SMALL RESORTS AND VILLAGES

 

Small seaside villages are found in abundance along the north and south coast of Hania, and on the east and north east side of the Akrotiri Peninsula  Kalathas, Horafakia, Tersanas, and Stavros. You can choose between the many villages of Apokoronas. The Apokoronas region and the other villages mentioned above are more family oriented and certainly more peaceful, whilst still offering all the amenities and everyday facilities for a having a great and memorable holiday.

The inland villages such as
Theriso, Sourva & Meskla, Fournes & Alikanos. The lively and popular north west coastal villages of Daratso & Ayii Apostoli, Stalos, Ayia Marina, Platanias. These nearest villages to Hania are more crowded than the distant one, whereas the busiest are the villages of Platanias and Ayia Marina. All the villages provide shops, mini markets, bakeries, pharmacies, restaurants, cafés, bars and lovely but busy sandy beaches. The quieter laid back Yerani, Maleme, Tavronitis, Kolymbari, Drapanias & Kissamos

The memorable west coast with beautiful Falasarna, Platanos, Sfinari & Elafonisos.

In the south are the tranquil villages of Sougia, Ayia Roumeli, Hora Sfakion, Anopolis, Aradena, Loutro (you can go there only by boat or foot) and Frangokastello. Also the small towns of Kandanos, Paleohora.  

  

Kalathas: On the peninsula of Akrotiri, is not really a village but a fairly new, quiet settlement, mainly for people who wanted to move out of Hania. It has seen a lot of building activity in recent years as more and more Cretans are moving out of town. It is a small natural bay on the edge of a ravine, 10 km northeast from Hania. The beach sandy beach is divided by a rocky outcrop and the beach is lined by pine trees and a lovely islet in front. You can treat yourself with windsurfing rental and perhaps some lessons, water-skiing, canoes or scuba diving. There is a restaurant built on the sand and beach volley is a popular sport on the beach especially at weekends.

    

Horafakia: Is a small village in situated between Kalathas and Tersanas villages, 12 km northeast from Hania. It is an ideal place if you want to have a family holiday and unwind staying quite close to the sea but not in the heart of a resort. If your staying in the village of Horafakia you really should visit some of the great Monasteries and churches of the Akrotiri Peninsula, 'The Holly Mountain of Crete'. The most important are the Gouverneto (Lady of the Angels) and the Katholiko (Ayios Ioannis the Hermit). 

 
The village is 15 minutes away from the international airport of Hania and half an hour from the port of Souda. There is frequent bus connection to Hania. During the weekends, the local sandy beaches will become crowded with the locals.

 

Tersanas: Is a small natural bay, it is a quiet village with a lovely, sandy beach in a small bay. You can certainly unwind here whilst on holiday. There are a few good tavernas. However, for the daily shopping it is recommended you go to the nearby hamlet of Horafakia 1 km away where you can find a few shops and tavernas. Once a small harbour when sea levels were higher, there are remains of an ancient quay and piping system that brought grape-juice direct from presses 2kms inland, to barrels on the moored boats. The juice would then be sailed immediately to Hania for wine-making.

 

Stavros: Is a quiet, dispersed, seaside district located at the very north of the peninsula. The most wonderful element of the village is a marvellous, narrow strip of sandy beach dominated by a mammoth rock shelf which was served as background in the movie 'Zorba the Greek' as it represented the archetypal sleepy fishing village. The beach is enclosed by the circular bay where you can enjoy the sea and sun. Visitors can also find a Neolithic cave that was used as a sanctuary from the end of the Bronze Period and through all the Greek periods, its entrance can be just seen from the beach. There is another sandy beach on the west, it is also used by the visitors for swimming.

 

Theriso: This mountainous village stands at the foot of the Lefka Ori is about 20 miles south of Hania, the road passes through an impressive gorge, alongside the 'Kladissos' river. Driving there is a fascinating experience just after the village of Perivolia, is the start of of the wonderful Therisos Gorge, which leads to the village. At 'Treis Ekklisies', close to the entrance of the gorge you will see the old stone bridge, the 'Kamara' as the locals call it. The village was built at the foot of the White Mountains it is famous for its struggles against the Ottoman domination. It is from here that Eleftherios Venizelos started the revolt of 1905, the hometown of his mother. 

 
The movement of Theriso as it is still called today resulted into the resignation of Prince George governor of the island, but nevertheless this certainly showed off the great leadership skills of the future prime minister of Greece. In the village is his mothers house, and headquarters of Eleftherios Venizelos, today it is a museum. 

  

As well as its glorious history. The village is famous for its incredible beauty and magnificent landscape as well as its dairy farming. There are three taverns at the village and no matter which one you choose you will enjoy a variety of traditional dishes. One local feast day is celebrated on August 15th 'panayia' celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin Mary a good day to visit if possible. If you like caves, don’t miss a visit to the cave of 'Sarakina' or 'Elliniko', 2 kilometres north of the village on the left bank of River. Where traces of Neolithic and Minoan settlements have been found there. 

