Previous to entering Rethymno Crete on our sailboat I must admit that I never knew the city existed
When hearing about Crete from friends, they’d mention beach resorts like Malia, Siteia or Bali. And I have a lovely friend that told me I must visit Chania – Crete’s prettiest and second largest town.
Of course I also knew about the Palace of Knosos – one of the most incredible ancient ruins in the world – but aside from the places listed above, that was the extent of my knowledge on Crete.
Our sailing tour of Crete started off in Agios Nikolaos Marina and then we anchored next to Spinalonga Island. From Spinalonga, we sailed to the picturesque beach resort of Bali (anchored there) and finally onto Rethymno Crete.
Initially, we wanted to stay a few days so that we could rent a car and tour the central and western areas of Crete. Our few days turned into nine days in total!
Mooring up in the Rethymno marina was a nightmare
For that story, read: Comradeship amongst sailors – the day our 56’ yacht was almost smashed to pieces
So once we were tied down I think we wanted to recover from the stress of it all. More importantly, we received word that a dear friend was able to fly to Crete to join us on our voyage back to the Ionian and over to Sicily.
Rethymno is only one hour away from the airport so we decided to explore Crete’s 3rd largest city for a while and then for the last few days, rent a car so that we could pick our friend up at the airport.
During our 9 days, we spent a couple days just chilling out, cleaning the boat and taking walks around the city
We did the Rethymno Red Bus tour – it’s an open top bus that takes passengers on a 90 minute tour of the city, valley and into a mountainous village.
The tour promotes a ‘hop on’ and ‘hop off’ offering but most people just stay on the bus for the whole tour. Furthermore, in many of the stop-off’s there wasn’t much to do or see!
I found the Rethymno Bus tour to be relaxing
We sat in the front and just chilled out while the bus took us through the ‘old town,’ along the Fortress and up into the hills. Our 4-year old daughter calmly sat in a seat by herself and seemed to enjoy the twists and turns. Unfortunately, our recorded tour guide that was offered through earphones, failed to work after 20 minutes. I would have preferred to hear more about the history of Crete but like I mentioned, the trip was relaxing just to look around.
Additionally, we enjoyed finding Rethymno’s most notable sights
The Venetian Fortress
This one was easy to find as the bow of our sailboat pointed across the harbor to it! The fortress was built in 1573 and it’s one of the largest Venetian castles ever built.
After we got off our boat and went to find the marina offices, we got an amazing view of the long stretches of beach. The day we arrived the waves were quite high (too high for our daughter) but when the water settled we realized that the beach was a great place to spend some time soaking up the sand and sea. The beach offered a variety of water sports activities too!
In my tourist book I read about a famous water fountain that flows from an ancient water source. Day after day, I kept my eye out for it and then one day, by chance, we took a left rather than a right and it was right in front of me! Once I saw it, I yelled out, ‘there it is!’
The Venetian Harbor
The first time we visited the harbor was around dinnertime and it was a painful experience. The first restaurant that we walked by would have stapled us to one of their chairs if it was legal. No matter how many times we said, ‘no thank you,’ they kept trying to get us to sit down. After being accosted by the first restaurant, we ran through the rest of them as fast as we could.
I would have loved to have sat in the harbor and enjoyed a meal but I was so annoyed we left the area. When we took our friend around the harbor for our second visit, we went at an odd time in the afternoon and the pressure to take a seat wasn’t as high.
The ‘Old Town’
Now this was my favorite thing about Rethymno…this is what made me fall in love with the city. I’ve seen several old towns but this one felt more authentic than most. The streets were narrow and the restaurants were all incredibly unique. They were full of character. Often there were vines growing along the side and top of the road. The tables were all set outside the restaurants and lined with candles and beautiful table clothes. It truly is a very romantic place. We ate in the old town on four separate occasions and each time, I was extremely impressed.
The first restaurant we ate at had a MasterChef Chef and cooked Greek and Serbian food. It was nice to have something different – I had chicken with a honey glaze and loved ever morsel. And the night before we left, we took our friend to another ‘Old Town’ restaurant. Oh-my-gosh, our meal was exceptional. Totally exceptional. The boys had lamb and I had pork. The food was great, the wine was amazing. I felt as if I was floating in a bubble of happiness during the whole experience.
What else can I tell you about Rethymno?
Aside from the ‘Old Town’ restaurants there are loads of little shops. Many are tourist shops but I noticed stores with authentic linin, Creten pottery and ‘made in Crete,’ shops. There were several woman clothing shops and a few toys stores for children.
Rethymno is a very kid-friendly city so if you’re sailing with young ones, it’s a nice place to stop.
A couple restaurants in the old harbor have children play areas. And along the main strip facing the beach, there’s an indoor kids play are. When we saw the indoor jungle gym, my daughter said, “Mom – can I go there?” I went up to the storefront and asked how much it cost for my daughter to play?
The attendant’s reply was, “As long as you have a drink or something to eat at the restaurant next door, your child can stay for free as long as you want!”
Having to have a drink while my child played was a hardship, but I survived!
The play area was supervised so on two occasions hubby and I, and then later, with our friend, we had the opportunity to enjoy a drink knowing that our daughter was being looked after (and playing with lots of other kids)!
Aside from that, the one thing I’d note is that along the main strip going to the right after exiting the marina, there’s a Noodle Bar. Now most tourists go to Greece for a week or two and want to eat Greek food. For sailors, eating Greek food for four months can become tiresome. When we happened upon the Noodle Bar (chinese food), we were very excited.
The restaurant seemed as if it was franchise, but I didn’t see any others in Crete. The spring rolls were your standard fried-from-frozen jobbies, but the noodles, veggies and meat seemed to be cooked from fresh.
Also before you get to the Noodle Bar, if you turn right up a side street before (look for signs to Captain Hooks fishing shop), you’ll find a very good grocery store.
Soooo…If it wasn’t for the fact that we got waylaid in Rethymno I don’t think I would have rated it very high
The marina is in a state of disrepair and it’s a city with lots of people, cars and noises.
However, we did get waylaid and I’m happy we did!