Perfect first time in Hania
As clichéd as it may sound, a first-time visit to Hania does entail certain must-do things, which cannot be avoided, and don’t need to be, as the majority of these also end up being included on follow-up lists by return visitors.
Taking the night ferry from Piraeus results in an early-morning arrival at Souda port, revamped this year as restoration work conducted by the municipality is now close to being completed. A morning coffee can be had at the port, otherwise head straight to the town of Hania for breakfast and a stroll around the Venetian port. The morning summer hours, cooler and less crowded, are ideal for seafront walking before settling at some spot to relax. The harbour area’s extended stroll begins from the west side, at the Firkas fortress, hosting the Maritime Museum of Crete (mar-mus-crete.gr), and continues towards the Giali Tzamisi mosque, the Grand Arsenal, which is the home of the Centre of Mediterranean Architecture (keppedih-cam.gr), the rest of the Neoria area, all the way to the Akti Enoseos marina area. From this point, you can head towards the old Egyptian lighthouse, a Hania landmark, or continue the walk towards the Koum Kapi quarter, all the way to the end of its beach.
The very same route is even more impressive, and popular, in the afternoons, as sunset approaches. During this magical time of day, the horizon reddens as part of the evening game between sky and sun; buildings insatiably absorb every last sun ray; yachts at the marina hop to a mild rhythm; while locals and visitors, some lazily, others with first-time eagerness, enjoy and photograph this superb setting.
If you like to wander about, Hania is limitless. Leaving behind the seaside area, a walk through the alleys of the Old Town is like a journey through the district’s history as, besides the Venetian buildings, virtually everywhere, you will also pass through the classy Christian district –during Ottoman times– named Topanas, as well as the equally impressive Jewish district. The Splantzia district, the old Muslim neighbourhood, has proven particularly popular for quite a number of years now among the city’s youths, as well as alternative-type residents and visitors. A consistent attraction throughout the year, 1821 Square features a giant plane tree and, slightly to the back, Agios Nikolaos church, particularly interesting, with a belfry on one side and a minaret on the other.
Photo: DTMH Digital Studio/ Marketing Greece
Heart of the city
Hania is cherished by its people –despite some issues troubling the city, as is the case just about anywhere- and this is made apparent in their everyday lives, relaxed disposition, spare time for chats and treats at the first given opportunity, even in the livelier city centre, where Hania’s administrative services are clustered and most locals go to for shopping and business matters. Make a pit stop at Kipos Café, a cool and shady spot, for coffee. If with children, the café offers a space that is safe for youngsters to play. Film enthusiasts should keep in mind that an open-air summer cinema is located just a couple of doors to the side. Definitely try the renowned bougatsa at Iordanis (24 Apokoronou), a pastry filled with Hania myzithra cheese and sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon. Then try having another, for the sake of comparing, across the street at Bougatsa Hanion (37 Apokoronou). Both versions are equally good. A look around the City Market (Dimotiki Agora), is next.
In all honesty, the market has managed to only partially preserve its character of old as it nowadays hosts numerous tourist-oriented shops. Around midday, rush up Voloudakidon St, to number 4, for the fine souvlaki prepared at Oasis, with yoghurt, before the day’s stock runs out. The souvlaki here always sells fast. Then, as part of your stroll’s repeated alternation from food to sightseeing, especially for art and history enthusiasts, it is worth looking around Halidon St. The three-storey building at number 98 hosts the Municipal Art Gallery of Hania (pinakothiki-chania.gr), an active gallery that presents many exhibitions in a calendar year. Further down this road, at number 28, the Archaeological Museum of Chania (chaniamuseum.culture.gr) is housed at the Venetian St. Fransesco church, featuring a superb yard space. The museum’s permanent exhibition includes antiquities covering all historical periods, discoveries from the Late Neolithic period and Bronze Age, as well as the renowned Mitsotakis collection, whose pieces primarily hail from Crete.
