“It’s my favourite village in Crete and the prettiest one on the island”, said the sales chap at Sunvil. I’m sometimes a little sceptical about conversations like this, however on this occasion, he was absolutely right. Paleochora is pretty and properly Cretan. Not a neon light in sight, not a burger bar or Irish pub, rather Greek restaurants and bars, chairs and tables across the streets after 7pm and a really relaxed bustle about the place.
The village sits on its own peninsula, less than half a kilometre wide, with streets on a neat grid system, criss-crossed by alleyways replete with cats and tumbling bright bougainvillea. You have a choice of two beaches, aptly named Sandy Beach and Stoney or Pebble Beach. If it’s windy on one, you decamp to the other, marvellous. Pebble Beach is less popular for obvious reasons, though a pair of swimming shoes solves any problems.
It’s a tad more boho on this side – wandering along the stones, away from the village, I spotted a few older camper vans that had obviously been in situ for the season, with stone and wood sculptures around them, even a carefully made path from van door to the water and a semi-permanent outdoor kitchen area. And why not? This has to be as peaceful a place as any.
Sandy Beach, as the name suggests, was on a wide sandy bay, with all the attendant niceties, sun beds, umbrellas and boardwalks, because, my word, does the sand get hot. Add to this the efficient services of Bella, Catherine and Gorgeous George running drinks and food right to your lounger from the family restaurant.
In September the visitors were, in the main, our age and some a decade or two older. Not many thong bikinis here or sylph-like figures, more comfortable folk enjoying the sun, sipping a beer, reading a book, chatting. When I wandered along this beach, past the last low-rise apartment building, clusters of naturists hove into view. Good for them I thought, about turn and back to enjoy a sunset cocktail: this was a natural display not to be missed, bursts of red and orange dropping into the ocean.
In the evening, the streets of Paleochora become a hive of activity. The main thoroughfare positively hums, restaurants and bars are busy serving really good Greek food, with Cretan specialities such as sarikopitakia, sheep’s cheese-filled pastries fried in olive oil. There’s a wedding cake of a church at the top of the ‘high street’.
We ate out somewhere different every night for a week, spoilt for choice and thoroughly enjoyed each reasonably-priced meal, with a complimentary raki and sweet something at the end. The Sunvil chap had told me that too. Tick once again. He with whom I travel noticed a slightly different establishment offering curried goat. His Caribbean roots will out. We discovered the Small Garden, run by a Dutch couple, he out front, she in the kitchen, with an Indonesian/Indian/West Indian menu. It’s popular and has to be booked at least 24 hours in advance. And we recommend it wholeheartedly, along with Oriental Bay, lovely beachy feel and Akrogiali.
We stayed in a one-bedroom apartment in the village centre, simple and ideal. Mimayia Apartments provide a daily maid service, a wonderfully comfy bed, decent shower and the essentials of a kitchen, fine for scrambled eggs, toast and coffee. All but moments away from the colourful, cheerful village centre. I talked to a couple staying in the same place, it was their sixth visit to Plaeochora with Sunvil, they visit to extend the summer. What a fabulous phrase and they were right. Neat and Scottish, they don’t ‘do’ the beach, they walk and wander, finding new villages each year, going back to favourites. And I heard this over and over, “We’ve been coming here for years, we love it. It’s our special escape”.
I fancied a gorge walk so we decided on coffee and cake in Anidroi village up the hill, then a scamper down the rocks and boulders to Gialiskari beach.
Anidroi is high up, with a tiny church dedicated to St Nicholas and St George, the frescos depicting them are still clearly visible after hundreds of years. Movingly we met the granddaughter of the man who started the village when he fled into the hills from the coast as the Turks invaded. Almost everyone in the graveyard has the same surname: the family came up high and stayed. So to the gorge, a really fun 3 kilometre downhill walk, scramble, clamber until the one obstacle, a 6 metre sheer drop managed by abseiling using a well-tethered rope. I struggled a bit here, however inelegantly got myself down after some firm coaxing.
Hearing the sound of a generator 30 minutes later perked me up no end, surely that meant a fridge and a beer were within reach. And so they were. Bliss. It was hot, and after a Greek salad, omelette and that beer (15 euros for us both) in a true beach shack, I succumbed to my own semi-naturist moment in the sea. The beach wasn’t busy, populated by a few Dutch and Germans who looked as if they’d arrived 30 years earlier and never gone home!
We taxied up to Anidroi, arranging to be collected later at the beach. It’s worth mentioning that we didn’t have cash to pay the fare, no one was worried, we had to pop back to the taxi office twice to sort this out but not once was there any hint of an issue. We were totally trusted. It’s that kind of a place.
Sunday brought a whole new feel to Paleochora, every resident and their families were out – strolling, eating, listening to musicians, gossiping. It was a real community day, restaurants were happily full, kids racing around on sparkly scooters, grandparents indulging youngsters and parents enjoying food. Nothing showy, just honest pleasure at being together.
And that sums up this village – honest pleasure in a pretty place. September is a great time to visit, still warm, mainly adult visitors and perfect for extending the summer.