Imbros Gorge and surroundings: amazing discoveries and surprises

Our dear friends Elena and Fernando, together with little Asia and grandma Stella, came to visit us again this year! Last Wednesday, we decided to explore a new gorge, south of Chania, considered the “younger sister” of Samarià: Imbros Gorge (in Greek “ΦαράγγιΊμπρου”).

DSCN5202We decided to set off early from Chania, at about 8am, to get at around 9am to the entrance of the canyon, just at Imbros village. We parked the car in one of the several free parking along the road, and we entered the first part of the path. After about 15 minutes walking, we found the ticket counter, with a sign saying: “City of Sfakia, Imbros Gorge – Length: 8 km – Tickets – Entrance – Have a nice walk!”. We paid 2 euros each and we started the real excursion, which was all downhill. DSCN5210 The day was super clear, but the mountain air was still crispy at that time. So, we walked swiftly this first part of the route, quite wide and well-marked with medium-size rocks, and surrounded by not too high walls and strangely shaped trees. We barely saw any people for almost one hour of walking, so we fully enjoyed the nature owning this gorge, which reveals itself in different forms just for us, with its pleasant silence and its moss and resin smells that were around us for the whole time.We then started to take the very first stretches of the canyon, with impressive rocky walls, from where some trees (possibly oaks) miraculously spurt out and they seemed to be about to fall over our heads!  DSCN5214Little by little, we entered this landscape getting diverse, with huge logs blocking our way, more or less narrow passages, and cascades of sharp rocks running along the path. All led us to a beautiful S-shaped tunnel, the most suggestive spot of the canyon, with very high and smooth walls, almost resembling a slide in a water park! Foto doppia canaloneHere, we crossed the narrowest point of the canyon, wide just 1.60 mt. After overcoming the hardest obstacles, we went ahead until we reached a very unique bivouac, where we stopped for a snack. It was a wooden canopy with a small table, some benches, stools made of logs and every kind of hanging knick-knacks: Greek flags of all sizes, pictures of excursionists and weird moustached characters, old rusted rifles, a rear-view car mirror, banknotes from all over the world, and even two skulls of billy goat wearing sunglasses! What a bizarre place!DSCN5232 After a brief pit stop, we walked towards the last stretch of the canyon, simple and straight, that after a 2 hours walk led us to the final ticket control. From here, we continued for 5 minutes to reach the village of Komitàdes, where a Cretan guy all in black (beard and rosary included!) offered to drop us back to our car in Imbros on board of his pickup truck, at the price of 5 euros each.

The mountain experience left us totally satisfied, the canyon was enchanting and peculiar as many had told us, and above all it was suitable for anyone, since not very long and easy to cover wearing good shoes. But after that lovely walk, how could we say no to a restoring swim? We picked up our car and took the road to Sfakià, where we decided to lose ourselves in the twists and turns of the souther wild coast, that never stops to amaze us. We soon realized that even this time it wouldn’t have disappointed us!

DSCN5271We accidentally reached a small cove, between Ammoùdi and the nudist beach of Filàki, and we immediately fell in love with it! After realising that this small and beautiful corner would have been reserved exclusively for us, once again we were amazed by the different shades of blue that the Cretan sea may have accordingly to the sand, the shore, the sea bottom or the surrounding landscape. We stayed here, cuddled by a priceless solitude and the fresh and light blue water of the “No name beach”, as we nicknamed it that day (*please see footnote)! We wondered about how many remote coves, similar to this one, would exist here in Crete, and this was a comfort for us because it meant that this island, in its countless corners, is preserving its beauty unspoiled by the mass tourism.  DSCN5279Still not satisfied by the many wonders seen by that time, we agreed to set a last stop on our way back, which is the “Winery Dourakis”. The story of this winery started in 1986, when Andreas Dourakis came back fromSaloniccoto his hometown in Crete, Alikampos, where besides taking over his father’s vineyards, he started to grow more in the nearby lands.
DSCN5295 He was driven by his knowledge of the subject, coming from his oenology studies in Germany and from his extensive experience working in local wineries and abroad, as well as by the very advantageous land and climate of this part of Crete. All of this has helped the fortune of this beautiful business, which is now possible to visit with guided tours, celebrate wedding receptions and, obviously, taste and purchase different and exquisite local wines. Once there, we were already fascinated by the outside property: a stone building, similar to a country farm, with a glowing garden and an outside patio and tables. IMG_20150923_174431100_HDRWe went inside and we were welcomed by Sofia, a very nice and knowledgeable young woman, who took us to their shop to taste, to our delight, an extensive variety of their nectars! Eventually, we couldn’t help but purchase 6 different bottles of wine in view of the coming dinners at Villa Anastasia!! Needless to say, we strongly recommend this place to experience a different aspect of the island rather than the typical beach or the archaeological site.

