DAY 3 - APOKORONAS

 

'Kalos Irthate'  - Welcome to the luscious green villages of the Apokoronas region which takes up a great part of the Drapanos peninsula. Backed by the majestic White Mountains, this very green and verdant region holds numerous springs and brooks. The small picturesque villages still have the remains of Venetian architecture,  most villagers are trying very hard indeed to revive old traditions and to restore and preserve the old houses. The whole area is in complete contrast to the tourist mayhem prevailing on the coast to the West of Hania as far as Yerani. The Drapanos peninsula will delight you with its peaceful beauty and unique landscapes. Apokoronas is really a region begging to be explored, full of delightful treasures that remain hidden from most other tourist resorts. Once your hooked your lured back time and time again.

 

Advisable today (and every day) to put some good walking shoes in the vehicle, so you'll be able to leave the main paths at Aptera and explore the grounds. It's not just the ruins you can enjoy here, but also the amazing views in all directions and in springtime an amazing variety of wild flowers. 

Once more using Hania as a base you start to head out on the National Highway to Rethymnon, as you start to climb above Souda Bay you will reach a signpost leading off to the right of the National Highway to Megala Horafia and Aptera.

Please Note: Aptera
opens from 8.30am to 3.00pm

   

THE VILLAGE OF MEGALA HORAFIA & APTERA

    

The road climbs up the mountain to Megala Horafia which literally means 'Big Field', and is a scatter of houses and farms with an ornate orthodox church as its centrepiece. In 2008 it was officially announced that the village name should be changed to Aptera and some local signs reflect this change. However the signs on the main road, and the name in maps, remains Megala Horafia. The village not typically Cretan in appearance was however strategically situated above Souda Bay for security. With each house having a fair amount of land around it, so the village is spread over a large area, hence the name Megala Horafia

  

Wild flowers bloom along narrow roads on which shepherds move their flocks between fields. There are a few small tavernas, two cafés and a mini-market in the village. From the 'platia' square a road runs up to the ruins of Aptera. When you look towards the sea, you'll understand why this spot was chosen by the Greeks, Romans, Turks and Germans during World War ll as a strategic spot. From this point you can see far and wide and take advantage of any incoming ships. What you can explore is a large Turkish bastion, a Christian monastery and chapel built on top of a temple to the Muses, around which a small village known as Paleokastro once stood until the 16th century. Roman bathhouses and cisterns along with remnants of a Roman Villa, walls of public buildings and the foundations of a two chambered temple. Aptera was home to the Roman elite and their thousands of slaves lived and worked in the valleys below.

  

The archaeological remains of ancient Aptera, dating from the Minoan and Roman times. This Turkish fortress was perched strategically on the headland overlooking the sea. Once one of the most important city states of Crete. The first occurrence of its name 'Apatawa' was founded in the 7th century B.C. The history of the city continued through the centuries until the 7th century A.D. when it is believed that a major earthquake occurred on the island destroying most of the area. Read more about Aptera

 

Back onto the main road again and just below the road is the chapel of 'Ayios Ioannis' dedicated to St. John the Baptist which celebrates its name day on June 24th. A story is told that a thief came to the chapel but before he could steal anything was turned into stone.  Evidence of this is the rock shaped in human form outside the church!

   

KALAMI

   

Heading east once again on the National Highway you take the next left onto the coastal road. From here, you firstly comes across the tiny village of Kalami that has a panoramic view of the gulf and island of Souda. This village was once the city of Kissamos, the port of the ancient city of Aptera, where a shipyard existed. Today, this tiny hamlet is situated below the 'Izzedin' fortress built after the Cretan revolt of 1866 against the Ottoman Turks, the commander Reouf Pasha decided to reinforce the defence of Hania and built the fort in 1867. Most recently it served as a prison during 1967 -1974, for political prisoners.

 

The small quaint  friendly kafenion situated below the fort is where you can stop and watch the the world go by at a faster pace than you. This hamlet is named after the bamboo growing at little further on at the rivers edge. Once utilised to build huts in Kalyves. It is tranquil and away from even the smallest of resorts, here are only a few properties mainly below the road, where you can watch the sun go down, and at night await the departure of the illuminated ferryboat leaving for the port of Piraeus on the mainland. 

