This year the lust for sun, sea, bare skin (and Ryanair’s route options from Bristol) brought me to Crete, the largest Greek island.
Driven by poor info and clear priorities (sun, sea, bare skin, indeed) my better half and I landed in Chania, equipped with just a few anchors (a rented wrecked car and two nights booked in a super clean-super new-super equipped-super beautiful Airbnb apartment) and a vague idea of visiting the West part of the island.
Our goals were pretty basic and not so ambitious:
- finding beaches to lay down our towels, read and sunbathe in our birthday suit, dressed exclusively in sun and air, among other supporters of the free body culture;
- locating a local restaurant with vegan options where we can celebrate our third wedding anniversary (fully clothed).
The beaches of the Crete of the West
Naturism in Crete is tolerated and largely practised even though there’s no official naturist beach apart from Filaki Beach which is part of Vritomartis Naturist Resort.
Our options were to find a secluded and empty beach and undress or visit the beaches reported on the web to be ideal for naturists. With too little days ahead to play the explorers (and no will to wake up early), we chose the latter.
In the West, Falassarna seemed to be the beach elected by the naturist people of the internet, but we decided to stop in Balos first, still enchanted by the postcard-like pictures we found on Google before we left.
Balos: (virtual) heaven on Earth
Balos is a white sand lagoon touched by very shallow water also known as “a breathtaking spectacle”, “heaven on earth”, and “one of the most stunning beaches in all of Greece”.
There are two ways to get to Balos: one is touristic and relaxing, and the other is adventurous and challenging.
Following the tourist route, you can get to Balos with a boat trip from the port of Kissamos. The tour may include a two-hour stop in Gramvousa, the little legendary pirate island (ticket price is the same: 27€ per person; you can purchase tickets at the port of Kissamos, where there’s a free parking area). The drawback of taking a boat excursion is that you will be arriving at Balos lagoon with a big crowd of tourists, losing the chance to enjoy the scenery still surrounded by peace before the invasion, and you’ll have to stick to timetables, answering the call of the wailing boat’s siren. The priceless advantage is that you won’t go through the pain of the dynamic travellers that choose the other route.
The other way to reach Balos is by road, following a two-step itinerary: an 8 km janky dirt road (there will be a €1 per person entrance fee) overlooking steep precipices (that’s the easy part) and a 20-minutes’ walk along a downslope path. Heading to the beach, the path will look like an easy and delightful descent with a scenic view (the same featured in the images on the web) of the lagoon still deserted, kissed by the early morning sun. On the way back, it will look like a slow, arduous (30 to 40 minutes) climbing in the hot, blazing sun, carrying the burden of the whole day (and the envy of all tourists getting on the boat that will ferry them to dry land, a few steps away from their parked car) as a punitive prelude to the remaining 8 km dirt road.
I landed on Balos picturing the famous postcard-like picture printed on all the posters outside the tourist agencies around Crete, expecting the heaven on Earth. Having chosen the tourist route, I missed the scenic top-down view, so I didn’t fall under the scenery spell. Maybe also because there were more tourists than I was ready to tolerate. I knew naturism wasn’t viable in Balos, but I was willing to pay the price of only one piece of my bikini for visiting a can’t-miss beach. So, regardless of my beach neighbours’ reluctance to uncover their skin, I opted to go topless (followed by some gals).
Falassarna: private natural swimming pool
After leaving Balos, we headed to Falassarna on a mission: getting finally rid of the swimsuit.
Falassarna is a wide and long sandy beach with some rocky sections, peacefully installed in a vast plain covered in olive trees and surrounded by mountains, perpetually brushed by the wind. The road from Kissamos is good and quiet until you reach a handful of metres of dirt track leading to the beach from several access points. The naturist part is located at the northern end.
Our first day here, we wrongly headed to South, finding no trace of naturism but ending in an empty part of the beach. We felt like we were in the wrong place, but the urge to let the sun reach all of our square metres of skin was getting stronger.
Some minutes after embracing nudity, we realised the main road was right behind our back, just a few metres away, and the incredulous faces of the few drivers kept turning to us.
We spent two more days in Falassarna, finally tracking down the naturist ambient.