For a scenic drive, take the road to Zourva, 7.5 kilometres from Therisos. If you don't want to drive, another good way to navigate through the gorge is on one of the ‘land trains’, which leave Platanias at about 11.30 every morning during the summer.

   

Sourva & Meskla: The drive from Theriso leads to Sourva, at the top of the gorge nothing there other than wonderful views over the surrounding valleys which are fantastic. There are a cluster of whitewashed houses and a solitary kafenion. From Sourva the way spirals slowly down to Meskla, this village is set on a babbling brook for some of the year and is surrounded by lush agricultural land and orange groves. Under the Venetian rule Meskla was an important village and was the centre of the Kandanoleon revolt, when much of western Crete rose against the Venetians in the early sixteenth century. 

 
George Kandanoleon was the leader and ran the Cretan rebel administration, collecting taxes with effect and controlling much of the west. To maintain his position and reconcile with his enemy he arranged a marriage between his son Petros and Sofia the daughter of the local feudal lord Francesco Molini a Venetian aristocrat. As George was leader he could not leave anyone out of the celebrations, so hundreds of his supporters and followers attended, the wedding feast was of course a large affair with lots to eat and wine flowed freely. Most too drunk other than to sleep, slept where they could or fell into a drunken stupor at which point the Venetians arrived and captured them all, as Francesco considered this to be the best opportunity to get rid of his enemy. Their leaders were hung in the street as a warning and the revolt was crushed.
 

From here you can also visit Lake Ayias, which is actually a man made reservoir renowned for its bird life. It is home to a rich variety of species, including, crakes, avocet, marsh harrier, spotted flycatcher and squacco heron. Lots of kingfishers and terrapins are also resident here. Often found sunning themselves in the heat of the day on the mud banks.

 

Fournes & Alikianos: These two villages are totally dependent on the orange and citrus groves that surround this whole area set at the base of a valley. Although oranges have been grown in Crete since Venetian times their cultivation has increased a tremendous amount over the past years. Especially with the increase in healthy living and the world embracing the Mediterranean Diet, more so now than ever before. The production of orange and citrus juices have increased two-fold. The trees flower in spring and a drive on the main road is a must as the smell of the orange blossom is quite overwhelming. The main harvest time is throughout the winter months although the fruits will stay on the trees even when ripe and some even crop a little during the summer.

  

Daratso - Ayii Apostoloi: The village of Daratso and that of Galatas are located on the hills overlooking the beach of Kalamaki. These small villages have seen quite a development in tourism in the past few years and with buildings now going all the way down to the coast. The lower parts are called 'Kato' in Greek 'Kato Daratso' and 'Kato Galatas'. The village is located 4 km west of Hania, and is a well developed waterfront village with three great sandy beaches, named after the small church of Ayii Apostoloi on the top of the peninsula. The three beaches have clear and shallow waters perfect for swimming, particularly safe for children. 

  
There are also plenty of sporting facilities. One of the beaches of Ayii Apostoloi is called the Golden Beach 'chrissi akti'  due to the incredible colour of the soft sand. Locals come here, especially at the weekend as it is close by to the old town of Hania, to play volley ball, jog and picnic in the park which is under a preservation order. How this once tranquil and very beautiful area close to the centre of Hania must have looked many years ago, unfortunately has now been taken over by a surge of new buildings and family entertainment venues. Life has to progress but sometimes it ruins the beauty of such places. Towns now being built around idyllic harbours and rocky inlets and sandy coves - what price do we pay for all this progress?

   

Stalos: is a waterfront and popular tourist resort and village which is located 7 km west of the city of Hania. It has a long, and seemingly endless, sandy beach there are plenty of quiet spots to find if you prefer. It's an interesting sea front with small hotels, cafés, restaurants and shops.  An ideal place for some to unwind and relax whilst still having a wide choice of intense nightlife in the nearby villages of Platanias and Ayia Marina once again the  old town of Hania is relatively close. 'Pano' 'upper' Stalos is a typical Cretan village in the wonderful, peaceful, rural countryside.

 

Ayia Marina: Is a very popular tourist resort. Being a north coast resort it has a fabulous golden sandy beach that seems to stretch endlessly. Ayia Marina is next to the equally popular Platanias and it is difficult to tell where Ayia Marina stops and Platanias starts. The beach and the resort are extremely popular and can get very busy at the height of the season. But the long sandy beach is big enough to accommodate the crowds who adore this resort for the accommodation, facilities, food and drink at the plentiful sea front tavernas and bars. In the evenings you'll have no shortage of nightclubs, cocktail bars and music bars to keep you entertained.

 

A rare treat for anyone is to see the famous 'kri-kri', the Cretan wild goat, you can do this by visiting the tiny island of Ayii Theodoroi. The best way to do this is by excursion boats as the place is protected and access is restricted. It is only possible to step foot on the island once a year – on St. Thodorou’s name day on June 8th when the island is open to visitors all day. In antiquity the little island was considered to be a great monster coming from the sea, with it's mouth wide open to swallow the nearby village of Ayia Marina. Poseidon, the god of the sea transformed the monster into rock, to save the village. Also according to mythology the golden colour of the sand was created by the flames that came from the mouth of the terrible monster. 
 

