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Rethymnon - Ierapetra

 

14. RETHYMNON - IERAPETRA (Travelling inland) (see Map 1 - Map 2)

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

On the way to Mountain Dikti

Between the mountains of Psiloritis and Dikti there is very little to see. The landscape is an indifferent blend of low barren hills, fields and country villages, and it is not until you get to Lasithi and the south side of Mt. Dikti that it gets interesting again. Therefore, choose the fastest route to Embaros (just north of the town of Martha) and prepare for the amazing mountain route to the Omalos plateau that starts from that village.

Map, Rethymnon to Ierapetra, via Zaros


Still, if you have a little time to spare it might be worth making a small detour to the north in order to visit two places: the Byzantine fortress Temenos and the Monastery of Epanossifis.

To get to the former, go north after Aghia Varvara (following the road that leads to Iraklio), and after 13 km turn right (east) at the intersection you will see upon entering Venerato. (There is a Gr/E sign there that says “Paliani nunnery”). Three hundred metres after the turn you will see a nice painted E sign that sends you to the right to enjoy the “Nice Route to Kiparissos.” If you ignore it and keep going straight, the road will take you to the nunnery (where it ends) after only 800 metres. This is a very old convent, possibly of the 7th century, but it has nothing special to show. The actual 7th century building was completely destroyed by the Turks in 1866, and what you see today is just the new church and the new cement cells and handicraft shops that were built here after that. If you do follow the sign and turn, the “Nice Route to Kiparissos” will not leave you breathless. Still, it is a pleasant route that takes you through the countryside; the road (A3) winds up and down the cultivated hills, between olive groves and vineyards, and stops before the abandoned village of Pirgos - or rather, it is the asphalt that stops, only to start again at Kiparissi. On your way to Kiparissi you will see the village of Profitis Ilias at the foot of a hill in the northeast. If you look at the hill more carefully, you’ll notice the ruins of the Byzantine fortress known as Temenos. Kiparissi may be somewhat confusing, because there are no signs to direct you to Profitis Ilias. In any case, do not turn left at the intersection that is at the heart of the village. Keep going straight until the end of the road, then turn right and continue until you see a war memorial. Turn left when you reach it and you will soon be in Profitis Ilias. Good luck!

Once there, you will again have a hard time trying to find the path that leads to the fortress. There is not a single sign to help the visitor. What is worse, the beginning of the path has disappeared under extended courtyards and illegal buildings, an unmistakable sign of the total indifference of the locals for the treasure they have right next to their homes. If this were in any other European country, the villagers would have cleaned and kept up the archaeological site on their own initiative. They would have opened paths, placed signs in and out of the village to encourage people to visit the place, put spotlights to make the walls impressive at night, printed maps, pamphlets and post cards to tempt and facilitate the visitor, told the monument’s history with texts, diagrams and representations, and done everything in their power to highlight their treasure. But for most Greeks the only treasure they know is what they have in their bank account...

Just a few kilometres northeast of Profitis Ilias you can see some very impressive archaeological treasures: the Minoan settlement in Archanes, the sanctuary “Anemospilia” on the top of Mount Youchta, the Minoan mansion of Vathipetro, and of course Knossos, the most splendid Minoan city. All of them are described in detail in Route 20. But if you are not going to follow that route, it is indeed worth it to make a detour at this point and to continue with Route 14 later. There is a dirtroad (D2) that connects Profitis Ilias and Houdetsi (from where you can continue northward to visit all these sites), but if you’d rather ride on asphalt you can go to Iraklio instead and then turn on the road for Knossos and head south. After seeing these important archaeological sites, continue southward in order to visit the Epanossifis Monastery and to get back on route 14.
If you choose not to make the detour after Profitis Ilias but wish to go straight to the monastery, you will need to return to Kiparissi and take the road that passes through Galeni, Roukani and Karkadiotissa.

The Epanossifis Monastery

The icon of St.Georges at the Epanossifis Monastery

From the moment you step through the courtgate, the Epanossifis monastery will impress you with its great wealth.

As known, monasteries do not get rich from the work of the monks but from the generous offers of the faithful, whose faith increases in direct proportion to the miracles performed by the saint or his icon - and the more they believe, the more generous they become. In this case, St. George, the patron saint of the monastery, started performing miracles very early, and they say he has never stopped.

This is why he has the most impressive icon you will see on the island, an icon full of precious offerings.

Temenos, the Byzantine Fortress
The high hill (500m) with the twin peaks south of Profitis Ilias has been inhabited since the ancient times. During the Minoan period there was a town here whose name was Likastos. Apparently, the town prospered greatly thanks to the well protected site on which it was built and the fertile fields around it. This is evident from the fact that during the Trojan war it contributed ships and men to the Greek expedition force, as Homer tells us in his Iliad (B, 647). Unfortunately for Likastos, the neighbouring town of Knossos became even more rich and powerful, and Likastos was inevitably conquered and destroyed. (Ever heard about the small fish being eaten by the larger one?) After that sad event Likastos went through centuries of defeat and humiliation, being constantly subjugated to one town or another.
In 961 AD things seemed to turn around. This year marked the beginning of the second period of the Byzantine rule (961 - 1204), made possible by the glorious victory of General Nikiforos Fokas over the Arabs, whom he forced out of the island. At that time the Byzantine General was looking for a good place in which to build the new capital of Crete, since the existing capital, Handakas (which later became “Iraklio”), had been destroyed in the war against the Arabs. He wanted this new place to be at a safe distance from the sea and to provide a natural advantage over any attacking enemy.
The General’s advisers recommended this hill, and the General liked it immediately and decided to build the new capital here. However, he did not bother to ask the people of Handakas how they felt about his decision, and he turned a deaf ear to all their protests, which were not very loud in the first place. Determined to go on with his plans, he ordered them to start carrying and hewing stones immediately.