The northern end of the beach, past the last area with sunbeds and umbrellas, gets a bit rocky, with coves and small dunes. During my brief naturist life experience, I learned persistence and determination are key to winning the freedom from clothes. Sometimes this means walking for long, climbing and taking alternative routes. Lazy but wise, we didn’t stop at the first sighting of bare skin, but we kept walking. A bunch of metres ahead, right beyond some wrecks of what once used to be boats, the paradise was waiting for us: pebbles and rocks arranged in a circle, hugging a small, intimate inlet; a natural seawater pool. Here the impeccable crystal clear water has no fear of the wind and, careless of whatever atmospheric condition, runs placid and peaceful all day long, reflecting shades of turquoise and emerald green. The seabed is sandy in the centre, surrounded by rocks and pebbles that cover the beach. A small patch of sand ending in the inlet takes to a sandy terrace surrounded by rocks and oleanders where you can sunbathe. We also met a couple with kids who camped there for a couple of days.
Elafonissi: the blushing beach of Instagram
Elafonissi is the other can’t-miss beach in Crete, appreciated for the pinkish shades that make the white sand blush, and its analogies with Caribbean landscapes appealing to Insta travellers. The long rough road to Elafoniss sneaks into the precipices that draw peaks and gorges on the surface of the island, leading (faster or slower depending on the presence of herds of goats crossing the road) to the free huge car park with cars abandoned everywhere. In the main beach, water fills up and empties the lagoon as the tides rise and fall, creating ponds where the tourists’ bodies lie down prone or supine, making their bottoms and tummies painted white with sun cream pop out of the warm, shallow water.
A thin sandy isthmus links the main beach with a small peninsula covered in vegetation, with rocks in the seabed and on the coast that create inlets and drop the only short shadows of the whole lagoon.
Confident of the not-yet-high season, we searched the perimeter of the peninsula in the quest for a quiet stretch of beach to mark as naturist, failing miserably. The mass of tourists flocking to Elafonissi every day, scatter around the whole walkable surface, sheltering under the straw umbrellas that hide the sunbeds placed a few hands away from each other from the hot sun. The peninsula becomes a destination for those armed with the camera playing the reporters in an attempt to break up the boredom of their day.
We found some peace only in the evening when the urge to eat and wash the salt off the body were calling the tourists back to their cars.
Elafonissi Beach has just some bars, toilets and small stalls selling vacation essentials like necklaces, towels, and beach-ball rackets. The accommodations nearby are just a few, so after leaving the beach, most of the tourists have to drive to more populated areas. We had booked an apartment in Paleochora, a small village not so far from Elafonissi. As the crow flies. When we left the beach, we still didn’t know we had to cross the hinterland and drive for 50 kilometres, and more than 1 hour, in order to get to Paleochora. It was worth it just for the wonderful pita falafel we eat in a small local grill house of the centre and for the presence of humanity: after the excessive quiet of Kissamos and Falassarna, the sighting of all those humans populating all the streets and squares facing pizzerias and local restaurants was invigorating. Surprisingly, there was also music playing around the city.
Chania: missed beauty
I’m not going to dwell on the details and advice about Chania because I didn’t see much of the jewel of Crete and its gem, the Venetian Harbour, for two reasons.
We planned to spend two nights visiting the city, but…
The first night was spent in desperate need of a restaurant with a sufficient number of vegan options to put a dinner together for celebrating our wedding anniversary. After sifting through the alleys teeming with restaurants, kitchen bars and taverns, our pressing hunger and the reviews on Tripadvisor took us to one of the wood tables scattered in the streets in front of a local restaurant.
Entertained by live Sirtaki dance and music and the waiters who broke into our selfies, we ate onion-filled fried pastries (Kalitsounia), zucchini flowers stuffed with rice, vine leaves stuffed with rice, tomatoes stuffed with rice, and eggplants stuffed with.. vegetables. As per the typically warm Greek hospitality, at the end of our dinner, we were served with local grappa, some watermelon pieces and two coconut cake cubes too tempting to wonder if they were vegan or not: they were delicious!
The second night, hypothetically intended for the visit to the harbour, a friend of us kept us hanging on the mobile asking for sexual advice for his newly-born love story. By then, our ego was too eager to escape that moral obligation, so we spent our night via Whatsapp, eating and drinking everything within our reach in the Airbnb: homemade wine, olives, cherries, Oreos and some oat cookies we took away from our next day breakfast.
Naturism has always taken us close to people we found out to have a lot in common with, something more than the philosophy of letting the skin free to sweat freedom and converse with nature with no filters.
During this trip we had only a few human contacts due to the low availability of material (people), still this Cretan experience taught us something: no matter how white is the sand, how crystal clear is the sea, how hot is the sun, we won’t be able to enjoy nature if we cannot dialogue with it as equals – ergo naked.
Pictures by I’M