14. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Travelling inland)
(see Map Rethymnon)
The Amari valley
A few kilometres south of Patsos lies the Amari valley,
which is irrigated by the Plati river. Framed by two mountains,
Kedros in the west and Psiloritis in the east, the valley is
full of olive and cherry and apricot trees and surrounded by
some forty attractive hamlets perched on the mountain slopes,
possibly the most beautiful ones in Crete.
Map, Rethymnon to Ierapetra, via Zaros. Amari valley
This protected area has been continuously inhabited ever since
the Minoan times. Important Minoan settlements have come to
light, while every village has at least one Byzantine church
of the 14th or 15th century and sometimes even earlier, always
with amazing wall paintings. The valley is crossed by three
roads: one (A3) going through the hamlets on the east slope,
one (A3) going through the hamlets in the west, and one (also
A3, but larger and faster) that goes through the heart of the
valley. Of course, it is worth taking all three and exploring
every corner of the valley, but if you are pressed for time
we recommend the first one, which starts from the village of
There are two ways to get from Patsos to the
east side of the valley. If you’d rather ride on a dirtroad
(D3), turn right (south) at the west end of Patsos. This way
you’ll get on the dirtroad that climbs on the side of
the Katsonissi peak and finally meets the Spili - Gerakari road
(A3). At the intersection turn left and head for Gerakari -
unless of course you’d rather turn right, go to Spili
and switch to Route 12 or 13 - and from Gerakari head north
on the road (A3) that takes you to Aghia Fotini.
Crete, Byzantine church of Panagia in Thronos
If, however, you prefer to ride on asphalt, go northeast of
Patsos, pass the villages of Pantanassa and Voleones, get on
the Rethimno - Amari road, and turn right (south) in order to
get to Aghia Fotini. The last part of the trip is particularly
beautiful as you’ll be following the west side of a ravine
that’s full of trees.
One kilometre northeast of Aghia Fotini is a picturesque village
called Thronos (The Throne). True to its name,
the village seems to be sitting on the mountain slope as if
on a throne, and it offers a unique view of the Psiloritis
peaks and the Amari valley. The truth is, however,
that the name of the village comes from the “Episcopal
Throne of Sivritos.” What survives from the magnificent
metropolis of that time (7th century AD) is a part of a floor
mosaic, which can be seen outside the
Byzantine church of the Holy Mary that was built here in the
The minoan palace
The traces of the Minoan palace that was once on the low
hill southeast of Monastiraki were first discovered in
the mid 40’s. Yet the systematic excavation of the
area began only in 1980 under the direction of the University
of Crete. The findings are very similar to those of the
Faistos palace, and they include some interesting pottery
and the foundations of some large storage rooms and workshops.
The numerous seal stones point to a sophisticated administrative
and economic structure and the clay model of a sanctuary
indicates the existence of a place of worship. Everything
proves that during the Middle Minoan period (2000 - 1700
BC) a significant palace existed at his site. Apparently,
it was destroyed by the big earthquake of 1700 BC and
it was never rebuilt
In its turn, the Byzantine diocese inherited its name from the
Minoan town that was built here first. Sivritos
was built on a well protected site offering a great view, and
as its pre-Hellenic name suggests it had many trees and a lake
or river close by (Si<Sy, water, Vritos<Vrity, sweet,
fresh. Cf. Vritomartis, sweet virgin). During the Roman and
the first Byzantine period the town really flourished and it
even minted its own gold and silver coins. In 825 AD, however,
it was destroyed by the Arabs along with most Cretan towns.
But soon it was rebuilt and all through the second Byzantine
period and the years of the Venetian rule it was quite prosperous.
In the last few years the area north of Thronos is being excavated
and a part of ancient Sivritos has come to light. To visit the
archaeological site follow the Gr/E signs that say “Ancient
Sivritos. Greek - Italian excavation.”
If you continue north of Thronos you will pass through a small
village called Klissidi. A very beautiful route
(D2) starts from here, a route that goes through green mountain
slopes and low mountain passes and finally takes you to the
historical monastery of Arkadi (Moni Arkadiou..
If you so desire, from the monastery you can switch to Route
Crete, the village of Vistagi
Our route, however, continues to the south. The road (A3) after
Thronos passes through the village of Kalogeros, then goes downhill
through the forests. When you get to the Assomaton monastery
you’ll see an intersection and a road (A3) that goes south.
