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Ierapetra - Zakros

 

15. IERAPETRA - ZAKROS (coastal road) (see Map )

15.1 Iearapetra Zakros 15.2 Palace of Zakros

From the centre of Ierapetra take the road to Sitia and after passing the hospital at the northern exit of the town you will reach a fork (no road signs posted) where you turn right (east). The road continues along the coast, which for the first two kilometres from Ierapetra is pebbly and with enough trees to offer shade. The beach is wide and clean, but not the best choice for a swim, as the busy road running alongside it causes a lot of noise.

Map, Ierapetra to Zakros

Even more disturbing is the ugly landscape beyond the coast that has suffered horrible defacement from the agricultural over-exploitation and the vulgar and haphazard tourist development. The ugly scenery continues for many kilometres to the east until the village of Analipsi. Hence it is better to ride through without stopping.

In the village of Makrigialos you will see a sign that says “Minoan Villa”. If you wish to get a good idea of the meaning of utter negligence on the part of the local authorities, the neighbours and, certainly, of the Ministry of Culture, turn left (north) at this point and visit this archaeological site. We are not dealing here with a medieval chicken coop or a broken Roman column, we are dealing instead with a wonderful Minoan villa of 1600 BC, miniature of the Knossos Palace, the residence of the local lord. The elementary steps that the local authorities or the Ministry of Culture should have taken, is to pave the 300 metres of road to the site and spend a pittance per year to keep it clean.

Carrying on eastward from Makrigialos you pass the likewise miserable village of Analipsi, immediately after which you turn right onto the coastal road (there is a Greek/English sign at the junction that reads: Kapsa Monastery, Goudouras, Kalo Nero). From here onward the landscape is rocky, desolate and increasingly interesting. Up to the village of Kalo Nero the road is very good (A2), but also the dirt roads traversing the landscape beyond this point until Zakros are generally very good (D1, D2).

Makrigialos

Eastward from Kalo Nero the road runs very close to the rocky coast. On your left (north) you have a nice view of the precipitous craggy hills with their countless large and small caves. Shortly past Kalo Nero you will unexpectedly encounter the Kapsa Monastery, perched on the cliff at the mouth of the narrow and impressive Perivolakia Gorge. Below the monastery there is a small sandy beach with coarse pebbles and shady trees, a very good spot for rough camping.

Following the Kapsa Monastery the road is asphalted (A3) until Goudouras village, which is a small community within a plastic sea of greenhouses covering the entire plain behind the coast. In front of Goudouras there is a large beach with coarse pebbles, totally unsuitable for a swim. A road begins at this beach (an English sign at the crossroads reads: Aghia Triada, Apidia, Ziros) and initially winds through the greenhouses, to turn later into dirt (D2) in an easterly direction. About 2.3 kilometres from Goudouras beach you will run into a junction without signs. Continuing straight leads to the village of Aghia Triada, while turning right also leads to Aghia Triada but via a much more interesting coastal route through a deserted landscape. Now then, here turn right and at the next crossroads, some 300 metres ahead, turn left (the right branch stops at a storehouse). One kilometre after this junction there is a second junction where you turn left again (right will lead you over a very bad road to a spot of no special interest on the coast, called Atherinolakos).

Xerokambos

At the next (third) junction turn left again and, following a few kilometres of enjoyable ride in a desolate landscape, you will run into the main dirt road just before Agia Triada village (formerly called Tsou!). Unfortunately, no coastal road exists from Atherinolakos to Xerokambos and therefore you are obliged to take this detour north. Carry on northward from Aghia Triada until you come to the main road (A3), a bit south of the village of Ziros. With the exception of the small church of Aghia Paraskevi, boasting beautiful frescoes dating from 1523, there isn’t much to see at Ziros, so head left (south) on the road that climbs to the Air Force installation.

At some point along this road you will see large signs warning that you are approaching a military zone and prohibiting further advance. Exactly at that point you will also see two unmarked roads (D1) branching off to the right. The southernmost of these roads (i.e. the one on the right as you face them) goes to Kalo Chorio. You follow the northern one (left) to Xerokambos. From this point onward to Xerokambos and from there to Zakros lies the most enjoyable part of Route 15. An excellent dirt road traverses an utterly desolate rocky landscape covered in bushes and wild flowers, unchanged for centuries. Equally unchanged through time is the small hamlet of Chametoulo, perhaps the most authentic village of Crete, which you will encounter at some point of this route. The short detour that leads to Chametoulo stops a short way out of the village, at the church next to the cemetery, and just after that start the houses, two score all in all, whitewashed and clean, clinging to each other, with narrow cobble alleys between them.

Zakros gorge

The poor villagers living here keep a few flocks and tend a few barren fields on a small stretch of flat ground that holds a little earth among the craggy hills. Visiting this village and riding the stretch from here to Xerokambos are reasons enough to try Route 15.

