Venetian Bridge Megapotamos Crete

 

DAY 7- SOUTH WEST COAST PART 2

 

We continue on through villages dotting the southern coast of Crete which boarder the Libyan Sea, whose waters are sadly now diminished by its once great fish population, but still visited, and giving great pleasure to those lucky enough to see them by dolphins, and whales. Firstly, we access the old village of Komitades which is on the main bus route between Hora Sfakion and the larger coastal resort of Plakias. You then start to climb slightly making your way along the winding road, allowing you wonderful views out towards the sea and the mountains that are separated only by deep gorges. Along this route is the gorge of Ayios Nektarios which is 2km long, there is a pathway that starts from Ayios Nektarios and runs through the gorge ending in Asphendou a total route of 3.5km The next along this southern coastline is the Kallikratiano gorge, the path for this starts from Patsianos and ends at Kallikratis a total length of 4km. On this route we will take the coastal road down to Frangokastello.

 

Frangokastello literally means 'Frankish castle'. There is nothing pretentious about this whole area and in my opinion should remain as quiet and undisturbed for as long as it can. The people of the district should be proud of this whole area, as it could have so easily have ended up like some of the more 'busier' resorts of the island that have been totally spoilt by mass tourism. Not (for the moments at least) a lot to do in the area but relax, this is a fantastic destination for those of you who want a real Crete experience. It is also a walker's paradise especially with the E4 trail running all along the coast.  Many streams enter out into the sea including one just below the ancient castle, these streams are home to terrapins and eels. 

  

This was once a magnificent fortress built in 1371 to deter pirates and invaders, but mostly built by the Turks to try to control the people of Sfakia. The Sfakia area was ruled by the Skordilis family with descending branches named Pateras and Papadopoulos, who were constantly feuding with each other. Venetian sources tried to establish order, but had a challenging job in building the original structure, the work took between three to four years to complete. As history tells us that each night members of the Papadopoulos family would come during the evening and undo the builder's daily work! The Venetians originally named it the Castle of St. Nikitas, after a nearby church. The locals, however, who never saw it in a positive light, contemptuously dubbed it Frangokastello and the name stuck. 

Frangokastello Fort Crete

 

Today only the shell remains of this once magnificent fortress, which was set on a picturesque wide sandy beach, backed by the prestigious White Mountains. A garrison was in place here throughout the Venetian and Turkish occupations. In 1828, the castle was occupied by Hitzi Michalis Dalianis and six hundred brave fighters who fought against 8,000 Turks. They survived for over a week, but in the end his small force of only 334 were left. They bravely continued attempting to stand against the Turks, they were however, all massacred. The locals claim that every year on 17th May, the anniversary of the bloody battle of Frangokastello. When dawn breaks, it is said, that a long procession of shadowy figures can be seen, some walking, others on horseback, all dressed in black, with their weapons glistening under the rays of the morning sun, march from the ruined church of Ayios Haralambos (all that remains of the abandoned monastery just east of the castle) advancing towards the fort.  They are known as Drossoulites or the dewy ones, as they appear in the mist around the castle at dawn. At the far end of the village lies the beach of Orthi Ammos (standing sand) named after the sand dunes that back the shore. Time now to continue on and leave this little piece of heaven.

 

From Skaloti the road twist and turns along the coast passing through small villages with tiny coffee shops visited only by the local shepherds and resident inhabitant, with the women clothed in the distinctive black dress of mourning.  Views below are of Cape Kastelos with a few tempting beaches and isolated coves, but difficult to get to unless your prepared for an over night stop!  Kato Rothakino is next, a pretty village set on a ravine, from here a track leads down to the beach of Karaka with a few scattered tavernas.  A delightful stop today, but where during the second world war a British submarine crept in to smuggle away General Kreipe who was dramatically kidnapped by the partisans during the German occupation.

 

Now until you reach Selia the road once more zig-zags its way around the mountainside, eventually you will see the spectacular view of Plakias bay. From the village, head downward to Plakias. A lovely resort, albeit getting bigger and bigger as the years progress. Plakias was a tiny fishing village until around 1970 with not much more than a handful of residents. But today hotels, apartments and homes are taking shape close to the large sandy beach with restaurants and tavernas situated around its harbour. Beaches abound Mirthios, Damnoni and the beautiful beach of Ammoudi, all are lovely to visit if you have time before venturing on to visit the Monastery at Preveli and palm beach.

Plakias Bay Crete

 

Lefkoyia is the next village before heading down to the bottom of the Kourtaliotiko gorge that descends into the fertile valley of the Megapotamos river, which flows throughout the year until it reaches the Libyan sea.  Where the road meets the river, you can see the charming site of a restored 19th century replica of an original Venetian bridge. (Pictured at the top of the page.) From here if time prevails you can turn left passing a few tavernas on a long-winding - rough drive, around 20mins down Swallows canyon to the coast and the unappealing beach of Amouthi.  However, from here you can walk to Palm beach around the rugged coastline.

