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Hora Sfakion - Rethymnon


11. HORA SFAKION - RETHYMNON (see Map )

(Travelling inland)

This route allows you to explore the inner region of the Rethimno prefecture, possibly the poorest and most primitive area of all Crete. For the most part, the roads in this area are fairly smooth dirtroads (D3), the villages are small settlements of shepherds or small-time farmers that have nothing to do with tourism, and the land is barren and rocky.

Map  Hora Sfakion to Rethymnon

Head east of Chora Sfakion on the road leading to Vrisses, and as soon as you pass Imbros turn toward Asfendou. The road (A4) is very narrow, and it would certainly not be asphalt-paved if it didn’t lead to the antenna of the Greek Telecommunications Company (OTE) on the nearby peak of Akones (1240 m). Keep in mind that about 900 metres before the antenna, at the point where the asphalt ends, you must turn on the dirtroad (D3) that you will see to your right (east).

The road goes through a desolate landscape of steep mountains, small rocky hills, and small fields full of stones. The first villages you will encounter are Asphendou and Kallikratis. They are both almost entirely deserted, but their stone houses still hold, probably because they are maintained by the shepherds who continue to bring their flocks in the area.

The Imbros - Kallikratis route

Oddly enough, if these two villages have suffered from Time, the twenty or so hamlets in the area east of them are in much better shape, and they offer a typical example of the traditional ways of small Cretan communities dependent on the land. Needless to say, there are very few Rooms To Let (and very simple, too, with just the bare essentials), and only the larger villages have a few small taverns. The people, on the other hand, are very friendly and hospitable. If they detect in your eyes or voice a genuine interest for their homeland and a friendly attitude like their own, they may treat you to some tasty snack or offer to put you up for the night.

If you are lucky enough to receive such an offer, you will have a rare opportunity to travel through time and experience things like those we read in the journals of 19th century travellers: straw mats on dirt floors, food cooked in primitive pots, mandinàdhes (rhyming couplets) improvised that very moment for your pleasure and sung by the old man or woman of the house, tasty barley biscuits and freshly made cheese of their own production, and plenty of wine from the barrel to make the experience even more intoxicating...

Right after Kallikratis the road splits in two. If you head southeast (right) you will get to Miriokefala, but you will have to drive on a road (D4) that is almost entirely neglected and at places dangerously narrowed by landslides. Rather than do that, take the northeast direction and after 5 km you will be at the beautiful Assigonia. The name of the village was aptly chosen: -Gonia (“corner”) because it is built at the south corner of the Moussela valley, and Assi- (“rebel” in Arabian) because, like most peasants in this mountainous region, the people were in a constant uprising against the Turks who ruled the island.

Isolated in this out-of-the-way place, Assigonia has retained its traditional character; its economy is based on stockbreeding, its houses are made of stone, and its customs are deeply rooted in tradition. The most impressive custom is the blessing of the livestock, which takes place on April 23, the day of St. George. The people bring their flocks to the church to have them blessed by the priest, and they milk them right in the churchyard. Then the peasant girls boil the milk and offer it to everyone present, villagers as well as visitors.

After Assigonia the road (A3) continues to the north through a beautiful wooded gorge, and after a few kilometres you reach an intersection with signs (Gr/E) pointing you to all directions: to Episkopi in the north, to Kato Poros in the east, and to Argiroupoli and Ancient Lappa in the south. Here you have two options. If you are in a hurry to get to Rethimno, turn left (north), go through the rather indifferent village of Episkopi, get on the coastal highway (the new National Road), and head east for the town.

The plateau south of Kali Sikia

Do not drive at full speed, though, because thanks to the endless sandy beaches and the many hotels the road between Georgioupoli and Rethimno has too much traffic. Whatever you do, avoid the old National Road between Episkopi and Rethimno, because it is dangerously narrow and slippery. Also avoid Lake Kourna and the town of Georgioupoli in the west. Most tourist guides consider them a “must,” but in reality they are both “fake.” Georgioupoli is presented as an attractive sea resort, but it is nothing more than a tasteless mish-mash of hotels and restaurants crowded around a narrow beach with constantly wet sand that shows it has been stepped on. Lake Kourna is visited by thousands of tourists “herded” to “Crete’s unique lake,” but you haven’t come to Crete to see lakes! Admittedly, when seen from the mountain tops it may look attractive. But any European lake is better than this shallow hole; it is constantly filled with dozens of small plastic boats that carry the happy tourists who were brought massively by the Hania and Rethimno travel agencies, and it is simply a staged attraction.

If you are in no particular hurry and would like to do some exploring, you can follow a much more interesting course that will take you to Rethimno after some travelling through the region. In what follows we describe a cyclical route that is your most interesting option. When you reach the intersection we mentioned earlier, turn right instead of left and head south towards Argiroupoli. The town is built on top of a hill, on the site of ancient Lappa.

