After arriving in Agios Nicolaos Marina we decided to tour the area by car first and then sail the boat west discovering everything we could about Crete. Don’t book days or weeks for Crete – you need at least a good month to see the island. Better yet, consider Crete a good place to winter yourself and the boat.
After leaving the Greek island of Astipalia, our intention was to sail west to the picturesque island of Santorini. As fate would have it, the winds were not in our favor. Blowing directly on our nose there was no chance of getting our sails out. The thought of an 8-hour motor ride into wind and waves did not sound appealing. Furthermore, my husband and I were a bit concerned about finding a spot to tie onto or anchor. Apparently, there are very limited spaces for sailboats around Santorini.
The island of Santorini is a volcano so it gets very deep very quickly making it difficult to anchor.
It didn’t take more than 5 minutes for us to agree to a 10-hour sail down south to the island of Crete instead. Once on the island of Crete, we could find a safe place to put the boat and take a ferry to Santorini for a day or two. Or, at least, that was the plan!
Our ground track from Astipalia to Crete was a straight line down! For the first half, we did a steady 6 knots and the second have we were well over 8 knots, hitting 9 from time to time. It was our best sail to date!
We thought that we’d have to enter our destination marina in the dark, but arrived several hours before our original estimates.
On the sail towards Crete, we passed only one other vessel – a cargo ship that crossed our path within ¾ of a mile from us. Other than the ship, we saw a few barren islands and the rest was open sea.
I kept wondering, ‘where are all the other sailboats?’
I asked my husband, Simon, where we were headed and his response was, ‘we’re going to a fishing village called Agios Nikolaos. I was there 36 years ago and all I remember is a lake with restaurants around it and a little fishing harbor.’
Unbeknown to Simon, Agios Nikolaos was no longer a small fishing village.
Rather, it is now quite a loud and booming city. As we traveled closer to the marina, I could see houses, hotels, restaurants, and buildings, set against a mountainous backdrop, going east and west as far as the eye could see.
We easily entered the marina, were helped onto a berth, cleaned up a bit and I earlier prepared Eggplant Parmesan, so we gobbled it down and then jumped off the boat to go for our first exploratory look. After hanging out in small bays and visiting quiet islands I felt as if my eyes couldn’t handle all the hustle and bustle.
There were so many people, cars, bikes, and moving things – my head felt as if it was spinning.
While moored up in a bay I didn’t consider myself to be sensory deprived but I think I was! It took a good few hours for me, and my hubby, to relax into the commotion. From the marina, we walked down the main strip to the fishing port, found a café overlooking the ferries and tour boats, and enjoyed a glass of wine while our daughter, Sienna, slurped down some strawberry ice cream.
And then a miracle happened – Sienna fell asleep on the sofa beside me and Simon and I were able to enjoy the evening by ourselves!
Only one other time has Sienna fallen asleep while we were out and when it happens we take full advantage of the situation. She’s 4 now and getting to grown-up to carry home, so we have a limited time to enjoy moments like these. It’s funny to discover the things that make you happy when sailing full time with your family…
Simon and I chatted for a while and then took turns carrying Sienna back to the boat – back home. We all slept well and woke up early to adventure back into the city to find the legendary bottomless lake and look at all the shops.
Fortunately, the marina is very close to the city center – our walk to the famous lake and fishing port took 10 minutes at most.
We enjoyed looking in the shops, being a part of the commotion, and spending time on land.
Eventually, we all got tired and hungry and stopped at a taverna on the lake. A lovely Scottish guy was welcoming people in and his charm did the trick on us. We pulled up a table, had a meal, and took the opportunity to open our tourist book on what to see and do in Crete.
The ancient site of Knossos was high on the list and of course, we’d have to visit one of the two huge water parks. We scanned the various options and realized that Crete is massive! We decided to hire a car for the following day and drive to Gournia, the best-preserved Minoan town ruin, Mochlos, a little fishing village for lunch, and Vai, a beach on the east coast having its own palm tree forest. We also wanted to stop in Sitia, time permitting.
The next day, we collected the car and packed it with water, bathing suits, towels, maps, and my camera. By 9 am we were off on our first Crecian adventure.
Our first stop was Gournia
Considering it’s Crete’s best-preserved Minoan town ruin, you’d think there’d be more visitors.
During our hour-long stay, there was only one other family walking around. Failing to have a parking lot or any concessions, the archeological site doesn’t look like one that’s visited by the tour busses. Seriously, there was nothing there other than the ruin which was actually a welcome surprise.
No crowds, no ‘made-in-China’ tourist crap, and no distractions.
Simon and I were very impressed with the remnants of the Minoan town – we were walking on roads/paths where people walked 1800 BC and they were in impeccable condition. Further, the houses and buildings were rather high – some were above my head. In most of the Greek archeological sites, we’ve visited only a few feet of building remnants remain.
In Gournia you really got a feel for the size of the rooms, the layout of the houses, and the way that the town was constructed.
The highlight of our visit was finding a sifter.
Gournia is still being excavated and all the tools to perform the archeological dig were there to see. Simon was able to put some dirt in the sifter and demonstrate to our daughter, Sienna, how the scientists look for artifacts.
Sienna is currently into pirates right now, so she became very excited to find out that there might be buried treasure in the archeological site! Finally, we stumbled onto a reason for Sienna to enjoy ruins. Joking aside, she’s been brilliant at all the sites we’ve visited (Olympia, Delphi, Delos, Knossos, and on and on) but she doesn’t really understand just how old ‘old’ is. For Sienna, the biggest number in existence is 100 and she’s not even sure what that means.