In 1574, during the Venetian dominion, it was decided to fortify the island, in order to prevent the Turkish invasion of Platanias.  A multi-angled fortress was built on the highest point of the island and it was called 'Turluru', a second fortress was built at a lower level, this was called 'San Theodoro' or 'San Francesco'. This is also where the three-aisled chapel of the St. Theodori, was erected however today only its foundations remain.

 
For a more traditional view of Cretan life go to the older village of Pano Ayia Marina with lovely Cretan houses and hospitable tavernas serving original Cretan dishes it has a much more traditional atmosphere and old world charm.
1.5 km to the South of the village you will find 'Nero-spilia' 'water cave' stalactites and stalagmites decorate this interesting cave which was used as a sanctuary during the Minoan period. It is also worth seeing the small church of Ayia Marina in the village.  Two local feasts take place in the village on the 25th of March and on the 17th of July in honour of Ayia Marina.

 

Platanias: Was once a mainly agricultural village, but now it has become one of the most cosmopolitan resorts on the west of Crete. Like most villages in Crete which are close to the sea they are split into two, you have the old part built amphitheatrically on a high, rocky place, it was there that the inhabitants of Platanias found refuge from pirates and other invaders over the centuries. According to tradition, on the rock of Platania, was the ancient city of 'Pergamos' and Agamemnona's tomb.  King Agamemnon after the Trojan war came to Crete and built the ancient town of 'Pergamos' and its port. 

     

The river of 'Keritis' still flows into the bay known then as the river 'Lardanos' which means holy water according to Homer. Excavations were carried out in 1974 bringing to light the prehistoric city of ancient 'Kydonia'. Homer also mentions that the 'Kydonians' used to bathe in the river 'Lardanos'. In the Venetian inventories Plantani was also mentioned as Platanea, possibly named after the sycamores that were on the riverbank. There were even possibly two different settlements. Today the houses here are covered in lovely red, pink and white flowers and are charming and traditional. With the new lively resort spread out  below. 

  

Whilst in the area a lovely place to visit is lake Ayias on the southeastern edge of the municipality of Platanias that borders the area of New Kydonia. It's a reservoir that is a very rare wetland with a wide variety of flora and fauna. That is why the lake and the area that runs from the lake follows the flow of the river 'Keritis or Platania' and reaches the sea, the Lake is also protected by the European Union. The lake and path along the riverbank surrounded by orchards of orange groves. It is the most fantastic area. In the spring it is an excellent place for rare flower seekers, bird watchers and nature lovers.

  

Yerani: The local people call it 'Pano Yerani' in order to distinguish it with the coastal settlement of 'Kato Yerani' located one kilometre to the north. The village is mentioned in a 1577 census, but its history is believed to have began centuries prior to that. A brutal battle took place here between the Turks and the Cretan revolutionists in 1867. Ioannis Papadogiorgakis the famous revolutionist known as 'Yeraniotis' was born here in 1798. 

 

It is also worth a meander to the villages of the area, and enjoy the unspoiled Cretan nature and hospitality of its locals. When you get away from the heavy traffic of the main road you find yourself travelling through orange groves and passing tall cypresses, plane trees, and eucalyptus trees. Starting from 'Kato Yerani', this was the spot where the foundations of the first German cemetery was, it was later moved to Maleme. A little before 'Pano Yerani' stands the monastery in a place called 'Metoi Issihaki', between the villages of Yerani and Modi you can find a old half ruined house which used to be a school. A plaque on one of its walls is dedicated to the renowned Cretan writer and journalist Ioannis Kondilakis who started his career here as a teacher.
 

At Kotsifiana, between Yerani and Manoliopoulo' is the small church of 'Panayia'. A feast and festival day takes place here every year on the 8th September well worth a visit. Between Vryses and Koufos, there are two characteristic hills, on the western bank of the Platanias river. The lowest peak, is called Kastelos, and the higher is named after the small church on the top dedicated to St. George 'Ayios Yerogios'. At Mondi a lovely small village, ancient Cretan coins were found dipiting on one side the head of Zeus and on the other that of a bull with the inscription 'Modaion' which means coin of the people of 'Moda' or 'Modea' believed to have been an ancient city which stood here, other findings of tombs, weapons etc. were unearthed which confirms these claims. Remains of lots of these types of citadels have been found in the whole northern part of western Crete, they were all war-like in their actions and seemed to have been clans of even perhaps differing religions.

 

Maleme: Is a historical, quiet village next to the shoreline, much of this resort is developed around the church of Ayios Antonios. It is built on small hills, between the rivers Tavronitis and Yeranis, surrounded by olive trees, orange groves and vineyards. This whole area flat and close to the coast has been attractive to invaders over the years. The Turkish army landed in 1645 camped in the area prior to conquering almost the entire island and ruled for 250 years. In 1897 the Greek army  landed marking the beginning of the Greek-Turkish war that led to the liberation of the island.

