Our sailing experience around the Greek islands in our chartered yacht finally took us to Crete, the largest of the Greek islands. It is only 2727 km from north Africa and, being June, we were guaranteed blue skies, sunshine, and clear turquoise waters. We had heard that the harbour of Chania in western Crete is the most beautiful harbour on the island, so we headed there in our sailing boat. The harbour is enclosed by a 16th-century sea wall with a narrow entrance channel. There is a lighthouse at the end of the wall, and we suggest you walk towards it before sunset to experience one of the most spectacular sunsets you will ever see.
We had booked a berth in the harbour for our chartered sailboat, and everything was dealt with efficiently.
We walked along the quay which is filled with bars, tavernas, and cafes. The harbour comes to life at night when the lights are reflected in the sea and locals mingle with the tourists. We noticed that there were other chartered sailboats and motorboats berthed in the port as well as private yachts. We were impressed to see a 60-foot yacht bearing a Greek flag. There was even a large cruiser anchored outside of the harbour shining with lights from what seemed like thousands of windows.
We found a delightful restaurant serving freshly caught fish. The cuisine in Chania is impressive and ticks all the boxes of the Mediterranean diet which encourages longevity and excellent health. You will be presented with fresh produce such as locally sourced tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheeses. You can try the classic Greek dish, moussaka, made with fresh aubergines, or boureki, a dish with potatoes, mint, and courgettes. The salads are always fresh, and everything is cooked in healthy olive oil. Try the local wine, it is surprisingly good and inexpensive. You may be given Tsikoudia at the end of your meal, alternatively known as raki. It is a clear spirit that is made from the residue or pomace of wine-making grapes. It is powerful but is said to cure all ills.
The Mosque of The Janissaries
On the following day, we took a walk along the quay in daylight. We could see signs of Venetian rule which was between 1252 and 1645 AD. The Venetians built the harbour, and many of the Venetian buildings above the tavernas and bars have been restored and have become boutique hotels.
The Ottomans ruled Crete between 1645 and 1898 AD, and we walked by the Mosque of the Janissaries which is the oldest structure in town from the Ottoman period, dating back to 1645 AD when the Turks captured Chania. It stands out as it is very different to the Venetian buildings. It has not operated as a mosque since 1923 and is now used for art exhibitions. You may be lucky to see examples of local paintings and sculptures.
The Maritime Museum
Carrying along the quay, towards the northwest side of the harbour, we came to the Revellino del Porto, a fortification built by the Venetians to protect the harbour. Now, this building houses the Maritime Museum of Crete, which is well worth a visit if, like us, you are interested in the naval history of Crete. You will discover interesting artefacts and models of ships from ancient Greek times to the present day. The most exciting displays are on the second floor and depict the Battle of Crete which occurred during the Second World War. You will see photos, newspaper articles, and relics from the time, which will make you realise how dedicated the Cretans were in their fight against the Nazis. In addition, there is a model of Chania in the 17th century, which is enthralling, especially when you realise that a lot of these buildings still exist.
Next to the entrance to the museum, there is a steep alleyway called Angelou Street, which leads you into the old town. There are typical examples here of Venetian architecture from the 16th and 17th centuries. It is one of the most beautiful streets in the old town.
The Archaeological Museum
You mustn’t visit Chania without going to the Archaeological Museum. It used to be close to the harbour but is now located in the suburb of Chalepa, so if you have moored your chartered yacht in the harbour, you will need to take a taxi. It is a much bigger museum than the original, measuring 6000 m2, and it is situated on a plot of land covering 12 acres. From here, you get a spectacular view of the city of Chania.
The museum is set out on two floors. There are three galleries on the ground floor and one on the first floor. They depict the archaeological heritage of Chania from prehistoric times through to Venetian and Turkish occupation. The lives of past citizens are explored, with relics from their homes, businesses, and even their burial customs on display.
In the first gallery, you are presented with the splendour of the Minoan past and the arrival of the Mycenaeans, going back as far as 3000 BC. You will see both ancient artefacts as well as reconstructions of life during these times. The second gallery depicts the establishment of the city-states of West Crete, in particular, Kydonia and Aptera. In the third gallery, there is an interesting reconstruction of a house that was destroyed in the great earthquake of 365 AD, together with some artefacts that have been recovered. There are also many examples of funerary monuments as well as sculptures from the period leading up to the 4th century AD. On the upper floor are artefacts from the Konstantinos, Marika, and Kyriakos Mitsotakis Collection. They range from the 4th century BC until the 3rd century AD. All in all, the Archaeological Museum is worth visiting, even if you only have a couple of days in Chania. It will give you a good insight into the history and flavour of Crete.
Notable Landmarks Close To The Harbour
If you walk up from the harbour along Halidon towards the new town, you will come to the small Folklore Museum which houses a collection of artefacts, tapestries, and traditional crafts. On the other side of the street, you will be able to visit the Greek Orthodox Cathedral, and just above it, the Ohdios Skridlof, or Leather Street, where traditional leather makers ply their trade. Here, prices for leatherware remain the best on Crete. At the end of this street, you can walk towards the Agora, the cross-market which is bustling and colourful. Here you can buy an array of herbs and spices, as well as olive oil and local cheeses.
After such a busy first day in Chania and a very substantial lunch, we returned to our yacht in the harbour for a quiet evening with a glass of wine and some bread and local graviera cheese. As we walked, we noticed that there were notices on some of the small power boats advertising them for rental. It seems everyone can rent a boat for a day and enjoy the coast around Chania.
We wanted to swim and had heard that the Agioi Apostoli beach is worth visiting. It is located 3 km west of Chania town and is popular with both locals and tourists. The Greeks will swim there even in the winter as it is not affected by the winds of Crete. It is a sandy beach, and its shallow waters make it suitable for children. It is well organised with sunbeds and umbrellas and there is a café on the beach. A regular bus service runs there if you don’t want to take a taxi. We took our sailboat on a short cruise and anchored close to the beach for our swim.
We were interested in taking part in water sports and heard that the beach of Neo Chora, which is just west of the Maritime Museum, offered canoes, SUP, water bikes, and windsurfing. We sailed further west in our yacht and saw that there are beaches where you can go jet skiing, water skiing, and kite surfing. There are also diving centres in Chania where you will be taken out by experienced divers.
A Unique City Break
We were very impressed by our visit to Chania in our chartered yacht. There is so much to see and do, whatever your interests are. We enjoyed wandering around the old town, taking in the beautiful architecture and admiring the handmade jewellery to be found in the small, unique shops. The museums gave us a taste of the history of Crete, and we wanted to learn more. The food was excellent, and the waiters made us feel at home. The harbour is beautiful, and we enjoyed relaxing on our sailboat after a day’s sightseeing. It is a place we would visit again and would charter a yacht to see more of the island.
Author: Irena Nieslony
Municipality of Chania
Kydonias 29,P.O. 73135 Chania Crete, Greece