Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Sleep under the stars at East Tsigounas Beach... with your dog

Free camping on East Tsigounas Beach
I included this beach in my Top 5 beaches to visit with your dog post, a couple of weeks ago ( As I was looking through photos of a camping trip we had there a couple of years ago with my family, I realised it deserved a more thorough write up. While I was living in Heraklion, this was a favourite escape of mine. As long as you have a car, you can nip across the island and down to the south coast fairly quickly and easily at this point (via the Roman capital of Crete Gortyna).

I've been down to this part of the coast numerous times, sometimes just for a day trip, several times during the winter - just to escape the city and see some dramatic waves, and other times for a few days camping under the tamarisk trees that line the long, deserted, pebbly East Tsigounas (Perakis) Beach.
Facing West towards Lentas Beach 
While my sister and her family were visiting, in May 2011, we quickly realised that 3 adults, two small lively boys and one big energetic dog in a small, one-bedroom apartment in the centre of town was not going to be recipe for a relaxing, happy holiday. After a couple of days of barely managed tempers, we hired a (fairly massive) van, loaded it high with tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, provisions, clothes and toys, and set off...

I've never driven anything that size, and it took quite a bit of getting used to. Having the responsibility of my family's safety also didn't help the pressure. The afore-mentioned noisy young boys and energetic dog also weren't particularly conducive to an easy road trip. We bunny hopped out of Heraklion, stalling only once or twice, and we were off. We made a stop at one of my favourite secrets of Crete, but it has been closed the last couple of times I have been passed - a small cantina at the cross roads, just before the turning to Lentas from the highway, before the archaeological site at Gortyna. This was a great, dog-friendly stop off, as it is very informal (plastic chairs and tables arranged in the shade of a few trees, a bbq and a van selling souvlaki, beer and soft drinks). I should note that it is not very vegetarian brother-in-law friendly, however. 

The last part of the drive down towards Lentas is a bit hairy, in a large van, with noisy passengers. The road is quite windy, and incessantly plunges downhill (with some spectacular views of the coast along the way).
Braving the sea in May
Arriving at Lentas we made a short stop for yet more provisions at the small grocery shop there (which is open all year round). Then we found the dirt road that winds off to the east of the village at Lentas, and continues round the coast until the Petrakis Taverna and car park.                               
As it was May, we were the only fools camping on the beach, so we had our pick of the good sandy spots under the trees. Just as well, I had never seen such a huge tent as the one my sister and her family luxuriated in (while Sage and I squeezed into my one-man, 'pitch anywhere even on a mountain', crazy coffin-shaped canvas that I have since thrown out). 

We spent three days there in the end. Eating picnics, exploring the beach, swimming, playing with Sage. I couldn't get to sleep with her inside my tent, so had to tether her to a nearby tree and keep my tent door open so she didn't feel alone. At least that way we could both look at the stars as we fell asleep...

We also made the most of the two lovely tavernas down at the beach. My favourite, run by a very friendly and welcoming guy, is practically on the beach itself. There are hammocks and comfortable seats, nice music, quirky decorations, the most amazing salad I've ever eaten (we counted more than 25 ingredients, many grown there in the small garden by the beach), and even a horse (!) kept behind the taverna in a stable. I think there are rent rooms here, but the owner was always very welcoming of people camping and using his facilities - as long as you buy some refreshments I suppose. 

The second taverna is slightly more 'formal', but is still a lovely, relaxing, beach-side taverna. I felt more than comfortable to have Sage there with me. This taverna offers a more varied menu, including fresh fish as well as traditional Cretan dishes. 

Relaxing at the Beach Bar 
This beach is still quite quiet during the summer months, with many beach-goers preferring the slightly livelier beaches of Lentas and Dyskos nearby. The fact that it is not a sandy beach may also deter some visitors. Claiming a patch of shade under the trees maybe more difficult in the busier months of July and August, but you can always hide out in the beach bar, or bring your own shade along with you. I have always found this to be a good, dog-friendly place, and I really hope it stays that way!

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Dangers of Crete (3) ...with your dog

Stray dogs are a sadly familiar sight in Greece. It's something that shocks many first time visitors. You see them curled up in shop doorways, playing with the owned dogs in the parks, sleeping on traffic islands or by the side of the road, wandering the high streets, even joining protests in Athens (like the famous dog Loukanikos 'Sausage'!
Loukanikos the protesting stray
The strays I've seen in Greece are almost always very docile, quite afraid of people, quiet and just trying to survive. And most of the people I know in Greece are very good about putting out food and water for the strays in their neighbourhoods, taking strays to animal welfare centres to be looked after, and adopting strays.
Stray at Heraklion Airport
However,  there has recently been an increase in the number of dogs abandoned by owners affected by the economic crisis and no longer able to support their dogs.

