Choose Charming Chania From Glasgow Prestwick
Ryanair has started a brand-new, low-cost route from Glasgow Prestwick to Chania in Crete which operates once a week on Tuesdays until the end of October. The airport’s Press Officer Alan Clark went for a week with his wife, and here’s what he found.
THE north-facing terrace attached to our junior suite in the Santa Marina Plaza Hotel was a real suntrap. Even at 11am on a morning in early April, while Scots back home turned up their central heating, it was warm enough to sunbathe in T shirt and shorts. And a couple of hours later, smothered in Factor 20 and reaching for a second glass of the fragrant local Cretan red wine, I couldn’t help thinking that it doesn’t get much better than this.
We flew from Glasgow Prestwick after early-morning snow showers had chased us down the M77. Four hours later, and two thousand miles further south in the Eastern Mediterranean, we were in Chania – pronounced Hahnia - in the north-west of Crete.
Crete is Greece’s largest island and its most southerly - keep going and you’re in Africa – so it’s guaranteed lots of year-round sun. As well as sunshine, Crete really has everything: beaches, hidden villages, big cities, archaeological sites, medieval fortresses, museums, beautiful surroundings and really friendly people.
First, a wee history lesson. According to mythology, Zeus, King of the Gods, grew up here. And there’s loads of other myths attached to it – for example the Minotaur was defeated by Theseus here and Icarus fell to the ground after daring to fly too near the sun on wings of feathers and wax. Silly man - he should have flown Ryanair.
Greece’s first great civilisation started here - the Minoan, named after its most famous king, Minos. In 67BC, Crete became a Roman province, and stayed so for over 400 years. It was then incorporated into the Byzantine empire and, later, Arabs, Venetians and Turks were to rule the island. So there’s a myriad of influences all round the place.
Right, enough history. You want to know why you should go there for a holiday from Glasgow Prestwick.
Chania, the island’s second-largest town, used to be its capital until 1972 and it’s a busy informal touristy place full, it seemed, of cheery Scandinavians – we met loads of Finns, Swedes, Norwegians and Danes during the seven days. They come down to escape their crazy winters and drink Greek beer at a fraction of the cost of their own. A lovely Norwegian family – mum, dad and two small boys – played non-stop football on the beach beside our hotel every day. We were exhausted watching them.
The waterfront around the Old Harbour – which will remind you of Venice - has loads of restaurants and bars. Stop to admire its wonderful lighthouse built in 1570 by the Venetians and reconstructed in 1830 by the Egyptians.
From here you can either walk along the walls of the port or wander around the Old Town’s maze-like alleys with beautiful Venetian mansions, markets, fountains and churches. One lunchtime, we just followed our noses and ended up having delicious meatballs in a homely wee restaurant called Xani on Kondilaki Street, where they cook freshly-prepared local ingredients using a traditional Cretan stone oven. And there, in the middle of nowhere, as always happens, we met another Scottish couple - from Braco in Perthshire - who had also flown from Glasgow Prestwick with Ryanair to find some April sun.
Ladies, good news. The town is a retail paradise. Lots of little fashion, jewellery and shoe shops with great prices. My wife was looking for a soft leather jacket and was delighted to find one at half the price back home. And if you’re into locally-handmade ceramics and textiles, you’ll be spoiled for choice too.
There was a problem with our original booking in another hotel so we were installed in a Junior Suite at the Santa Marina Plaza, a luxury Boutique hotel set on the long, sandy and sun-blessed beach of Agia Marina village just 8 km from Chania centre. And it was fab!
It’s a modern, three-storey building on the sea-front, with 49 luxurious rooms and 2 Junior Suites. Other facilities include a buffet restaurant, a main bar, pool bar, a fitness room and Jacuzzi, all centred round the large swimming pool which is just steps from the beach.
The rooms are spacious, well-designed and very clean. The staff speak wonderful English and are very friendly. Our waitress Zoe, a student studying hotel management on the island, kept our coffee cups topped up in the mornings and was keen to visit Scotland. “Don’t bother. It’s cold and wet. Stay here,” we advised. General Manager Emmanouil Peppas was a splendid and attentive host. He says: “We ensure you have all you need and more for a comfortable and most enjoyable stay while being at a great location to explore West Crete.”
His hotel is part of the Giannoulis Hotels and Resorts boutique chain and Managing Director Manolis Giannoulis is delighted that Ryanair is flying lots of new visitors into Chania from Glasgow Prestwick. And they come for different reasons, he said: “Ancient ruins, beaches and watersports are of course popular but here we also have many wild flowers and orchids, and over two hundred different kinds of herbs, which people love to come and see. The colours in spring and summer are fantastic.”
We felt the hotel is great if you want to stay close to Chania but don't want to miss the sea and the beach. We went half-board and the food in the evening was excellent - freshly prepared with tasty Greek dishes always on the buffet. And the Cretans are extremely hospitable, often offering you a complimentary after-dinner aperitif called tsikoudia, or more commonly raki, which they serve cold from a bottle in the freezer. You might find the word “Yiamas” handy – it means “cheers”. At least we think it does – it would be mortifying if it really means “Hope it chokes you”…
So Chania is well worth discovering this spring and summer. The weather in Crete is always reliably warm - mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. If you’re planning a summer holiday in July and August, it’s going to be very hot - in the region of 30-35oC which is what you’d expect in somewhere like Florida. So head for the beach, find a shady place, drink plenty water and don’t forget your hat and sunscreen. Yiamas!
Prices for seven days half board in a seaview double room at the Santa Marina Plaza Hotel start this spring from £230 per person. More information on www.santamarina-plaza.gr
Fares from Glasgow Prestwick to Chania with Ryanair start from £40.99 one-way plus taxes and charges on www.ryanair.com
For all Ryanair destinations from Glasgow Prestwick, go to www.glasgowprestwick.com
Easy-going Glasgow Prestwick...where the going's always easier!