 
In 1941 Maleme was the site for the old airport of Hania, after the fall of the airfield in late May 1941 the sky was described as raining down with German parachutists, determined to conquer the island of Crete. This was the beginning of the famous Battle of Crete during the Second World War. Both sides suffered the loss of many men the land was scattered with bodies of Germans, British, New Zealand and Australian troops. In the area of 'Kafkalos' there is the German cemetery close to the village, with 4465 buried German soldiers. It is placed on a hillside below the ridge known as Hill 107, which played a very important role in the defence of the airfield. The lines of flat headstones, each marking a double grave, gives solace to this peaceful scene, and truly makes you reflect on what might have been. 

Until a few years ago the keeper of this grave yard was George Psychoundakis the author of the Cretan Runner (see The Battle of Crete) and his friend Manoli Pateraki, who played a leading role in the capture of General Kreipe. 

Ironically when offered the job of caretaker George was said to have been told. "George, why not? You looked after the Germans while they were alive, why not look after them now they're dead?"
 

A series of cultural activities in the memory of the 'Battle of Crete' during the World War ll take place in May, and the local feast of 'panayia' is celebrated on the 17th of January in honour of St. Antonios. A  discovery  near the cemetery in 1966 confirmed yet another graveyard this time in the form of a 3000 year old Late Minoan tomb. The old airport at Maleme is still a military base used by the Greek air force for training purposes. They have weekly rocket and bombing practice using Corsair A7 fighter-bombers I'm told? This can be noisy but only lasts for around an hour.


Perhaps a good day to take a trip up to the village of Deres, just a few miles into the hills behind Maleme, there is a good horse-riding centre with great views down to the coast. In the mountain village of Deres you can once more experience the life of the local Cretan and their hospitality. 

  

Tavronitis: Is a small village built at the end of the river Tavronitis, like lots of the villages surrounded by olive trees, orange groves and vineyards. At the junction prior to making your way down to the beach and near the source of the river lies an historical metal pontoon bridge, which is no longer in use today, situated at the village entrance a World War ll turret mountain with two USA sea mines and two German torpedoes all easily missed as you turn the corner, but just another reminder from the war. 

 

Kolymbari: Sits at the base of the Rodopou peninsula and is quite a laid back waterfront village. A few years ago it was well-known as a rural village with olive trees and vineyards, today it is developing into a tourist village. You can visit (by boat) the north-eastern edge of Rodopou peninsula where you can see the ruins of the ancient town of Diktynnaio (see forts & ruins) Gramvousa island with Gramvousa castle at its top, and the beautiful beach of Balos.

 
From Kolymbari it is very easy to visit the Gonia Monastery which is located 1 km to the north and celebrates its feast days on the 15th of August 'panayia' and on the 29th of August in honour of St. John Rigologos. It was built during the 17th century in a wonderful setting, surrounded by verdant vegetation and offers a magnificent view. The Monastery has a fortress form, overlooking the bay in front of it. This like a lot of Cretan Monasteries over the years, was also a centre of resistance during the revolution of 1821. The Gonia Monastery hosts today an important collection of precious post-Byzantine icons, relics, and other rare religious treasures. The Orthodox Academy of Crete is located next to the  monastery. Opposite the monastery and beside the fountain is a steep track which climbs the cliff to the tiny 14th century church that was attached to the original monastery in the 9th century.

 
A number of villages around Kolymbari are worth seeing for their beautiful landscape and a number of Byzantine churches, some of them dating back to the 6th century such as Archangelos Mihail one of the oldest churches in Greece, with its unique concentric stepped dome, unique in Crete near the village of Episkopi. On the first Sunday of August it celebrates the blessing of the fruits at the church this is when farmers bring their products to the church hoping for the saint to give them a good harvest. Relics of Venetian buildings can be found at Rodopos some 7 kilometres northwest. The village Nohia, 7 kilometres south is worth visiting for its traditions in pottery making. Or the ancient olive tree, near the village Ano Vouves, it is also worth a visit to the cave of Ayios Ioannis Xenos 'St. John the Stranger' and church dedicated to the 11th century evangelist, 3 kilometres south, near the village of Spilia where on Christmas Eve a representation of the Birth of Christ takes place with more feast days on the  6th and 7th of October. Past the village of Drakona a sign on the right of the road indicates to the church of 'Holy Stephen'  you have to walk a wooded path to the Chapel of Ayios Stefanos. Inside you'll find a heavy stone wall with exquisite frescoes. Close to the village Deliana, 15 kilometres south is the Deliana gorge. Some 3.5 kilometres north is the bay of Afrata worth seeing for its wild landscape and crystal clear sea. 

 

Drapanias: 4 kilometres before arriving at Kastelli, Drapanias is a small village 1 km from the sea. It has not been spoiled or changed by the march of time or tourism. Once it was a thriving community on the old main road from Hania to Kastelli but nowadays it is a beautiful yet sleepy village, with some Ottoman constructions, a tower and well, along with two churches, one dedicated to Jesus Christ being at the entrance of the cave 'Makry Spilio' 'long cave'. At the beach of Drapanias worth seeing is the ruins of a Minoan settlement and the Classic period, according to some scholars’ suggestions this is the place were and ancient city called 'Mythimna' was built. 

