Once a backpacker secret, the beach resort of Georgioupolis in Crete is a great place to relax, but also offers wonderful opportunities to explore traditional villages and spectacular mountain scenery
The Apokoronas area of northwest Crete is a wonderfully diverse part of the island, which reaches from the White Mountains to the sea. The first tourists to discover the village of Georgioupolis were backpackers in the 60s and 70s, and although it has expanded since then, it has managed to retain its character. It’s a year-round village with a tight-knit local community, and if you stay even for just a few days, you will soon be on “yassas” terms, which is a great way to practise your Greek.
Three rivers run into Georgioupolis, which is built on the delta of the largest, the Almiros. It was only settled in modern times, in about 1880. Until then, the area had been abandoned due to the swamps around the delta and the fear of malaria, but when eucalyptus trees were planted to combat the mosquitoes with their scent, their water consumption had the added advantage of drying up the marshy ground. However, if you're like me, and every mosquito shouts “dinner” when they spot you, I would recommend you still use repellent.
In the village
There is a large pharmacy on the village square, as well as an internet café, bars (including sports bars for those of you who can’t miss the match), tavernas, an ATM and car and bike hire. For self-catering, Market Anna is the best place to stock up; if you can’t find what you want, ask Anna if she can order it in for you. In the little side streets off the square, you will find everything you could possibly need, from the hairdresser to shops selling traditional local products.
The beach in Georgioupolis is a spotless 6km long - the longest in Crete. It can get very crowded from June onwards but if you stroll away from the harbour area, it is much quieter and you will still find plenty of bars to quench your thirst.
For the more athletic (not me, I hasten to add), there are mountain bike tours with Adventure Bikes, whose shop is just off the main square. There is also horse riding on offer. I hadn’t been on a horse for many years, so stuck to the beginners’ tour. It is a wonderful way to see the surrounding countryside, and the horses only walk, so kids as young as six can join in. But if you have some experience, you can take a beach ride. Groups are organised in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the hottest part of the day.
First thing in the morning, it is worth going down to the harbour to watch the boats chug in past the little chapel of St Nicholas, the patron saint of fishermen, to sell their catch. From here, you can hire a kayak or pedalo to explore the river among the ducks and visiting pelicans.
Eating, drinking, sleeping
When it comes to eating and drinking, there is a huge choice. For lunch, I would recommend the Deep Blue Sea, which has a great view of the beach and lovely staff (Litsa and her mum couldn’t be more helpful), and also offers well-priced studios and apartments over the taverna. In a quieter garden setting is the Taverna Paradise, which has been run by the Apostolakis family for 16 years and where you are still invited into the kitchen to choose your food in the traditional way. Here again, there are well-priced studios and apartments for rent. Just around the corner is the village bakery, which is said to bake the best bread on the island.
Another good option is the Platia in the square. I once arrived extremely late at night, and this was one of the few tavernas still open, as it is popular with locals as well as visitors. Even in the early hours we had a very good meal. The family’s hotel, the Kokalas, is just 250 metres away, and if you fancy a night in, you can order from the menu and have it delivered to your room.
Out and about
For a day in town, a short walk takes you up to the main highway, where the regular bus service connects with Chania, Rethymnon and Heraklion. To explore the smaller and less accessible villages, a car or bike is a must - but if driving is not part of your idea of a holiday, you can still visit nearby villages. The Talos road train will take you the five kilometres up to Lake Kournas, the only freshwater lake of Crete. It’s a beautiful place for lunch, with the White Mountains reflected in its waters. You can swim, take a pedalo out or walk around the lake to spot turtles, birds and water snakes (don’t worry: they’re not venomous).
Another train route passes through some of the surrounding villages. My favourite is Argyroupolis, famous for its waterfalls. It’s a great place to stop for lunch in the lower part of the village, where the waterfalls flow through the tavernas. In the upper village, collect a map from the avocado beauty shop and take a walking tour. The map highlights hidden delights, including Roman inscriptions and a child’s sarcophagus incorporated into the steps of a church. If you have hired a car or bike, why not pack your toothbrush and stay overnight to experience real village life once the day-trippers have left?
I travelled independently by Aegean Airlines, which flies from Stansted to Heraklion or Chania via Athens; easyJet also fly direct from Gatwick and Manchester to Heraklion. If you prefer to book a package, both Thomson and First Choice offer Georgioupolis.