A weekend in…Chania
Chania’s reputation as the most beautiful city in Crete is richly deserved and its history goes back over 7,000 years. The architecture of the atmospheric Old Town is mainly Venetian and Turkish, reflecting long periods of occupation, but its flavour today is definitely Greek.
Easyjet flies Gatwick-Chania and Ryanair Stansted- Chania between March and October. Aegean Air flies to Chania from Athens all year round. There are taxis from the airport to the city centre and a bus which costs 2.30 euro and takes about 30 minutes.
The most appealing part of Chania is the Old Town, a maze of narrow streets and architectural gems – some in an evocative state of partial decay. They are clustered around a horseshoe-shaped harbour with colour-washed Venetian buildings. The area is almost all pedestrianised and strolling the cobbled pavements of its narrow streets is a sensual delight. Just follow your nose along narrow alleyways with overhanging verandas or enjoy the buzz of shops, restaurants and bars where every owner wants to be your new best friend.
See the sights:
The Old Harbour is at the heart of Chania and culminates at the elegant Venetian lighthouse. Walk out to it along the harbour wall.
Just sitting over a drink harbour side, soaking up the view and people watching, is a delight by day or night. A landmark here is the Turkish Yiali Mosque, where exhibitions are often held; usually open in the evening.
Chania’s Minoan past was only discovered during the 20th century and in Kanevaro Street you can see the well explained remains of houses. Just around the corner in Chalidon Street, the Archaeological Museum displays the many artefacts found during excavations, including sarcophagi painted with intriguing designs. Do the sinuous swirls depict octopus, female figures or aliens? The museum is worth a visit both for the building – a former church – and the exhibits.
Just up the road is Chania’s Folklore Museum, a charming collection of photographs, fabrics and room sets where you can buy traditional embroidery.
Cross to the square opposite to see the Orthodox Cathedral of the Virgin Mary. The ornate interior has icons where people still hang little metal images of a baby, a heart or other organ as a votive offering for healing, exactly as they did at the temples in Ancient Greece.
If you’re lucky enough to catch a major festival in Chania, you’ll see youngsters proudly wearing the traditional dress of Crete. Their faces seem timeless.
It gets pretty hot in summer and if you need to cool off, take a boat trip from the harbour or walk to Nea Chora beach to the west of the Old Town. Buses also run from 1866 Square to Agios Apostolos where there are sandy beaches fringed by pine trees.
Take your walking boots, stay an extra day and hike the famous Samaria Gorge. It’s best to go by bus from Chania rather than car.
Chania is a convenient starting point to explore the rest of Crete.
The harbour is great for a drink but for eating, shun the tourist touts at the many restaurants there and head a street or two back to one of the moody tavernas in buildings without roofs or sit at a pavement table at Tamam restaurant and enjoy a varied menu with a Greek- Eastern feel and some interesting vegetarian options. For a leisurely lunch, Kouzina in the arty Splantzia district offers food just like Cretans of old used to make but with an inspired modern twist – and the prices are fantastic. Choose your main course from the array of pans in the time-honoured way and enjoy the bonus of a dessert and raki to follow. (Closed in the evening).
Besides the inevitable fridge magnets, you will also find arty lamps, leather goods and hand-made jewellery direct from the maker’s workshop. Some shops keep alive traditional crafts, like Piprinakis, the Cretan bootmaker in Skridlof Street. This little place has been in the family for 70 years and you can still get a pair of off the peg or made-to-measure leather boots fashioned by hand to last a lifetime.
Where to stay:
Vranas Studios is close to the cathedral and well located for cafes and bars, the bus station, harbour and Splantzia. The rooms are exceptionally spacious, stylish and excellent value. My large double bed had an ornate headboard that echoed the restored Venetian wooden ceiling, along with pieces of solid traditional wooden furniture, a large sofa and a fully equipped kitchen area with fridge. The balcony had interesting views of the town and was framed by a mimosa tree – and in reception you’ll find Alexandra who is cheerful, efficient and an eternal fount of knowledge on where to find anything you need in Chania. Double studios at Vranas are from 30 to 60 euro per night, depending on the season.
By Faith Warn
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