Crete: Village-Magnets in the Region of Hania

Venture beyond the island’s undisputed beauty to the region around Hania's Old Town and discover five villages where tradition, history, art and local initiative converge.

Boasting stunning beaches, such as Elafonissi; the “king” of the Cretan canyons, Samaria; and an Old Town so beautiful that it has been called “Venice of the East,” the region of Hania is also home to some rather unique villages that have won the hearts of many a foreign traveler and are worth exploring during your stay at this westernmost part of Crete.

Vamos (28.3 km / 38 min-drive from Hania Town)

When a group of young men with roots in the village of Vamos decided to transform it into an agritourism destination back in 1994, the rest of Greece didn’t even know what sustainable tourism meant.

The village, the former capital of the Sfakia region, already had public offices and beautiful grand mansions. The men began by restoring their family homes, transforming them into guesthouses, and building a taverna. None of them took the matter too seriously, and this is possibly the reason for their success. They did everything themselves: even doctors and civil engineers ended up being tasked with peeling potatoes! The young men grew up and each now has his own business, while new members are being added all the time.

Today, Vamos is a beautiful village with guesthouses for every budget, the same taverna, called Sterna tou Bloumosifi, with excellent lamb roasted in a wood-fired oven, and an agency for agritourism activities, such as cooking lessons, olive-picking and grape-harvesting. Every year, the famous Jazz in July Festival takes place, while the restored factory of the village, Fabrica, hosts cultural events and courses.

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Gavalohori (28.8 km / 39 min-drive from Hania Town)

Over the years, hundreds of western European visitors have arrived in the Apokoronas region and decided to stay for good. The tranquil landscape with olive groves and beautiful villages, as well as the easy access to the sea and to the cities of Hania and Rethymno, was reason enough.

In the village of Gavalohori alone, 40 of the 200 residents are from abroad. Walk along the narrow lanes of this protected settlement, admire the old, colorful houses and, in the afternoon, join the locals at the cafés in the large main square. For the complete Gavalohori experience, visit the well-designed Historical and Folklore Museum (Tel. (+30) 28250.232.22) and then the local women’s cooperative to get acquainted with the traditional embroidery technique of kopaneli, in which small wooden bobbins are used to braid the threads on either a special pillow or a wooden casket. Girls here are eager to learn from their mothers and grandmothers who, unlike elsewhere in Crete, haven’t abandoned the craft.

Finally, have a look at the 24 Venetian wells with their stone-built domes, situated in a verdant stretch of land a little ways out from the village.

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Rokka (38.6 km / 44 min-drive from Hania Town)

Back in 2013, a group of friends decided to bring life back to their nearly deserted village of Rokka, in the stony Kissamos mountains by holding a classical music concert. The event took place under the full August moon next to the excavated ruins of ancient Rokka with attendees sitting on the ground as if in an ancient amphitheater. The audience was mesmerized, and that first concert eventually evolved into a two-week annual event now known as Giortes Rokkas (“The Celebrations of Rokka”) that draws in crowds from near and far.

Theatrical, musical and dance performances are staged in squares, streets and private courtyards in Rokka and in the nearby village of Kera. The intimacy of these settings adds to the charm of this unique celebration.

Verekinthos (8.2 km / 19 min-drive from Hania Town)

Not far from the city of Hania lies Verekinthos, an arts and crafts village offering a model environment for reviving and sustaining the arts, which have been always an integral part of Cretan life and culture.

According to Greek mythology, Verekinthos was the mountain where Idaioi Daktiloi – sons of Zeus and protectors of the Arts – once lived and were worshiped. They came to this mountain to teach age-old arts to men, such as metallurgy, pottery, glassworks and weaving.

At modern-day Verekinthos you’ll encounter dozens of artists and craftsmen – from silversmiths and music instrument makers to ceramicists and painters – who gather year-round to work in their studios and exhibit their creations. (Tel. (+30) 28210 89101, 28210 80374, 28210 80224, Open Mon-Sat 10.00-16.00; times may vary).

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Paleohora (71.2 km / 1h 23 min-drive from Hania Town)

The sun, the sense of relaxation, the enchanting Libyan Sea, the feeling of freedom: it is for these reasons that people from all over the world have moved permanently to Paleohora. The small town with 1,500 inhabitants is built on a peninsula with two popular beaches within the settlement and many more further afield. Gialiskari (a sandy stretch) and Krios (a beach of fine shingle) are among the most impressive.

Inside the town, visit the small Venetian Fortezza and walk through the narrow lanes. Tavernas, small bars and shops add to its cosmopolitan aura. The best thing you can do is to spend the evening at Aghios Bar, in a space that housed a kafeneio since 1900. Jams, fruit purées, several types of eau de vie from herbs and fruits that they have distilled themselves are mixed with various kinds of aged raki, Greek wines and cognac to make unforgettable cocktails.

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