Beach time tops the priority list during holidays to the Rethymnon area, but if you’re willing to leave your sunlounger, you’ll be rewarded by the region’s history and locally-made wine.
Beaches that go the distance
It’s the beaches that turn heads in the Rethymnon area. This part of north-east Crete has some of the best stretches of sand on the island. The main town beach is so long, you could run a half-marathon along its length. Most beaches come with the full list of facilities, too. There are tavernas by the shore, watersports in the sea, and sunloungers on the sand.
Rethymnon Town itself is watercolour-worthy. In the old quarter, the buildings date back to the 16th century. Juliette balconies, cobbled streets and stamp-sized piazzas complete the look here. Then there’s the harbour, which is lined with Venetian-style town houses and overlooked by a castle.
Most people who visit the Rethymnon area don’t want to tear themselves away from the sea and sand. For those who do explore, just desserts come in the form of views from hilltop villages, like Archanes, and locally-made wine from the region’s vineyards.
Things to See and Do in Rethymnon area
Crete’s best beaches
The Rethymnon area was at the front of the queue when Crete was handing out its beaches. The long bands of sand on the north coast have a long-standing reputation for being the best the island has to offer. At least 3 of the most popular beaches measure more than 7 kilometres in length. And they don’t scrimp on watersports, beachside restaurants or sunloungers.
The big beach
Rethymnon Beach is just one of the Rethymnon area’s plus-size models. This band of sand starts in front of the town centre and curves round the coast for more than 12 kilometres. It’s got a bumper crop of facilities, too, including watersports, sunloungers and sand-side tavernas.
The secret beach
Gerani Beach goes down the organic route. There aren’t any sunloungers to crowd the sand and there’s only one taverna. Your best bet is to come here with a beach towel and a picnic. To really make the most of what the beach has to offer, you’ll need a snorkel – the underwater rocks are a natural aquarium.
Rethymnon Town’s Thursday morning market is bargain-hunting territory. You’ll find it near the municipal gardens on Odos Dimitrakaki Street. The stalls are weighed down with everything from fresh produce to leather and t-shirts. If you’re into art, head to the harbour. Local artists often set up easels here and sell their work for a song.
Olive products almost monopolise the shopping scene in the Rethymnon area. Head to the artisan shops in Odos Arambatzoglou in Rethymnon Town for the pick of the crop of olive wood bowls, cooking utensils and picture frames. Or browse the shops around M Mousourou to find infused olive oils and spiced olive fruits.
If you take an ‘in for a penny in for a pound’ approach to shopping, head to Ethnikis Antistaseis Street in Rethymnon Town. The jewellery shops here give mass produced pieces the brush off in favour of bijoux designs, made in-house.
The crooked streets of Rethymnon old town are a breeding ground for the area’s most authentic restaurants. You can’t go wrong with the eateries around M Vernadou Street and Kornaru Street. To enjoy a side order or Cretan culture while you dine, make your way to Panou Koroneou, where a few tavernas put on traditional music during their dinner service.
Odos Kefalogiannidon, near Rethymnon Town’s castle, is known as the café strip thanks to the café-bars that have set up shop there. Some of them serve cocktails and are a good place to wait for the clubs to open. Most nightclubs unlock their doors around 11pm. You’ll find some of the best ones in the area between Rimonid Fountain and the harbour.
Forget feta, graviera takes pride of place on Cretan cheese boards. This crumbly cheese is made from a combination of sheep and goats milk and it’s got a nutty taste. Cretans take any opportunity to use it – they fry it, add it to salads, and bake it into gratin.
Sfakia pies are the original Cretan fast food. These pancake-shaped snacks are made from fried dough and mizithra cheese, and are served with lashings of honey. You can pick them up from most town centre bakeries and sometimes they’re served as appetisers on restaurant menus.
You can set your calendar by the cooking of boureki in Cretan kitchens. This dish marks the start of summer, and it’s made the minute the new season’s courgettes and potatoes are pulled from the ground. It’s made by baking summer vegetables with cheese, cream, mint and white wine.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll have a soft spot for katafi. This traditional pastry begins life as a dough, then it’s rolled out and cut into string-thin strands. It’s becomes a weight-watchers worst nightmare when it’s stuffed with a sticky mixture of egg, nuts and syrup.
If you only learn one Greek word while you’re in Greece, make it ‘yamas’. It means ‘cheers’ and you’ll need to use it every time you’re given a shot of tsikoudia. This clear, grape-based spirit is often served compliments-of-the-house in traditional restaurants.
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Rethymnon sits between Chania and Heraklion on Crete’s north coast. Thanks to the Ottomans and Venetians, its old town is a mix of mosques and Renaissance buildings, and there’s a huge fortress, too. But the seafood restaurants and lively bars ringing the harbour give the place a real modern buzz. And, the generous sandy beach rounds it all off nicely.
Things are pretty laidback in Platanes, with most days centring on its sand-etched coastline. Its long, golden beach shelves into the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, and there are plenty of loungers and parasols pitched up on the sand. It’s backed by beachfront bars and tavernas, so you won’t need to bring a picnic.
Holidays to peaceful Sfakaki let you see beyond Crete’s tourist veil. The village is stretched out along the island’s northern coast, around 15 minutes’ drive from lively Rethymnon. Family-run tavernas and whitewashed hotels edge closer and closer to the seafront, where a sandy beach provides one of the region’s more untrodden sunbathing spots.
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