11. HORA SFAKION - RETHYMNON (see Map Hora Sfakion Rethymnon)
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, 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,
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
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.
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.
The plateau south of Kali Sikia
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
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
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
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.
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.