This is your chance to visit three villages in the area: Monastiraki,
where the ongoing excavations have revealed an important Minoan
palace, Amari, the largest village around here, and Vizari,
where you can see the foundations of a 7th century basilica.
If all these sound interesting, make a small detour to visit
them, and when you are in Vizari turn left in order to get to
Fourfouras and continue with our route.
If instead of the detour you continue to the east of the Assomaton
monastery, you will climb a green slope, go through some olive
groves, and end up in
Vistagi, one of the most beautiful villages on the
island, built on a mountain and spread along the two sides of
the road (A3). The village is not on the classic tourist routes,
so it has very few tourists and no infrastructure to accommodate
them. It is large and peaceful and very pleasing to walk through.
Most of its houses have been whitewashed but some are painted
in earth colours and especially ochre. The Amari valley and
the snow-capped Psiloritis peaks all around complete the scenery
that you can enjoy from here.
A small blue sign in the village of Apodoulou informs
you that 2 km to the west you will find the Apodoulou
Minoan settlement. Like so many other cases, this settlement
was conventionally named after the modern village close
to it, since there was no clue as to its actual name.
The first excavations took place in 1934 under the direction
of Professor Marinatos. They revealed an important building
complex dating from the end of the Middle Minoan period
(1600 BC), complete with its large storage rooms and artists’
workshops, whose walls still stand, sometimes even two
metres high. Among other things the archaeologists found
inscription-bearing libation vessels, a small golden axe,
and numerous vases including a steatite one inscribed
in Linear A. Apart from the main building complex they
found ruins of other buildings, scattered all over the
surrounding area and dating from the same time.
After Vistagi continue to the south (toward Fourfouras) and
prepare yourself for one of the most beautiful routes on asphalt
in all of Crete, which takes you to the town of Aghia Varvara
some 60 km away (on the road that connects Iraklio and Gortina).
Although it cannot exactly be described as a “mountain
route,” it follows the west and south side of Mount Psiloritis
and sometimes takes you to a pretty high altitude from where
you can enjoy a great view wherever you look.
If the night finds you travelling in this area, you have very
few chances of finding “decent” accommodations.
Apart from some shabby Rooms to Let in Platanos, Kamares and
a few other villages, there is no place to rent. The only really
good place in the area is Hotel Idi in Zaros. It has a nice
swimming pool and a spacious parking lot for your car or bike.
If, however, you are no longer interested in mountains and
would like to ride to the coast, turn right when you get to
Nithavris - there is a Gr/E sign at the intersection
that says “Aghios Ioannis” - or else turn right
just after Apodoulou. You can now switch to
After the village exit you’ll see an intersection where
you go left (east). You’ll pass through some picturesque
villages built at the foot of the south side of Psiloritis,
but you need to concentrate on the driving because the road
(A3) is narrow and full of potholes and it has worn edges. When
you get to Lochria you’ll see a dirtroad (D3) winding
up the mountain. After 14 km it stops before a few mitàta
(shepherd huts) at a site with a beautiful view of the south
coast. A little further on the main road, before entering Kamares,
there is an amazing gorge that cuts the mountain in two. At
the point where it meets the road, the Kamares Community has
built a small path, which takes you to a place from where you
can really admire this magnificent gorge.
If you continue eastward you’ll get to Zaros,
the largest village in the region, where you have the best chances
of finding a good place to sleep and eat. In the village you’ll
see a Gr/E sign that sends you to a recreation area called Votomos,
a short distance to the north. Here you’ll find a spring
whose water is bottled and sold throughout Crete. Whatever is
left of it forms a nice small lake that mirrors the wooded mountain
slopes around it. Behind the lake is a path leading to the Zaros
gorge and around it is an ideal picnic site with wooden tables.
Though there is nothing better than enjoying your own food,
we suggest trying the (local) trout and salmon served at some
of the nice taverns you’ll see on your way to the lake.
Next to them is IDI, the comfortable hotel we mentioned earlier,
and next to the hotel is the age-old mill of Michalis Frangiadakis,
which still works!
of the information on this page : “Unexplored
Crete”, Road Editions. For more
guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.