 
The unspoilt natural sandy beach is a glorious spot for swimming and sunbathing. Backed by lush, shady olive groves and fields, which often stretch right down to the sea. There are three tavernas on or near the 6 km beach, otherwise there is nothing but a patchwork of fields and the occasional house - idyllic. 2 km along the coast, in the corner of the bay at Nopigia, the sand gives way to rocky grandeur and wonderful countryside for walking and exploring.

  

Kissamos: Is officially known as Kastelli-Kissamou and often known simply as Kastelli after the Venetian castle that was built there. The fort was destroyed by Barbarossa and in 1646, it was taken by the Turks. The ruins of the castle, which are visible today, are additions and repairs made by its latter conquerors. It is now a port and fishing harbour, with regular ferries to Piraeus the Peloponnese also the island of Kythera. The town has a museum in the old Venetian governor's palace, where important archaeological finds from the town and surrounding area are housed.

 
Other finds include fine mosaics, dating from the Roman era, Roman baths and cemetery, and especially the mosaic pavements are worth seeing. Kissamos was the harbour of the ancient city-state of Polyrrinia, located 7 km inland, it was independent with its own coins with symbols that represented the head of Hermes on one side and a dolphin on the other. During the Roman Period, Polyrrinia was at the height of its fame, which is indicated by the ruins of an acropolis, a theatre, an aqueduct and the statues that were excavated at the site. The town stretches alongside a long sandy beach. The locals have been blessed with fertile plains, plenty of water and high mountains. The wine produced by the locals in their own vineyards, using the 'Romeiko' variety of grapes, is world famous and known by the name of the location 'Kissamiotiko'.

 

If you drive around, the area of Kissamos-Kastelli you can visit traditional villages such as Roka, which is built at the foot of an impressive cliff, Byzantine churches and the Monastery of 'Zoodohos Pigi', Venetian relics such as the 'Rotonda', The diocese church of Kissamos from the second Byzantine and Venetian period was the church of Michael Archangelos in Episkopi, Kissamos. Its shape is unique on Crete. It has a very large dome in the middle which dominates the church architecture. Externally the dome presents a step structure, reducing its diameter higher up in the church. 

 

Within the church, arches support the central space under the cylindrical dome. The mosaic floor is formed from white and black pebbles, often depicting heart-shaped leaves. In May 1994 excavations around the church revealed a Byzantine graveyard dated around 700 A.D. There is also a Venetian villa near the village of Kalathenes, 12 kilometres to the south of Kastelli.

 

If you enjoy hiking you will find the Sirikari gorge, 19 kilometres to the south a good challenge, the entrance is just off the village of Sirikari, with its exit at the village of Polyrrinia, it takes around two hours. A must is the Gramvousa peninsula by boat where you will see the cave of Tersanas, the Balos lagoon and the islets of 'Agria' 'Wild' Gramvousa, 'Imeri' 'Mild' Gramvousa and Pontikonisi. 

A series of cultural activities, plays, concerts etc, are organised during the summer months at the open theatre at Honi, 6 km east of Kastelli. The Wine Festival which takes place in early August, the anniversary of the conquest of the Castle of Gramvousa by the Greeks during the Greek War of Independence in 1825 is celebrated in August with a series of cultural event. Athletic games known as 'Theocharakia' also take place in summer. A local feast day takes place in honour of Ayia Triada 'Holy Trinity' at the village of Kaloudiana, 4 km to the southeast, during May and June.

 

Falasarna's: name is pre-hellenic and was taken from the nymph Falasarna. It was more important than Polyrrinia during that period and it had its own currency which on the one side depicted the head of a woman with earrings and the letters FA between a trident. The Bay seems to have been active since the Middle Minoan period as a naval station. Its port was closed-in and surrounded by walls, it was connected to the sea only by a canal. Today the port and canal have given way to agriculture, because the earth layer today is approx. 5 metres higher and the sea now is 100 metres away from the port, Built around the middle of 4th century B.C. it then became the sworn enemy of nearby Polyrrinia. It developed into an important naval trading centre. The sea level began to rise about 20 cm until the 2nd century B.C. and the port's function was then affected, forcing builders to intervene and elevate the surrounding construction levels. The port soon became a pirate hideout, which drew the Romans attention and led to its destruction. Boulders found in the canal prove that the entrance was deliberately blocked, while stone bullets located in the basin are evidence of many conflicts. Total annihilation occurred during the 4th century A.D. probably in 365 A.D. when the whole area rose again by about 6.6 metres due to a severe earthquake. The city and the port were buried irreversibly by the tectonic action.
 

 
Pottery from the surrounding area proves that the city was already inhabited in the Middle Minoan period, while its development is depicted by the Archaic and Classical tombs discovered in the nearby area. Relics of houses, temples and quarries have been located around the harbour area where part of the city walls have been excavated as well as those of the cyclopean walls, defence towers, foundations of houses and remains of the temple dedicated to Artemis or Apollo. With no signs visible of the harbour now.

