One of the best kept secrets in Rethymno aside from Akoumiani Gialia or more popularly known as Triopetra beach to tourists and locals alike, are the breathtaking Melissa Cape Sandhills, by Agios Pavlos, which is considered as among the best beaches in Crete. The warm waters are very inviting for a swim and it is quite common to see people in various states of beachwear or lack thereof owing to the area's relative seclusion and privacy offered by the coves around the beaches.
Akoumiani Gialia is located around 55km south of Rethymno and is a vast beachfront starting next to the small resort of St. Paul and extending for many kilometers to the northwest, up to Keramiani Gialia. It's name means Akoumian Beach, taken after the village Akoumia (11km northeastern).
At the southest part of this vast beachfront, at the west side of the peninsula Melissa and south of Triopetra beach you will find one of the most amazing beaches of crete, called St. Paul or Melissa Sandhills. The locals also call it Alatsogremi. The beach is formed between the edge of Melissa Cape and the Akoumianos River, southeast of Stomio area.
Melissa Cape sandhills, perhaps the most beautiful beach of Rethymnon, is a fantastic bay in a wild and majestic scenic landscape with huge sand hills. There are few umbrellas (that’s all!), but you can find shade in the rocky caves shaped in the middle of the beach. Moreover, given its large size, the beach never seems busy and you can easily be nude. The beach has rich seabed and is ideal for snorkeling. Additionally, the water temperature never falls below 15 degrees Celsius, making it ideal for swimming throughout the year. The sunset of the area is stunning and the peaceful atmosphere has attracted a very good club of yoga and Tai Chi, with two of the best trainers in the world.
The only problem that you may encounter here are the west winds. As already noted, St. Paul Sandhills are one of the most romantic places on earth, offering spectacular sunsets (ideal for wedding proposals!). The best sunset can be viewed from the Mount Thronos, directly above the beach (some 300m high, vertical cliffs). In order to get to Thronos, it's better to ask a local. However, if you don't find anyone knowing, you have to follow the dirt track that heads to the west. The starting point of the dirt track is just next to the point where the roads Agios Pavlos - Sactouria and Triopetra-Agios Pavlos cross. This point overlooks Paximadia islets at south, Gavdos island and White Mountains.
The easiest way to get on the Sandhills is by following for 500m the road leading to the west of Triopetra harbor (Stomio), till you meet the beach in your right hand and the Akoumianos river below you. You can leave your car somewhere there, descend to the small valley shaped near the river and walk to the beach. Alternatively, you can park your car in St. Paul and then follow (for 5'-10') the path that leads behind the western edge of the beach of St. Paul. Otherwise, before you enter the village, take the dirt road leading west and stopping in a high plateau, where you can leave your car and go down a steep sandy slope.