The results of this were all too clear when I visited Crete last summer after a few months away. I felt really nervous walking with my dog in some areas of Heraklion, due to the newly formed packs of stray dogs. I had seen small packs of strays in the past, for example up on the Venetian walls of the city in the early mornings, but I hadn't seen packs like this before. They were also more territorial and aggressive.

One such pack had made the area around the graveyard at Agios Constantinos (Heraklion) their home. One evening they were approaching us and barking so ferociously that we turned back, almost running, and returned home via a much longer route. My friend had a similar experience in this area when passing through with his dog.

I don't know what these dogs would do if we continued through their territory, probably nothing, but it is quite a scary sight. 

None of this is new, but I think the rapid increase in the numbers of abandoned dogs can be alarming when you are out and about with your dog.

  • Quite obviously, if you have an encounter with a pack of stray dogs in one area, avoid passing through the same area again, dogs are territorial and usually have a 'base' somewhere
  • Try to determine the danger before getting too close - clear signs such as barking, growling, and aggressive posture should make you think twice about passing a group of strays with your pampered pooch
  • Don't run away, this might provoke a chase, just walk quickly and calmly in the opposite direction
  • Your dog will probably be reading your feelings about the situation, so try to keep calm and be reassuring. Try to prevent them from barking and showing aggression 

If you want to report finding a stray animal, try getting in touch with one of the animal welfare organisations listed below:
I may have missed some organisations (my apologies, you are all doing fantastic work!), but you should be able to find a shelter or group in each area of Crete from the websites listed above.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

5 best Cretan beaches...with your dog

As I'm day dreaming of summer, of swimming in the sea and camping on beaches, I thought I'd post my top 5 beaches to go to with your dog. This list took me ages as there are just so many to choose from, but I think I'm happy now with my choices.
Do write any beach suggestions in the comments box below!

1) Agios Pavlos, Chania region
View of Agios Pavlos from the sea
This beach is ideal for getting away from it all...with your dog. Its remote location (accessible by boat or 7 hour hike) means that it is never crowded, even in high season

There are plenty of trees and rocks for shade

A great little dog-friendly taverna right on the beach means you don't have to carry all your provisions with you, and you can hide out from the midday sun with a cool beer

Free camping is not officially permitted anywhere in Greece, but along this stretch of deserted coast you can feel quite comfortable pitching your tent for a few nights
By the church of Agios Pavlos on beach of same name

Be aware:
A trip to this beach needs some planning. It takes some time to get there, so wait until you have time to enjoy it

Except for the single taverna, there is nothing around this beach (the nearest shops are a 1.5 hour hike down the coast). Take whatever you will need for your visit - sun cream, books etc - and expect peace and relaxation

Don't give water from the bathroom to your dog to drink - it's (barely) desalinated sea water

2) Kedrodasos, Chania region
View from Kedrodasos Beach
This is one of the most spectacular beaches in Crete, full of juniper trees, sand dunes. Here the sea appears magnificently blue due to the white shells and sand on the sea bed (as at neighbouring Elafonissi)

There is plenty of shade from the juniper trees, and space for everyone to find a place to relax away from other people

Asleep in the shade on Kedrodasos Beach

Be aware:
This area is a protected nature reserve due to the fragile and rare trees, the dunes and the wildlife they support. Visitors should respect and preserve this unique environment

For the above reason, authorities have become strict about free-camping in this area - maybe better to find another area along this coast, or to rent a room/apartment

There are no facilities here to buy food/water. Carry any provisions in (and waste out) with you

3) Ligres Beach, Rethymno Region 
Playing on Ligres Beach

I love this stretch of coast, from Preveli up to Triopetra, and it's difficult to chose just one beach. Ligres beach has amazing golden sands and clear, deep water

From here you can explore along the coast by the sand dunes and amazing rock formations between Triopetra and Agios Pavlos

Being a bit remote (as most of the South coast beaches), Ligres never gets really busy. Plus, the sands stretch off into the distance, and you can easily find a spot where there is nobody around to get annoyed by your dog

The lovely Ligres Beach Taverna and Rent Rooms are dog friendly, whether you are just popping in for lunch, or you're looking for a relaxing get-away for a few days
On Ligres Beach

Be aware:
There is very little shade on this, or any of this series of beaches. If you're lucky you can claim the shady area by the small cave or rocks on Ligres Beach, otherwise, you should carry a day-tent or large umbrella

The South coast is notorious for high winds. If there is a strong North wind, it would definitely be a good idea to rent a dog-friendly room/apartment rather than risk camping

4) East Tsigounas (Petrakis), Heraklion Region
Late afternoon on Petrakis Beach

I'm sure this beach wouldn't be on most people's list, but hear me out...