 
A few Byzantine churches are worth seeing, the most interesting being the church dedicated to Ayios Fotis and Ayios Anikitos meaning 'Invincible', within a small cave with a fascinating view. Two local feast days take place on the 26th of July Ayia Paraskevi and on the 12th August in honour of Ayios Anikitos.

  

Platanos: Is the principal village of the area, and it is located 10 km from Kissamos. It is a modern, spacious village, its inhabitants are mainly occupied with agriculture growing crops in greenhouses, olive groves and of course tourism. The name of the village Platanos means plane tree which are always synonymous with the abundance of water. Platanos combines the traditional way of life, with the elders drinking coffee in the traditional kafenions, together with today's faster paced modern life, with the town growing over the last few years. Albeit, many of the inhabitants today have moved to Falasarna and other beaches close by due to the growth of tourism in these areas.

  

Sfinari: Is a quite out of the way village and because of it position and backdrop of the mountains and an abundance of water it has its own micro climate allowing the locals to grow products that tastes so good always ripe and fresh. The area is surrounded by neatly laid out olive trees, it livestock-farming and fish is guaranteed as it abounds in the sea around. The village of Sfinari is blessed with many water sources so it is overwhelmed with trees and flowers. Dolphins are often seen playing and feeding in the sea. The seals visit too and give birth in the rock caves.


The trees by the beach are also an ideal place for camping which is free! there are plenty of shady places and water. There is also a trailer ramp for launching boats in the small port of the village. As when you get there you want to stay for a while at least.

  

Elafonisos: Is probably one of the most visited small resorts on the island for the moment at least there is no village as such, just a handful of locals from around the area trying to make a living. But there are no permanent inhabitants. Elafonisos is a small islet on the southwest coast of Crete. It is connected to the beach with a shallow reef with a max. depth of 1 metre that allows anyone to cross when the sea is calm. There are plenty of places for camping and it can get extremely busy in the summer months so be warned! The place can be accessed by car from the village of Vathi or by boat from Paleohora. 

 
In 1824, 850 women and children sort refuge on the little desert island from the fury of the Turks. However, the Turks managed to discover the 'hidden' passage from the mainland to the small when a horse strayed across and the Turks went to retrieve it only to find those poor souls hiding, they slaughtered them all. According to the legend the sand on the beach took its red colour from the blood of all the victims.

The island today serves as a breeding spot for the 'caretta caretta' sea turtles and once again at long last  local fishermen have reported noticing Mediterranean monk seals 'monachus monachus' in the open sea. There is also a small frog (bufo viridis viridis) endemic to the island and various lizards (podarcis erherdil elaphonisi) considered a protected species. There are also reported instances of a snake (coluber gemonensis gemonensis). Walking on the beach you can see various plants and bushes. 

 

Kandanos: Is the largest village you pass through on the way to Paleohora it is approached by a verdant valley and makes a pleasant stop. The village has been rebuilt over the last 60 years as this region suffered badly during the German occupation of World War ll. During the Battle of Crete, resistance fighters had held back advancing German soldiers for two days, preventing them from reaching Paleohora and securing it. In retribution the Germans claimed the lives of around 180 residents, executing several of its inhabitants and killed all domestic animals. Furthermore, all houses were burnt and razed to the ground. Nearby villages such as Floria had a similar fate.

 

After its destruction, Kandanos was declared a 'dead zone' and its remaining population was forbidden to return to the village and rebuild it. Even then the repercussion didn't stop inscriptions in German and Greek were erected on each entry of the village they read;


'Here stood Kandanos destroyed in retribution for the murder of 25 German soldiers, 
never to be rebuilt again'.

 

A second sign went up, this time reading; 'Because the men, women, children and priests dared to resist the Great Reich, Kandanos was leveled to the ground and will never be rebuilt'.
It constituted one of the most atrocious war crimes to have taken place in Crete. Nevertheless after the 'Holocaust of Kandanos' the town was rebuilt into a lovely rural community and the signs retained in a war memorial. Several of the Byzantine churches and their frescoes were restored. Germany donated a new waterworks after the war and former soldiers stationed there returned in reconciliation.

German solider reading the sign after the
 razing of Kandanos 1941

 

Paleohora: Is in the south west coast no longer a sleepy fishing town, but it still retains a laid back feel to it.  Remarkably the area is still warm during the winter months. Since 1940 the entire peninsula has been declared an historical site with good reason. In the 13th century the Venetians, once again built another fort, to impose their domination over this rebellious area. Built on the tip of the peninsula, they named it Castel Selino. Why no one seems to know because translated it means 'the Celery Fort' maybe because the whole area was covered in wild celery?

  

This original fort was destroyed by Barbarossa in 1539 and was rebuilt several times but it was always conquered. The Turks were the last occupants and left it to its fate. The ruins still remain on the headland. On one side of the peninsula is a shingle beach and on the other a beautiful long and sandy beach fringed by tamarind trees. In the labyrinth of narrow back streets below the Castro you get a real glimpse of traditional Cretan life and the ruins of the old castle offer a fantastic view all over the village. In the evenings during the summer season the main street is closed to traffic and the owners of the village tavernas place their tables and chairs even further into the narrow main street where you can wine and dine. Only a few steps away from the main street, tables are also set romantically by the water's edge, you can eat and drink overlooking the sea.

