Chania Prefecture (Greek: Perifereiaki Enotita Chanion) is one of the four regional units of Crete; it covers the westernmost quarter of the island. Its capital is the city of Chania. Chania borders only one other regional unit: that of Rethymno to the east. The western part of Crete is bounded to the north by the Cretan Sea, and to the west and south by the Mediterranean Sea. The regional unit also includes the southernmost island of Europe, Gavdos.
Chania regional unit, often informally termed ‘Western Crete’, is a beautiful and in many parts unspoiled part of the island. Districts include verdant Apokoronas, mountainous Sfakia, and Selino in the far South West corner. Some other notable towns in the Chania prefecture are Hora Sfakion, Kastelli-Kissamos, Palaiochora, Maleme, Vryses, Vamos, Georgioupolis & Kalives.
The natural park of Samariá Gorge, a major tourist attraction and a refuge for the rare Cretan wild goat or kri-kri, is in the South of the regional unit. The White Mountains or Lefka Ori, through which the Samaria, Aradena, Imbros and other gorges run, are the limestone peaks topped by snow until May that occupy much of the Chania regional unit. They contain more than 40 peaks over 2,000 meters high. The highest peak in this area is Pachnes, at 2,453 meters above sea level.
The regional unit also includes three headlands, known as the “three heads” of Crete. From east to west, they are: Akrotiri, Rodopos (also called Spatha), and Gramvousa.
Western Crete is popular with tourists for its spring flowers that linger on into early May in the mountains. Birdwatching is also popular, with the lammergeier and golden eagle especially sought for. As an island, Crete has many endemic species of plant and animal.
Crete’s only freshwater lake, Lake Kournas, is in the regional unit close to the border with Rethymno regional unit, 47 km from Chania. It is relatively large, with a perimeter of 3.5 km. The lake used to be called ‘Korisia’ after ancient ‘Korion’, a city thought to be in the area with a temple to Athena. The lake used to be reportedly full of eels but now is better known for its terrapins and tourists. Tavernas and pedalo rental shops line part of the shore. Overall, however, the lake retains its beauty, the White Mountains reflected in the mirror-like waters. Chania is the regional unit of Crete that receives the most precipitation. The Exkursionsflora von Kreta by Jahn & Schoenfelder has a precipitation map and text confirming that in general, western Crete, in case Chania prefecture, has more precipitation than any other region on an average basis.
Chania is one of the oldest cities in Greece. Where the current city of Chania now stands once lay the ancient city of Kydonia, which was one of the biggest towns during Minoan Crete. According to legend, the town was built by Kydon grandson of Minoa. Accounts of the city were made throughout this period (geometrical progression, Archaic). Remarkable was her resistance against the Romans, but unfortunately, the supreme Cointus Caicilus Metallus 69 BC had the powers to occupy the city. Kydonia was to continue flourishing throughout the Roman and Byzantine period and became the seat of the bishop; it was finally destroyed when raided by the Arabs around 824 AD.
The Byzantines undertook the restoration of the city in order for Bonifacio Momferatico to surrender it to the Venetians, after the Latino’s conquered Constantinopolis. The local population was to look upon the Venetians with mistrust, and revolts were to become frequent especially in the mountainous region of Sfakia. Chania was to become a commercial centre in the 16th century. Although the town was well fortified it was still one of the first cities in Crete to come under attack by the Turks. In 1645 the town fell into the hands of the Turks and became the seat of Pasa one of the most important cities on Crete under Turkish rule. In 1851 it officially became the capital of Crete and after the revolution in 1897 the capital of the Cretan State. Finally, on 1st December 1913 the dream of all Cretans became a reality the exemption of Chania and the rest of Crete from foreign forces, the whole of Crete becomes part of Greece.
The town is again to suffer major damage from the bombings during the Second World War. After the Second World War Chania flourishes once again even though the capital of the island is now Heraklion. Here was founded the technical university of Crete which made it an important economic, academic and research centre.
Today apart from being a popular tourist attraction, it’s a town with intense character and rich socially and intellectually and is quick to captivate its visitors the town of Chania is made up of the old and the new towns which blend together harmoniously. The old town consists of the magnificent Venetian wall from the 15 century and constitutes a characteristic sample of Venetian architecture. Old Venetian buildings beautifully renovated will take you on a journey back in time. Narrow streets lead through Venetian and Turkish buildings evidence of the towns turbulent past. The harbour with its long jetty and lighthouse is a reminder of when the city was once a busy commercial city. The harbour can no longer cope with today’s demands so Souda Harbour has taken over.
Places worth going to see
The Venetian harbour, one of the city’s famous landmarks, Santrivani square and especially nice to visit during the summer is the old town with a combination of Venetian and Turkish buildings. The naval museum stands on the Venetian Firka fortress. The mosque of Yenitsaron is the oldest mosque in Crete. In the square of St. Ekaterina, you can see the excavations which brought to light the Minoan way of life. The Spatzia district, old Turkish neighbourhood, the picturesque Spinlof street and the archaeological museum on Chalidon street. The municipal market is one of the most impressive covered markets of the Balkans. Finally the new town of Chania you can visit the municipal gardens work of Reouf Pasa and the neighbourhood of Chalepas.