Once again, we had it all, even the company of our dearest friends, to live these wonderful experiences in Crete!



Actually, the “No name beach” is called Agios Charalambos or Agios Haralabos Beach.

Frangokastello and the dawn of mystery…

Do you enjoy stories about valiant warriors and spirits restlessly wandering through the night? You do?? Then, you can’t skip this tale..

We set off in the morning, we cross the White Mountains (or Lefkà Ori) and we run along the well-known Imbros Gorge to reach once again the south coast, wild and isolated. At about 10 miles east of Hòra Sfakìon (or Sfakià), which we already mentioned before, you can find the beach and the castle of Frangokàstello, our destination. Once we get there, we decide to visit the charming Venetian fortress, dating back to the second part of the 14th century, which in English could translate as the Castle of the Franks. Castello ridThe majestic walls are still in excellent conditions, as well as the big south-west tower, which you can climb to the top to enjoy the view. While visiting it, we can’t help but thinking about the grisly battles that went on there and the fantasy stories we heard about this enchanted place..

Castello 2 ridAs a matter of fact, on the 17th May 1828, this place was once again the setting of another fierce conflict, led by the Cretan rebels (or Sfakians) and by their commander C. Daliànis, against the Turkish oppressors. The gruelling battle ended with hundreds of casualties, on both sides. According to a popular belief, at dawn on 18th May, you can still see the spirits of the deceased Sfakians parading in front of the castle, and they are called “drussolites” in Greek, which means “those who live in the morning dew”. As you know, we absolutely love the folk tales of Crete, but this particular one struck us for the air of mystery and supernatural. The fact that these “visions” have been attempted a scientific explanation won’t discourage us to go and peek the next dawn of the unknown! Basically, it is assumed that, in good weather and sea conditions, the so called “Fata Morgana” is taking place, that is an optical phenomena attributable to a sort of mirage. Castello 3 ridThis would ensure that the profiles of the warriors marching on the nearby Libyan coasts would reflect on the Frangokastello’s shores, which is insane if you think about it! Therefore, how can you not check in person? If you want to join us, be informed that Ryanair flies to Crete from the end of March :).

Spiaggia 1 ridWe momentarily leave behind the stories of ghosts and warriors, and we head to the adjacent beach named after the same castle. If you like tranquillity and wide spaces, this is certainly the perfect place. The sandy coast is big and often half-empty, despite the meagre gatherings of beach umbrellas. The water is beautiful and crystal blue as always, with the sea floor slowly fading, making it welcoming for anyone to swim, both for the water temperature and the easy access.  Spiaggia 2 ridWe stayed there a long time; this beach has proved to be authentic, relaxing and far from the mass tourism, and yet unknowingly surrounded by an unusual melancholy. The reason might be the importance upon it of this ͞controlling figure͟ that is the fortress, or maybe the wild vegetation that surrounds it… Either way, this is a place where you can totally relax!

Kali KardiaIn addition to that, a little distant from the beach, you can find some typical taverns, tucked away among the hills. We opt for the pretty “Kalì Kardià” (“Good heart”), a small white and blue building, with a terrace sheltered by a canopy made of vines and completed by the intense singing of the cicadas, ever-present in the hot Cretan summer. The white moustached host smiles at us and invites us to sit, and then he brings delicious traditional dishes: Cretan salad (with his own personal touches), baked potatoes filled with goat cheese, and the typical half-moon shapes of filo pastry stuffed with tasty local herbs, the “kalitsounia”.