  

AROUND THE COAST, KALYVES, ALMYRIDA, KOKKINO HORIO - TURTLE BAY & KEFALAS

 

The road continues through the coastal and tourist village of Kalyves which is a flourishing, traditional working village on the Apokoronas Peninsula. It is being tastefully developed and welcomes many visitors during the summer season to its safe sandy beach. The seaside village has ample amenities, with an array of shops, tavernas and kafenion, in addition to banking, post office and petrol station facilities.   

 

The farmers of the surrounding mountain villages decided to use the flat wide plain to produce food. With its two rivers, 'Xydas', which crosses Kalyves, and 'Kiliaris' at the western entrance running with water even in summer if offered excellent prospects for successful agriculture. Instead of travelling back daily to their villages, the farmers built small huts to stay in overnight. The Greek name for huts is 'Kalyves', which gave the village its name. One of the nicest spots in the village is in the square sitting under the shade of the old majestic plane tree. 

The river 'Xydas' is rich in trout albeit, fishing is forbidden and crosses the under the bridge of the main road then flows into the sea. Kalyves has four beaches. On the eastern side there is a cove called 'Maistral', with a small fishing harbour and taverns. From the harbour to the river are two beaches 'Ksida' that join together, the water here is very safe.

 

Next is the charming resort of Almyrida, a small fishing town, there is an agreeable coastal path between the two resorts to walk along. In the small cove there are cosy waterside tavernas, serving fresh fish along with traditional Cretan cooking, small shops and mini-markets.  Historically the whole surrounding area  is interesting. An ancient civilisation once resided in here leaving remains some of which can still be seen to the left of the road side the at the entrance to the village. These include a decorative basilica dating from 5th-6th century B.C. with mosaic floors. On 'Finikas' hill above the Basilica (as well as on the small island of Karga) are the remains of a Greek-Roman Town. Behind Almyrida is some of the most beautiful countryside on Crete especially the old road  to Gavalohori and Xirosterni where you drive through a lovely forest. 

     

From here you can either continue around the coast to Plaka or take a detour right, through Aspro to Gavalohori an enchanting and very traditional Cretan village only 3.5 km inland from Almyrida and at the end of a green and wooded valley leading down to the sea, is the beguiling little village of Gavalohori. The village has it own special historical and folklore museum in its centre. Many archaeological finds from the Neolithic as well as from Minoan age have been made. Double axes from the Minoan period found in the vicinity of 'Ayios Pavlos' Church are just one example. 

 

The village's woman's-cooperative is situated in the 'platia' which makes and sells handicrafts such as silk lace made by bobbin weaving called 'kopanelia'. It was the Turks who planted the mulberry trees around the village which produce silk from the silkworms that feed on their leaves. The village of Gavalohori was named after the Byzantine family Gavalades who lived there about 1200 A.D. The many old buildings are being lovingly restored, to make this village much sought after both for permanent residence and holidays. The views of the White Mountains to the south are spectacular and the village is surrounded by olive groves, grape vines, dominated by trees and forests of oak, Holm-oak, cypress, wild almond, carob, laurel and pear trees. Take the narrow street to the left of the square uphill to the mysterious arched stone wells, dating back to the Byzantine age, hidden under old plane trees. Across the road an arched bridge from the Venetian era 1204 - 1669. Continue to the graveyard and small chapel of 'Ayios Georgios'. Then turn left onto the scenic route through part of the forest on the old road (now tarmaced but not on many maps) back to Almyrida.

 

Then you continue around the coastline, Plaka is the next village you will drive through. Plaka is a lovely village built on the slope of a hill overlooking Souda Bay. It has lots of amenities, including excellent tavernas, bars, a grocery store and a kafenion, all of which remain open throughout the year. Plaka was once a sleepy village with only approx 250 inhabitants – it has grown over the last few years as people have discovered its charms and moved into the area. There are many marked walks and pathways in the area. The village retains its traditional identity, protected by checks on new buildings in order to prevent the alteration of the traditional architectural style. Every summer Cretan music festivals take place in Plaka, the 'Plakiana', in honour of Michael Papadakis, a fine lyra player from Plaka.

 

Continuing straight on you pass an array of newly built houses which has changed the landscape over the years, thankfully now new laws have been passed to stop this indiscriminate building on what was once a lavish green area close to the sea. Known today as 'little Britain' as this is where most ex-pats were drawn to buy these properties. However, even they could not have known that so many would be built. You can understand why people built and bought houses here, as the view overlooking Souda Bay is to die for - but for what price?

