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Hania

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To visit the Crete picture gallery 2001 - click HERE

To visit the Crete picture gallery 2007 - click HERE

To visit the Crete picture gallery 2008 - click HERE

 

Introduction.

We visited in June 2007.

This was our second visit to Crete. Notes from our visit in 2001 can be found HERE

Crete is the largest of all the Greek islands, 260 km from west to east and 56 km from north to south.

The National Highway that runs along the north coast makes travelling long distances west to east reasonably quick. We found that going north to south will almost always take longer than expected.

Askyfou - Click to enlargeThe interior of the island is dominated by 3 magnificent mountain ranges. Lefka Ori (White Mountains) in the west; Mount Idi (Psiloritis) at 2456 metres towers over the centre of the island and to the east Mount Dhikti.

Of course it is not possible to see all of Crete on a two week holiday. We drove over 1600kms, much of it on twisty mountain roads. As with our 2001 trip we concentrated on Western Crete but did manage to get over to the middle of the island around Mount Idi.

I know that many people arrive at a beach resort on the north coast and leave again 2 weeks later. But if you get out and explore the island, you will find that Crete has some of the most stunning scenery in all of Greece.

Arrival

We landed at Daskalogiannis airport on the Akrotiri peninsular about 10km east of Hania. There is a significant military presence. The airport is reasonably spacious by Greek standards and our arrival was relatively stress free. The majority of visitors to Crete arrive in the east at Heraklion which is by far the busier of the 2 international airports.

Villa Koule

Our home for 2 weeks was Villa Koule in Kalami just 25 kms from the airport on the opposite side of Souda bay.

This was a modern, comfortable villa but its proximity to the 2 other identical villas meant that it lacked the sort of seclusion that we usually expect from a villa.

However, there were excellent views over Souda bay. The majority of the ships on view were heading for the large naval base in the bay. Most of the ferries and all of the large cruise ships head for Iraklion.

Day 1 – Kalami, Almirida and Kalives Pictures start here

Kalami - Click to enlargeDay 1 started early. We were awoken in the early hours of the morning by a loud bang. After inspecting the villa for intruders we came to the conclusion that it was simply the wind slamming shut the bathroom window. However, it was difficult to get back to sleep and we were up as it started to get light. It then dawned on us that the sun was rising over the sea and we were treated to a spectacular sunrise.

From our visit in 2001 we knew that the location of Kalami would give us a view of the setting sun over Hania but being able to see the sunrise as well was a bonus. The downside of course was having to get up so early!

We took a gentle stroll down to the beach at Kalami. It was a pleasant enough shingle beach, backed by a few houses. Not sure I would go too far out of the way to go to this beach as there are far better ones further up the coast.

Almirida - Click to enlargeNext trip was a drive to Almirida, where we stayed in 2001. We were disappointed to see that the apartments where we stayed were closed. Couldn’t really see anything wrong with them yet new apartments were being built all around. Things have certainly changed in this area. There has been significant development with one large hotel in the village centre and plenty of new studio and apartment blocks. The waterfront tavernas were as charming as before but must now be considerably busier. The most obvious difference was the amount of new buildings on the hillside above and around the village of Plaka. Estate agents now do very good business in this area and there are plenty of them!

Despite its expansion, Almirida is still a good holiday choice. There is an excellent beach with a couple more over the headland towards Kalives.

We had lunch at the Erotikritos and finished with a complimentary small bottle of Raki flavoured with honey. Not sure what the etiquette is but we drunk the lot !

Kalives - Click to enlargeKalives is a mix of an everyday working town and holiday resort. The main road through the town has a number of bars and tavernas. Some of these extend some way back from the road and actually have tables overlooking the sea. When busy, this road can be difficult to navigate. If arriving from the west it is possible to turn left and travel along the road by the sea parallel to the main road. This is a dead end so is only of use if you are visiting and not passing through. At the western end there are more tavernas near the sea, which are away from the main road. Kalives was often our choice for an evening out.

Kalami is not for night owls. Whilst there is a kafenion and a taverna the nightlife was disappointing (non-existent). We ate in the Vigla taverna on a number of occasions and although the food was fine, it was lacking in atmosphere as we were usually the only people there. The exception was each Saturday night when people came from all over to eat and listen to a couple of musicians. What you might call an authentic Greek night and very entertaining. It should be noted that the evening did not really get going to well after 10pm and went on to late.

