If Greek hospitality is famous the world over, then Crete is considered the place where the welcome to visitors is the warmest of all. The largest and most southern of the Greek islands, Crete’s size means that beyond its beaches (of which there are many) there’s a whole world of mountains, valleys and rural villages; in fact it’s very easy to spend a full day exploring the island without standing beside the sea.
Away from the largest city Heraklion and the famous Palace of Knossos, Western Crete offers a varied, laid-back side to this fascinating island. Chania is the economic and cultural capital of the region, and while it’s a good base from which to explore the coast and mountains nearby, the city offers plenty of reasons to hang around and enjoy its many attractions.
A relatively large city by Greek island standards, the Chania you will find today is the legacy of multiple civilisations and occupiers. Immediately obvious is the Venetian harbour, Chania’s signature attraction and surely one of the prettiest in the whole of Greece. Built up over a period of around 300 years between the 14th and 17th centuries, the buildings fell into sorry disrepair in the mid 1900s, but thankfully have been restored to their former grandeur. Nowadays you’ll find many cafes, bars and seafood restaurants lining the waterfront, and it’s a popular place to sit with an ice cream in hand and watch the world go by, or to take a stroll around dinnertime (you can walk along the harbour wall all the way to the ‘Egyptian’ lighthouse).
As a major Mediterranean trading port Chania has been a melting pot of faiths, and this is evident in its surviving places of worship. The multi-domed Mosque of the Janissaries is the island’s oldest surviving Ottoman building. It was built in the 17th century soon after the Ottomans conquered Crete, and was used for worship until the 1920s. Heavily bombed in World War 2, it now hosts various exhibitions and displays. The Etz Hayyim Synagogue meanwhile has had a remarkable rebirth, after the Nazis destroyed what was over 2,000 years of continuous Jewish presence in Crete. The synagogue was re-consecrated in 1999 and now welcomes all visitors.
Shoppers will enjoy the many narrow alleys of the old town, Among the archways, staircases and the welcome shade, are craft workshops, souvenir shops and traditional tavernas. Leather Lane is the place to come for bags and shoes, and while there’s a lot of junk sold there now (the art of hand making boots has largely been lost), you can still find goods made in the town. Chania also has four weekly markets which are aimed squarely at locals rather than tourists. They offer a good place to stock up on fresh fruits and also provide an authentic taste of island life.
At the western end of the harbour, the Maritime Museum of Crete includes models and artifacts relating to the ancient and modern ships which would have docked just outside the building in centuries past. Those interested in 20th-century history will want to see the thoughtful displays and emotional personal accounts in the section devoted to the Battle of Crete which took place in 1941.
GIC The Villa Collection offer a number of Villas in Western Crete, from which to explore Chania and the other delights of the island.