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Rethymnon - Ierapetra

 

14. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Travelling inland) (see Map 1)

14.1 Rethymnon to Amari Valley 14.2 The Amari Valley 14.3 Psiloritis mountain 14.4 Dikti mountain
14.5 From Dikti to Ierapetra 14.6 To Agios Nikolaos 14.7 Lato  

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, Rethymnon to Ierapetra

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.

THROUGH PRASSIES
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 peaks.

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 .

THROUGH CHROMOMONASTIRI
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.

Panagia Kera

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.

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

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 to coast.


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

Cousteau looked for the lost city of Atlantis on Santorini. Crescent-shaped Santorini (or Thíra), the precious gem of the Aegean, is actually a group of islands consisting of Thíra, Thirassiá, Asproníssi, Palea and Nea Kaméni in the southernmost part of Cyclades.
Also called “Thermiá” on account of its thermal springs, Kythnos is very close to Attica; still, it is one of the less visited islands of the Cyclades.
Greek Mythology has it that Anafi, a paradise of pristine beauty and “exotic” beaches washed by crystal clear waters, had emerged from the bottom of the Aegean sea to give shelter to the Argonauts.
Ios. The locals call their island “Nios” but its formal name comes from “ion”, the Greek name for the flower violet. It is said to have been the birthplace of Homer’s mother and the place of his own tomb.
Remaining untouched by the growth of the tourist industry, Folegandros (or Polykandros) offers complete relaxation in a typical Cycladic landscape. The Greek mythology refers to Folégandros as son to Minos and head of the first colonists on the island.

 

 

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