- Region : Crete
- Prefecture: Chania
- Municipality: Sfakia
- Population : 2.500
It is probable, that the majority of those setting foot in Sfakia ( or Chora Sfakion or Hora Sfakion ) may well have walked the length of the Samaria Gorge and be one of the many muscle-aching souls on one of the ferries that travel from the mouth of the gorge, at Agia Roumeli to Chora Sfakia (or Sfakion).
There to be collected by buses to return them to their hotels all over Crete.
If Sfakia, the village or the region, is your destination, you will probably have driven, bused or taxied over the White Mountains - the Lefka Ori - from Chania and elsewhere on the Northern coast, a journey that is memorable both for the views, villages and the constantly repaired road that is possibly the "grand corniche" of Crete - many tight turns and steep drop-offs!
Well worth the trip for the dramatic journey alone. The village of Chora Sfakia is both quiet - busy with individual or independent tourists in the summer - in its role as home and fishing village to local people, and a port for those travelling by ferry to Agia Roumeli, Sougia, Paleochora and the unspoilt island of Gavdos (see ferry schedules below).
You could also approach the area from Plakias and the east on roads which are slow-going but pass through wonderful, distinctive Cretan scenery.
In antiquity a major exporter of meat to Athens, Sfakia is now a notorious region with much history and the quieter form of tourism. It's wonderful, rugged Lefka Ori mountains offer significant hiking opportunities ranging from difficult to hard-walking.
Supposedly. Sfakia once had as many as a hundred churches and chapels,built for one reason or another by devout Sfakiiots, but few survived the wartime bombardments.
You can find a lot of acncient-looking examples on the road as you curve down into Sfakia, but the most seem permanently locked.
As for other monuments a plaque on the waterfront commemorates the Dunkirk-style wartime evacuation when some ten thousand men were taken off the island: almost as many were left behind to be bombed as they waited to be taken prisoner or to escape as best they could.
How to get there
By car, bus or taxi from Chania or from Rethymno and Heraklion the most accessible route is via the turn off the National Road at Vrysses - in itself a pleasing village.
Many will be familiar with the cafe that also doubles as the waiting area for connecting buses. Chania to Sfakia bus, Rethymno to Sfakia bus, or see Heraklion to Chania (buses on the half hour stop at Vrysses and connect with the Chania to Sfakia bus). Then, the route is up and over the Lefka Ori mountain range via the villages of Askifou and Imbros (great place to stop for Sfakian pies!).
From Vrysses to Imbros takes roughly 45 minutes - though with stops (and you'll want to enjoy this, as it's one of the "Great Drives of Crete") you add some time.
Where to stay
The Xenia Hotel is perched behind the old harbour with over-the-rocks sea views, rooms are a little higher priced than others in Sfakia, but the location is superb, with uninterrupted sea views (see simple map).
Eleni Apartments at the top of the village on the road out to Anopolis - are a pleasant collection of medium to spacious rooms with basic cooking facilities, balconies and good views over the village, the harbour and out to sea. There are double and family rooms available.
The latest addition (opposite Eleni), providing new apartment/rooms with a splendidly situated pool-with-a-view is Notos Suites. These have an imperial view across Sfakia and out to sea. Though still simple, they offer the smartest accommodation in the village.
For a yet quieter place to stay within reasonable access (20-30 minutes walk - some may not like this at night, 5 minutes by car - on the road to Anopolis) which has a small almost-private beach, with caves on one side for shade, the Ilingas Hotel and taverna may suit.
There are many other domatia and places to stay on the way into Sfakia and most of the buildings along the seafront house rooms for rent ("domatia") above their tavernas.
Lefka Ori has rooms, apartments with sea view. Really pleasant rooms with sea view are available at Liviko and Samaria.
Hotel Stavris gave a warm welcome on one of our number's first visit to the Sfakia region. This is a simple hotel, rooms have balconies and bathrooms and all have views.
The Perrakis family also have apartments - some quite new, nearby. Breakfast, simple food dishes and drinks can be had downstairs - indoors or outdoors, taverna-style.
The rather smarter Vritomartis Apartments, a nudist resort, some way out of the village, you'll see it soon after you've come down the road from Imbros.
For luxury in the mountains above Sfakia, Lefkoritis is a treat indeed. This is a fine mountain retreat and hunting lodge.
What to see & do
Visits to Frangokastelo to see the old fortress - or rather its surviving walls, a must-do trip up to Anopolis - village high above Chora Sfakia.
Close to the beginning of the village on the left Anopolis bakery - Giorgos Orfanoudakis for some of the best sfakian pies and the chance to buy the delicious local sweet rusks, honey and other baked goods. Sit outside and have a mountainscape view and an elliniko (coffee).
If you have time to kill you're probably best off getting out, to Sweetwater Beach and hour along the the coast path west (or accessible by twice-daily boat) . The beach takes its name from the small springs which bubble up beneath the pebbles to provide fresh, cool drinking water
It is possible to visit the Cave of Daskaloyiannis, one of several large caves in the cliffs to the west of Sfakia. Always a hide out in times of trouble, this was were the rebel leader set up a mint to produce a revolutionary coinage
A must visit: Loutro. Take the ferry (see below) and go to Loutro - a place for absolute relaxation. Walk - E4 path goes through Sfakia. There you will find our Hotel Porto Loutro the modest princess of this magic place of Crete ... Loutro
Where to eat & drink
Large choice of tavernas - which because Chora Sfakia is small you really "can't miss it" - along the harbour front.
Embarko cafe is on the way in to Sfakia as you come down from the Imbros direction, it has a most impressive view over Sfakia (a view to stir or calm the soul), out to sea and the not-so-distant white buildings of Loutro.
There are bar/cafes opposite the Post office, but you can have a drink at any of the tavernas. Just must have fish? Ask to see what fish they have at any of the tavernas and choose your fish, that's the best bet, you can also find out the price if you wish - usually charged by weight, at the same time.
We have eaten well on the harbour front at a good prirce - the main difference is that good lamb or the more expensive fish make a difference to the total cost of a meal.
For a quick bite, the bakery has good Tiropita (cheese pie) and pastries.
Generally Sfakia as a region has a very unique and dare we say a "genuine", feel to it. It offers a less "package", more individual face of tourism.
If the people of Sfakia are famed as being the toughest survivors and fierce when duty calls - they are, perhaps as a result, the friendliest amongst a group - the Cretans - who offer visitors the warmest and most genuine hospitality as a fundamental part of their nature.
Truth demands strength and strength should be backed by truth...sometimes it is.