 

You will also find interesting landscapes and the caves of 'Harakas and Zoures' and the evergreen very old plane tree at the village of Azogouries, 8 kilometres northeast of Paleohora. 

 

Sougia: Is somewhat remote, on the south coast travelling eastwards from Paleohora, though to reach it by road you will have to drive northwards towards Hania before picking up the winding and demanding road to Sougia at Kandanos. Sougia's ancient name was 'Syia', and it was the harbour of the ancient town of 'Elyros' (located at the village Rodovani, at 10km north of Sougia). For the visitor who enjoys walking, nature and antiquities, you'll enjoy visiting ancient 'Lissos' it will take around an hour on foot. 


Set in an idyllic verdant landscape, the sole inhabitant is the custodian who guides you to the tiny Dorian temple of 'Asklepios', the ancient theatre and the vaulted tombs. The temple was destroyed by earthquake, but its mosaic floor portrays animals and geometrical designs and is still quite well  preserved. It is open in the mornings, albeit you can still walk in the valley and discover column capitals hidden under bushes and remains of a Roman cemetery with their chamber tombs. 'Lisso' used to serve as the port of' 'Irtakina' another ancient town as well as 'Elyros' and flourished from the classical times until the 10th century A.D. The inhabitants were merchants and fishermen. However, 'Lissos' was wealthy for another reason its famous healing spring water. People would come from all over Crete for the cure!

Ayia Irini Gorge Walk: Brings you out at Sougia. It starts in the village of the same name and at the entrance to the gorge there is a big poster showing the most important points of the walk. It is 7 km long and it takes about three hours to walk, but it is well worth it and deeply rewarding. Vegetation is extremely rich and consists of plane trees, pine and cypress trees, many different herbs in the rocks left and right with aromatic spices growing wild next to the pathway. There is a river bed which is usually running quiet well with water until the end of April. The gorge becomes quite narrow nearing the end and you have to walk on the riverbed of pebbles and rocks. There comes a point also where in spring you will have to take your shoes off and walk through the water. Nice and cooling for the feet!

 

Ayia Roumeli: Another remote village and very isolated. You can only reach it on foot or by boat,
there is no road. The small village of Ayia Roumeli is mainly known as the place where people arrive after hiking through the Samaria gorge, the village lies in the shadow of this great ravine, but has much more to offer than just a refreshment stop. Set in a dramatic landscape Ayia Roumeli, whilst being filled with hikers in the afternoon, as soon as the last boat has left in the evening the village becomes very quiet again. 

 
A restful, calm community between wild mountains and the deep, blue sea. Ayia Roumeli has no nightlife and no entertainment. However anyone who can relate to nature can find plenty to do besides enjoying the almost deserted beaches. The village is situated in one of the wildest regions of Crete and you could spend weeks exploring the area on foot.

 

Hora Sfakion: Is a town on the south coast and the capital of the remote and mountainous region of Sfakia. It is said that only two kinds of mammals have been able to survive on the isolated mountain slopes of Sfakia wild goats and the Sfakian people. Most continue to dress in the traditional way with boots, breeches and a headband, most males carry guns and they even have their own dialect!  The White Mountains in the north, combined with the rocky beaches in the south, helped the locals to defend their freedom against all invaders. It was from Sweetwater beach close by, that many allied forces were evacuated from after the Battle of Crete, supported by the renowned Sfakion resistance fighters.

 
Hora Sfakíon prospered during the Venetian and Turkish occupations and up to the 18th century carried on a flourishing trade with its own small fleet. It was said to have had a hundred churches but the town suffered badly from wartime bombardment during and after the Allied evacuation at the end of the Battle of Crete. Apart from the outstanding natural beauty of the indented rocky shoreline, and the small Venetian fortress which was built in 1526 as part of a their defence system which consisted of towers and fortresses along the southern coast.  Hora Sfakion was abandoned during the difficult years of the Cretan revolution at the end of the 19th century saw its beautiful stone houses reduced to ruins. In the 70's when the Samaria gorge walk became popular they returned to prosper in tourism. Albeit, today it is still a working the local economy is based on fishing, olive oil production and sheep, goat herding and tourism during the summer.

 

It has two small harbours, where the ferry boats from Ayia Roumeli dock, in the summer they bring the hikers from the Samaria Gorge to then take buses back to the northern coast. From Hora Sfakion ferries also run to the nearby coastal town of Loutro and the island of Gavdos.

 

Apart from the gorges Samaria, Aradena, Anopolis and Imbros, there are also several beaches accessible from Hora Sfakion. The more adventurous hiker can follow the European hiking footpath, the E4, which crosses Crete from west to east. 

 

The Imbros Ravine & Walk: Has its start in the village of the same name just after the Askifou Plateau, and prior to the journey down to Hora Sfakion. There is an entry charge but the money raised goes towards the village and upkeep of the area. Once in the gorge, your follow a track which was once the only main thoroughfare to the villages below! It takes about 3 hours is narrow in places and stiflingly confined in others but you pass caves and a huge natural stone archway. You simply follow the stream until you emerge at the lower end. 

