Villa Koukouvayia Farms:
A perfect location in Western Crete.
Villa Koukouvayia rests at the perfect apex between Crete’s quiet rural villages and the amenities of the island’s larger towns. Church bells count her hours, roosters call across the valley toward the dawn, but within walking distance from her gate the farming village of Kaloudiana bustles with two excellent tavernas, a modern café, a traditional kafenio, groceries, a gift shop, and the public-transit bus stop connecting the entire island. Only three kilometers further west is Kissamos, a year-round agricultural town with bakers, grocers, Roman baths & mosaics, Venetian fountains, and Minoan foundations hiding among its narrow streets. Kissamos boasts a robust tourist infrastructure of cafés, excellent restaurants, and beautiful beaches, but as a town whose primary purpose resides in the harvesting of the area’s several million olive trees, Kissamos, retains its authentic character for all to share.
And located on the foothills of western Crete’s northern shore, above Gramvousa and Rodopou Peninsulas projecting dramatically into the Aegean Sea, Villa Koukouvayia sits close enough to the famous sand-beaches of Crete to see and hear surf, yet far from the touristed tumult that mark the waterfront. With the Aegean before her, the mountains and gorges behind, the Tyflos River Valley at her side, and a charming constellation of villages nearby, Villa Koukouvayia, rests—like the owl after which she is named and who shares her sky at night—in a perfect position to enjoy, undisturbed, the wild beauty of this wonderful island.
And less than a half-hour drive or bus ride from Villa Koukouvayia is Chania, the historic Venetian, Turkish and Greek city offering an array of shops, museums, outdoor theaters, a café-lined harbor, and an historic Old Town of cobbled alleys and walks. Close, too, are the natural areas made famous on countless Greek calendars—a short and beautiful drive to the famous, white-sand lagoons of Balos & Elafonisi or the pink sands of Phalasarna; an hour to Samaria Gorge’s dramatic trailhead atop the Omalos Plateau; and a few minutes more to the spectacular cliffs and land-locked villages of the southern coast.
But losing oneself to the charms of Villa Koukouvayia does not mean getting lost or spending half your holiday arriving and the other half departing. Major air transport, car-rental, and ferry hubs are forty-five minutes from Koukouvayia’s gate. Kissamos has a small, 24/7 emergency clinic, and Chania boasts three hospitals and two advanced private clinics providing excellent care, including emergencies. And despite our rural charm, shopkeepers and most locals speak enough English to help, and will—upon hearing even one Greek word escape your lips in even the most fumbled pronunciation—pat your back and sing your praise.
Travel to Villa Koukouvayia FAQs
Some tips on discovering Villa Koukouvayia safely and stress-free:
It’s difficult to fly to Crete ‘direct’ from anywhere but Athens. (And if coming from the US, note that direct flights to Athens are pricier than those with Euro stops.) Both Athens (ATH/Venizelos) & Xania (Pronounced “Hahn-YAH”, often spelled Chania, Hania & sometimes Canea, but always with the airport code CHQ) are simple, easy to use airports. Remember when booking: it’s Crete not Cyprus. (Yes, someone did that.) And remember, it’s CHQ (Xania) not HER (Herakleion/Irakleio), on the far side of the (very large) island. (And yes, someone did that, too. Us!) But it is worth noting that sometimes, better flight pricing and/or itineraries are available to Irakleio/HER and will make the extra 2+ hours of driving worth it. The directions we share with guests assume an arrival at CHQ (or Souda Bay), but if coming from Irakleio (or Rethymnon) simply head west to Xania, and pick up the directions at step #12’s location.
Many people ask about the (rather romantic) notion of coming to Crete by ferry. The ferry is an amazing experience, and we’re glad we’ve done it enough times to NEVER do it again. It’s long, subject to weather delays/cancellations, and unless you pay for an overnight cabin, you will most likely end up sleeping on the (interior) decks with the other 3,000 people who couldn’t afford (or couldn’t reserve—they’re limited) a cabin. The scene feels like a refugee center two days after a natural disaster hits, with everyone wearing the same scent from Estee Lauder: “Eau de Dead Goat.”