 

The coastal road divides left with a sign to 'Faros' lighthouse and continues on but does stop at the end of the peninsula. However, Kokkino Horio does have its own beach a small inlet that's little known and hidden within the rugged coastline therefore, quite quiet. This small beach of gravel, pebbles and rocks surrounded by caves is first left along the coastal road. However, the water it does get deep very quickly and the area is really only for competent swimmers. Good for snorkelling as there are lots of rocky crevices that fish love to explore. To get to the village turn right at the divide in the road and you will soon wind your way around the narrow streets emerging in the 'platia' square, for the moment there are not many facilities in Kokkino Horio but I am sure that will change! 

 

Kokkino Horio means 'Red Village' and is an interesting area to explore with its galleries (tunnels), constructed by the Germans, during the occupation of the island 1941-45, in order to protect the military port of Souda. There is a tavern, mini-market and kafenion dotted around the square.This traditional Greek village on the coast of the Apokoronas Peninsula has seen its share of fate over the years. The villages old houses and the square became the scenes for parts of the most well known Cretan film - 'Zorba the Greek' based on a novel written by a Cretan born writer and poet. Anthony Quinn is talked about in the local kafenion still, even though the film was made over 30 years ago!

     

Above Kokkino Horio is the strangely shaped hill 'Drapanokefala or Calapodha' named during the Venetian occupation. There is a cave and the tiny church of 'Ayios Yeorgios'. The coastline northwest of the village is an extremely interesting place for a walk due to the ground formation and the caves, such as the cave of 'Petsi or Karavotopos'. Another cave called 'Katalimata', located at the centre of the village, is also an intriguing site. At cape Drapano, approximately 10 metres under water, is the impressive Elephant Cave, an area 60mx60m full of stalactites and stalagmites of various shapes and colours.

 

On the corner of the village at the cross roads is an alternative place to visit - the glass factory, manufacture of recycled hand made glass, using the traditional blowing technique.  You can watch the owners making everything from a simple paperweight to large ornaments and elaborate lampshades and bowls. There's a large showroom where it is possible to buy at prices well below retail outlets.

    

Since 1986 a glass kiln has been in use in Kokkino Horio. This method of producing glass has been used with the same tools throughout the centuries. The technique came from Egypt and was well known and used in the Mediterranean during the 6th century. The glass pipe simple and crude but enormously effective a hollow tube thick at one end and a mouth piece at the other end. By blowing into the mouth piece the glassblower can create a scorching glass nugget at the other this came invention came from Babylon around 200 years B.C. later used in Egypt and the Roman Empire. You can experience how old broken glass can be melted in a kiln and used to produce beautiful new objects. Open from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm however, the glass blowers work only from 8.00 am to 3.00 pm.

      

From here you start to climb up hill to the sleepy small village of Drapanos the views are impressive both to the White Mountains to the south and Souda Bay to the north.  Drapanos is located at the edge of a plateau at about 213 metres above sea level on the Apokoronas Peninsula.  With traditional tavernas, a kafenion and the quaint local church of 'Ayia Pandeleimonas'.  This village is gradually expanding but will always remain a choice location for peace and quiet. Still to this day the baker drives through the village to deliver bread, as do the local clothes hawkers. Even the eggs sold in the village shop are straight from the owner’s hens! 

 

Paleloni is a another small rural village. Set on a hill with a great sea view. It is another traditional hamlet with a rich preservation of local architecture and impressive old village churches surrounding the eucalyptus lined main street. The village is 500 metres above sea level. Just as you enter the village a left hand fork takes you to Ombrosgialos bay 2 km from the junction. The road winds down into this picture postcard bay with a myriad of colours in the sea, ideal for snorkelling or a dive. A good taverna is right on the bay, offering the freshest fish, an up-market Cretan wine list, and views of the sea from every table. A deservedly popular spot. Known as turtle bay because of the 'carreta carreta' turtles that come into feed.

 
Carry on the main road passing the base of an old windmill on your left you will soon arrive in Kefalas. An old picturesque village in the heart of the Apokoronas region. It is over 800 years old and thought to have been founded around 1175 A.D. during the Greek Byzantine times under Emperor Michalis Komnenos. Inside it's boundaries there are a large amount of historic buildings from Venetian and other eras, some beautifully restored, others in ruins. From 1669 until 1898 Kefalas was under Ottoman Turkish occupation. 

