Two week's self-catering holiday in Sept 2005 at the Kostas-Chrysoulla Studios, Plakias in SW Crete, booked through Olympic Holidays.
A good 3½ hour Airbus A300 flight from Gatwick to Heraklion on Monarch was followed by a long period standing beside the luggage conveyor belt (we'd got to Gatwick early, so our baggage was first on and last off the plane). The airport first sent us to the wrong carousel, then the Olympic rep sent us to the wrong bus, but we eventually found the right one. A long 2½ hour transfer as we dropped off people at different hotels along the way, and a change from the coach to a minibus for the last few miles meant that we didn't get to our destination until past 6pm. Greek bus drivers all seem to enjoy chatting away into their mobiles while negotiating narrow, winding roads with sheer drops at the side.
On the way back, all suitcases are x-rayed before you check in, meaning that you have to queue for 1½ hours outside as there isn't enough room inside. By the time we'd checked in, the flight was already boarding.
Travellers arriving at either Chania or Heraklion airports need to travel along the north coast road to the port of Rethimnon, and then turn south on the road up over the island's mountainous spine to Spilia and Plakias on the south coast.
Plakias is a small village on the SW coast of Crete, and doesn't seem to have changed much in the 11 years since we were there last. The place has a homely small-village feel with a definite central area where the tavernas and cafes are concentrated next to the harbour jetty and breakwater.
The village is at one end of the mile-long beach, which is mainly soft golden sand, but does have several stretches of shingle near to the village itself. The Kryoneritis and Kouroupa mountain ranges rear up behind the village to over 1000m, with the Kotsifos Gorge slashing the ridge in two. Spectacular view from the far end of the beach across the bay to the village with the mountains behind. The white houses of the villages of Selia and Myrthios cling half-way up the mountain side. The lower slopes of the mountains are covered in olive trees, but the upper slopes are bare rock and thorn scrub.
There are about 20 tavernas and half a dozen cafes spread over a few hundred metres along the seafront behind the beach. In addition there are three or four supermarkets, several souvenir shops, an excellent bakery (open from 7am every day inc Sundays), a couple of ATMs, several agencies who will arrange accommodation, trips, car hire etc. Plenty of free parking space along the promenade. The Kotsifos river flows down from the Gorge through the centre of Plakias under the bridge next to the Lysseos taverna, and trickles out into the sea.
Most visitors to Plakias seem to return over and over again.
Most visitors to Plakias seem to return over and over again. We met one elderly Brit couple who were here on their eighth trip. The resort seems to attract the mature, quieter visitor - there's little for those who want noise and excitement. Evening entertainment revolves around the tavernas and cafes along the front. One evening we found that the road through the village had been cordoned off for a hundred meters, the traffic diverted round the back of the car park, and several rows of chairs set out on the car park facing a small stage which had been erected on the road. A group of 5 young Greeks performed traditional music on bouzoukis and the lyra, a three-stringed, upright fiddle, balanced on one thigh. This was an entirely free entertainment, and there were many local Greeks in the audience who seemed to be enjoying the show, often joining in and singing along. There was also something similar planned a week or so later, with free music and food as well, but unfortunately we missed this as it was scheduled for the day we travelled home.
Car hire from Olympic was a bit of a rip-off. We arranged to hire a Nissan Micra from Olympic before we left, at about £170 for 13 days - a very advantageous rate we thought, until we had the car delivered and discovered that this didn't include any insurance (we hadn't read the small print in the brochure). The insurance came to an additional €260 for 13 days, effectively doubling the cost of hire. At that rate, insurance on a Nissan Micra would be nearly £5,000 per year... Even though the overall hire cost was still below the rates advertised in Plakias, we were left with a feeling that we were victims of sharp practice.
There are several petrol stations within 5km of the village along the main road to Rethimnon. Unleaded varied from €0.95 per liter near Heraklion, to around €1.05 to €1.10 per liter near Plakias.
The Kostas-Chrysoulla Studios are set back some 200m from the beach and the jetty, right behind the centre of the resort, literally a couple of minutes' walk from the tavernas and promenade, the bakery and the jetty. There are some 60 rooms, arranged in three long two-storey blocks perpendicular to the beach.
Our room was on the upstairs level, clean and tidy, with a small but useable shower room with WC and washbasin with mirror over. One great plus point of the studios was plenty of solar-heated hot water, even in the mornings. There was only one day when the water was cold - it had been cloudy with some rain that day.
The cooking area had two very slow electric rings, a sink and a fridge. The ice-box was solid with ice when we arrived - it clearly hadn't been defrosted all summer. Our first evening was spent chipping away at the ice. There were a minimum of pots and pans, crockery and cutlery.
The room contained two comfortable single beds pushed together, bedside cabinets, a wardrobe, a dressing table with mirror, two small tables, and a couple of spare electricity sockets for recharging batteries or running a mozziecutor. There was only one power cut while we were in the room, lasting about 15 minutes. There was a room safe built into the wardrobe (€1 per day), a free TV on a wall bracket (only a couple of channels managed to struggle out of the snow - one of them being BBC World TV on ch 14), and aircon was €5 per day. We didn't bother with this latter, as we'd only have used it for an hour a day. We occasionally propped the entrance door open with a shoe to get a through-draft to cool the room down.