Most importantly it will eat up at least a day of your itinerary.
The other option is the Dolphin (i.e. ‘Fast’) ferry. This will not eat up a day of your itinerary, in fact ‘eating’ anything for you will not likely happen for three days after you stumble onto dry land, fall to your knees and kiss the dock at the trip’s end. These things look like James Bond villains’ boats, and travel over the sea at incredible speeds. Try to imagine being in a burlap sack tied behind Lewis Hamilton’s rear suspension during the F1 race at Monaco, but if the circuit was still paved with charmingly large cobblestones. It really wouldn’t matter if there was a lounge chair or stadium sized flat-screen TV playing non-stop Rap-Music Booty-Call videos in the burlap sack, would it?
Nor does it matter if you’re a person who can claim “I never get sick at sea,” unless you’re also a person who can claim “I never get sick watching 75 other people get sick at sea, quite often right in front of me, and quite often onto me.”
And all kidding aside, the two final blows to ferry travel (either the slow or fast options) is that they have the most arcane, incomprehensible online ticketing system I’ve ever seen; and it will be almost impossible to in any way speed your departure from the mainland to Crete vs. the late flight at which you were originally balking. The ferries to Crete tend to be overnight, and the ground transport time between Athens airport and Piraeus (the usual ferry port, although there might be a ferry out of Rafina, which is closer to the airport) is long and not cheap. So, if you were considering the ferry as a ‘quicker’ option, you won’t likely advance your departure time. And if you were thinking to do your wallet a favor, when everything’s settled, you won’t really avoid the costs of a flight.
Which leaves the only reason to take the ferry the chance to have an ‘authentic’ Greek travel experience; or, if you’re extremely lonely, to acquire the following charming answer to the future question of: “Mommy, how did you meet Daddy?”
“Well, dear, even though Mommy was not a refugee and had a passport and citizenship to a first-world country, she was on a steamer sleeping on a floor next to a hundred complete strangers who were snoring and needed shaves when the ship took a queer swell on her starboard beam and rolled hard to port. One of those stranger’s arms fell over me; and that was Daddy. And nine months later, you were born!”
- Insurance coverage and law require International Driver’s Licenses, usually easy to get—in the U.S. at AAA offices & other venues outside U.S. (Rental car places sometimes don’t ask for them, and sometimes insist, so be prepared.)
- If pre-booking, ask for “airport pickup and drop off” so an agent meets you when you leave Baggage-Claim. This is by far the easiest, and most efficient way to pick up (and drop off) a rental car.
- Before you release the agent, remember that, historically, Cretan rentals take a beating and get little service. Check tires, lights, etc., and check the gas tank. The rule “Leave tank as found,” often results in an empty tank, and will burn you if you pick up late and gas stations are closed.
- Or the opposite. The quaint history of renting a car that’s been beaten like an island mule is now changing, sometimes to the renter’s detriment. We hear more and more stories where rental car companies are recording ‘damage’ on returned cars in a way that comes suspiciously close to checking for simple ‘use.’ If the agent insists on reviewing the car with you at delivery, do so, and take pictures of any, even slight damage, and describe the damage on the contract—especially if the agent does not note that damage first.
- Also, on the rental contract you will most likely sign a promise not to take the car ‘off-road.’ Quite surprisingly, this can occur even for actual ‘off-road’ rentals like Jeeps and other 4x4s and SUVs, which you’ve chosen precisely so you can get ‘off-road.’ Keep in mind that what ‘off-road’ can mean to the rental company is just a ‘dirt’ road, even a well-established and public way—of which Crete has many. That description includes the road to Balos which almost every tourist in their rental car takes. Keep that in mind as you explore the island, where many of the roads are well-graded, easily travelled, but dirt. And if you do have a problem or flat, hire a private tow-company to get you back to the paved section, and then call the rental car company.