 
It's a large village, but it is so quiet and serene. Winding narrow street lead to and from the main 'platia', beautiful old trees and a few 'kafenions', tavernas and two supermarkets. The people in this traditional Cretan village are really friendly and welcoming as you walk around the streets admiring their village.  Supposedly there are some 30 churches here, most of which are from the time of the Turkish occupation, when land would not be confiscated by the Turkish rulers if there was a church on its grounds. In the upper village, are the wonderful views down to the bay of Yeorgioupolis and Rethymnon. The village in the past served as an important strategic position and a watchtower in all directions. Pirates and all enemies cold be seen quickly.

 

Right at the square in Kefalas takes you next to Xirosterni another hamlet which mainly consists of old traditional houses some with lovely views towards the White Mountains, others to the sea. There are no hotels, rental rooms or restaurants here - it is strictly residential. There is however a small café which sometimes serves snacks on the main road through the topside of the village. The old name of the village used to be 'Viola', which is a Cretan flower. The new name Xirosterni means 'dry cistern', or 'dry well'. During the Ottoman rule a Turk ordered a villager to pull water out of the well for his horse to drink. The villager replied that there is no water, to avoid the humiliation of serving the enemy. The Turk then said angrily "why do you call the town Viola? You should call it Xirosterni? 'empty well' instead. The name obviously stuck!  

 

Straight on brings you to Vamos, the main town of the municipality of Apokoronas, a quiet town with narrow lanes and old buildings hidden at a crossroads. The hospitable village of Vamos with its intense traditional hue, deals mainly with agro and alternative tourism. A good example of how tourism can actually help rural communities to preserve their traditions rather than destroy them. A few years ago, a group of locals from the village formed a society with the aim to stem the trend of depopulation, protect old traditions and develop the region of Apokoronas. Together they have carefully restored some of the houses in the oldest most charming part of the village for use as holiday homes, several projects encourage cultural exchanges between visitors and locals. Life surrounds the 'platia' which comes alive early morning and evening. The village also boasts several high quality tavernas in its high street and square and it even has an ostrich farm!

 

The art café, where regular exhibitions by local painters, sculptors and photographers vie for attention. The  small village grocery sells traditional produce from the village including wine straight from the barrel, bars of hand-made olive or avocado oil soap, fresh or marinated cheeses, honey and pastries. During the month of April you can attend the 'Hochlidovradia' snails eve! This traditional feast is where snails are served in all manner of ways! this beloved staple food of the Cretans we consumed in quantity especially during the war years when food was scares and snails and 'horta' weeds were the main and often only source of food.

 

Some other fascinating corners of the village are, the old olive press, or the 12th century 'Panayia' church, whose icons mysteriously survived a major fire. In a wide valley of olive groves on the road to Vryses through the countryside takes you to the derelict 17th century  Karydi of St. George's Monastery and 'Ayios Yeorgios' church.  The first reference to the monastery were found in documents dating to 1600. In this small settlement of 'Karydi' the church was build in 1636. Abandoned in 1923 it quickly became a ruin until a few years ago when renovation work began. 

 

Since 1996 father Dorotheos lived in the first house to have been refurbished. He and other priests of the diocese care for the monastery together with a few faithful benefactors. Its courtyard has a splendid walnut tree and the Basilica is well preserved. There are still remains of the cells and the impressive olive mill consisting of 12 arches. With the introduction of developing olive oil in 1829 this monastery grew bigger and bigger providing plenty of work for its parishioners. 

  

Kalamitsi Alexandrou is a small community situated 8 km away from Vamos. It is an old and well-preserved village with narrow streets, the large, modern, cross-shaped and domed church of 'Ayia Triada' and impressively constructed underground reservoir 'Softas' dates from the Turkish occupation. In the quiet square with its fountain is the centre of village life, where everyone comes to talk and reminisce. Situated in a small and lush green gorge, about 500m below the village is the 'Well of Eleusa'. 350metres out of the village on the Vamos road, you will see huge plane trees this is where the women of the village used to wash their clothes at a well.

Church of Agios Yiorgos, Kalamitsi-Alexandrou, Crete

 

Today this same well is used for celebrations. If you follow on the next very narrow pathway on your left you will come to a cave. At the end you will come across the tiny Chapel of 'Ayia Eleusa' where the well received its name. In this village is another ladies craft co-operative, which is dedicated to the breeding of silk worms and the processing of silk in the traditional Cretan way best times for this are June to July. You can see signs as you drive through the village directing you the workshop which is open only until 1.00pm.

 
From here you can return via the National Highway.
 

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