The west coast Crete is a gorgeous stretch of coastline of dramatic scenery, perfect beaches and authentic sleepy villages. Often overlooked, it has so far managed to escape the wave of tourism that has engulfed the north of the island.

This is where you can find an older, truer, more timeless Crete. The mountains loom a little larger, and the villages seem smaller and lazier.

We spent two weeks travelling up and down this striking coastline. These are the things you need to know to make the most of this beautiful region:

The west coast Crete consists of a few relatively sleepy settlements. We stayed at the wonderful Hello Village, a traditional stone building nestled into the hillside. Built on the foot of Koutroulis Mountain, Hello Village is steeped in history and offers incredible views over the valleys and the Mediterranean Sea.

We spent our mornings collecting fresh eggs and eagerly awaiting the bread van for freshly baked loaves. The owners are kind and generous regularly plying us with homemade treats and fresh produce from the gardens. Days here are about simple things; getting back to nature and lingering a little longer over breakfast. An oasis of peace and calm we never wanted to leave.

While being remote and undeveloped is a huge drawcard it does come with it’s challenges. The supermarkets are few and far between; with slim pickings on fresh stuff, and everything is eye-wateringly expensive. If you plan to self-cater, then be sure to do a "big shop" in Chania or Kissamos first. There's also a bizarre lack of ATMs even in the most popular places so bring enough cash with you to last.

The west coast is home to the best beaches on the island. While no longer the secret they once were, they're still utterly beautiful. With azure blue waters, powdery pinkish sands and crystal clear lagoons you'll feel like you've been transported to in the Caribbean.

Sure they're remote and a bit of a trek to get to, but your efforts will be rewarded. With 2 of the top 10 beaches in Greece on your doorstep and countless hidden bays and rugged coves, the biggest decision is deciding which stretch of sand to plonk yourself on.

Elafonisi is a breathtaking lagoon; rated the number 1 beach in Greece it's easy to see why. Azure blue, crystal clear waters lap the exotic sweeping cove making it a perfect spot for some lagoon lazing.

The soft powdery sand is pinkish in many places, taking its color from thousands of broken shells. The waters are calm and shallow making it ideal for little ones.

The area in front of the lagoon is the busiest - sunbeds are tightly packed in, and you’ll find umbrellas, showers, lifeguards, snack bars and changing rooms.

Elafonisi has become a hugely popular destination for day-trippers who flood to this corner of paradise by boat, bus or car. To escape the hoards either visit early or venture to the beaches on either side of the island. You won’t have to wander too far to discover a quiet cove and enjoy your own corner of tropical paradise.

Balos is famous for its turquoise waters, wild natural beauty and beautiful exotic scenery. During the summer, thousands of people flock to Balos every day, mostly arriving by the ferries running from Kissamos port. It’s a truly stunning place and was top of our bucket list of places to see in Crete.

Keen to avoid the hefty prices and the vast crowds of the boats we wanted to drive to Balos and take the hike down. We’d read about bumpy dirt roads, arduous trekking and steep climbs but undeterred we decided to give it a go.

Okay so the road is unpaved, long and the drive to get to the car park is certainly dusty and slow. But we made it with absolutely no problems along with everyone else in their small 2WD hire cars.

Once you arrive there is a hike of 30 minutes on a footpath - mostly built as stairs - downward to the beach. We did it in flip-flops and found it perfectly do-able with our little ones as long as you take your time. We took Millie in her trusty baby carrier, and Jessica was a little trooper walking most of the way by herself. Just bring plenty of drinks and a couple of treats for stops along the way.

Your efforts are so worth it; the views overlooking Balos beach are magnificent and unforgettable. The lagoon of Balos is blessed with white sand and exotic blue and turquoise waters. The sea is shallow and warm, and the sand has a lovely pinkish tone, because of millions of crushed shells.

Another advantage of travelling by car is you get to pick your timings to avoid the crowds. You can arrive at Balos first thing before the boats come in from Kissamos or head out at the end of the day and stay for sunset. A few hours of remoteness in such a heavenly place will stick in your head forever.

Kedrodasos (Cedar forest) is an amazing beach filled with cedar trees and sand dunes. Wild, unspoiled, quiet and rugged it makes a sharp contrast to the famous and busy Elafonisi beach next door.

The way to the beach is a bit tricky but check out the map before you go and ask locals if you get lost. Once you find the right dirt road, look out for little yellow signposts and eventually (after going through a lot of greenhouses!) you’ll reach a car park by a little stone hut. From there it’s a 10-minute meander down a rough path to the beach.

We went on a beautiful day in June and only saw around ten other people on the whole beach. The beach is long and wide with calm, warm water for swimming. There are plenty of rock pools to explore and trees to climb it’s just perfect for little ones. Settle yourself in the shade of one of the cedar trees and enjoy a day away from it all. There are no facilities nearby so bring whatever you need and take your rubbish away with you. Don’t miss a visit to this unique secluded beach.

The sands of Falasarna in the north sit near the ruins of an ancient Greek city. Falasarna Beach is often touted as most beautiful beach in Crete and is always one of the top ten beaches in Europe, with its wonderful, fine white sand and warm, crystal-clear water.

The blue-green water was so clear and warm, and the gentle waves made taking a dip a real experience. The beach is so big that it rarely feels overcrowded even in high summer. With plenty of sunbeds and tavernas dotted along the beach, you’ll have all you need for a relaxing day out with the kids. This stretch of beach is blessed stunning views and beautiful sunsets.

We visited the coast in the thick of the high season, and it was certainly busy, busy, busy. With a bit of imagination, you can still easily get off the beaten track and find your own quiet corner but there were times we’d love to have escaped the crowds.

Early June or late September would be the best time of year in this part of the world, you can explore the beaches in relative peace and quiet but still enjoy the good weather. The west coast Crete is often overlooked for the popular tourist towns along Crete's northern coast but venture that little bit further and you'll be rewarded with incredible beaches, rugged scenery and a warm welcome.

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