Gournes is 15 kilometres east of Heraklion. As you continue east along the old road from Heraklion to Kokkini Hani, the adjoining village is Gournes, which is quite small in comparison, and limited in its facilities.
The name Gournes comes from “gourna” meaning “basin”, and it is thought that there were many watering-places in the area at one time. The evidence still exists, as a “river” basin still runs through the centre of town. In the summer months, however, it is quite dry, but in the winter rainy season, and during the spring thaw, water rushes through here from the surrounding mountains to the sea below.
There are no big hotels in Gournes, but there are several nice smaller hotels, plus tourist apartments and rent-rooms. Gournes was a small, sleepy village until the late fifties, when the big American Air Force communications (no planes) base opened, occupying a substantial portion of the town property.
While the base population eventually grew to about 3,500 servicemen and their families, the surrounding area kept pace. Many of the first hotels and apartments were built in Gournes to accommodate the families of the servicemen and visitors to the base and its civilian work force.
When the Gournes base closed in 1993, the area was a bit shell-shocked, as about 1,000 locals became unemployed and hundreds of apartments and rooms were vacated.
Since then, Gournes has fought its way back economically, making a good name for itself as a quiet holiday destination, as well as a place where many people from Heraklion maintain their summer homes. The enormous base property with a frontage of 500 meters along the main road is finally showing signs of a new life. After lying dormant for many years, there is now a school, a gymnasium, a municipal town hall and an exhibition centre, plus the Crete Aquarium “Thalassokosmos” (Sea World), which is among the finest in Europe.
How to get to Gournes
Gournes is part of the largest coastal tourist area in Crete, running from Kokkini Hani to Malia. Gournes is between Kokkini Hani and Gouves, which are both within walking distance along the beach.
To get to Gournes from Heraklion Airport or the port, you can take the bus (very frequent service) or taxi, which will not cost you much as Gournes is only about 10 kilometres from the airport.
If you have your own or a rented car, take the National Road towards Agios Nikolaos and turn off at the Kokkini Hani exit. Gournes is just a short distance further along.
If you miss the first exit because the sign is small and hard to spot, continue to the Gouves exit. Two hundred metres further on you will see the sign to Gournes on your left; Gournes is about 1 kilometres away.
If you are coming to Gournes from the resorts to the east, i.e. Gouves, Analipsi, Anissaras or Hersonissos, the quickest route is by the old National Road. Avoid the New National Road as you will just be driving further for no reason.
Useful information on Gournes
There are several small hotels in Gournes, as well as apartments and studios, but there are no banks, cashpoints or pharmacies here.
There are not many shops in Gournes, and no “main street” to speak of. People here mostly make use of the facilities and conveniences of neighbouring Kokkini Hani or Gouves.
However, there are several minimarkets, a butcher’s, some lovely seaside tavernas, a bike rental and two petrol stations in Gournes. Three “to-the-beach” roads, off the old road, lead to the seashore and a lovely beach-front promenade about a kilometre in length. Also, there are many man-made rock jetties protruding 50 – 100 meters from the shore, which serve as breakwaters for swimmers and casting-off points for fishermen.
Gournes has a regular bus service both east and west, for easy access to Heraklion or Hersonissos, as well as many other points along the coast.
Beaches of Gournes
Along the beach-front promenade you’ll find several small, but sandy beaches, most with chairs and umbrellas – and some with handy “beach service” for drinks and snacks from the restaurants across the road.
However, the best beach in Gournes is at the far western end of the promenade – the large beach in front of the Hotel Xenia, which is maintained as a working hotel school. This beach is wide, with smooth sand, offers chairs and umbrellas and, in addition, is life-guard protected.
If you continue to the east, past the small fishing harbour of Gouves, you will enter the area of the former American Base.
All along the coast there are several spots where you can go swimming. At the east end of this area, there is the excellent Municipal beach of Gouves, which offers the cheapest sunbeds and umbrellas in the area (4€ in 2009).
What to do in Gournes
Visit the site of the former American Base. Here you will find beaches without umbrellas for a peaceful swim, and the Crete Aquarium, the largest aquarium in southern Europe.
The old village of Gournes is a short, uphill walk to the right, from the old road. There are many old village houses, plus some newer homes, side by side, and a nice village church. However, there are no facilities, not even a coffee shop, so bring your own bottle of water if you take the trek.
In the valley of Gournes there is the beautiful old chapel of St. John Bezetis, with many well-preserved frescoes. (You must get directions from locals, but the visit is well worth the effort.)
No visit to Crete is complete without a trip to picturesque Chania or the south of Crete with Phaistos, Gortys, Matala with its caves and the wonderful beach at Kommos. Read the “Explore Crete” pages, buy a good map of Crete and start discovering the island’s beauty-spots. If your holiday isn’t long enough, come again next summer.
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