After Argiroupoli keep going south for about 1.5 km and then turn left (southeast) to get to Vilandredo and from there to the many other hamlets scattered in this desolate area. (At the intersection you will see a Gr/E sign pointing you to Vilandredo and Alones). You’ll be following a beautiful cyclical route and driving on an asphalt-paved road (A3) that climbs the northern side of Mount Krioneritis (1312m). Alones is a quiet shepherd settlement built on a plateau surrounded by mountain peaks and steep ravines. When you get there you will see two roads (D3) going east and crossing a small cultivated plateau with many nooks that are good for camping. Both of these roads will take you to Kali Sikia.

Once in Kali Sikia, you have again two options. If it’s late in the day and you feel like heading for Rethimno, take the road east of the village (A3), which will take you through Kanevos, Angousseliana and Aghios Vassilios and then meet the Aghia Galini - Rethimno road (A2) where you turn north to get to the town.

The route through the Kotsifos gorge

Though the road is pretty wide and allows you to reach your destination after a quick drive, we suggest making a small side-trip to the seaside village of Plakias south of Kanevos, and back, so you can drive through the impressive Kotsifos gorge with the high vertical walls that seem to press against the road and the stream between them. Also, we propose making a stop at the Minoan cemetery, just one kilometre north of Armeni (see page 278)

If, however, you still have the time and the energy to continue your exploration, do not head east after Kali Sikia, but take the road (D3) that goes north and continues the circle you have started. The idea is to get on the old National Road connecting Hania and Rethimno, but in order to do that you have several options. The best one is to follow the road (which, incidentally, starts west of the village but heads north taking you through the desolate countryside) until it meets a second road (A3) about 1 km east of Velonado. Here you turn right (north) and follow the road as it goes downhill, passes through a beautiful gorge followed by the villages of Moundros, Roustika and Kaloniktis, and takes you to the old National Road, about 1km west of Aghios Andreas. As you get near the coast, it may attract you irresistibly and you may be tempted to drive straight to Rethimno. Don’t rush, though, because there are still great places to see!

A little before the entrance of Aghios Andreas you will see an intersection. Turn right (south), following the Gr/E sign that says A. Varsamonero, and just before entering the village turn left and head for Kastelos. As you drive you will have a great view of the entire bay of Almiros. When, after a turn, the village of Kastelos appears before your eyes, stop for a minute and get oriented. Behind the village is the impressive Minoan cemetery of Armeni (see page 278). Somewhere around it was the site of the (still undiscovered) ancient town to which the cemetery belonged. At the top of Mount Vrissinas - the mountain you see behind the village - was an important Minoan sanctuary (see page 322). If you have the time, visit everything!

Finally, if you want to get a bird’s eye view of Rethimno and the coastline, turn on the road (A3) opposite to the Minoan cemetery and drive on the north side of Mount Vrissinas, taking the opposite direction of the one we propose in Road Book.


THE ROUTES THE ROUTES

Routes starting from Hania

Hania
1. Hania - Akrotiri
2. Hania - Paleochora
3. Hania - Sameria
4. Hania - Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
5. Hania - Kissamos (Kasteli)

Routes starting from Kissamos
Kissamos (Kasteli)
6. Kissamos - Gramvoussa
7. Kissamos - Elafonissos
8. Kissamos - Paleochora (through the Topolian Gorge)
9. Kissamos - Paleochora (through Episkopi)
10. Kissamos - Sirikari

Routes starting from Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
11. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (travelling inland)
12. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (following the coast)

Routes starting from Rethimno (Rethymnon)
Rethimno (Rethymnon)
13. Rethimno - Ierapetra (following the south coast)
14. Rethimno - Ierapetra (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Ierapetra
Ierapetra
15. Ierapetra - Zakros (coastal road)
16. Ierapetra - Zakros (inland route)

Routes starting from Iraklio (Heraklion)
Iraklio (Heraklion)
17. Heraklion - Rethymnon (coastal road)
18. Heraklion - Rethymnon (travelling inland)
19.Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (coastal road)
20. Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos
21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros


Source of the information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”, Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.

 

Tip of the day

Syros. This is the island where Greek tradition and western influence come to a harmonious marriage. Ermoúpoli(meaning “the city of Hermes”) is the island’s capital town and has been the first important trade and industrial centre of the country in the 19th century. Evidence of this glorious past can be seen on public buildings (the City Hall, the Customs Office, “Apollo” theatre), on the neoclassical houses and at the beautiful squares. Due to its economic activity, Ermoúpoli has been called “Manchester of Greece” and the history of its years of blossom is exhibited in the Industrial Museum.
The Orthodox community has contributed some outstanding religious monuments to the architecture of Ermoúpoli such as the churches of Metamórphossi tou Sotíros (Transfiguration of Jesus Christ), St Nicolas the Rich (Áyios Nikólaos Ploússios), Dormition of the Mother of God (Koímissis tis Theotókou).

 

 

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