The kafenion has recently undergone a makeover and was a very pleasant place to sit and watch the sunset. However, it would often close quite early i.e. before 10pm – it was certainly not a late night drinking spot.

At the top of the village is a former prison. Although aware of a military presence I couldn’t resist the temptation to climb the steps to one of the sentry towers. I was not expecting to see a herd of sheep grazing. Thankfully the navy outpost is located on the northern perimeter and they were more interested in keeping watch over Souda bay than me taking pictures of sheep.

Day 2 - Vrysses, Lake Kournas, mountain tour including Asi Gonia to Askifou Pictures start here

Vrysses - Click to enlargeThe National Highway is a very pretty road to drive with beautiful mountain views and lined with magenta and white Oleander bushes. It is certainly much prettier than the M25. However, when this road is busy with trucks and buses it is not the place to be gazing out at the mountain scenery. Beware of what appears to be the hard shoulder – it is not. It is used to allow other traffic to overtake but more importantly it is also somewhere to go to avoid oncoming traffic that is overtaking.

Vrysses is busy village with an attractive centrepiece where 2 rivers merge. Here there are some appealing tavernas and cafes shaded by huge trees.

Lake Kournas - Click to enlargeLake Kournas is Crete’s only freshwater lake. The lake is hidden away inland from Georgioupoli. It is well signposted from the National Highway. Along the shoreline are tavernas and pedalos for hire. It is not possible to walk around the lake. Best bet for views is to head up the road towards the village of Kournas. We stopped at the Empire bar - great views of the lake and a distant view to the sea.

We headed across country to Agryoupoli, which we accidentally bypassed. This was an error which we corrected on day 7.

Asi Gonia - Click to enlargeThe journey from Agryoupoli through valleys and over mountains via Asi Gonia, Kallikratis and Asfendou to the main road heading south to Chora Sfakion is one of the most picturesque roads we have ever driven. We hardly saw another car and around every bend was a new and surprising vista. If you are going to make one mountain trip; make it this one.

Once back on the main road we headed north, stopping at Kares. From here there are more great views across the Askifou plateau, which was the scene of fierce fighting during WW2. Having previously tasted Raki and honey we needed no encouragement to buy a bottle of the ‘homemade’ variety at just €6 – an excellent purchase.

We finally stopped for a late lunch at a taverna in the shady village square of Armeni, a couple of kilometres inland from Kalives.

Day 3 – Hania Pictures start here

I was not looking forward to driving through the city to get parked near the harbour area. The outskirts of the city are quite hectic.

Hania - Click to enlargeThe harbour area is sophisticated with many fine restaurants and trendy bars. Perfect places to sit, relax and people watch. Not cheap but then that is to be expected (frappe and fruit cocktail €10). There are many examples of fine Venetian architecture to admire – some buildings are more restored than others but that adds to the charm. The streets and alley ways just beyond the harbour are also attractive and will provide a fix for anyone with a shopping addiction.

Leaving Hania proved to be much more difficult than arriving. I decided to join the national highway at a junction to the west. Unfortunately I missed it and only succeeded in finding the service road that runs parallel. This was a road with no connection with the highway. It was a case of so near, yet so far. We eventually joined where I would have done had I left the way we arrived. Lesson learned! Tip: Think of the junctions as a clover leaf – the slip road is on the opposite side of the road to where it might be expected (well for me it was anyway!!).

Day 4 – Imbros gorge, Hora Sfakion, Anopoli and Aradhena Pictures start here

Chora Sfakion - Click to enlargeWe headed south to Chora Sfakion which at the southern end runs parallel to the Imbros gorge, at 8kms in length a much more manageable walk than the Samaria gorge. It is also much easier to do with your own transport i.e. park at the end and get a taxi back up to the entrance. The road that plunges down to Sfakion is extremely twisty and can be very busy with coaches. Chora Sfakion seems to blow hot and cold – very busy around the times of ferry arrivals and departures. The majority of visitors are just passing through Sfakion as it is the main arrival point from Roumelli where those walking the Samaria Gorge exit. At other times it is very quiet and relaxing.

