Offering up some of Crete’s best beaches, plenty of cosy tavernas, and a heap of ancient sights, a holiday to Rethymnon is the real Greek deal.
Open countryside, hilltop villages, beaches – the Rethymnon area’s got the lot. Most of the action’s strapped to the north coast, where big and little towns cosy up to Blue Flag beaches. There are nearly 20 of them in total, so expert-approved sunbathing’s a cinch. Further inland, the bumpy landscape's spotted with traditional must-sees, like the wine-making village of Archanes and the picturesque Arkadi Monastery.
Culture and castles
Rethymnon itself has a bunch of different strings to its bow. It’s punched into the centre of Crete’s north coast, and has a belting sandy beach strung out at its feet. Sunbathing’s just the tip of the sun-soaked iceberg, though, and the town comes into its own when sightseeing talk starts. Potter around the old town’s cobbled streets, and you’ll come across the colossal Venetian fortress, the lion-fronted Rimondi Fountain and a glut of pretty townhouses.
Gorge on nature
Crete’s Samaria Gorge is numero uno when it comes to natural scenery, but there’s a lesser-known contender in the Rethymnon area, too. The Kourtaliotiko Gorge features steep craggy cliffsides, with waterfalls, cave-dwelling birds and a cute chapel nuzzled in between. It’s also known by locals as the ‘crackling gorge’, as winds that rush through the canyon create loud clapping and whistling noises.
Things to See and Do in Rethymnon area
Sandy swathes to stony stretches
With Crete being the largest of the Greek Islands, you’d expect it to deliver on the beach front. And it doesn’t disappoint. The island is edged with sandy sweeps and pebbled bays, and the Rethymnon area has some cracking ones. Most of them tick off things like comfy loungers, watersports and beachfront cafés, but there are also a handful of quieter coves where you can escape the crowds.
The big beach
Topping the list when it comes to popular patches is Rethymnon Beach. If you like your beaches supersized, this one will do nicely – it stretches out for more than 12 kilometres. Thanks to its town centre location it gets pretty busy, but if you want a little more elbow room, just head towards the west end where things are a bit quieter. Facilities-wise, this place has everything you could need – loads of sunbeds, watersports galore and enough tavernas to keep you fed all summer.
The secret beach
On the other hand, head for Gerani Beach if quiet coves are more your thing. It’s a pebbled beach in an off-the-beaten-track spot about 10 minutes’ drive from Rethymnon. You’ll find a few parasols and a little taverna dishing up drinks and snacks, but other than that it’s a pretty back-to-nature place. And although there aren’t any watersports to speak of, the underwater rocks make for great snorkelling. It gets a little breezy in summer, thanks to the Meltemi winds, so it’s a good spot if you like to keep cool.
If you want to scratch the shopping itch without breaking the bank, head to Rethymnon’s town’s Thursday morning market. It takes place on Odos Dimitrakaki Street, near the municipal gardens. The stalls are loaded with everything from leather purses to T-shirts.
Rethymnon town is choc-a-bloc with olive wood shops. You’ll find some of the best on Odos Arambatzoglou. Bowls, cooking utensils and pestle and mortars are the most common items to ring through the tills. If you’re into pottery, take a trip to Margarites. This tiny village, 40 minutes from Rethymnon town, is full of workshops where they use traditional methods to create everything from storage jars to plates.
Rethymnon town does a good line in jewellery shops. We’re not talking mass-produced stuff, either. Many of the shop owners design and make the pieces themselves. Make a beeline for Ethnikis Antistaseos Street to find some of the best stores.
Restaurants come thick and fast in Rethymnon town. If you want sea views, head to Eleftheriou Venizelou – the road runs parallel to the beach. Alternatively, take your pick from the tavernas in the old town. M. Vernadou Street is a good place to start the search. For a bit of light entertainment after dinner, you’ll find some live music joints on Radamanthys Street.
Rethymnon town is a university town, so clubs are a given. The area between the Rimonid Fountain and the Venetian harbour is the nerve centre. Clubs here play a mixture of commercial dance and Greek pop music. Most Greek students don’t show their faces until after 11pm and the clubs only start getting busy around 2am.
Made from a combination of sheep and goat’s milk, this cheese is the bedrock of loads of traditional Cretan dishes. Its crumbly consistency and nutty taste mean that it’s served in salads as an appetiser, fried to make saganaki, and baked inside gratins.
These aren’t ordinary cheese pies. Take a bite and you get a hint of aniseed – that’s thanks to the slosh of ouzo that goes in to the pastry mix – before you taste the soft and sweet myzithra cheese inside. These circular bites can be served as a meze dish or snack.
Dakos salad monopolises the starter list in the menus of Rethymnon town. The dish is a bit like bruschetta and it’s made by piling tomatoes on top on traditional bread rusks called paximadia. Then comes lashings of olive oil, freshly picked oregano and cheese.
Katafi pastry is a dead ringer for shredded wheat. The pastry starts life as a dough, then it’s rolled out and cut into vermicelli-thin strands. It earns its dessert status when it’s stuffed with a gooey mixture of egg, nuts, syrup and sweet spices.
In most Cretan villages, there’s a local who’s licensed to produce tsikoudia. The clear spirit is made from the skins of grapes and it’s knock-your-socks-off alcoholic. Most locals keep a bottle in their freezer and sip it slowly with dishes.
Places To Stay In Rethymnon Area View all places to stay »
Rethymnon does the splits between old and new. Open-air cafés and restaurants tack onto the beachfront, and the sandy shoreline’s got what it takes for lazy days and watersports alike. Flip the coin, and you’ll see a dot-to-dot of age-old architecture that’s been left over by settlers from centuries gone by.
This blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town is stashed away on the north coast of Crete. Lots of holidaymakers in these parts tend to head straight for the likes of better-known Rethymnon or Heraklion. But, in recent years, Panormo’s started to build up a fan base of in-the-know families, who come running for its peachy beaches and laidback outlook on life.
Things To Do View all »