Petrakis beach is a relatively short and easy drive from Heraklion, and makes a good quick(ish) escape from the busy centre of the island

The wonderful beach cafe-bar there was very accommodating in the past when we showed up with dogs and children and camping gear etc. They serve good basic meals and drinks. The owner didn't mind us using their facilities (bathroom, drinking water, hammock etc) whenever we wanted. We were also welcomed at the second taverna (which serves slightly more expensive and varied menu than the beach bar), the last time we were there with our dog

It is easy to camp there, below the tamarisk trees that grow along the beach, giving shade

Free camping at Petrakis Beach
You are within reach of the slightly busier Lendas, where you can buy provisions from one of several mini markets

Be aware:
I can't think of any negatives here. This beach does not have the breathtaking beauty of some of other Cretan beaches, but it is very quiet, peaceful and convenient

5) Xerokampos, Lasithi Region

View over Argilos Beach, Xerokampos
There are lots of beaches at Xerokampos to choose from, each with its own character and charm (one with white clay you can apply to your skin, one with wetland environment and rare species of wildlife, one with sun loungers and umbrellas, some smaller, more hidden away etc etc). With so much choice, you can find somewhere to relax with your dog out of the way of other beach-goers

The Agrogiali Taverna, behind Ambelos Beach, were very welcoming to us and our 2 dogs when we last visited

Very little traffic passes along this coastal road, and each bay feels quite enclosed, so you can let your dog have some freedom without too much worrying
Walking round to Argilos Beach

Be aware:
There are few trees along this stretch of coast, so almost no shade at all. Carry a day-tent or umbrella big enough for you and your dog if you plan to be out in the midday sun

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Play in the snow...with your dog

Sage in the snow on Mount Psiloritis 
As I started to think about writing a snowy post for Crete, I realised I have been up to Mount Psiloritis to play in the snow with Sage at least 4 times. Unfortunately, I only have photos of one of the areas we explored.

On this occasion, we drove up the mountain past the village of Anogia towards Zominthos, until a point where the road had not been cleared, and was un-passable unless you had chains on your tyres or a 4-wheel drive. This was January 2013, and the snow was pretty deep up in the mountains.

We found somewhere to park the car just off the road, and went for a play in the nearby fields. This was great fun, and Sage loved it - it was only the second time she had seen snow!

I suppose I should be responsible and say that rubbish or machinery left in fields and hidden by the snow may be a danger to yourselves or your dogs, and it's safer to play on known pathways or parks.

After running around, chasing each other in the snow, making snowmen, throwing and losing tennis balls, tracking, and generally having a good explore, we went back down to the square at Anogia to warm up in a cafe. We went to a place that is well-known for making the traditional Cretan dessert galaktoboureko (custard filled phyllo pastry) - Kafenio Skandali. The elderly owner was extremely welcoming to us and Sage, maybe even a little too much as she sat and told us all about her family and the many pets they have had over the years... She made us feel very welcome and allowed us to sit inside to warm up. And the galaktoboureko and coffee were great! See description of Skandali by Lonely Planet: (

Sage's first experience of snow was up at Zaros, at the end of 2012. We enjoyed a walk around by the snowy lake, walked a little way towards the Rouvas Gorge, and warmed up afterwards in the dog-friendly taverna 'The Lake' (see my earlier post:

Finally, last Christmas we went looking for snow, and got as far as the Nida Plateau and the Ideon Cave (where Zeus was raised). I had both Sage and her friend Mayia with me, while my friends also had their dog Betty. We did find a small amount of snow, but not really enough to play in. The cave was quite spectacular, and we found plenty of wild spaces around to let our 3 dogs have a run around, but continuing up the path from the cave would have been a longer, better hike away from other people.  We tried to take our dogs into the taverna at the bottom of the path up to the cave, but were asked to keep them outside which we didn't want to do in such cold, snowy weather. In this area there was nowhere else to go to warm up.
There is snow at the peak of Psiloritis for much of the year (until about May) and there are many nice places to go and explore with your dog. There are some great places for hiking, interesting villages to visit, and a few dog-friendly establishments for warming up afterwards! 

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