 

Anopolis: Located between the sea and the southern slopes of the White Mountains at an altitude of 700 m, the plateau of Anopolis is regarded as the heartland of the Sfakia region. A fertile plain which has been inhabited since Neolithic times and its natural setting has protected it from outside influences, particularly from the Turkish occupants. Anopolis lies in a large valley and is a very old settlement, this has been proven by remains of the ancient Greek eras. There are visible remains of Cyclopean walls near the Ayia Ekaterina Church. It flourished mainly in the Roman and the Byzantine periods and its port was Phoenix, the present day Loutro. 

 

Anopolis was a centre of the resistance fighters against the Venetians and was destroyed in 1365, when the inhabitants moved to other villages in the area. At the beginning of the Turkish rule it was re-inhabited and one again became a centre of resistance this time against the Turkish occupation. It is the birthplace of 'Ioannis Vlachos', well known under the name of 'Daskalogiannis' 'teacher Ioannis' leader of the revolution of 1770 against the Turks and whose vision was the freedom of Crete. The revolution of 1770 was drenched in blood and Daskalogiannis died. In the village square is his memorial. 

 

Aradena: The most notable place of interest is the abandoned village of Aradena which is set on the edge of the gorge of Aradena and offers superb examples of traditional Cretan architecture. The deserted village lies on the western side at the beginning of the Aradena Gorge at a height of 600m. Here once existed the Minoan town of Aradin, however, very few ruins can be seen today. Worth visiting though is the church of Archangelos Mikhalis with its pepper pot shaped and tiled dome, inside are some beautiful preserved frescoes depicting the life and crucifixion of Christ, the church dates to the 14-15th century, and is reported to have been built from the stones from the village of Greco-Roman times. 

 

An iron bridge connects both sides of the gorge and is at the same time the connecting road to Anopolis. The drop of 150 metres will take your breath away. Next to the bridge is an old pathway negotiated once only on foot and using pack animals, zigzagging down into the gorge and climbing up the other side. This was the only link between the roads until the bridge was made in 1986! Beware on occasions you have people bungee jumping off the bridge, a heart in the mouth moment for anyone. Rather them than me!

 

The Aradena Gorge: Leads from the village of Aradena 7 km down to the beach of Phoenix. Both sides of the gorge are 200 metre high rock faces, some coloured red, some yellow, and on the way down can be found a spring hidden beneath a boulder. To walk from the village of Loutro via Marmara beach, then through the gorge up to the village of Aradena and on to Anopolis then back down to Loutro, will take around 6 hours. A much safer route is if you take the local bus or a taxi from Hora Sfakion up to Anopolis and start the walk from here then walk to Aradena and down through the  gorge to Marmara and on to Loutro. 

 

From Loutro you can take the boat back to Hora Sfakion. There isn't much in the way of wildlife, and the rocky river bed is forced into an extremely narrow gap between sheer walls almost all the way down. Not for the faint hearted, needless to say you must be fit!
 

Loutro: Tucked away in its own private cove. Situated at the end of Cape Moures, where once the ancient city of 'Phoenix' stood, a significant town in both Roman and Byzantine times, and later an important port. There's a Venetian fortification on the headland and traces of a Byzantine basilica, as well as a curious sunken building, resembling a Venetian church with an arched roof, today used as a cistern, Some think that it was perhaps an arsenal attached to the basilica. The village was named after the baths 'Loutro' found the area which supplied water to nearby Anopoli. 

  
Loutro also served as the port of 'ancient Anopoli' and became the winter port of the town of Hora Sfakion, due to the fact that the enclosed bay and the small island at its entrance create a natural harbour where ships can be safe even in very bad weather conditions. Loutro is only accessible by sea or footpaths. There are no roads and therefore no cars. Mountains rear straight up from the sea with deep wooded gorges
. The scenery of the White Mountains offers a fantastic backdrop to the picturesque village of Loutro with its white washed houses with tiny shingle beach and small coves with deep clear water, which are ideal for snorkelling. The rocky hillside rising steeply up from the harbour is crisscrossed with paths, which make it a walker's paradise. If you like total peace and quite then this is a special place to stay and spend time just sitting at one of the waterside tavernas.

  

Frangokastello: On the south coast of Crete is situated on a glorious sandy beach, where stands one of the most impressive Venetian fortresses on the island, Frangokastello. Built in 1341 in an attempt to deter pirates, at a time when fleets of these buccaneers pillaged and ransacked towns and villages all around the Mediterranean. There was a great need it was thought to build a fort here on the beach, now with only the shell still intact if still gives off a feeling of great power. 


This now small but developing community, with lovely beaches backed by sand dunes is increasing in popularity as a tourist resort. In my opinion quite rightly too. The European hiking path, the E4, comes out at Frangokastello through the Imbros Gorge and crosses the Kallikratis Gorge.

A strange phenomenon is said to take place here each year on the morning of the 17th May (see forts and ruins). 

 

 

 

 

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