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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  

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

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 Agia Fotini.

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.

The 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 14th century.

The minoan palace of monastiraki
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 16.

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.

Apodoulou minoan settlement
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 Route 13.

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!


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

In the small but organized city museum you will see findings from excavations in ancient Kissamos and its surrounding areas. The museum’s collection includes floor mosaics of 2nd and 3rd century houses found in Kissamos city, as well as findings from the archeological sites of Polirrinia and Falasarna (mainly statues, reliefs and ceramics dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman times).
The present town is famous for its amazing wine which is produced here and is celebrated with “the Feast of Wine" at the beginning of August. During the feast local wine is offered in great quantities under the sound of lyre and lute and in a very enthusiastic atmosphere.
The beaches surrounding Kastelli that you can visit for swimming in the homonym gulf are Molos beach covered by thick pebbles, Ghipedo beach surrounded by trees and Telonio beach with view of the Venetian walls. It is better though to take the road to the famous Gramvousa peninsula.

 

 

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