Aradhena - Click to enlargeWe took the winding road heading west out of Sfakion. Half way up we encountered huge roadmaking equipment that was in the process of improving the road. It was a case of waiting until they were prepared to let you pass. Once out of their way the drive was much more relaxing with stunning views. The road passes through the isolated village of Anopoli and then onto the Aradhena Gorge.

The metal framed bridge across the gorge is a real experience. The wooden boards covering the bridge make an awful sound as you cross – the temptation is to just go faster to get off as quickly as possible! There is a small drinks cantina on the other side and the entrance to the gorge. In the high season, mad types bungee jump from the bridge. The road passes through agricultural land before ending at Agh. Ioannis.

Day 5 – Aptera Pictures start here

A short drive up to the Turkish fortress at Aptera, which like so many Greek archaeological sites, was in mid-restoration. There are great views of Kalami and the naval base.

The extensive site of Aptera, an ancient city state, was quite interesting. We expected to pay a small entrance fee but the kiosk was closed although the site was open. We would have been happy to pay – perhaps the money could be put towards the upkeep of the site which was quite overgrown and difficult to navigate. There is a small museum which was partly open. The highlight for us were the well preserved triple vaulted Roman cisterns. No facilities on the site but there are 3 tavernas in the nearby village of Megala Horafia.

Day 6 – Topolia, Elos and Elafonisi Pictures start here

Yet another spectacular drive! Just before Kissamos (Kasteli) take the road south to Topolia, just beyond the village of Topolia is a snack bar overlooking the gorge. This is a good spot to break the journey. We also stopped off at Elos, a beautiful village famed for its Chestnut trees. Behind one of the tavernas are the remains of an aqueduct – easily found as it’s on the way to the outside toilet!

Elafonisi - Click to enlargeOnce past Kefali the scenery becomes more barren as the road descends down to the coast. It’s not particularly attractive until reaching Elafonisi when the spectacular beach comes into view and in particular the different colours of the sea. This is a popular destination for excursions and can get very busy. There is a huge car park – I dread to think how busy it gets in August.

Despite the crowds, we found that by taking a short stroll to the west it was possible to find much quieter areas.

We enjoyed Elos so much that we stopped there on the return for lunch.

Day 7 - Argyroupoli Pictures start here

Our destination this day was Argyroupoli, built on the ruins of the ancient city of Lappa.

Argyroupoli - Click to enlargeOnce in the central square head for the Lappa Avocado shop, located in the archway to the old village. The owner can provide a map and will willingly explain the various sights for you. This man should win an award for tourism. Wherever we went in the village we bumped into other tourists all clutching the same map.

The most interesting sight in the upper village is the Roman floor mosaic containing 7000 well preserved pieces. In the lower part of the village is a 2000 year old plane tree. Despite the advantage of the map we never did find it. Instead we headed for what, for us, is the best part of Argyroupoli, the tavernas.. There are about 6 tavernas all quite close together along the Asi Gonia road. Each one incorporates imaginative use of the springs which cascade from the rocks above. We had a very enjoyable lunch in the shade of huge chestnut and plane trees listening to the sound of water flowing, spouting, trickling and gushing from fountains and waterfalls.

Day 8 – Amari valley and Spili Pictures start here

This was an early start for the fairly long drive to the Amari valley.

Spili - Click to enlargeWe took the high road around the valley going clockwise along the western slopes of Mount Psiloritis (Mt Idi) passing through many pretty and traditional villages These included Thronos, Vistagi, Platania, Fourfouras and Kouroutes and Nithavris. At Agh Ioannis we plummeted down into the valley where we stumbled upon the remains of a Venetian bridge. The road then climbed up to the road skirting the eastern side of the valley through the villages of Hordaki, Ano Meros, Drygies and Vrysses. We eventually exited the valley via the village of Gerakari, famous for its Cherry production.

Our next destination was Spili. This is an attractive village. The focus for most visitors is the Venetian fountain where water spouts from 19 lion heads. Plenty of excursion coaches stop off here on their way to the south coast so it can be busy. It was very quiet when we visited which made it much easier to get pictures of the lions heads!

