Marathi and Loutraki: two little gems in eastern Akrotiri

Once again we are here to talk about Akrotiri, that is the rugged and isolated peninsula where Chania airport is located. As already mentioned in the past, the first time we came to Crete we gave the cold shoulder to this area, to all appearances rough, barren and uninteresting. As time passes, we actually found out new gems showing us this steep tip of the island in all its beauty, a really magical area…

Foto con sito 3In this post, we will talk about two lovely little beaches, very close to Chanià and located in the south-east coast of Akrotiri peninsula: Maràthi and Loutràki.

Being a few kilometres distant from each other, we decided to visit them both on the same day. In the morning, we sunbathed in the peaceful Marathi, divided into two sandy bays by a small marina. Like most of Cretan beaches, this one has also an area with full facilities and a free one, as well as cafes and taverns with sea view. Foto con sito 1 Being quite secluded, it’s ideal for those who don’t want to put up with the tantrums of the popular Meltemi, the cold and dry wind coming from the north and that it often blows in summer in Crete (luckily, we would say!). Here, the uniquely clear water is shallow for many metres and often calm: ideal to have long relaxing swims, let the children play and, why not, snorkel….Foto con sito 2 Not to mention the beautiful view you can enjoy from the shore! The rough peaks and cliffs of Akrotiri stand out just before you and make you feel cuddled by Mother Nature.

The morning in Marathi moved lazy and relaxing, and after a quick sandwich, we decided to reach the arms of its little sister, Loutraki. The name itself, “Loutraki”, (“small bath”) predicts what we will find. Foto con sito 3A tiny piece of heaven, surrounded by two promontories and scattered by cluster pines whose branches provide some refuge from the heat. Here as well, the colour and clearness of the water makes an impression. The shades of blue alternate gradually as the sea gets deeper, and walking few metres towards the horizon you can clearly spot a few hermit crabs, all with different shells, running frantically back and forth on the clear and sandy seabed. The actual beach is completely free.Foto con sito 1 If you want lounger and umbrella, on the right side of the beach, there is a grassy area provided with facilities and shared also by a hotel and a café. The latter offers to all bathers the chance to use the loungers in exchange of a purchase. After few swims, a chilled Mithos beer and a lot of sunbathing, we headed home and we decided to end this relaxing day with a bang…

We had heard about a joint in Chania where they serve fresh fish in a casual environment…we had to try it! The tavern is located in one the main streets of the town, Daskalogianni, in the neighbourhood of Splantzià, very much loved by Chania residents. It’s called “To Maridaki ”and itis now one of the restaurants that we recommend to our guests! 20150613_120015The place is cosy, decorated in a “maritime”style and features something we appreciate a lot: an open-plan kitchen. Even though, surprisingly, the fish is not a speciality of this island, since historically inhabited by big lamb and pork meat eaters, at“To Maridaki”, asin few other taverns in town, you can always find freshly caught fish masterfully cooked on the barbecue, steamed or fried, according to your liking. The peculiarity of this place is that the waiter, before giving the menu, will take the guest to see the window next to the kitchen and choose any kind of vegetables, pulses, first courses prepared on the day by two smiling women.IMG-20150613-WA0001 But the best part is that they will take you in front of the refrigerated section to choose whatever catch of the day you prefer! Once chosen, he will weigh it, tell you the price and ask you if it’s ok. Then, you just need to decide how you want it cooked and, finally, you can enjoy it! Prices are definitely fair, as always in Crete. A lovely grilled fish accompanied by a side of grilled vegetables, a generous portion of steamed octopus with a spicy tomato sauce and local vegetables, black-eyed peas with peppers and cooked Cretan herbs, half litre of white wine, toasted bread with olive oil and oregano: 37 euros for two! And obviously, we couldn’t say no to dessert and raki (the local grappa) offered by the hosts at the end of the meal…wonderful! There’s no much to add… perfect ending to a perfect day!

Are we making your mouth watering? It’s just few hours by plane, think about it ;-)…

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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.

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.

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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!!

Mappa Festo