphere. The lamb was fine but I would probably choose somewhere different, if I had my time again.

DAY 1 – Chania to Hora Sfakion -  55 miles, 6500 feet


















Having reassembled my bike, I set off mid morning. The first couple of miles had the usual traffic but  within five miles had thinned to be virtually non existent. Riding out of Chania directly south, the White Mountains are in front of you. Even in June they still had patches of snow on them. The roads were all surfaced but rough in places, especially when I was in the Fres District. The descent was spectacular, with great views of the Northern coast but required a lot of caution. In this area, I barely saw a car.

I stopped in a small town called Vyresses, which was at the base of the major climb of the day. It was pretty much the only place with restaurants and shops I had seen along the way. I ate at the Progoulis restaurant, which has shady tables alongside a river.

I was a little concerned that the road I would be climbing would be busy but I needn't have worried. It was wide and well surfaced but had very little traffic. Although long, the ride was not hard, climbing steadily. The weather was not too hot.
























The best part of the day, however, was the long, fast descent to Hora Sfakion. You can see the coast for miles, with the road zigzagging towards it.















I stayed in the Hotel Livikon, which is a beautiful hotel perched at the edge of the water. That evening I ate at the Three Brothers restaurant overlooking a beach, which was very friendly. Although it had nothing particular to see, I would strongly recommend Hora Sfakion as a stop.

DAY 2 – Hora Stanion to Agia Galini

I had to retrace my route for a few miles before turning right towards Frangokastello.  For the next thirty miles I followed the Southern coast on quiet roads, with wonderful views.  I didn't take on a fearsome climb, which rises above Frangokastello but which those who are without panniers, or simply fitter, might try. Instead I headed down to the coast, passing by the ruined castle. I didn't find the place particularly appealing as a place to stay.  The road climbed again until I was about a thousand feet above the sea.




I eventually stopped for lunch in Mirthios, eating at a lovely restaurant with fantastic views of the coast. The meatballs were some of the best food of the trip and only seven euros.

After lunch, I headed further inland, climbing through my first gorge.






















 I eventually joined a main road, which was a little busier. The descent to Agia Galini was not quite as good as the previous days but fun nevertheless.

In Agia Galini, I stayed at the Preveli apartments, just above the town but only a ten minute walk. The town itself is full of tourists and has a car park right in front of the harbour, which takes away some of the views. Nevertheless, it had plenty of good bars and restaurants and was a decent place to stay. I ate at the Restaurant Avli, in a pretty courtyard and had the rabbit.

DAY 3 – Agia Galini to Rethymnon

Both of the first two days had great stretches of riding but days three and four were the best of the trip. The route on day three took me through the foothills of the eastern mountains. The road was well surfaced with barely a car on it, taking me through small villages where they looked very surprised to see a cyclist.

Turning through the Amari Valley, the road is steep and rough at points. I stopped for lunch in Gerakari at the hotel Alexander, which is a huge and incongruous place but was the only place serving food in the village. The moussaka was very good. After lunch I climbed a very poorly maintained road which took me to the Amari dam. I had become very thirsty and drank a lot of cold water when I refilled my bottles at the bottom. My heart rate went from 80 to 120. This has happened to me three times before, so I wasn't as  alarmed as previously, nor was it quite as severe. I climbed a very spectacular road very slowly to stay within my normal limits of exertion. It was then a fast and easy descent to Rethymnon.





















In Rethymnon I stayed two nights at the Preveli apartments. I partly booked it because it had a washing machine where I could clean my sweaty kit. The old town is very busy with tourism but is very pretty.  I ate at the Alana restaurant which was quite flashy and more expensive than my previous places. The grilled octopus was excellent.

DAY 4 – Rethymnon round trip.






It's likely that my raised heart rate was due to dehydration and the shock of consuming so much cold water at one time. Despite drinking litres of water gradually the evening before, my heart was still not normal in the morning, beating twenty or thirty beats more per minute. I decided I would start my ride but if it went up on the first hill, I would abandon and take the day off. On setting off I took a swig of an electrolyte drink and this almost instantaneously returned my heart to normal. I had no further problems for the rest of the trip.

I retraced the road I had ridden the previous day but in the opposite direction and without panniers. This time I took the eastern side of the reservoir but then again rode the rough road towards Spili. Good though this had been, the remainder of the day was better.  The road descends through a spectacular gorge and then all the way to the sea at Plakias. I had a sea bass right on the edge of the water.

The climb out of the village was very tough and I was very glad I didn't have the panniers on.























There is then a further climb through the Kotisfou gorge, complete with Byzantine church tucked into the cliff. 





















The road onward was wide and fast but again with very little traffic. This turned to no traffic at all when I took a left towards Armeni. One car passed me in over an hour.  It's a beautiful road, broken in parts but generally fine.






















Although only fifteen miles from Rethymnon it seemed isolated. Older women remained dressed in black with headscarves, much as they were when I first visited Greece nearly 40 years ago.

Finally, I joined the main road back to Rethymnon which was fairly busy but which I could take at speed.

That evening I had my blow out meal, eating at another Restaurant Avli, set in an even more beautiful courtyard. I had sardines wrapped in vine leaves and goat, with a couple of glasses of wine. It's expensive by UK standards, so very expensive for Crete but it was very good.

DAY 5 – Rethymnon to Chania

I had some breakfast in the new town on the ride out in a smart cafe full of residents. The area is not as picturesque but is worth a look.  I retook the road out of Rethymnon that I had descended the  previous day. It was the busiest main road of the trip but not worryingly so. After 5 miles, I turned on to rural roads which I would follow for the remainder of the day.






















The route went through a succession of small villages before coming out at the coast at Georgioupoli. From here I climbed again above the sea before descending to Stilos, where I stopped for lunch in a shaded riverside location. 

Although now only less than fifteen miles from Chania, I had one of the toughest climbs of the week. I climbed a very lonely road to Malaxa, with the temperature at the highest of the week. 
























Although rough on the ascent, the road to Chania is fine, with the city and sea glittering beneath.

I had called the hotel to let them know my arrival time because they are not present in the afternoon. I was given a gorgeous room on the first floor. Having repacked my bike, I had an evening wandering around the town. Although very pretty, I prefer places which have more residents in them, so came back closer to the hotel to eat. I ate very good squid and sea bream at To Maradaki and then had a drink in the Splantzia square in front of the medieval church which combines a minaret. It was a great way to end the week.

Concluding Thoughts

This was a great trip. I often think that I might improve an itinerary if I were to travel to an area again but not on this occasion. The scenery was stunning, the roads very quiet and the places I stayed in all had good places to sleep and eat in.  It might be that there is a narrow travel window, with the winter too harsh in the mountains and the summer too hot. If however you can travel at this time of year, it is a great cycling destination which other cyclists have yet to discover.

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