Temenos

Then one bright day in 968 the fortress was finished and Nikiforos Fokas was urgently called back to Constantinople as the new Emperor chosen by the army and the people. The very next day the people of Handakas returned to their ruined town, and sighing with relief they began to rebuild their homes. As a result, there were never any homes built behind the walls, and the fortress remained an empty shell. During its history it came into the possession of several Byzantine dukes and Venetian lords, and it occasionally served as a refuge in moments of crisis. It was repaired from time to time but without much care, and the building materials frequently came from the ancient town of Likastos. Today you can see them incorporated in the fortress wall.
Though the fortress was not destined for glorious moments, it is still a precious monument. If you touch the stones on the wall and let your spirit wander, you may “connect” with the ancient Likastians that fought in the Trojan war and with the people of Handakas who hewed the stones with their own hands

Until the year 1600, all that St. George had in this place was a poor chapel in the midst of the olive groves belonging to the rich lord Langouvardos. Then one night the chapel was visited by a wandering monk, Father Paissios, who had been kicked out of the Apezanon monastery on the Asteroussia Mountains because of his unacceptable behaviour. Apparently, the saint saw in him a unique opportunity to have a better church built in his honour. He visited him in his dream, fierce-looking on horseback, and ordered him sternly to build a splendid church in the place of the chapel without any delay! The very next day the God-fearing Paissios, whose secret desire happened to coincide with the saint’s order, gathered some men from the nearby villages, appropriated several hectares of Langouvardos’s land, and began building the church. When Langouvardos heard of this, he got really angry and ordered the building to stop, since it was completely illegal. But that same night the saint miraculously appeared in his dream. What the saint told him remained between him and Langouvardos, but the effect of the dream was a complete turnaround in Langouvardos’s behaviour. From the next morning, the landowner not only permitted the building to go on but even took it upon himself to cover the expenses and to offer the monastery some more land as support. In a similarly miraculous manner, the rider-saint convinced many more lords to offer a part of their land, and pretty soon the Epanossifis monastery - named after a shepherd called Sifis who had his hut edhò epàno (up here) - became tremendously rich. When Robert Pashley visited the place in 1834 he was treated like royalty, and he had the most unforgettable stay and the most sumptuous meal of his life. So did all the other travellers of the time who crossed the threshold of the monastery. Today there is no more fuss made over visitors, but if you happen to come here on April 23 or November 3, the days that the monastery celebrates in honour of its patron saint, you will be certainly impressed with the festivities. As for your own secret desires, kneel piously in front of the saint’s icon and tell him all about them. Being a rider himself, he will probably like you and grant you your wishes.

From the Epanossifis Monastery to Mt. Dikti
As mentioned, between the Epanossifis monastery and the first villages at the foot of Mt. Dikti there is nothing much to see. But the road is good, so you can at least travel the distance to the southwest end of the mountain without much delay. Though the route is rather indifferent, Mt. Dikti will reward you for the trip.
After you have visited the monastery, continue eastward, following the Gr/E sign that says “Iraklio.” When you get on the Iraklio - Pirgos road turn right (south), and after about 3 km turn left (east) on the dirtroad (D1) that goes to Amourgeles. After Amourgeles, the road, once again asphalt-paved, continues through Panorama, a village that offers a truly panoramic view of the valley below it, and then it meets the main road leading to Arkalochori. Contrary to what one might expect, this road is narrow and dangerously slippery and it has no signs and no marked traffic lanes.
Arkalochori (-chori meaning “village”) could well be called Arkalopolis (the Arkalon town) because it has indeed become a town. It is possible that you may get lost here. Do not continue straight through the village, because you will end up on the road to Partira, but turn left at the main square in order to get on the road to Viannos. (Unfortunately, there is no sign at the intersection). A few kilometres later you may again get confused when you reach a point where four different roads radiate in four different directions. (But the one you want passes from Nipiditos and has a Gr/E sign that sends you to Viannos).

Three shepherds at the Omalos plateau

After passing Panagia, follow the Gr/E sign that sends you to Embaros and turn left (east). The road will take you to Embaros, Xeniakos and Katofigi, three very beautiful hamlets that depend on the land and are totally unaffected by tourism. (Incidentally, the same holds true for Miliarades, which is close but not on your way). These hamlets are not on the classic tourist routes, so they are still authentic. Maps often do not include them, much like they don’t include some truly great routes that you’ll find on the ROAD maps. Among them, the amazing mountain route that will take you to the secluded Omalos plateau.


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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