Chapel in Preveli Monastery Crete

 

I wouldn't suggest you continue onward turning right, climbing past the ruined Monastery of Ayios Ioannis, named also Kato or lower Preveli. This was the original sixteenth century monastery of Preveli. After countless raids and looting by the Turks it was torched to the ground. The Abbott then moved everyone 2km further uphill to where the famous Monastery of Preveli stands today. Kato Preveli is now slowly and surly being resorted to its once former glory and will be a welcoming home once more in the near future, to visitors on a more peaceful mission.

Old Preveli Monastery Crete

 

Moni Preveli, is still a working monastery, perched evocatively above the coastline and made famous as a refuge for stranded allied soldiers during the Second World War. Today's buildings are not the original, all have been destroyed and rebuilt so many times nothing much remains of its unique past. The church was built in 1835 and has a beautiful wooden icon screen Icons inside are from 1750 works of a monk Michail Prevelis.
More info on Preveli Monastery.

War Monument Preveli Crete

 

Just past the monument and garden of remembrance, dedicated to the monks and allied troops. A dirt track winds its way to a car park. From here a tough 30 minuet decent down lots of steps to reach the beach taking you to Palm Beach and don't forget the going back up again - this is telling even for the fittest. It is however, worth a short walk down for the view and photo shoot. This once enchanting beach of Preveli. I say once, not in a derogatory way - but simply because of a devastatingly huge fire that happened in August 2010 which destroyed most of the date palms that stand along the bank of the river. The trees and surrounding area will of course once again grow and the area will bloom again, but such a tragedy that could well have been avoided.

Preveli Beach Crete

 

You next drive through the village of Asomatos which has its own Museum and the church of Ayios Mikhail Arkhangelos. The Archangel Michael, leader of the heavenly host, is known in Greek as the Brigadier and is depicted in armour, sword in hand, along with other saints in the frescoes within the pretty 14th-century church.

 

The Kourtaliotiko Gorge sometimes referred to as the Asomatos Gorge the name of the village at the top entrance to this imposing yet magnificent ravine and is one of the most attractive in the area. This is where to Kourtaliotiko river flows southwards between the mountains of Kouroupa and Xiron. Both gorge and river are named after the gorges unique acoustics. During the winter months when strong northerly winds fiercely blow, funneling the wind which at times even breaks  the sound barrier, the rocks whistle and small stones tumble and crack within the ravine aptly named 'kourtaliotiko' (crackling). With an ever decreasing drop to one side of you and spectacular mountains to the other. The cliffs are a very safe roosting site for Vultures and Eagles, so binoculars are a must!!!

 

Approximately half way through the gorge are an arch way and set of steps, which lead down to the bottom of the gorge and to the chapel of Ayios Nikolaos. The gorge follow the river Kourtaliotis and ends up at the beach of Preveil. According the a legend the river forms five big pools and then a waterfall on its way to the Lagoon at Preveli, these are said to have been made from the imprint of the fingers of Saint Nicholas, who was an ascetic (someone who practices strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline) born in the near by village of Frati. This miracle occurred when Saint Nicholas had no water, and for this reason he was about to leave the gorge to find somewhere else to live. After spreading his fingers on a rock the springs emerged instantly pouring water under the dry barren slopes of the gorge  These springs never fail to provide water all year round to the Megapotamos 'large river'.

Arch Kourtaliotiko Gorge Crete

 

 

Saint Nicholas lived in the 17th century and died in 1670.  When he was a young boy it is said he possessed a very charitable nature and would often give away his father's grapes and oil to the poor. Every year after this the grapes would multiply every harvest and the level of the oil barrels remained full. Because of this and seeing his sons charitable nature, allowed him to fully devote his life to Christ.  He is supposedly buried near this chapel, but his grave has yet to be revealed. The chapel was built in 1838 and celebrates its feast on September 1st. A little further on is the small church of Ayios Kyriaki well hidden in the side of the cliff face inside are lovely frescos. 

Ayios Kyriaki Preveli Crete

 

At the top of the gorge is the village of Koxare, to the south of the village are the ruins of a castle built by the Ottomans in 1866 enabling control through the canyon and the southern coast. The village was used as a hideout for the resistance fighters and many British agents during Word War ll and played a central role through this major thoroughfare, whilst resistance fighters fought battles with German troops protecting once again this route to the southern coast. Part of the village and the church were burnt by German troops in 1944 and rebuilt once again in 1955. The village also has a National History museum. 

 

As you rejoin the main route back to Rethymnon you will see the walled Monastery of Timiou Prodromou situated on the foothills. Follow the road back to Rethymnon prior to joining the highway to return to Hania and surrounding areas.

Monastery of Timiou Prodromou Crete

 
 

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