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..

MONTAZ 04 HRAKLEIO.cdrWe 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.

 

 

Lissos and Sougia: where history and landscape come together

We are back, as promised, two weeks late but hey! Better late than never. Today we are going to talk about our last excursion with our mates Laura and Carlo. Crete, end of October, and still warm and sunny. No wonder why we choose Crete as our new home!!

DSCN3520We decided to explore the south west coast of the island. Firstly, we reached Sougia by car and then we followed the stunningly beautiful European E4 path, scattered with mountains, starting from Ai Kyrkos gorge. The trail going from Sougia to Lissòs remains one of our favourite routes here in Crete, the secret of its beauty lying in the diversity of its landscape, which encompasses rills, caves, a small and stony path scattered with pines and shrubs. Its planes summon to memory images of lunar landscapes. Our hike lasted about one hour and a half and then we finally reached Lissòs and the unforgettable bay of Ai Kyrkos. And when on top, you can’t help asking yourself: « What an amazing place is this? ».

But let’s focus on the Temple of Asclepio, the crown jewel of the archaeological ruins of Lissòs. The beautiful mosaic on its floor is the centrepiece of it all; it dates back to the first century and it reproduces geometrical shapes and a big quail. Then, you realize you are in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by rock-walls, carob and centuries-old olive trees, facing this human masterpiece. In over 1000 years this complex has faced and survived so many challenges! And there is so much more to come…the entire necropolis lays further in silence, scattered with dozens of arcosolium tombs. Death seems to dominate everything and the deafening silence instills respect for the place we are visiting. But we did not forget to visit Ai Kyrkos chapel and, west of the beach, the incredible church of Panagia (Holy Mary), whose marble rocks belonged to an ancient sarcophagus. There you can find a fine representation of Medusa’s head, the Gorgon monsters beheaded by Perseus.

Last but not least, a well-deserved rest, we finally arrived at the beach! Emerald colour, smooth and sanded pebbles, a surreal transparency…This place will never stop to impress us, no DSCN3635wonder it is so loved by the Cretans. A perfect conclusion of this memorable trip, and was a satisfaction looking back on our steps! After some hours spent sunbathing, and one last swim, at 4.30 pm we caught a ten minutes boat ride back to Soùgia. It was such a wonderful day, and we would like to conclude by thanking our mates Carlo and Laura, who already came to visit twice and that are our favourite kind of travellers, the ones that never say no!

Thanks, mates!

 

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Click on the map to see where all these spots are

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Samaria Gorge: the giant of Crete

After livening up your summer with some of the best beaches of the island, today we want to tell you about our last amazing adventure, exploring the other side of Crete: the mountain.

DSCN2920Have you ever heard about Samarià Gorge? Probably you have, since it’s the longest gorge in Europe and one of the greatest natural wonders of this part of the world. Last Saturday, together with our friend Fernando, we embarked in one of the most exciting experiences of our life!

DSCN2925We left Chania at 7.45 with a bus to Omalos, but it actually continues till Xyloskalo, where the actual excursion starts from. After having paid the 5 euro entrance for the Samaria National Park (founded in 1962), equipped with water, sandwiches and a lot of energy, we were ready to start! The excursion of this gorge is not for everyone: 16 km long, it takes about 6 hours walking, counting the stops for eating, drinking and using the toilet. The road is almost all downhill: you start from a 1200 mt height (from Xyloskalo) and then you arrive at the southern coast of the island, at Agia Roumeli. Every 2-3 km, you can find fresh water springs, toilets and rest areas with tables and benches where you can have a packed lunch and restore your energy.