The small west-facing balcony was shady and cool for breakfast, but doesn't give views of the setting sun - the view was straight across to the next apartment block just ten meters away. To the right was a view up the mountainside, where buzzards were frequently to be seen circling in the thermals. And if you leaned out over the balcony rail and looked to the left, you could just about see a bit of blue sea between the trees and buildings. The floor-standing aircon machine took up a significant proportion of the balcony area.
Bath and hand towels and sheets were changed every two or three days. The waste bins (including the compulsory bin beside the WC) were emptied every day.
Downstairs there was a medium sized pool, and a bar and breakfast area surrounded by bougainvillea. The Costas behind the bar were always friendly with a greeting whenever we passed through. Many people seemed to stick by the pool all day - we couldn't understand this, with the superb beach just a short walk away. Across the road was a convenient small car park.
There are a couple of old abandoned watermills in the valley behind the village, which are well worth a visit.
Lance Chilton has written a couple of books each containing details of walks in the area, including one to the watermill. He's also produced a walking map of the area round the village. The books and map are on sale in the supermarket on the promenade for €4 each.
We had every good intention of doing lots of improving walks in the hills, visiting mountain villages and generally seeing the sights, but somehow we didn't get round to it. The weather was superb, so we ended up spending nearly all of our time on Plakias' spectacular beach. We walked up to the watermill one morning, but that was about it.
One spectacular walk that can be done from here is the Gorge of Samaria, about 40km west of Plakias, which we did last time we were here. The travel company rep can arrange this. The Gorge is allegedly the longest in Europe at 18km. An early start as you are taken by coach to the top of the Gorge at about 1000m. Then it's downhill on a rough donkey track all the way to the sea where you board a ferry (the only way out) back to Hora Sfakion where your coach picks you up again. It's a long, hot, moderately strenuous day, but immensely rewarding. There is an abandoned hamlet half-way down where you can stop and eat your picnic lunch. Towards the bottom the Gorge narrows to just a few feet wide – at one place you have to walk on stepping stones down the river as it flows rapidly between the vertical walls which soar up 300m or so. Good trainers needed as a minimum, and be prepared to take them off and wade once or twice. We spoke to a couple who'd done it this time, and they said that they were unable to walk properly for several days afterwards – it's because it's downhill all the way that gets you - so get into training beforehand if you're planning to do it.
Lance Chilton's book includes a walk to the beach at Preveli, a few miles east of Plakias. This old hippy hangout is a beautiful hidden valley with an idyllic river running down through palm trees to the beach. It used to be difficult to get to - just like the film 'The Beach'. Nowadays it features on a thousand postcards, there are daily boat trips from Plakias, a pay car park at the top of the hill and a well-constructed path down to the beach (about 20 minutes). There's even a bar and sunbeds for hire.
On the one rainy day we drove along the coast to Frangokastello, where there is an old castle overlooking the beach.
We were there in the second half of September, and the weather, apart from one thunder-showery day, was perfect - sunny, about 31°C, with a refreshing breeze. We ended up spending nearly all of our time on Plakias' spectacular beach, basking in the sun. At night it was warm enough to eat out in T-shirt and shorts.
The beach is great in May/June or September. July and August are just too hot, and you run the risk of the meltemi - a strong (sometimes up to gale force), cool wind from the north, which means being sand-blasted on the beach. Walking would be superb in April or October.
A good choice of tavernas. Some of our favourites:
Four tavernas: Corali, Sofia, Gorgona and Muses were all right next to each other on the beach beside the jetty. All were good value. They were propped up on either side by some comfortable if expensive cafe/bars.
We had a good swordfish fillet in Corali. Sofia did a tasty pork souvlaki, and Muses was a bit expensive, and also provided us with a very dirty glass once.
For a while our favourite was Gorgona - try the really tasty Apakia (smoked pork) and Saganaki Tyri (fried cheese) starters, and the veal stifado or xifias (swordfish) main courses. However, on a later visit they blotted their copybook by making us wait about an hour for our main course of Xifias Souvlaki to arrive, only for it to be hopelessly overcooked - dry and burnt. To their credit, they didn't charge us for it after we pointed this out.
A few yards away by the bridge was Lysseos, where the delicious Cypriot pork dish Afelia was to be had.
Just past the jetty, on the beach was Gio-Ma, which in our opinion served the best food. Tasty starters included Courgette flowers stuffed with cheese and Kalamarakia (squid). The Kotopolo Souvlaki (chicken kebab) was delicious, and the Choriatiki (Greek salad) was traditional - they didn't pad it out with lettuce and other stuff like many other places do nowadays (we even had beetroot in one a couple of years ago).
An evening meal for two, with a drink before, starter and main, and a bottle of wine with it, will set you back between €20 and €40, depending on your selection of food and wines.
Eight to ten photos, totalling about 1Mb per page.
A very relaxing beach holiday in a quiet and friendly corner of Greece. The Kostas-Chrysoulla studios are basic but acceptable. We'd definitely go back, since we've found nowhere else in Greece to match Plakias, but we would probably try and find accommodation that's a bit more up-market.