Beach day! With so many beautiful beaches on the island of Crete, we were eager to try out one of its legendary beaches in the northwest. At the top of our list was Balos, a remote beach in the far northwest about 30 miles from Chania. There were a few options for how to get there: taking a bus at the crack of dawn, driving to nearby Kissamos and taking a scheduled ferry, or driving all the way there on our own. We didn’t want to start that early (we’re still on vacation after all) and didn’t love the idea of being bound to a set schedule anyhow, so we decided to drive all the way there. The catch, however, was that the last 7 miles of the drive were on rocky gravel roads with no guardrails. Every site we read recommended driving this only with an SUV; we of course decided to chance it with our dinky little Fiat and drive extra carefully to avoid bursting a tire.
We hit the road shortly after noon, having enjoyed a sumptuous spread of local goods for breakfast – Greek yogurt, fresh and dried fruits, honey, grissini breadsticks, frittata, and currant tea. Here in the US, 30 miles = 30 minutes. But in Crete, the national highway only serviced the first half of the trip, with the latter half consisting of narrow country roads, and the last 7 miles taking nearly an hour as we had to drive extremely slowly up and down dusty hills covered in sharp rocks, stuck behind a car that stayed in first gear.
Upon finally arriving, the area was pretty populated already so we had to park really far away along the gravel path. Which was fine because it was probably faster walking than driving in first gear. It was no easy feat to paradise – not only did we have to walk half a mile to reach the entrance, but once we got to the actual entrance it was another 3/4 mile walking on scorching red rocks and down a cliff to reach the beach…in the blazing dry heat. Of course, I over prepared and wore my hiking boots since the path was supposed to be steep and rocky, although they were definitely not necessary. Once we reached the water, we were HOT and the water was sooo welcoming. And what a sight it was…ahead of us was a towering mound overlooking two islets, with water ranging from milky white to gleaming turquoise in color. Islet “Imeri” on the left was the tame, super shallow lagoon, where we could nearly walk from one end to the other. Islet “Agria” on the right was wilder, with light waves and opening out to the open seas. We spent the entire afternoon exploring both and then just decided to float in the perfectly cool and salty water. There wasn’t really much in terms of food except for a snack shack, where we stopped a few times to grab a few cold Alpha beers for dirt cheap.
After a few hours out in the sun, it was time to head back. We got back in town around 7:30pm, just in time to catch a local donut shop before they closed. Finally…donuts!! However, they were just regular donuts and not Greek donuts (the little balls of fried joy drizzled with honey). Boooo. We had to buy some to avoid extra awkwardness but held off on eating them until breakfast tomorrow. Instead, it was time to regroup quickly and go out to dinner. We went to another spot our hotel recommended called Chrisostamos, a quaint homey restaurant that was a bit of a walk from our hotel. They were rumored to have donuts for dessert (one of the 50 questions I peppered the front desk with last night) so we had to take the chance…even though we already had donuts in our room. The food was delicious and certainly had that homecooked, rustic feel, as we had a nice salad with figs, shaved cheese, and sundried tomatoes, fava dip with homemade bread, and a crock of giant beans and smoked pork in a hearty tomato sauce. And guess what? They did have donuts…free donuts! They came in heaped on a plate with our requisite bottle of raki, sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled with a syrup. They weren’t quite what I was expecting as they weren’t as sweet as I expected, and man were we full, so I actually snuck half of them in my purse for later 🙂