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Preveli Beach: How to See Crete’s Spectacular Palm Forest

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One of the most uniquely scenic beaches in Crete, Preveli Beach has been a firm tourist favourite since its heyday as a hippie hangout back in the 1960’s and 70’s. Found on the south side of Crete just after Kourtaliotiko Gorge joins Preveli Gorge and where the Megalos Potamos (Grand River) reaches the sea, it features a dense palm forest that provides shade and hiking from below and terrific photo ops from above. It is also a protected natural area so there is very little development compared to many other beaches.

Also known as Lake Preveli and Phoenix/Finikas for reasons that remain unclear (to me, anyway), it is named after the ancient Preveli Monastery located at the head of the gorge. Although we visited in the November low season there were still a surprising number of people around and you can get an idea of its high season popularity by the enormous parking lot at the top of the gorge (€2 per car in season).

Palm trees and river at Preveli Palm beach
Preveli Beach from above

Preveli Beach Map

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Preveli Palm Beach Crete

Protected by cliffs on either side and the palm forest stretching up into the gorge, sandy Preveli Beach in Crete is more sheltered than most, making it a good choice when wind is buffeting some of the other beaches along the south coast. It is quite pretty, offers shade under the trees and there is even a heart-shaped rock on the east side of the beach that seems quite popular with the Instagram crew.

The river splits the beach in two and creates a small lagoon, perfect for kids to play in or for anyone looking to rinse the salt water off. The locals refer to it as “limni” (lake) and sometimes it is even called Preveli Lake.

Because the water coming down the river is usually pretty cold, the water in the bay also tends to be cooler than at other beaches in the region.

Across the sandy beach into the Libyan Sea the water gets deep fairly quickly but is still clear, blue and relatively calm. Meanwhile, in behind the beach the palm forest grows right up to the sand, with theophrastus palms unique to the island, mixed together with oleanders, like an oasis in the middle of the otherwise dry, rocky terrain of southern Crete.

Palm trees and river

Preveli Beach is an excellent place to snorkel, with plenty to see in and around the rocky headlands on both sides. There’s even a good chance you’ll see people spearfishing (like the unhappy guy we saw halfway up the stairs who was clearly finding his neoprene wetsuit and booties more suited to the water than a long, hot, rocky climb).

Because it is a protected area, there are no Preveli Beach sunbeds, showers, or change rooms available. However, for some reason they have still allowed a small taverna where you can pick up drinks, snacks and use the toilet (that third thing definitely makes sense, at least). They do not allow camping or overnight stays of any kind.

Preveli Palm Beach isn’t the easiest place to access, as the most common entrance is via a steep path down from the top of the cliffs. It mostly consists of stairs but will still take 10-15 minutes to get down and 15-20 to get back up (maybe more depending on how much revelry you’ve been up to on the beach all day).

On the bright side, the views down to the beach from the path are outstanding and well worth seeing even if you approach from the other side. East of Preveli Beach is Drimiskiano Amoudi, which is another access option. You can park at the taverna there and walk about 10 (mostly flat) minutes. This is obviously easier but you miss out on the views from the western stairs (or end up doing both).

Check out our complete list of The Best Beaches on Crete

Preveli Gorge

Small, narrow and lush, with the crystal-clear water of the Megalos Potamos running through the rocks down the middle, many people consider Preveli Gorge the main highlight of the area. A nice sandy path leads up through the thick palm forest, which reminded us of similar gorge hikes in Morocco with its steep, dry cliffs split by a pleasant, green oasis.

There are many small rapids and waterfalls along the way and if you continue far enough up the gorge you will eventually reach a larger set of Preveli Beach waterfalls. Because of the endemic Theophrastus palm trees the entire gorge is protected as part of the Natura 2000 program.

Man sitting on tree in Preveli Palm Beach in Crete

Back in 2010 a massive fire destroyed nearly the entire forest but, in testament to the resilience of these fascinating trees, it has already grown back to previous levels.

There are two main ways to enjoy the Preveli Gorge:

Preveli Gorge Walk

This is the most obvious trail, leading up from the beach into the palm forest. It follows the river under the shade of the trees as you make your way gradually uphill farther into the gorge. There are ropes to keep you from wandering in among the trees and damaging the delicate ecosystem, but you are perfectly welcome to swim, wade and boulder in the river.

