A man walks down to the water at Balos Lagoon.
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Top choice in Hania Province

The rugged Gramvousa Peninsula cradles the lagoon-like sandy beach of Balos, whose shallow, shimmering turquoise waters draw huge crowds in summer. This remote stretch features on many tourist brochures for Crete, and when it's at its best it's a heavenly scene, with lapping waters shimmering with darting fish. If the tide is out, the wind is whipping up or it's overrun by visitors off the cruise ferry, it can be something of a letdown.

Balos can be accessed by a very rough, 12km dirt road, precarious at times, that begins at the end of the main street of Kalyviani village. While some cars do make the drive, a 4WD is really necessary (and note that most car-hire companies won't cover you for damage sustained on the drive to Balos). The views from the car park when you arrive are sensational. From here there's a 1km walking path down to the beach. The other option is to visit Balos on a cruise from Kissamos, which stops first for around 90 minutes at the peninsula's offshore island Imeri Gramvousa, overlooking Balos, where you can make the sweaty climb to the ruins of a humongous Venetian fortress built to keep pirates at bay.

Note: there's no shade at Balos, but you can hire a sun-lounger and an umbrella. Toilet facilities are basic.

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