14. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Travelling inland)
(see Map of Rethymnon)
Rethymnon to Amari valley
If you want to avoid the crowds and the “tourist face”
of most villages on the north and south coast of Crete, drive
between them on the mountains and plateaus of the hinterland.
This is the paradise of the true traveller, a land full of traditional
hamlets, historical monasteries, important and yet unknown archaeological
sites, spectacular mountain routes, and countless nooks for
camping, all waiting for you to explore. Very few tourists ever
make it to these places; most of them simply travel from coast
to coast, “glued” to the main traffic arteries,
never taking the time to explore out of the way places.
Map of Crete. Amari Valley
As a result, the hinterland has kept its authenticity and peacefulness.
When people are not blinded by the prospect of making an easy
profit through the tourist industry, their traditional economy,
based on farming and stockbreeding, proves healthy enough to
support them. Most inland villages of Crete, whether large or
small, are healthy communities with sufficient resources, a
balanced social life, and a considerable number of young people
who want to continue their fathers’ work and to uphold
their traditional values. This is the hidden beauty of Crete,
the face that you can’t see in the post cards and the
tourist agency advertising pamphlets. Come and see it for yourself.
Take the road that starts from the centre of Rethimno and goes
east toward the village (or rather suburb) of Perivolia.
You will see an intersection with a sign that says "Heaklion
Old Road". Turn right when you get here, and when
you pass under the New National Road turn right again, following
the Gr/E sign that sends you to Amari. Right
after the turn there is another intersection, which offers you
two options as you start Route 14. If you have a street bike,
follow route in the direction of Prassies, and keep straight.
If you have an off-road bike and would like to travel on some
very nice dirtroads, follow route that points to Chromomonastiri
and turn right.
The road (A3) to Prassies goes through a small
gorge full of olive trees. The landscape is quite attractive,
but please drive carefully because the road is narrow and slippery
and it has many turns and a lot of traffic. After Prassies,
a picturesque village with many old houses, the road goes downhill
toward a very green valley irrigated by the Pelopidas river.
As you travel, you have great views of the Psiloritis mountain
About 300 metres after the intersection for Mirthios
you’ll see a road to your left that goes north. During
the first 100 metres you drive on cement and then you run into
a fenced pastureland. Open the gate and go right in (but don’t
forget to close it behind you). You will drive on a D3 road,
which ends at a very beautiful place you can walk through: the
Prassiano gorge. The area is quiet and peaceful,
and as it is full of big plane trees with great shade it is
a true campers’ paradise.
When you get back on the main road and continue south you’ll
cross a valley full of olive trees. About 5 km after the intersection
for Mirthios you’ll see another intersection and a road
leading to the village of Patsos in the west. If you wish to
visit the impressive Patsos gorge, turn right. A short distance
west of the village you will see the signs leading to the gorge.
After the visit, you get back on our route from the same road.
The next stop is at the village of Aghia Fotini
in the east. To get there, you leave the Potamidas valley behind
you and travel on the west side of a beautiful ravine covered
with olive trees. The village offers a beautiful view of the
Amari valley, which is framed by two mountain slopes. Choose
which one you prefer in order to continue Route 14 .
The road (A3) to Chromomonastiri climbs through some olive groves
and then follows the west side of a small gorge. The first village
on your way, Mili, has no classic tourist sight,
but it is certainly worth a quick stop in order to walk its
alleys and get a taste of a typical country place that insists
on following its own pace of life. On the east side of the gorge,
right opposite of Mili, is Old Mili, a village
that was deserted some thirty years ago when a series of dangerous
landslides scared the people away.
Crete, Panagia Kera (Our Lady, Mary)
However, the big landslide that was supposed to destroy it
never came, so the Milians still come from their new village
and take care of their old homes and orchards (although they
have built nothing new there). Incidentally, this is a good
opportunity to see how Cretan villages were at the beginning
of the century.
The next village you will see on your way south is Chromomonastiri.
About 500 metres before it there is a little Gr/E sign on your
left-hand side that sends you to Agios Eftychios.
Turn left on the small dirtroad (D3) in order to visit this
age-old Byzantine church whose wall paintings may well be the
oldest in Crete (11th century). A second Byzantine
church, also very beautiful, is that of Panagia
Kera (Our Lady, Mary). To visit it, simply follow the
Gr/E signs around you: turn left at the square that’s
at the village entrance, then right after 600 metres, and then
left again after another 500 metres (see Road Book 3 as well).
But before setting off, it is worth making a stop first, so
you can explore this very beautiful place and drink something
refreshing at the cool village square.
Crete, Panagia Kera
Once you’ve seen the chapel of Panagia Kera, get back
on the road you turned from (now a D3), reset your counter,
and follow the road as it goes south climbing the north side
of Mount Vrissinas. Soon you will be five hundred metres above
sea level, admiring a spectacular view of Rethimno
and the north coast. But what is really worth admiring is at
the very top of the mountain.
The Vrissinas dirtroad will eventually take you to the main
road connecting Rethimno and Aghia Galini, and more specifically
to the intersection from which you go to the Minoan Cemetery
of Armeni. When you get there go south, and after about 5 km
you will see a second intersection and take the road that heads
east (toward Ambelaki).
Twenty metres further you will see a dirtroad (D3) that goes
southeast. Take it, and at the first fork you’ll encounter
(after only 20 or 30 metres) go left. After driving through
a desolate area you will find yourself at a small shepherd settlement
named Karines from where you continue eastward
on the road (D3) that leads to Patsos. A little
before the village you will cross a small cement bridge. Five
hundred metres after the bridge you’ll see a small dirtroad
and a couple of Gr signs: a wooden one that says "The
St. Anthony of Patsos gorge" and a small blue
one that says "St. Anthony". Turn left and follow
the dirtroad (D3) till the south end of the gorge. From here
on you can continue on the footpath that the Forest Authorities
of Rethimno have so tastefully formed, building wooden steps
and small bridges where needed. Getting to the other end should
take you less than two hours and the walk is indeed pleasant;
the small river that flows through the gorge and the plane trees
growing along its sides make it a real treat. But before setting
out to cross the gorge you might pay a visit to the small cave-church
of Aghios Antonios very close to its south end. Outside it you
will see wooden tables for picnics. These were apparently put
there quite recently, and at that time the workers found a few
vase fragments and part of a statue of the goat-legged Pan.
All of them point to the conclusion that the cave must have
been used as a place of worship since the ancient times.
The villages in this area, including Patsos, are small and
picturesque and they do not have many luxuries for visitors;
one or two coffee shops, some small grocery stores for your
basic supplies and a few taverns and Rooms to Let is what you
can typically expect.
THE PEAK SANCTUARY
OF MT. VRISSINAS
On the sharp rocks of the peak of Mount Vrissinas
the ancient Cretans living in a nearby settlement had
built a sanctuary. This
was discovered in 1962, although the place was not systematically
excavated until ten years later. The numerous findings
that came to light show that this cult centre was one
of the largest and most significant on the island.
The peak sanctuary of Vrassinas, Crete
Stuck in the crevices of the rocks were hundreds of clay
statuettes of worshippers or oxen as well as many other
ceramic objects (as is usually the case). In addition,
the archaeologists found a fragment of a stone vase with
an inscription in Linear A, which is exhibited at the
Museum of Rethimno.
To reach the sanctuary you must leave your bike and walk
for an hour. However, it is really worth the trouble,
if only to enjoy the panoramic view from coast
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.