Crete has easily the longest summers in Greece, and there are plenty of beaches with which to fill those long, lazy summer days. Whether you’re into watersports, skinny dipping or good old-fashioned sunbathing, the island almost certainly has a stretch of sand to suit your tastes.
Elafonísi Beach comes as an exotic shock. The almost tropical waters (sheltered by the islet of the same name) boast white sand tinged pink by coral, aquamarine waters, salt-encrusted rock pools and bright-red starfish. The water is incredibly warm, calm and shallow and the islet itself is a short wade across the sand bar.
Koureménos Beach is one of Crete’s top windsurfing spots. Not surprisingly, it can be windy (a funnel effect creates ideal windsurfing conditions; nearby Hióna Beach is far more sheltered), but it’s a fine, long sand-and-pebble beach, with several tavernas and places to stay – even a bar – directly behind. There’s also quite a community of camper vans in summer, and an excellent windsurf centre, too.
While Mátala was once known for its cave-dwelling hippy community, now the town never feels anything less than touristy. That said, the beach is excellent, the atmosphere is boisterous and you’ll never be short of somewhere to enjoy a cocktail at sunset; with the caves lit up at night, the beach is an impossibly romantic setting. If the crowds get too much you can scramble over the hill to Red Beach, which, with its reddish-gold sand, nudists and scruffy, seasonal kantína, does its best to uphold Mátala’s traditions.
The palm-lined beach at Vái makes for a thoroughly secular contrast to the spiritual tranquillity of nearby Toploú monastery; as you lie on the fine sand in the early morning, especially in early spring or late autumn, you could almost imagine yourself to be on a Caribbean island. In summer the beach fills to overflowing, but even then, for a couple of hours at each end of the day, you should be able to enjoy Vái the way it ought to be.
Mýrtos is a charming, white-walled village with a long shingle beach. Even in August, when the place can get pretty full, the pace of life remains slow, the atmosphere pleasantly laid back. Apart from topping up your tan, swimming, renting a boat or lingering over a drink, there’s not a great deal to do in Mýrtos, but the surrounding countryside offers a couple of important Minoan sites, as well as the opportunity for mountain hikes.
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