At least the link with finding treasure sparked more of interest regarding ruins for her!
Now, if you’re pushed for time or don’t want to necessarily visit the ruin, it can be seen from the highway along the Sitia road. You can see almost all of it as you drive by.
The cost to enter Gournia was €2 each with children going free. I think it was well worth the fee. And knowing that they’re still uncovering the ruin, I’m happy to contribute to its development. Who knows what’s still there left to be unearthed!
Next stop – Mochlos, Crete
We turned left off the main road and went winding our way down to this tiny little village.
Based on our sights from the car, the town didn’t look very impressive. As we parked up along the back of the village, I was wondering if we were wasting valuable time. Simon, Sienna, and I got out of the car and decided to look for a place to get a Fanta Lemon (similar to 7-Up or Sprite).
As we wound our way through a couple of backstreets, we eventually arrived at the water’s edge and the view was breathtaking. What a result!
A cove lined with traditional tavernas all uniquely styled in Crete tradition faced a once-connected island and miles of the beautiful coast. I’ve always loved contrast – just looking at the sea can be boring.
But when looking at the sea with islands, desolate beaches, and through the windowless tavernas, your eyes are spoiled with color, texture, and contrasting patterns.
We walked the length of the row of tavernas and then settled on a tavern where the women were sitting outside preparing vegetables for their lunch and dinner guests.
Our lovely waiter gave us the history of the area and explained that the island across was a Minoan ruin.
Depending on which way the wind blew, the ships would moor off one side or the other. Over time the land eroded but during Minoan times there were two great harbors offering shelter from prevailing winds.
I ordered a traditional Cretian dish – I try my best to always experience as much localness as I can!
The dish was a brown rusk/roll, soaked in olive oil and then layered with stewed tomatoes topped with a dollop of lovely fresh soft cheese. The rusk was partially crunchy, where the olive oil didn’t penetrate, and partially soggy. The combination of flavors and textures was perfect!
Sienna enjoyed her Fanta Lemon and after an hour of observing the amazing views and soaking up the traditional Cretian feel, we decided to move on.
Off to Via Beach for some well deserved time in the sea
Originally we intended to stop in Sitia as the tour book described a nice Venician port housing a fortress but Sienna fell asleep and rather than wake her, we decided to drive on to Via.
As we twisted and turned along the motorway, we eventually made it to the east coast of Crete. We parked up, grabbed our sea-side bags, and went in search of a couple of sun beds.
While scanning the beach, we were elated to find two beach beds with an umbrella right at the front. Another result! Being on the beachfront would allow Sienna to swim right in front of us without having to either be with her or constantly look through obstructions to make sure she’s safe.
Simon took a nap and Sienna and I went for a swim.
The beach is sandy and then it turns to flat slippery rock. Overall, it’s a very clean beach with a nice ocean floor. Sienna wanted to play ‘Angry Shark,’ so she’d swim around chasing me while gnashing her jaws. I then would play ‘Kissing Shark,’ and I’m sure you can guess how that played out.
We purchased some hot dogs and soft drinks from the snack bar and enjoyed the sun, sea, and stunning views of sea and palm trees! It was great to be surrounded by so many palm trees – what a unique experience for us.
And then, out of nowhere, a massive milestone was achieved.
Sienna decided to take off her floatation device that she’s been wearing faithfully all summer and have a go at swimming unassisted. After a few attempts, she made it a couple of meters and then more and then more! I videoed her attempts and was so proud to see my little baby-cakes showing the first signs of swimming. The below video was number 6…and by then I think she was really grasping the concept!
Being surrounded by water, our biggest fear is Sienna falling overboard.
Teaching her to swim has been our number one priority all summer. We’ve tried and tried but as with most children, they’ll do things when they are ready to do them. Thankfully, at Vai beach, Sienna was ready to give it a concerted effort.
After Sienna’s swimming milestone she was full of energy.
She asked if we could go climb up a nearby mountain. Sienna and I followed the path, walked up the stairs to the ‘Look Out’ point, and then Sienna wanted to keep going! We climbed up and up – it was amazing to see a desolate quiet beach one cove over. It felt as if we could see forever and every way we turned, the views were of beautiful blue waters.
By 5 pm we decided to call it a day – Sienna was tired (and so was I!).
We were ready to head back to the boat, grab a chicken gyro, and hit the sack. When we returned to Britican and looked at the weather forecast, we realized the winds would be too strong to leave the following morning. We took a family vote and decided to keep the car for an extra day so that we could explore some more on the amazing island of Crete.
Read All My Articles About Crete
To get a synopsis of all the places we visited in Crete, visit Exploring Crete. Otherwise, here lists all the articles:
- Agios Nikolaos, Gournia, Mochlos and Vai Beach
- Knossos, Aqua Park and Elounda
- Anchored off of Spinalonga Island Crete
- Anchoring off the town of Bali
- A tour of Rethymno
- Agia Galini, Gortys and the Amari Valley
- Agios Nikolaos Marina – Crete: A review
- Rethymno Marina – Crete: A review
Check Out Some Areas Other Areas Too – Greece & The Mediterranean
If you’d like a breakdown of all the places we’ve visited while sailing the Mediterranean please read our destination overview: Sailing The Mediterranean. Otherwise, check out more posts about our time spent in Greece.
- The Greek Ionian Islands
- Corinth Canal
- Poros Greece
- Kos Marina
- Methoni, Greece