The tavernas here seemed very good value and quite a few specialised in rabbit and snails. Not necessarily together.

Day 9 – Kalami cemetery and Apokoronos Pictures start here

Kalami - Click to enlargeEach picture I took of the sunrise featured a tree in the foreground. We decided to go for a stroll for a closer look. We found that the tree was actually 2 trees rather peacefully located in the cemetery.

After the long drive the day before Day 9 was a quick spin around the hills above Almirida and the area known as Apokoronas. There are some nice villages in this area but almost everywhere there are new villas being built. This is not a criticism – just jealous one of them is not for us.

Day 10 – Perama, Garazo, Anogia, Nida Plateau (Mount Idi) Pictures start here

Once again we flew past the exits for Rethymno. In fact we never did stop there for a visit – a photo opportunity missed.

Our first stop was Perama, a very busy traditional working town. The town was almost gridlocked as the locals came into town and abandoned cars and trucks in the street to go about their business. Greek towns can be quite intimidating and chaotic; villages tend to be difficult to drive through because of the narrowness of the roads. In Perama, it was the constant activity all around that made it difficult to navigate. As we approached the town we pulled over to check our map to make sure were heading in the right direction. Within seconds an old lady dressed in black came over to the car. Wrongly, I had assumed it was to help with directions. In no time she was attempting to get in the back seat – I never did find out if she wanted a lift to Anogia. As we pulled away, however, I did make sure that she did not still have hold of the door handle!

It was noticeable that the preferred mode of transport here was the pickup truck. We felt a bit underdressed in a Ford Fiesta.Garazo - Click to enlarge

The route from here to Anogia, as in most of Crete, was stunning, passing through several pretty mountain villages such as Garazo and Axos.

If Perama seemed busy with pickup trucks, Anogia was on another level. Most income in the area comes from the livestock. Well it must be a very good way of making a living judging by the number of very new top of the range pickup trucks. Almost all were in this years colour – black. Black is this years new red.

The town has distinct upper and lower levels. Most houses are of the ‘modern’ concrete variety as much of the original village was destroyed during WW2 by the German army as reprisal for the abduction of General Kreipe. A very interesting article about the destruction of Anogia can be found here

The men of the town and surrounding area are renowned for their macho reputation. Many of the older generation can still be seen in traditional costume.

There is one particularly huge taverna on the outskirts of the town, on the road to the Nida Plateau. The car park is enormous. Anogia is famous for its weddings – some can attract up to 2000 guests. Not sure the car park is actually big enough. There were no weddings on the day of our visit which was something of a blessing given the difficulty of driving up through the town.

Above Anogia - Click to enlargeAfter passing through Anogia there is an excellent paved road that ascends the foothills of Mount Idi. This was yet another great drive which terminated at a taverna overlooking the Nida Plateau. The taverna was not welcoming and then it became apparent that it was closed. There were a number of men wandering around who may or may not have been working to restore the taverna.

With 4WD it would be possible to continue upwards via a dirt track.

In this area there are many round stone shepherds huts – known as Mitata. If anyone lost a pair of Prada sunglasses near one of these huts – we found them!

Nida Plateau - Click to enlargeWe also witnessed Goats in trees. We have seen quite a few goats over the years in Greece but never up trees.

We returned to Anogia for lunch. The menu didn’t take long to peruse – it was mainly meat. I ordered lamp chops but they didn’t look like any lamb chops I had seen before. Very little meat goes to waste! Vegetarians may only have the option of an omelette and the usual Greek salad.

While we were here, we witnessed the macho reputation of the men in action as they sped up the hill in their pickup trucks and executed a handbrake turn and then returned back down the hill. It was entertaining - for a short while.

On the return journey we decided to avoid Perama and instead took a more direct route to the National Highway via Agia.

We pulled over for a beach stop at Kavros, about midway along a 9km stretch of beach extending west from Georgioupoli. All along this beach are tavernas and bars with sunbeds. Between these areas there are plenty of places to get some space to yourself.

We have now seen the area around Mount Idi as well as that of Mount Lefka Ori in the west, Mount Idi is dramatic but in my view the mountain views in the west are better.

