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!

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