Path through palms on the Preveli gorge walk
The trail on the Preveli Beach hike

Towards the top of the canyon, the only way to continue on will be through the water, which can be a fun adventure for kids and energetic adults alike (we fell into neither category and stopped when the path stopped). In fall, however, when the water is low it might even be possible to make it all the way up to the bridge on foot.

If that all sounds like good fun to you, be sure to bring water shoes and a waterproof bag to carry any valuables when the going gets tough (and wet, and cold). This is a Preveli Beach hike that everyone who makes it to the beach can do.

Preveli Gorge Hike Loop

A relatively easy trail runs from the bridge all the way down to the water along the west rim of the gorge passing arguably the best Preveli Beach viewpoint (see below). Then you can theoretically make it a loop by crossing Preveli Beach and hiking back up over the rocky eastern hills.

View down a gorge on the Preveli gorge hike
The trail goes along the top of the gorge

Unfortunately, this section is poorly marked and often overgrown so you should check the latest conditions before committing. If it doesn’t look good you can always just hike back the way you came (maybe after a quick drink and/or swim at the beach).

AllTrails map

Preveli Palm Beach Viewpoints

The main parking lot is found on the west side of the gorge. Then, from the east side of that parking area, follow a path back north along the gorge for 5-10 minutes to the classic Preveli Beach viewpoint for photos that include the river, palm forest, beach and ocean all in one shot.

Person looking down at gorge and river at Preveli palm beach

In our opinion, the best spot is just before you reach the wooden viewing platform. This is also part of the same trail that leads all the way up to the bridge.

Other than that, the best views are all found along the steep stairs descending from the parking lot to the beach. There are a couple of dedicated viewpoints but the constantly evolving views are enthralling nearly every step of the way.

River and palms at Preveli Beach Crete

Things to do Around the Preveli Palm Beach

Wander the Preveli Monastery

The namesake of Preveli Beach, Moni Preveli provides a fascinating look into the history of this region.

Old church
Preveli Monastery

Built by the Venetians back in the Middle Ages, later destroyed by the Ottoman Empire and eventually restored to (something like) their former glory, these two nice monasteries have some interesting ruins, a chapel and an informative (if small) museum. It is divided into two sections which are actually 2 km apart.

Old buildings at the Preveli Monastery

Near the bridge is Moni Kato Preveli (Lower Monastery of Preveli), with the majority of the buildings and ruins. Down closer to the beach, you’ll find Moni Piso Preveli (Separate Monastery of Preveli) with a small church, museum and nice ocean views.

Walk Over Preveli Bridge

Dating back to the 18th century, this rather bizarre Venetian bridge was built in tandem by monks and locals to cross the Megalos Potamos a couple of kilometres north of the monastery. Today there is a much more modern paved bridge right next to it and the original walls and roads on either end are gone so today it appears more like a bridge to nowhere. But it still looks cool.

Man walking over old venetian bridge

There is a nice olive grove just up the river and a friendly taverna (Gefyra Taverna) near Preveli Bridge that is a good place for a break. You can sit back relax, watching ducks and geese paddling around the river and tourists posing for photos atop the bridge. We went for an action shot of me walking – quite revolutionary, I thought.

Explore Kourtaliotiko Gorge

The aforementioned Megalos Potamos (Grand River) runs through stunning Kourtaliotiko Gorge, then Preveli Gorge all the way down to Preveli Beach. While Preveli Gorge is narrow, charming and has its famous palm forest, Kourtaliotiko Gorge is far more expansive and dramatic.

3 kilometres long, it is hemmed in by steep cliffs that reach as high as 600 metres. The walls are riddled with caves, often covered in vegetation and home to a surprising amount of flora and fauna (including a colony of vultures). You will also find beautiful waterfalls, exceptional viewpoints, ancient ruins and old churches.

Lounge on Plakias Beach

If you are interested in taking the scenic route to Preveli Beach you can drive along the coast via Plakias Bay. This well-established tourist enclave features a long, classically crescent-shaped beach – actually a series of smaller beaches, each with their own character.

Beach, town and mountains at Plakias beach

Whichever you choose, though, you’ll find all the amenities, including umbrellas, sunbeds, tavernas and water sport rentals.

Umbrellas at Plakias beach

Hike Around Adra Kaomouri Near Plakias Beach

If you’re up for a short hike with big views, head to the east end of the beach and follow the trail up the hill for about 10 minutes for a panoramic look over the beach, valley and surrounding hills.