- And be aware: Like Olympic runners with lousy shoes, rental car SUVs and 4x4s with lousy tires can neither go where nor do what they were designed to go and do; and rental car companies rarely pay the cost of fitting those vehicles with good, off-road tires. So, while it’s tempting to rent one of these vehicles and suddenly believe that you’re George of the Jungle or King of the Wildebeests, be careful about dashing truly ‘off-the-road’ and following some rutted tractor path to a secluded beach. You may end up stuck there and then, like Tom Hanks, have no one to talk to for years (your passengers will not be talking to you any longer) but a volleyball.
Busses are frequent, cheap (€5-€8) and go everywhere on the island. They are not fast, but they’re not a bad option to get around for anyone who wants to avoid the hassle of having/parking/gassing a car, or just to get to Villa Koukouvayia for the young, the broke, or the simply adventurous who have not rented a car and don’t want to pay to money for a taxi. To arrive at the farm from a flight, just take the airport bus to the Xania bus terminal, (usually runs each ½ hour) then the Kissamos/Kastelli bus (usually hourly) from Chania. Ask the driver to drop you off in Kaloudiana (Kah-lou-thee-ahh-NAH). Once in Kaloudiana, you are 1.2 km from the house. You can use the final maps/photos below and walk (if you don’t have a lot of luggage); or call us and we’ll usually be able to come down and pick you up.
And to use the bus system to get around the island, you can just walk down from Villa Koukouvayia to the bus stop at the village below. Schedules are easily found online (in English) and easy to read understand.
Taxis from CHQ/Xania to Kaloudiana/Villa K. are about €60, without tip. (It’s convenient & fast—not cheap.)
- Especially on the National Road between the northern cities, lane-lines are suggestions more than rules. The National Road might look like a two-lane highway, but it’s actually four lanes, made so by everyone in the slow lane staying right and straddling the (so-called) ‘emergency-lane,’ thereby allowing faster cars to easily pass (even in the face of oncoming traffic), which they do, putting on their left-signals to warn the oncoming traffic they’ll be drifting a bit into their lane. If you come from a culture that sees all rules as absolute rather than contextual, splitting lanes will appear unsafe. And it is if only a few practice it and other cars don’t expect it. So here, it’s only unsafe when scared first-time tourists don’t understand what’s going on and fail to stay right, or Americans (who think of lanes as historical family property and defend the space at all costs) fight it.
Unfortunately, you must be careful of taking advantage of this trick and passing others. Unless you have rented a beaten-up farm-truck and rented two goats for the pickup bed, you could be subject to one of the few cases where Crete takes advantage of tourists instead of welcoming them. During the tourist season, the police have been known to put their coffee down, leave the café, and set up shop on the National Road, targeting the easily distinguished rental cars and clipping the contextually innocent drivers for doing what everyone else is doing: “overtaking illegally.” And in those cases, the consequences are rough—pulling your license and not releasing it until you pay a €600 (that’s not a typo) fine.
So, make sure when you do pass, it’s one of the many places on the national highway with the dotted lines, where overtaking is okay.
- In most cases, a person’s capacity to comfortably drive a car involves whether they can drive a standard transmission or need an automatic. In Crete, what’s more important is if they have a fear of heights. Cretan topography is dramatic, and—speaking in geological time-frames—almost fluid. There are roads everywhere, but other than the length of National Highway along the (relatively) flat northern coast, the roads must bend, rise and fall with the landscape, and they do all three with a passion, often without guardrails. (Just as people living at the equator don’t have words for ‘snow,’ Cretan Greek doesn’t seem to have a word for ‘guard-rail.’)
But every price has its rewards, and those same roads, when driven with courage and care, will take you to places and views otherwise available only in dreams.