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Thursday, 27 August 2009

Falasarna (Φαλάσαρνα)

The best preserved antiquities that lie in Crete are found mainly in the Iraklio prefecture, namely in the area of Knossos. But Crete also has some lesser known but highly significant archaeological areas which have slowly been discovered and are still undergoing excavation work to reveal their value in the ancient world. One of these sites is Falasarna (also spelt Falaserna, and with 'Ph' replacing the 'F') in the northwest of Crete.


Once you get to the coast where Falasarna is located, you've reached the end of the road: if you took a boat and travelled westwards in a straight line from this point, your next sighting of land would be Malta, the mere size of a pin-prick compared to Crete.


The beaches of Falasarna (sometimes spelt Phalasarna) are some of the cleanest on the island. They are crystal clear and very cool. Falasarna is located along a wide stretch of beach area running down the west coast of Crete, with different kinds of beaches to suit a variety of tastes, from rocky shallow pools, to wide stretches of (shadeless) fine sandy beaches. The most popular beaches are the ones with the beach umbrellas, with little elbow space between two adjunct tanning bodies. The coast with no umbrellas is usually too rocky for swimming, but perfect for taking a long cool dip in super-clear water. These less popular areas, mainly used by fishermen, are just as easy to access from the main road, and their islated atmosphere makes them very inviting.

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The wide stretch of sandy beach is always very crowded; further westwards, the beaches become very rocky and not suitable for swimming, but still perfect for a cooling dip.
falasarna
We came across this scene close to where we took our dip, probably used by anglers, as there are no eateries in this area.

Falasarna has just enough hotels and restaurants to sustain itself as a weekend resort for the locals during the hotter months of the year, and it's perfect for foreign tourists who come during the high season and want to holiday in an off-the-beaten-track coastal area. Falasarna is very quiet; it has no nightlife or shopping. A great number of Italians come here (as well as Elafonisi) every summer (mainly on camping holidays); it's cheaper for them to take a holiday by the sea in Crete than it is to do the same thing in their own country.

Falasarna has two main beach areas: the "Big Beach" (with fine sand) and the "Little Beach" (a rocky cove). Neither offer much shade, so you have to choose between hiring beach umbrellas and deckchairs (at 5-7 euro for a set of two chairs and one umbrella, I call that 'expensive'), or going for a swim and then leaving the beach area to sit at a shady cafe or restaurant. We chose the latter option. Luckily for us, it wasn't windy when we visited, which it usually is due to the west coast of Crete being severely exposed to the elements, whipping up the sand and throwing it hard onto the tanning bodies; the "Big Beach" is especially affected.

falasarna
We preferred an isolated inlet where fishermen often practice their hobby.
falasarna

In the summer, there is very little else to do in the area apart from this; it is simply too hot to walk among the archaeological ruins, situated close to the "Little Beach" area. They consist mainly of the ancient harbour of Falasarna, which is now located inland of today's water's edge, suggesting that the Cretan landscape has changed significantly since ancient times: the land level of Western Crete has risen, while Eastern Crete has sunk by a few inches.

falasarna
Below the taverna where we sat and ate our meal, there is a small church; the road on the right leads to the "Little Beach".

Falasarna is not difficult to access, but public transport is very infrequent and limited. It is also a starkly hot environment with very few trees providing shade near the beach area. There are plenty of rooms available as well as a few cafes, restaurants and well-stocked mini-markets (in fact, I was surprised with how much construction work had taken place since the last time I visited Falasarna, nine years ago). There is no nightlife, making the place perfect for people who want to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere where they can get away from urban life in its entirety.

falasarna
Greenhouses operate right throughout the winter. The lower flat lands skirting the coast are covered in olive trees.
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You may be wondering what the locals do from the end of the tourist season to the beginning of the next one (economic crisis in tow). The photographs speak for themselves: Falasarna is even busier then than it is in the summer. The greenhouses spoil the magnificent views which offer stunning sunsets all year round. It is amazing that so much can grow in a place that, on first sight, resembles an arid lunar landscape.

It is also amazing that the beaches are still so clean; there must be a fair amount of fertiliser run-off from the soil eventually trickling down into the sea via irrigation channels and leaching - the greenhouses have been built right along the coastline. Falasarna is among the many pockets of arid-looking villages that have been given a new lease of life with this kind of business activity. These areas are usually located by the sea and have year-round work seasonal work available: in the summer, there is the tourist trade, while in the winter, there is greenhouse agriculture and olive oil production, supplying the whole country with fresh produce.

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The sandy dry landscape resembles desert conditions.

We had a meal at the Sunset taverna, one of the oldest in the "Little Beach" region. This was probably a good idea. When it comes to eating out in remote resort areas, you never know how good the taverna is going to be: if it's catering mainly for tourists (as most do in these places), the food offered may not be high quality and it will reflect tourists' choices rather than the traditions of the local cuisine. If a taverna endures the test of time and it is still being run by a family (as Sunset was), it is bound to be doing something good: look what we ordered, and what we paid for it.

falasarna sunset taverna falasarna sunset taverna
A cold jug of water always awaits the summer holidaymaker at a Greek taverna, along with the cicada choir.
falasarna sunset taverna
Beef stew, tzatziki, chicken and okra; the souvlaki needed to be cooked a little longer. The beer was served icy cold - perfect.
falasarna sunset taverna falasarna sunset taverna

For the four of us, we ordered a portion of souvlaki (three kebabs), braised okra, chicken cooked on the spit, beef in lemon-tomato sauce, tzatziki, a side order of fried potatoes, 2 large tap beers and 2 lemonades. Total cost of meal: 36 euro (you are reading that correctly).

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