Woman walking on trail with view of Plakias beach

And if you’re feeling energetic, this trail actually goes all the way around the headland and loops back the far side. This 5 km loop is marked with blue dots and is relatively easy to follow. There are a few different options but they always eventually join up again.

All Trails map

See the Ghost Army at the Frangokastello Fortress

The impressive 14th century Venetian fort at Frangokastello was designed as a military base to protect against pirates and various bandit-types, as well as serve as the perfect spot to launch their own attacks (as you can tell, attacking and conquering were all the rage in those days).

The castle has a simple rectangular shape, with a tower at each corner and the remains of a Venetian coat of arms above the main gate.

Old fortress walls at Frangokastello fortress

Where it gets weird, however, is when the “ghost army” arrives.

Wait, what ghost army, you ask? Well, apparently, during the Battle of 1828 in the Greek War of Independence a large number of Cretan and Epirote soldiers were killed in the fortress by the Turks following a week-long siege. So far, so normal, right?

While soldiers dying in battle was not exactly a unique occurrence in these parts (or anywhere in Europe, really), the odd part is that the ghosts of these dead soldiers continue to haunt the place from time to time (but only when the weather cooperates).

Witnesses have described a ghost army led by Hatzimichalis Dalianis of Epirus, dressed in black and armed to the teeth (ghosts still have teeth, right?), either walking or riding (ghost horses, too!) from Agios Charalambos Monastery toward the old fort at Frangokastello.

Believers refer to these figures as drosoulites (dew men), say they are most likely to appear in May or June near the anniversary of the battle and are only visible from a kilometre away in the valley. There are more rules, too. It must be morning. The sea must be calm. It must be humid. You must be susceptible to legends and superstitions. Okay, I added that part, but it seems rather obvious.

Nonetheless, whatever causes these strangely lifelike shadows, I imagine they would be pretty cool to see.

Walk the Sand Dunes at Orthi Ammos Beach

Not far from Frangokastello Fortress, the photogenic hills and sand dunes are fronted by shallow, calm water. Farther east down the beach you’ll find both the high cliffs of Kritama and more of the famous nudists of Crete. Just kidding, they aren’t actually famous, just really common.

Sand dunes and ocean at Orthi Ammos beach

There are a couple of tavernas and a few rooms to rent but no sunbeds or water sport rentals.

Other Gorgeous Beaches Around Crete

If you love Preveli Beach, you should probably check out some of the other beautiful beaches on Crete which are some of the best in Greece.

Balos Beach

Up in the extreme northwestern corner of Crete, you’ll find Balos Beach, the most photographed beach in all of Crete. It can only be reached via rough dirt road or on a boat tour but is still well worth the journey for the spectacular viewpoints and beautiful turquoise water.

Balos Beach Crete

What sets Balos Beach apart, however, is the narrow sandy isthmus connecting mainland Crete to tiny Cape Tigani. This isthmus divides the area into a warm, shallow lagoon on one side (south) and a relatively sheltered bay on the other (north).

You may also want to check out our Ultimate Guide to Balos Beach

Elafonisi Beach

Rivalling Balos Beach for sheer beauty, Elafonisi Beach is tucked away in the southwestern corner of Crete about an hour from Kissamos.

Turquoise water and the Elafonisi pink sand beach in Crete

The narrow, pink sand isthmus separates two great beaches and shallow swimming areas, features sand dunes and leads to an island with caves, a church and phenomenal views.

You may also want to have a look at Elafonisi Beach: Is it Worth Visiting?

Seitan Limania

Not far from the major city of Chania, Seitan Limania features a small but incredibly photogenic rocky gorge leading to a miniscule beach sheltered by tall cliffs on each side. It only gets a few hours of sun each day but is worth a visit for the view from the top alone (although we would highly recommend taking on the rugged 10-minute descent to explore more closely).

Find out how to visit at Seitan Limania: Guide to Crete’s Most Unique Beach

Matala Beach

Another beach that started out as a hippie enclave, today Matala Beach still retains much of that relaxed vibe. With a nice, sheltered bay ringed by welcoming tavernas, the north end of the beach features sandstone cliffs filled with ancient caves. They are worth exploring (€2 per person) for both the historic implications and the interesting views.

Check out: Matala Beach: Crete’s Original Hippie Village

Vai Beach

Relatively few tourists make it to all the way to Vai Beach, located at the extreme eastern end of Crete. However, it is similar to Preveli Beach in that it is home to a large, beautiful forest of palm trees. It also has some great viewpoints in the hills surrounding the beach, as well as several secluded coves and there are even some Minoan ruins nearby.

