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Getting insider knowledge about the lovely little Greek port of Loutro from Dave was a stroke of luck. He’s the kind of tourist you really want to cross paths with – a chatty English holidaymaker who visits this blue-and-white fishing village in rural southern Crete every year.
Dave is right when he says that Crete is a wonderful ‘last ray of sunshine’ destination, staying warm well into October. How could it fail? It is the southernmost major holiday island of Greece. EasyJet and BA fly here until late in the season.
Dave knows his onions when it comes to dining out and recommends the delicious—and affordable—moussaka at The Old Phoenix. And that’s just to get started.
Nick Redman explores the pretty little harbor of Loutro, pictured, on a tour of the unspoilt hamlets and isolated parts of Crete’s southwest coast
“Go to Stratis, behind the church,” he says, the next time we run into each other. ‘It’s the best food in Loutro. They barbecue the chicken souvlaki right in front of you – and they make the best fries in Greece.’
The food from the grill is succulent and this family run restaurant is generous with both the orange cheesecake and the complimentary raki.
As the day over the horseshoe harbor slowly turns pink and then gray, I think, ‘Why doesn’t everyone come here?’ Then I think, “What a relief that so few do.”
It’s quiet and so devoid of high-rise package hotels – much like the Mediterranean of 30 or 40 years ago.
Loutro is one of a series of pristine hamlets and isolated beaches along a 32 mile stretch of the southwest coast. It’s not a place for culture buffs, so don’t come for historical sites or museums. You are here for a holiday full of transparent shallow waters, simple tavernas and lurid sunsets that will make you feel carefree and 25 again.
‘It’s quiet and so devoid of high-rise package hotels – much like the Mediterranean of 30 or 40 years ago,’ says Nick of Loutro
So where’s the catch? There is none. It’s just that this part of Crete isn’t easily developed – steep flanks drop down to the sea, leaving practically no room for roads or resorts, just small, time-faded beach towns served by boats and ferries.
Fly to Chania instead of Heraklion and get on a bus (15 pounds) south.
In an hour and 45 minutes, after a final Scalextric descent of the Lefka Ori (White Mountains – the backbone of Western Crete), the small harbor town of Hora Sfakion pops up. This is where my odyssey begins. The waterfront restaurants are cheerful but not hectic. I have two days here although I could live here for a year – double rooms with balconies in Samaria By The Sea cost £90 a night and have bought fridges for Mythos beers from a mini market.
Vrissi, the bay here, is reached by steep steps, with sun loungers to hire to while away the days. It has a blue swell that makes me hungry after an hour of swimming.
To best explore the southwest coast of Crete, fly to Chania (pictured) and hop on a bus south
Vrissi (above), the bay off the small harbor town of Hora Sfakion, is reached by steep steps, with loungers to hire to while away the days
Time to visit the Three Brothers taverna, framed by pink rhododendrons, above the beach. The Greek salad has a whole street plate of delicious feta.
Moving on to Loutro, I stay just around the headland at The Old Phoenix and walk back over the eerie promontory for nightcaps next to Loutro’s harbor waters. The Old Phoenix is a fairly unreconstructed boarding house, but it’s perfect for the price: family-run, intimate and presiding over its own deep, quiet cove, with kayaks you can take with you.
Walkers walking the southern coastal path check in – doubles start at £50, or £45 if you pay in cash – and breakfast toast with honey on the terrace is a rare occasion; ditto dinner, under a Biro-blue sky with stars.
At Agia Roumeli, pictured, Nick sees ‘hot and bothered walkers throw themselves into the cooling shallows’
An aerial view of Sougia, Nick’s final destination, where he enjoys ‘cool beach swims’ and ‘sea bass lunches’
sunflower (sunvil.co.uk) has seven nights of self-catering in Loutro from £1,156 pp, on a two-sharing basis, including flights from Gatwick on October 18, 2022.
Small motorboats arrive to take guests 20 minutes west to Marmara Beach, with its aquarium-clear shallow boulders; or east, to Sweetwater, where almost the only signs of life are the goats – and Yorgos, who runs the casual Mermaid Taverna, sits above the water.
I didn’t feel further removed from the luxury resorts of the north, sitting here peacefully on the Libyan Sea, with North Africa on the horizon. I almost regret going further west to Sougia tomorrow, and the end of my journey.
I needn’t have worried. The 90-minute journey there is a breezy break in itself, on a multi-deck flat-bottomed car ferry.
I buy a chilled beer and open it as the shoreline changes. Here and there Orthodox churches cling to rocks, small and pastel like Mr Kipling French Fancies. Every now and then we shudder into a small harbor.
At Agia Roumeli, hot and bothered hikers plunge into the cooling shallow water. Finally we reach Sougia. The owners of my white cube-shaped apartment leave free wine and raki in the fridge, and I lie down for a while before getting up for long, cool dives from the beach.
There are sea bass lunches and wine-spiced conversations with guests at the next table. We agree never to tell anyone about this part of South Crete. Oops, too late. I just have.