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Obviously, Greece has a long history. The Olympic Games and what we think of as classical Greek culture started around 776 BCE.
Civilization on Crete began even before that.
The island, which is the largest island in Greece and fifth largest in the Mediterranean, was home to the ancient Minoan civilization, considered the first recorded civilization in Europe, from around 3,000 BCE to 1,100 BCE (depending on what you read). After the Minoans, the island went through a number of occupations and was held under Roman, Byzantium, Arab, Venetian and Turkish rule before finally joining Greece in 1913. Each period left a mark, and while many things were destroyed over the years, Crete’s culture, traditions, lifestyle, ruins, architecture, art, music and cuisine show influences from all.
While there are certainly still glimpses of different influences and civilizations on the island, they’re not always obvious. In the town of Chania (also sometimes spelled Hania) however, the town layout and architecture has been almost fully preserved from the Venetian period.
Due to its location and role as a port city, Chania’s old harbor was a crossroads for all five continents and while Venetian architecture rules the city, there are also a number of obvious Byzantine and Turkish architectural influences as well creating a unique spot that blends thousands of years of history. Today, it’s a popular destination for foreign tourists as well as Greeks and the perfect place for a weekend getaway.
Narrow pathways wind between Venetian buildings surrounding the old harbor and hiding a number of hotels, restaurants, shops, museums and churches. Busy in the high season, like the other touristy parts of Greece, it’s incredibly quiet in the low season. Though with the tourists come some of the tacky shops, mediocre restaurants (and Starbucks), there are plenty of genuine experiences and meals to be had. (Crete in general has some incredible cuisine, from stalls serving massive gyros and souvlaki, to small, family-owned tavernas, to higher end restaurants – this one was even named Alana! – all serving fresh food and using ingredients and recipes from the island.) As with anywhere, the restaurants and bars along the water inside the port tend to be the most overpriced and disappointing – wander back through the streets a little ways however and you can find some small unique places. (My suggestion would be not go to a place with signs like these…)
Since the city is right on the water, there are several sailing trip options and, naturally, beautiful views. The light in Greece, especially on the islands, just seems to be something else and nowhere is this more true than in Chania. Throughout the day the changing sunlight makes the water and multicolored buildings look completely different. All in all, it’s a great place to stop for a couple nights and just enjoy yourself, whether you’re traveling solo, with a family or a significant other, before touring around the rest of the island.
You can get from Athens to Chania by boat or plane. There’s also a local bus station just minutes away from the old part of town that can help connect you to the rest of the island. A bus from Chania to Heraklion, Crete’s capital city, is two hours and costs just under 14€.
There is a wide range of accommodations options right in town ranging from four-star resorts to family owned guest houses. Since I was visiting at the end of the tourist season I just found a room once I got there for about 30€, but would certainly research options and make reservations during the high season or on a weekend, especially if you’re doing a romantic couple’s getaway.
There are restaurants and grocery stores everywhere – you definitely won’t go hungry!