How to Get to Preveli Beach in Rethymno

Public transportation on Crete can be tedious so we highly recommend renting a car so you don’t miss out on any of the best spots. Plus, it is nice to be able to set your schedule. We find that Discover Cars usually has the best deals in the area.

There are no hotels at Preveli Beach and overnight camping is prohibited. There are a few rooms available in Drimiskiano Amoudi but most of the nearest hotels are found in Plakias Bay, from where it is either a short drive or scenic boat ride.

Coming by car from the west you will pass Plakias, then reach Preveli Monastery, then make your way a few kilometres down to the parking lot at the end of the cliffs. This road is narrow and winding but paved the whole way.

From the east, drive to Drimiskiano Amoudi, park there and walk across the small headland to reach the beach.

Driving Times to Preveli Beach in Crete

Plakias to Preveli Beach: 10 km / 15 min

Rethymno to Preveli Beach: 35 km / 50 min

Chania to Preveli Beach: 90 km / 1.5 hrs

Heraklion to Preveli Beach: 115 km / 1.75 hrs

You can also take a boat to Preveli Beach. Small boats run regularly in high season from either Plakias or Agia Galini.

Sign advertising boat rides

When to Go to Preveli Beach, Creta

Like most of Crete, Preveli Beach enjoys a very mild climate year-round thanks to the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. Summers are warm (some would say hot) with almost no rain. Most precipitation comes in the winter months, although that is still pretty minimal compared with many coastal cities.

Crete is one of the most southerly islands in Europe and compared to most of the continent the weather remains bearable all year, with the daily average temperature in Preveli Beach only dropping as far as 10 / 12 (low/high) in January. Which is why Crete is one of the best places to visit in Europe in winter.

River with high gorge walls at the Preveli beach gorge
Weather in November – warm with blue skies and some clouds

The south coast is typically warmer than the north and also gets less rain. It does, however, get its share of wind, which is why the sheltered cove at Preveli is a good choice in winter.

Preveli Beach gets very crowded in July and August so it is best to visit in the shoulder seasons if possible. May-June and September-October are perfect for good weather and fewer tourists. It will also be far less crowded early in the morning or late in the afternoon.

Where to Stay: Hotels Near Preveli Beach

While you can’t stay on Preveli Beach there are excellent choices ranging from a short walk to a short drive away.

The closest option is Dionysos Tavern, just a short walk away in Drimiskiano Amoudi. The rooms have balconies to enjoy the view of the sea and air conditioning if you need to escape from the heat. The tavern below also serves great traditional food.

Click here for Dionysos Tavern room prices

If you are looking for a bit more luxury, head over to Plakias for Belvedere Luxury Apartments & Spa. There are stunning views from the huge terrace, the included breakfast incorporates local products and is delivered to your room and there is a nice, relaxing pool. Try out one of the spa services if you are in need of a little extra relaxation.

Click here for Belvedere Luxury Apartments & Spa prices

Heading the other way, rooms at Agia Fotia Taverna in Kerames are all about the view. Located literally on the edge of the sea, the comfortable rooms take full advantage of the peaceful, stunning location and there is excellent food just steps away.

Click here for Agia Fotia Taverna room prices

Woman walking down steps on the Preveli beach walk
Along the path to beach from the pay parking lot

Where to Eat Near Preveli Palm Beach Crete

There is a small snack bar right on the beach that is open in high season but for a full meal you will need to look elsewhere.

Dionysos Tavern

Located just a few hundred metres to the east of Preveli Beach, this small family tavern is the only restaurant in walking distance. Its terrace has a sea view and they serve traditional Greek food.

Gefyra Tavern

Right beside the Venetian bridge, just a couple minutes drive from the parking lot, this tavern has a peaceful location and good food.

Preveli Beach Summary

One thing about Crete, they have some very unique beaches. From the sandy isthmuses of Elafonisi and Balos to the steep cliffs of Seitan Limania to the picturesque palm forests of Preveli Beach and Vai Beach, there is no reason to get bored beach-hopping around this fabulous Greek island.

And Preveli Beach mixes in a clean, clear river, a gorge walk and a freshwater lagoon, all in one adorable little package. It should definitely be added to your must-see list of things to see in Crete.

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