Spiaggia+Castello RidAfter lunch, we let the breeze coming from the Libyan sea caress us a little longer, and we slowly head home, once again enriched with ancient stories and traditions, and with new nuances and sensations.



Phaistos: the most unknown Minoan Crete

DSCN4408We all know the story and legend of the Minoan palace of Knossos, King Minos and Minotaur trapped in the maze. For many, including us, this is and has been one of the first things we visited here in Crete, as it is only right! But today, we want to talk about Palace of Knossos’“little brother”, the perennial runner-up that nobody remembers, but that is going to blow you away once you get to know it! We are referring to the Palace of Phaistos, Φαιστός (Faistos) in Greek (For more infos about the minoan Crete CLICK HERE or CLICK HERE)

DSCN4410Situated at 60 km south from Heraklion and 140km from our house, this palace represented the second most important palatial city of Minoan Crete, ruled, according to legend, by Rhadamanthus, son of Zeus and brother to Minos. The structure of the palace (or what is left of it) is very similar to the one of Knossos, but what makes it unique and unmissable is its authenticity and its mysterious ambience. In fact, contrary to its older brother, Phaistos has been brought to light without any restoration work, and for this we are proud to give credit to the Italian School of Archaeology ;-). The excavations, led by the archaeologists Luigi Pernier and Federico Halbherr, started in June of 1900 and dug out the ruins of several palaces that have been protagonists of the area for centuries. As a matter of fact, the first palace dates back to 2000 BC. Two collapses and two restorations followed to this, due to earthquakes and other natural disasters. Since 1450 BC, for centuries, the city of Phaistos represented the nerve centre of southern Messara Plain. The last palace lasted until the 2nd century BC, when the city was defeated by the Roman Gortyn.

DSCN4422The fact that it’s not as known as Knossos, not surrounded by extraordinary legends and without any restoration, makes it more appealing to us, as it stimulates the imagination; besides, it is never too crowded. We really enjoyed the magical atmosphere you will find yourself immersed in once you open the doors of the palace. For instance, let’s think about the Central Courtyard, today a huge and vague open space, once the throbbing heart of the city and centre of any politic, religious, social and economic activity. When you are in the middle of this courtyard and you are surrounded only by an unreal silence and the few ruins of a magnificent and bygone age, it’s quite exciting to imagine that 4000 years ago that same land swarmed with people, performances, voices, merchants, rites, and that all around there were colonnades, porticos, balconies packed with people watching the daily routine.DSCN4412 Carrying on our visit, it was fun to imagine the king and queen washing themselves, combing their hair or having an argument in the Royal Apartments, or the crowd attending a play on the steps of what it’s said to be the first Theatre ever built in the world. DSCN4449All of this is fostered by the surrounding landscape: on one side the immense Messara Plain, with its olive trees, flowers of every species and fields of crops, on the other side the majestic and still snow-capped Mount Psiloritis (or Mount Ida), the highest mountain on Crete (2.456mt).

As if this was not enough to make this place special, there are also some legends around the famous Phaistos Disc, dug out by the archaeologists inside the palace’s storage rooms, and now stored in the Heraklion Museum. This disc of fired clay, carved on both sides with a spiral of 241 symbols similar to hieroglyphics, remains incomprehensible to this day and it is surrounded by mystery. Some assumed it was related to religious and magical rites, others even say it is a fake; the certain thing is that its interpretation is still disputed.timthumb

Besides the palace, it is worth to visit the wild beach of Kommos, which is 15 minutes by car from there, and where there are few remains of what it was likely to be one of the oldest ports of Phaistos.


DSCN4473At that moment, we headed home, and for lunch (at 3.30 pm, like real Cretan people!) we stopped at this picturesque inland village, at the foot of the mountains, named Spili. In the pretty historic centre, surrounded by majestic plane trees, narrow alleys and fabled houses, stands the beautiful Venetian fountain, refurbished, with 19 lion heads that spurt a water considered by many the best of the island (we can confirm!). The simple and relaxed tavern where we stopped is called Stratidakis: a pretty terrace overlooking the valley, simple and very tasty meals, cooked and served by the elderly melancholic-looking owner. Approved :-)!!

And also today we can definitely say “Super day!”. As always, Crete hasn’t disappointed us…See you next time!!