Agios Pavlos and the Sandhill beaches (Crete)
My friends and family who visited Crete all found the size of this island a bit overwhelming. I feel the same! The word ‘island’ describes Crete accurately but in truth, Crete is like a whole country. PhotoMan (my husband) and I are determined to explore our island as much as we can. It was our Church Wedding Anniversary last month and we decided to spend a night somewhere we hadn’t been before and we chose Agios Pavlos.
Agios Pavlos is a little coastal village in the South of Crete with only two taverns and two snack bars/cafes, three if you count the not-so-mobile food-truck canteen. There are a handful of small family-run hotels in the area and a few villas. It is the sort of village that is perfect for a nice quiet holiday if you enjoy being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by untouched nature and seeing as few shops as possible. As far as we could see, there is only one small supermarket that sells everything one needs on their holiday, from bottled water to summer dresses.
The Agios Pavlos main beach is small and cute with crystal blue water. The beach has coarse sand and the sea starts off shallow with pebbles, part of it is like a rock platform with moss and can be quite slippery. Many beaches in Crete are like this: I should probably invest in a pair of water-shoes but I can’t bare barring my feet from enjoying the lovely feel of the beautiful water. Beach chairs and umbrellas cover two third of the beach and there is plenty of space for people like us who prefer to lie on the sand. At the height of the tourist season, it is definitely not a peaceful beach but the noise is only made up of happy chatters and children playing, without any motorized water-sports. For some peace and quiet, one can go out a bit farther into the sea with their snorkels. There is parking on top of the beach next to the snack bar/café. There are also outdoor showers at the entrance of the beach, just under the snack bar.
All lovely and convenient but this is not why we wanted to stay at Agios Pavlos village. We chose it because I got obsessed with the sandhill beaches after reading about it at Cretan Beaches which is my favourite online travel guide for Crete. I asked Litsa, one of my yoga teachers, if she knew this place. She looked at me with sparkles in her eyes for a long while and said, ‘Jealous!’ Later, Giorgos, my other yoga teacher told me that that area is famous for yoga retreats, thanks to Yoga Rocks Crete who has been bringing yoga teachers from all over the world since 2010.
Why was I obsessed with the sandhill beaches? Because I’ve never seen one before! The Cape of Melissa, which is between Agios Pavlos beach and the sandhills, also enticed me – I just love being in corners of the lands and to be surrounded by the ocean. I often get overwhelmed by the breath-taking beauty but once I calm down, I could feel all the wonders and possibilities of what life can offer us. Very exciting indeed!
Cape of Melissa and Apoplýstra
There’s plenty of space to park when you visit the Cape of Melissa. If you have a 4-wheel-drive or are used to driving on dirt road, you can park very close to the elevated platform that gives you the best view. PhotoMan, as usual, parked as close to our destination as he could manage and it took us about 5 minutes to walk there.
Instead of going right to the Cape of Melissa, you can also go exploring on the left side. On Google Map it says Apoplýstra which apparently means ‘folded rocks’ and you can see very easily some interesting rock formations as you walk over to get a lovely view of Agios Pavlos beach.
Sandhill Beaches #1,2,3
There is really only one sandhill beach. Google Map calls it Agios Pavlos Sandhills’ beach while many websites call it Melissa Cape Sandhill Beach. Same thing! It’s a very long beach that is separated by rocks into 3 sections. Well, 4 sections if you count the tiny part between #1 and #2 that is full of rocks and offers no space for your beach towel. I don’t. These numbers are not official – I’m putting numbers to the sections for easier reference.
Sandhill Beach #1 refers to the section nearest to the Cape of Melissa. When we were there in July, there were 5 sets of sun umbrella and chairs. There are stone steps that take you half way down to the beach and after that, it’s just the sand. Both days we were there, there were more people here than the other sections, probably because of those stone steps that make the walk a bit easier. We saw some people exploring the tiny section that is between #1 and #2. Be careful though – the waves can be strong and there are loose rocks in the bottom of the sea.
It wasn’t possible to walk to Sandhill Beach #2 from #1 when we were there. Maybe it’s possible during low tide. Before the trip I saw a picture of a cave with arches looking out to the sea and later found that we didn’t see it because it was covered by water. We saw the top part of it through the waves and I felt better because the cave would be only a tiny one and I didn’t miss out too much. This cave is within those rocks that separate Beach #2 and the un-numbered tiny section.
PhotoMan and I wanted to visit Sandhill Beach #2 because it was empty. He went down first to see if it was worth it. He decided it was lovely there and we could have the cave to ourselves for shade. But he told me not to go down though because the sand was very hot! It would have been alright if we had shoes on but we were both wearing flip-flops. The sandhill really is made of all sand and whenever you take a step, whichever direction you are going, you will sink every step of the way.
We thought this section of the beach must be empty all the time because of the hot sand hike but we were so wrong! The main reason was probably there weren’t that many people in the area. Later we saw a very pregnant woman walking down with her husband and their small son. After the husband helped the boy down, he promptly went back to his wife to put wet cool sand on her feet. When it was near sunset time, we also saw a whole group of people including children walking down the slope. As long as you have shoes on and don’t mind a bit of walk, you will be fine.
In order to avoid my feet from burning by the sand, PhotoMan and I drove towards small Triopetra beach and parked our car on the side of the road near a path that lead us to the beach. (Please refer to the map below.) The visible part of the path was only about 20 meters and after that, we walked where it was easy towards the beach.
As soon we reached Sandhill beach #3, we could see a Cretan Labyrinth made up of stones from the beach. There were many more smooth rocks for anyone who are into rock balancing.
It was a lovely walk on the wet sand despite the heat. Sandhill #3 is quite long but on the day we were there, only 3 people settled there for sunbathing. Definitely the beach to be if you like peace and quiet and don’t mind the sea being a bit rough.
We were lucky when we finally arrived Sandhill #2 via the long way and had the cave to ourselves. As I approach the huge dragon-like rocks, I got a bit overwhelmed because it felt like it was alive! So I stopped to ask for permission to enter the cave which seems to be under this dragon’s neck, just in case, and I felt oddly protected by the dragon-like rocks’ magnificence.
There is no other shade on the whole length of Sandhill beach unless you bring your own umbrella. There are no shower facilities but you can use the ones at Agios Pavlos beach or small Triopetra beach.
Cretan Beaches mentioned a river called Akoumianos. It is at the end of Sandhill #3 near where we started our walk towards the cave at Sandhill #2. There is not much water there in the middle of July.
It took us about 18 minutes to walk back from the cave at Sandhill #2 to our car.
On the way back from Agios Pavlos to Heraklion, we took the long winding coastal road to Agia Galini for dinner. It took almost an hour but the view was well worth the time. The fast route would take about half an hour.
Agia Galini is a popular holiday area for tourists. The seaside village is quite pretty with many restaurants and cafes facing the pier. There are shops and more restaurants in the little streets. Quite the opposite of Agios Pavlos but not crowded to the point of overwhelming. The main beach in Agia Galini is packed full with cafes, restaurants and umbrellas. The water quality is not the best there (I’m using Cretan standard, tourists who are not spoiled like us probably find the water beautiful). The water quality improves if you go to the east side away from the umbrellas.
We had dinner at Avli Taverna which is cute and decorated with plants. ‘Avli’ or αυλή means courtyard. Everything from the environment, service to food were lovely and the prices were affordable.
*When I come across good restaurants or services, I like to give them a mention. I do not get any material reward from writing this or any other articles in my blog.
**All photos by Konstantinos Anastasakis AKA PhotoMan unless otherwise mentioned.