DSCN2926Our walk started with a steep and marked path that tried our strength straight away. We took about one hour to descend to the bed of the gorge, surrounded by centennial pine trees and breath-taking views over the valley. Going on, the road was a bit more “diverse”, as it was dug in a riverbed that in the winter fills with water. Huge rocks, strangely shaped trees, mountain walls more or less smoothed by the wind, and small brooks to cross. But the most memorable encounter of those first few kilometres was definitely with one of the inhabitants of this gorge and these mountains: the legendary feral goat Kri-Kri, endemic species of Crete.
DSCN2969The examples of the area, most likely used to the amount of daily visitors, are easy to approach: they look like small ibices and their cubs are the cutest in the world!

DSCN3007 Halfway through, we arrived at the old village of Samarià where its inhabitants lived until the opening of the park in 1962. To think that people could live there is really unbelievable! Taking advantage of the service area equipped with toilets and tables in the shade, we had our sandwich and relaxed our tired legs that after 2 hours walking were starting to give up…

DSCN3054Bold and determined to reach the sea as early as possible, we resumed our journey after 30 minutes’ break. The surrounding landscape was changing repeatedly, and this made the walk varied and exciting. DSCN3066

Walking through rocky walls high hundredths of meters and centennial trees that incredibly grow from that rock, we felt very small. In that place and in that moment, we were facing the absolute superiority of Nature over man. Suffice it to say, that Samaria Gorge, together with the Mount Olympus National Park, are the only preserved areas in Greece to be included in the MAB Network, which is the Unesco programme “Man and Biosphere”. This must be the reason why here live nearly 500 species of plants and animals, of which about 70 are endemic of Crete.

DSCN3074After about 5 hours’ trek, we finally reached the most famous spot of this gorge, the “Iron Gates” (Σιδερόπορτες). This passage is known to be the narrowest of the canyon. After kilometres of very wide spaces (up to 150 mt wide), here the sides of the gorge close in to a width of only 3 metres, and the sides soar up to a height of 600 metres…it’s breath-taking!

DSCN3121After the gates, the worst was over! Once at the end of the route, we stopped at a kiosk where we were asked to show our entrance tickets, and we walked the last very sunny stretch of cobblestone separating us from the sea. After about 20 minutes, we finally spotted a mirage at the horizon, our “oasis in the desert”: the Lybian Sea!! Despite our exhaustion and the sore calves, we sped up our pace and in a jiffy we were swimming in the fresh and clear water of AgiaRoumeli, incredulous to finally be there! And in this place of unreal beauty, with volcanic sand and pitch-black pebbles, we spent two hours of well-deserved relax.

DSCN3124At 5:30 pm, we took the last ferry to Hora Sfakion, where at 6:30 pm there was the last bus to Chania. Even in the hour spent on the ferry, Crete has given us some pieces of paradise, with its unbelievably blue sea water and the magnificent White Mountains (Λεφκά Όρι) as a backdrop.

What can we say more about this adventure… the pictures are quite self-explanatory, don’t you think?

Anyone of good will, strong legs and love for the nature should go for this experience. Rest assured, you will never forget it!

Bye, everyone!

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Click on the map to see our path

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Glyka Nera, Loutro and Finikas: the rough and poetical South

Those who follow us on Facebook have already been able to look at some pictures anticipating this post, because, as you already know, we love to arouse your curiosity and keep you in suspense!

ItinerarioWe had thought long and hard about this trip and we finally decided to take it! Starting from the north-west where we live, we embarked on a trip to the opposite coast, the south-west, after travelling for about an hour and a half in the rough and charming mountainous hinterland that opens up under Chania.

The first village we reached was Hòra Sfakìon (or Sfakià), where we parked the car for the whole day, since it wasn’t needed any longer…

Sure enough, this coastal area of Crete boasts some of the wildest, most secluded and difficult to access beaches in the island, featured by an unquestioned and unspoilt beauty!

The first one we arrived to was Glykà Nerà, beautiful and much praised bay, accessible only by sea or by foot. From Sfakia, we took the 10.15am boat to Loutro, following the directions of the boatman himself, an attractive and authentic Greek man, with a ponytail, pitch black beard and a vest too tight to be able to contain the culinary habits of an obvious good eater!