Popular Resorts of Chania Prefecture
One of the most popular and social beaches of Crete is located only 9 km away from Chania. The beach of Agia Marina in the Municipal Unit of Nea Kydonia features very fine sand and an extent of more than 2 km. It is one of the most well organized beaches of the Municipality of Chania as well as of the whole prefecture, providing lifeguard services and organized tourist facilities, comfort for swimmers and various water sports (windsurfing, water ski etc.). The beach of Agia Marina is also ideal for families with children, since its shallow, warm water is considered to be absolutely safe. In front of the beach of Agia Marina is located the island Agii Theodori or Thodorou, which hosts the protected wild goats of Crete, known as Kri-Kri. Agia Marina a very vibrant area with shops, restaurants, cafe’s, bars. It’s a very family oriented resort, suitable for young couples too.
Georgioupolis is the easternmost seaside resort on the north coast of the prefecture of Chania, Crete, and is located 38 km from the city of Chania. Georgioupoli is a resort that can offer you relaxation and tranquility during your holidays, away from the sounds of the cities. However, in no case, you will be given the feeling of loneliness or isolation. In the square of the village and the surrounding streets, you will find shops of all kinds. There is a bank, a supermarket and several mini-markets and of course quite cafe-bars, restaurants, and snack bars. Apart from the square, there are numerous cafes and restaurants along the beach road of Georgioupoli, where you’ll probably spend most of the day.
Kalyves is a village located 18 km east from the city of Chania, Crete, on the north coast and one of the three seaside resorts in the region of Apokoronas. You may find this quiet village as the ideal place for your summer holidays, especially if you’re traveling with your family, because the beach in Kalyves, where you’ll probably spend most of your time, is offered for a relaxing vacation. Furthermore, in the village, you’ll find everything regarding your stay. During summer, Kalyves beach is the beating heart of the village. The beach which is a block down from the square of the village is interrupted by the outfall of the Xidas river, in front of the Kalyves beach hotel, and then stretches east up to the harbor. The beach is well organized with sunbeds and umbrellas that belong to one of the cafes or restaurants along the beach road. Nevertheless, if you are looking for natural shade, you’ll find it under the trees that are along the beach. Finally, on the beach, a number of taverns and cafes are there to serve your appetites or to extinguish your thirst. Sit down immediately after the sea, or after your evening stroll in the village.
Kissamos is a town located in the northwestern part of the prefecture of Chania, between the two large peninsulas of western Crete, and is 37 km from the city of Chania. In Crete, Kissamos is also called Kasteli, a name derived from the period of the Venetian rule, because of the fortress built here by the Venetians (in Greek Kasteli means Castle-Fortress). So, if you hear the name Kasteli or Kasteli Kissamou, both refer to the town of Kissamos which is the seat of the municipality of Kissamos, extending to the west and southwest, up to the southwestern corner of the island. The town of Kissamos, as the seat of the municipality of Kissamos, has everything you are going to need regarding your holidays, including several restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, and hotels. However, do not expect to find what you will find in the city of Chania. In the evening, when people empty the beaches, the busiest place in Kissamos is the promenade, filled with taverns, cafes, and bars. So, start your ride from here. From the promenade, continue your stroll on Tombazi street, where you’ll see the ruins of the Venetian fortress walls. This road will lead you to Tzanakaki square where stands the building of the old Venetian-Turkish Government House, which today houses the Archaeological Museum of Kissamos, where exposed excavation findings of the region of Kissamos as well as of the ancient city of Kissamos, which was built on the site of today’s town.
Paleochora is a big village in south-west Crete. Located on a small peninsula it has been a popular place for many years because of its good beaches and pleasant surroundings. Paleochora is located 75 km from Chania on a good road. There are several buses per day. The village also has a ferryboat connection to other villages in south-west Crete. It is a “real” village with a constant population of about 2000 people. Paleochora is lively and sometimes a little crowded in the high season but it is very easy to get away from the bustle. In the summer months, the main road crossing the village as well as the road along the eastern seafront get closed to the traffic in the evening. This is wonderful if you have children as they can run around without danger. Good shopping. Paleochora also has a pharmacy, bookshop, banks and ATMs, petrol stations, several handicraft shops, car and bicycle hire. There are many restaurants of all kinds. Huge choice of rooms, studios, and self-catering apartments. It is generally easy to find something on the spot in Paleochora but you might prefer to reserve in the summer as it can get busy.
Vamos is a semi-mountainous village in the prefecture of Chania, Crete, that retains the authentic physiognomy of the traditional Cretan village. Among the houses within the village, some old mansions, mostly of the past century, have been restored or been renovated, retaining the elements of folk and neoclassical architecture. All Vamos is adorned with jasmines and bougainvilleas, as well as other gorgeous flowers that pop out from the balconies and courtyards. Finishing your ride, you have the option to sit in one of the taverns of the village, or in one of the traditional cafes, watching the world passing, or enjoy moments of serenity and relaxation, overlooking the green region of Apokoronas and the White Mountains, from the terrace of the cafe Liakoto. In Vamos you have the chance to participate in organized seasonal activities such as the picking of olives or the picking of grapes, Cretan and Greek traditional cooking lessons, guided walks in nature, visits to wineries and cheese production units.