Travel to the Gramvousa Islands in Crete

The two famous Gramvousa islands are to be found in the province of Kissamos in the northwestern corner of the island, in Chania region.

Balos lagoon, Kissamos, Crete, Greece
Balos lagoon, Kissamos, the photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Kissamos province is in the foothills of the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) covering two barren peninsulas and much rugged coastline, as well as relatively fertile agricultural land.

Kissamos-Kastelli, Crete
Kastelli, Kissamos, Crete

The city of Kissamos is also known as Kastelli-Kissamou and often known simply as Kastelli after the Venetian castle that was there. It is now a port and fishing harbour, with a regular ferry from the Peloponnese via Kythira. A town museum is located in the old Venetian governor’s palace and there have been important archaeological finds in the town, including fine mosaics, dating from the Roman city of Kissamos, the port of Polirinia (ancient Polyrrhenia).

The walls of the fort at Imeri Gramvousa, Northwestern Crete
The walls of the fort at Imeri Gramvousa,

Gramvoussa peninsula

The Gramvoussa peninsula is wild and remote but there is now a good track following its eastern side all the way to its northern tip. From there you need only a few minutes on foot to go down to the beautiful beach of Tigani to Balos. White sand and turquoise waters give it a South Seas appearance. Out to sea you can see the islands of Gramvoussa with their large Venetian fortress.

Gramvousa, Chania region, crete, greece
Gramvousa ferryboat

Imeri Gramvousa, which translates to Tame Gramvousa, hosts the remains of a Venetian fort and the remains of buildings left behind by Cretan insurgents, who were compelled to live as pirates, during the Greek War of Independence. Today, Imeri Gramvousa is a popular tourist attraction.

Agria Gramvousa, which translates to Wild Gramvousa, is much less hospitable and is located due north of Imeri Gramvousa. The two small islands off the coast of north-western Crete in the prefecture of Chania are both uninhabited.

Balos Lagoon

Fittingly, for an island that has accommodated pirates, there is a lagoon, named the Balos lagoon, between the island and the coast of Crete. There is an islet which forms part of a  cape, through the lagoon, called Cap Tigani (which means “frying pan” in Greek). North of Balos, at the Korykon cape, are the ruins of the small ancient Roman city of Agnion, with a temple to the god Apollo.

Beach of Balos and Gramvoussa, Northwestern Crete
Sunset at the Balos Lagoon with Cap Tigani in the center, Valenti rock in the background to the left, the island of Imeri Gramvousa in the background to the right, and further back to the right is the island of Agria Gramvousa.

Ennia Horia

Ennia Horia (the nine villages) is the name given to the scenic mountainous region south of Kastelli. It is renowned for its chestnut trees. Most people drive through the region on their way to Elafonisos but it is worth stopping on the way to admire what is probably one of the lushest areas of Crete. It comprises the villages of Topolia, Koutsomados, Vlatos, Elos, Pervolia, Papadiana, Amidagakofelli and Kambos but the best known village is probably Milia which was reconstructed in traditional style with financial help from the European Community. The rebuilt stone houses can be rented and are ideal if you are looking for isolation in a lovely mountain setting. Milia Mountain Retreat website

Imeri Gramvousa, Northwestern Crete
Imeri Gramvousa
Agria Gramvousa, Northwestern Crete
Agria Gramvousa
The islet of Pontikonisi, Northwestern Crete
The islet of Pontikonisi


Pontikonisi (“mouse island”) is an uninhabited islet off the coast of western Crete. There is a small islet close to Pontikonisi called Pontikaki (“little mouse”).

Hiking/trekking in Chania region


The E4, starting from the Pyrenees passing the Alps and the whole of Greece, arrives in Kissamos, Crete where it crosses to Kato Zakros and ends in Cyprus. The walkers who follow the E4 route, by crossing paths, climbing rocks and crossing wild gorges and forgotten villages, discover hidden corners to enjoy nature in all its splendor and experience customs and traditions around genuine people. The route crosses almost the entire mountain and offer the most beautiful sights.

The trail crosses the region of Chania passing coastal routes, the western as well as the southern coastline and the White Mountains of well (mostly) signposted routes. Important for travelers is to be informed by the Mountaineering Club of Chania on the labeling, the length and the difficulty of the route. The mountain routes require the right equipment and the expertise during winter, partly because the weather is changeable, but also because the approach of shelters can happen only in consultation with the mountaineering club, as they are not permanently open.
The coastal paths E4 in the western and southern Crete is accessible throughout the year. They too, though, require the necessary information as some areas are approached only by experienced walkers since they are not easily identifiable. Also, it is not certain that the springs on the path always have water.

Suggested E4 routes

  • Kastelli Kissamos-Sfinari, 22.5 km, 6.5 hours, Spring – Fall
  • Single-Sfinari Chrysoskalitissa, 32 km, Spring – Fall
  • Chrisoskalitissa-Paleochora, 22 km, Spring – Fall
  • Paleochora-Sougia, 14.5 km, Spring – Fall
  • Sougia-St. Roumeli, 20 km, April – September
  • Agia Roumeli-Loutro, 13 km, throughout the year
  • Loutro-Fragokastelo, 19.5 km, throughout the year
  • Sougia – Koustogerako-Smooth, 24.5 km, Spring – Fall
  • Sougia-Agia Irini Gorge, 15 km, May – September
  • Smooth-Agia Roumeli, 18 km, May – October

Sailing around Chania


Chania is known for its beautiful coastline, beaches and archaeological sites. Destinations that combine all of these are Menies and Gramvousa. Even more interesting is the approach with sailboats. This is possible as you can charter a boat with an experienced captain at the Venetian harbor of Chania. This will allow you a first practical and theoretical approach to sailing.

The vessels can accommodate 4-7 people in cabins with fully equipped kitchen, bathroom and living room making even an extended stay very comfortable. Equipment needed is a hat, sunscreen, comfortable clothes and warm as well, if you are going to stay the night.
The journey starts from the old port of Chania with north-northwest direction. Passing the southern island of Saint Theodore, which today is home to protected species such as the Cretan wild goat; the bay of Menies after about 3 hour; the journey continues around the cape with steep cliffs after which the course goes west-southwest across the northern edge of the bay of Kissamos on the narrow path between the island of Wild Gramvousa and Gramvousa cape. If you choose, you can stay for a night at Gramvousa island where the sound of the sea is the only accompanying the starry sky.

Paragliding in Chania region


Locations for paragliding

  • Near Nea Chora, 2 km from the centre of Chania
  • Tableland of Omalos, 45 Km from the town of Chania. An enchanting flight from Kallergi in a northwest-west direction over the Samaria Gorge and the Gigilos
  • Fallasarna, over the ancient town in a west direction
  • Tableland of Askifou
  • A unique flight over the lake of Kournas in a northeast- east direction
  • Over Varipetro with view of the Lefka Ori and the lake of Agia
  • Elafonissi, in a south direction with a view of Elafonissi and the Libyan Sea
  • Over Paleochora, in a south direction with a view of the Libyan Sea.