13. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Following the
south coast) (see Map
1 - Map
2 - Map
The Asteroussia Route
After visiting all those interesting archaeological sites the
time has come for a good ride on the Asteroussia Mountains.
If you want to take things from the start, it is best to return
to Faistos from the main road, continue south (toward Matala),
and then head eastward, following the routes shown in Road Books
6a, 6b, 6c and 6d.
The beaches of
Kalamaki and the villages near Faistos have suffered from the
massive tourism in the area. Matala, in particular, has always
been a crowded place thanks to its large sandy beach with the
caves at its north end. These were inhabited by the primitive
people of the Neolithic age, and they were also inhabited by
the primitive hippies of the 60’s. But if you wish to
stay in Matala forget about the caves; they have been closed
by the archaeologists. Instead, look for a room (there are plenty
around) or set up your tent in the camping ground.
At Sivas you will see a dirtroad (D3) heading south toward
the picturesque Listaros. Unfortunately, most of the houses
in this village are not lived in and they’ve been allowed
to fall apart. At the centre of the village there is a Gr sign,
which points you to the right and informs you that after four
kilometres you will be at Moni Odigitrias, the Monastery of
the Guiding Mary and after eleven at Kali Limenes. Follow the
road (D3) as it goes up the east side of a small ravine, and
soon you will see to your right a little chapel dedicated to
Aghios Eftychianos the Cretan, a Christian man who was put to
death here because he refused to convert to the religion of
the Turks. (Outside the chapel you can still see the axe-mark
on the rock where he was beheaded). As you continue southward
you will pass through a desolate place and at some point you
will see Moni Odigitrias by the roadside.
When you first lay eyes on the monastery from afar it will
seem like an old fortress. Although it was far away from the
pirate-infested coast, the place was as vulnerable in the 16th
century as it is today,
and its only defences in the wilderness against those who
threatened it (robbers, Turks etc) were its high walls and lion-hearted
As the story goes, one of the monks who lived here was the
legendary Xopateras or Xepapas, as Ioannis Markakis (or Father
Ioasaph) was called after his unfrocking by the archbishop.
(The name roughly translates as “he who is no longer priest”).
The unfrocking was because he killed a Turk who spoke offensively
about his sister, and it was only the start. From that time
Xopateras began wandering around the monastery together with
his wife and child, his sister, and a few loyal companions,
killing every Turk he found in his way.
The Turks set a price on his head and began a raging manhunt
that lasted for a long time. In February of 1829 they finally
managed to corner him at the monastery. Xopateras and his companions
barricaded themselves in the tower that still stands outside
the church, and they put up a fierce fight against the hundreds
Turks that besieged it. After three days their ammunition was
exhausted and they finally fell into the hands of their enemies.
Their death surpassed in cruelty anything the Turks had ever
The monastery was plundered and laid waste on several occasions,
but many of its treasures have survived in spite of everything.
It has an impressive collection of 15th century icons and on
the church walls there are several parts where you can see paintings
dating from the same period.
Although abandonment has caused great damage to the monastery’s
buildings, restoration works have recently begun.
Right next to the monastery you will see an intersection. A
handwritten Gr/E sign points straight, toward Kali
Limenes, while a second sign points right, sending you to Martsalo
and Vathi (Road Book 6a). If you are in a hurry to get to the
beach, follow the first sign and ride straight to Kali Limenes
(you’ll be driving on a nice wide D1 road). But if you
are in the mood for an interesting ride through desolate places
get out of your way for a while and you won’t regret it.
The route to Martsalo is full of intersections with smaller dirtroads
leading to sheepfolds, but it is also strewn with countless small
signs, so you won’t get lost. As you keep seeing those signs,
you will probably wonder: What is Martsalo? Is it a beach? A mountain?
A fortress? A village? When you get to the end of the dirtroad
(D3), the only thing you’ll see is a new chapel dedicated
to Efmenios and Parthenios,
two monks that were ordained as priests. Then a new sign points
you to the path that leads to the ravine and repeats again: Martsalo!
Finally, after a fifteen-minute walk you will arrive at Martsalo,
which is a truly impressive hermitage, an eagle nest carved into
the soft rock on the ravine wall. This was home to two monks who
once lived here, and today it lies there with its door unlocked,
exciting the imagination. If you want to get a taste of how their
life must have been, turn on your flashlight and go right in.
After the hermitage, you can also explore the exotic ravine and
enjoy the stillness and the palm trees, and after the ravine it
is only 15 - 20 minutes till you get to the beach.
Now return to Moni Odigitrias from the same road and continue
south. You’ll be driving on a smooth dirtroad that goes
through a desolate place and takes you to Kali Limenes (“Good
Harbours”), a small seaside settlement with some Rooms
to Let. Unfortunately, the Good Harbours are often visited by
Bad Ships (meaning “tankers”), since the islet two
hundred metres off shore is an oil supply station...
After the Good (but Poor) Harbours, the road (D1) continues
east following the coastline. It goes through Platia Peramata,
a large area entirely covered with tomato fields, and it takes
you to Lendas, a well known settlement built next to the sea
(Road Book 6b). Incidentally, a few kilometres before you get
there you will see a large sandy beach, taken over by nudist
campers and having three or four taverns whose owners rent rooms
as well. This is a great place to be, but try not to come later
than the middle of July, or you are bound to get crowded.
Lendas is a rather ugly village and the beach in front of it
is not so great either. The main reason why the place is well
known is because it is at the end of the popular route that
starts from Apessokari. A second reason is that here you will
find the ruins of the ancient town of Levin.
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.