DSCN2491Unfortunately, the sea was quite rough that morning, so much that it made those 10 minutes crossing to get to Glyka Nera quite wet… well, it didn’t really matter since we would have soon gone swimming anyway!

In any case, getting close to that wonder and enjoying the spectacle of the nature helped us forgot the salt shower of a minute before. A high and impressive rocky side of Lefka Ori (White Mountains) is the background to a narrow strip of pebbles that ends in blue and emerald and unbelievably clear waters!DSCN2499

We didn’t think it twice and, after descending to the tiny pier/floating boat, we laid down our towels and enjoyed an amazing swim! The environment was very relaxing and the people hanging out there were certainly eccentric and colourful. We saw youngsters with tents pitched on the sand and laundry hanging out under the sun, hikers in their bathing suits coming down from the mountain wearing their trekking shoes and huge backpacks, and, of course, there were naturists! Everything was very exciting! We would have stayed there all day people-watching!  DSCN2529

But back to us, as we haven’t told you a very important thing, that is why this place is called Glyka Nera, which means “sweet waters”. Well, the name comes from the fresh sweet waters that, straight from an underground spring, flow among the pebbles of the beach and end into the sea! Strolling around, you can actually notice these puddles among the stones, and in the middle you can see the gush of totally drinkable water spurting out from the ground. It is for this reason that it’s been installed a shower, working thanks to a solar panel, which gives to the bathers the precious liquid for drinking or simply rinsing the sea salt away.  DSCN2522

After a relaxing couple of hours and a last gaze to this little heaven, we left Glyka Nera. Jumping on the famous Delfini boat, we reached the village of Loutro in about 10 minutes.

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What’s the best way to describe the poetry and the magic surrounding this marina isolated from the rest of the world? It’s not easy, as it needs to be seen in order to be understood. Located on a half-moon shaped bay, the village consists of no more than 20 or 30 buildings, including houses, old community centres and small hotels. The view is amazing, as you can see all these small houses, identical to each other, all white, with the flat roof and the sea-coloured balconies! Do you want to know what Loutro reminds us of? A nativity scene!DSCN2562 You know at Christmas, when you set up the village behind the grotto? It’s exactly the same! And in this case as well, there is a reason behind the name Loutro, which means “bath”, and the key role is played by the many springs found in this area, whose water was able to reach as far as the nearby village of Anopolis.

After a delicious lunch in one of the many seafront taverns (13 € for 2 people…itnever ceases to amaze us!), we decided to get to a last destination: Fìnikas (or Finix, or Phoenix).

This time, however, we told ourselves: “Saddle up and go! We walk!”.Clearly a bit nervous and proud, we then took the E4, one of the 11 European long-distancepaths. We had heard about it many times and read many stories, and even today we dream of covering the Cretan route, 500 km from east to west (and sooner or later, we will do it!). For now, we can proudly say to have stepped on it for few kilometres! From Loutro, we passed by the first beach of Finikas (reached in about half an hour) and we arrived at the second one, in another 15 minutes: very rough beach, with rocks and pebbles, a small hotel and a couple of taverns, perfect setting for those who love a wild environment and total isolation (if you don’t mind the goats to keep you company!). DSCN2577
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On our way back, definitely in need of a restoring swim, we stopped at the first bay: small, stony, very pretty, with a few white and blue hotels as a backdrop. Despite the freezing water, we swam for few minutes, and then packed our stuff and climbed up the mountain again. Passing once again by the scant but suggestive ruins of the ancient town of Finikas, we slowly headed towards Loutro. Close to the town, we enjoyed for the last time the view from the top and filled ourselves with beauty, before taking the boat to Hora Sfakion and to our car.

How amazing is the south, guys! DSCN2582

Hopefully, we didn’t bore you to death with this long story… but also we hope we have managed to deliver a taste of this charm and a bit of Cretan sun to your houses and offices!

See you soon!

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