Directly next door, the all-day café-bar-restaurant Boheme (cafeboheme.gr) serves exceptional cocktails and brunch that enjoys a fine reputation. If in the mood for dessert only, keep walking for a few extra metres to reach the tiny side street Eisodion St, where, at number 18, Sketi Glyka makes sweets promising pure bliss.
Beyond the city centre
Wheels are very useful to have in Hania – as is the case for all of Crete, in general – even for short distances within the town’s wider area. Head out to the historic Halepas district, or the Venizelos Tombs in Akrotiri. Halepas is a very livable neighbourhood, ideally distanced from the city centre, not too far and not too near. It features a number of impressive mansions, including the Eleftherios Venizelos museum (venizelos-foundation.gr), where the statesman spent the biggest part of his life. The Halepas area is also home to the Agia Magdalini church, an impressive building whose construction began in 1901. It is an example of Russian-style architecture. Stop for coffee at the Daglis café, on the street of the same name, and make a follow-up stop at the Oxo Nou Studio, a self-service café and cultural centre offering a sea and sunset view from a spot between rocks and old and mostly abandoned tanneries. The renowned fish and seafood restaurant Thalassino Ageri (35 Vivilaki, +30 28210 51136) is located in this area, by the sea.
Heading further uphill, along the road headed for Akrotiri and the airport, it is worth spending some afternoon time at the Venizelos Tombs, where Eleftherios Venizelos and his son Sofoklis, also a former prime minister, were laid to rest. The location offers a superb view of Hania from high above. It also hosts the Profitis Ilias chapel, extremely popular for wedding ceremonies among Hania locals as well as non-residents. From here, you can go to either Koukouvayas (koukouvaya.gr) or Carte Postale (fb: carte.postale.chania) for an unforgettable experience combining the view with coffee, drinks, food or dessert. The menus of both spots are terrific.
Exotic beach hopping
The Hania holiday experience’s next few mornings should include excursions out to the Hania province’s west for swimming at exotic beaches, often featuring on world’s best beach lists. Balos, an amazing beach, requires some walking to get to after having reached the end of a dirt road. The route offers a superb, elevated vantage point for photographs of the beach. The most comfortable way of getting to Balos beach is by boat from Kissamos port (cretandailycruises.com). This option includes a stopover at Imeri Gramvousa, an uninhabited islet featuring a shipwreck and the Balos lagoon, with pink sand and turquoise waters. The entire area is included in the Natura network for environmental protection as it is home to rare flora and fauna species, such as the caretta caretta turtle. An exceptional restaurant, Gramboussa (gramvousarestaurant.com) is located nearby.
Carrying on with the exploration of the exotic Hania province, the agenda – whether here for the first time or as a repeat visitor – invariably includes Falasarna, with a big and small beach, as well as incredible waters that resemble a swimming pool when the winds are calm. The spot is also great for endless fun and games with the waves when the winds are blowing. Check the weather forecast for the day and decide in accordance with your preferences. The beach bar-restaurant Liokalyvo, co-owned by the owners of Athens’ The Clumsies Bar and Otto’s Athens Vermouth, opened up at Falasarna’s big beach last year. The venture’s restaurant is headed by Cretan chef Manolis Papoutsakis. Another food option, Kapetan Nikolas (+30 28220 41269), at the little port of Platanos, a little further along, is great for fresh fish.
Next up on the itinerary is the renowned, timeless and absolutely superb Elafonisi, a spot that is best enjoyed in the morning hours as visitors typically turn up in numbers from midday onwards. This islet is situated just 200 metres from the coast and can be walked to through shallow waters. Pink-coloured sand, created by fragmented shells, and crystal-clear waters are, once again, the traits of this beach, an ideal finale for your first ever exotic beach-hopping expedition.
I could write and talk about Hania for hours. Not only because I adore the place like a second homeland, but also as all the above represent just a small part of your introduction to this unbelievable place, a first taste that will whet your appetite for repeat visits, with more time, and a desire for new experiences and pleasures. Hania, year after year, then, Why not?
Original was written by KYRIAKI VASSALOU, translated by GEORGE KOLYVAS.
Published at 15 JULY 2021 for travel.gr