Day 11 – Theriso, Zourva Pictures start here

Near Theriso - Click to enlargeWhile it is not on the scale of Samaria or Imbros gorge, the Theriso gorge (also know as Venizoulos) is a very pretty and peaceful place. It makes for a very easy walk as the road follows the river bed all the way up the gorge from Garipa (5kms south of Hania) to the village of Theriso.Near Theriso - Click to enlarge

A newly paved road now links Theriso with Zourva. In 2001 we found that this was a tortuous drive in a 4WD over a very rough track. This is another stunning drive with great views of the mountains and down through the valley. The scenery is very alpine like; I was half expecting Julie Andrews to appear singing ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music’.

Theriso is a popular destination for locals heading out of Hania for a long lazy lunch in one of the several tavernas. We liked it so much we came back the next day.

Day 12 – Fourne, Lakki, Omalos, Samaria gorge, Meskla, Theriso Pictures start here

Lakki - Click to enlargeOnce more onto the National highway, heading west past Hania and then left out onto the road signposted Omalos.

We passed through yet more pretty villages, the pick of which were Fourne and Lakki. The Omalos plateau is an unexpected change of scenery and the gateway to the Samaria gorge. With no intention of walking the gorge, it was far too late anyway; we just sat and admired the magnificent scenery. Entrance fee to the gorge is €5.Samaria Gorge - Click to enlarge

When we reached Fourne we decided to take an alternative route back and headed for Meskla. From here a very twisty drive back up the mountain led us to Zourva. Now we could drive along one of our favourite roads over to Theriso and down through the gorge.

Day 13 – Stylos, Ramni, Megala Horafia Pictures start here

Stylos - Click to enlargeThis day all we expected was a short roam around the mountain villages directly south of Kalami. Never under estimate how long it takes to get around the mountain roads!

Stylos was interesting with lots of springs bubbling up all around the village. There is a huge bottling plant for the local spring water. This also seemed to be the source for water that was labelled ‘Samaria Spring’. Pick of the other villages was Ramni and Megala Horafia.View from the Cretan Corner - Click to enlarge

Lunch was in Megala Horafia at the Cretan Corner – owned by Sue and Nikos, an Anglo Greek couple who met in Athens almost 30 years ago. We had an excellent meal and a wonderful view of the White Mountains. Sue is very informative about the local area, gossip and Crete in general. We were sorry that we hadn’t visited before.

Day 14 – Souda bay war cemetery, Kalathes, Stavros, Airport Pictures start here

Souda Bay - Click to enlargeAfter leaving the villa we had a few hours to spare before the flight home. We visited the Commonwealth war cemetery at Souda which contains the graves of British, Australian and New Zealand servicemen killed during the Battle of Crete in 1941. (A cemetery for German soldiers is located at Maleme). The cemetery is immaculate and a sombre reminder of the past.

Kalathes - Click to enlargeThe Akrotiri peninsular is probably the least attractive part of Crete that we visited although the beaches at Kalathes and Tarsanas are very pretty. Stavros has decent beaches but the grid layout of the village, for some reason, is quite disorientating. We eventually found a way out and made for the airport.

The departure was the usual routine i.e. spend 2 hours queuing for everything! At least by the time we made it to the departure lounge we didn’t have to hang around too long before being called to board.

Eating out

Something that appeared on almost all menus which we had not seen before in Greece was Dakos – teeth breaking rusks, tomato and cheese. We even found Dakos buried under a huge Chef’s salad. We gave up at that point!Amstel

Amstel Cost of Living Index

Taverna 2.00€

Supermarket – 500ml bottle 0.74€, can 1.10 €

Meal for 2+ drinks about 30€ (based mainly on lunches)

Conclusion

I can highly recommend a visit to Crete. It has some of the most diverse and spectacular landscapes in the whole of Greece.

There are resorts that cater for all types of visitor from young and lively to relaxed and laid back.

We would not hesitate to go back.

To view the travelogue of the 2001 trip - click HERE

To view the travelogue of the 2008 trip - click HERE

To visit the Crete picture gallery 2001 - click HERE

To visit the Crete picture gallery 2007 - click HERE

To visit the Crete picture gallery 2008 - click HERE

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