Past Chametoulo the road descends towards the coast offering a splendid view of the Libyan sea. The best time to enjoy it is late in the afternoon when the sun’s slanted rays create sharp shadows on the rocks and paint the sea in vivid blue hues. For many kilometres you will not come across either houses, fields or any trace of humans whatsoever.

When you reach the seaside settlement of Xerokambos you will be greeted by two of the most beautiful beaches in Crete, spacious, sandy, serene and spotlessly clean. Here you will find three very good tavernas and a few rooms to let. On Xerokambos’ west side beach there are (alone in the open) the brand new rooms to let owned by Constantinos Takakis (tel.: 0843-91206 and 31792), all with private kitchen and bathroom.

Kato Zakros

In the same complex there is a mini market with a maxi choice of goods where you can buy provisions and cook in your room. If you are seeking a quiet spot for quiet holidays you cannot find a better or cheaper place than Xerokambos.

Beyond Xerokambos the road (D3) continues northward to Zakros, crossing very impressive rocky scenery full of large and small gorges, perhaps the most virgin corner of Crete that keeps a lot of beauty concealed from all but those willing to walk and explore.

You will come across many secondary roads intersecting the main route and leading to incredible places! If you stay on the main dirt road you will end up eventually on the asphalt road connecting Ano Zakros to Kato Zakros, only a few metres from the last houses of Ano Zakros. Exactly at that junction you will see the foundations of a Minoan house, which came to light during the road construction works in 1965 and is the first example of the Minoan settlement that flourished in this isolated part of Crete.
Ano Zakros is the head village of the region. The inhabitants are mainly farmers, taking advantage of the plentiful waters available locally, while the limited tourist flow to the Minoan palace of Kato Zakros (that mandatorily passes through their village) has left them indifferent so far. Hence you are not going to witness here the misery of haphazard tourist development so prevalent east of Ierapetra.

The name of Zakros sounds pre-Hellenic and most likely it has remained unaltered since extreme antiquity. Although the area has been inhabited continually until the present, there is no reference of Zakros in the works of ancient historians, or in the censuses conducted by the Venetian and Turkish conquerors. It is mentioned for the first time in the census taken by the Egyptians in 1834. Such oblivion shows how isolated this area was, an area which still receives very few visitors.

From Ano Zakros a new road (A3) descends to Kato Zakros where the Minoan palace was discovered. Here is a wonderful pebbly beach dotted with several tavernas and rooms to let, open from May to October.

The spot is ideal for quiet holidays and as a base camp for hiking excursions to the surrounding hills, or for rides to the magnificently desolate Ziros Plateau west of Zakros, as well as for exploring the entire eastern end of Crete, a land still retaining plenty of its authentic beauty.

If you have hikers amongst your group, a good idea would be to let them off at Ano Zakros in order to walk to Kato Zakros through the impressive Zakros Gorge or “Gorge of the Dead”, named after the numerous Minoan burials discovered in the caves that line its vertical walls.

The footpath is passable and well marked; it starts at the southern end of the village and if you can’t find it just ask the natives. It is much easier to find the path if you set off from Kato Zakros.

The Kapsa Monastery
We do not know exactly when the monastery was founded (it is conjectured that someone called Kapsas built it in 1450), but we do know when it began to flourish. It was in the spring of 1841, when its owner, Hatzinikolis Zaphiris (who had bought it from the Turks together with all its land), granted it to a small-time crook, Yiannis Vincentzos or Gerontoyiannis, from the village of Lithines. Gerontoyiannis had been using the ruined monastery for some time as a hideout, as he had done with the inaccessible caves of the Perivolakia Gorge, and he lived off petty theft. One day, while sitting in the monastery garden, he thought of a wonderful way of becoming rich not by plunder but by means of voluntary contributions by his victims!

Kapsa monastery

So he spread it around, with the help of several of his trusted friends, that he had been visited by Divine Grace which had made him a saint capable of working miracles. He could make the sign of the cross over sea water and render it drinkable, sit on his overcoat and float over to the islands opposite, and of course, with God’s help, cure the faithful of all illnesses (if he failed, this was not his fault, but that of the believer whose faith was not as strong as it should have been and so God had refused to cure him). It was then that Zaphiris granted him the monastery and soon the (over-gullible) faithful were forming queues outside his cell for him to cure them, bringing with them, naturally, the richest gifts they could afford, as proof of their faith and a token of their gratitude to the good God and to his earthly representative.

The monastery very quickly became famous and acquired a clientele from all corners of Crete. With a small part of the wealth he had amassed, Gerontoyiannis renovated the monastery, built new cells and added a second chapel (which was dedicated to the glorious Holy Trinity) next to the original chapel (which was dedicated to the humble John the Baptist). He decorated both chapels with ornate wooden iconostases made by the Lasithian craftsman Hatzi Minas, and with beautiful icons, the work of the Irakliot iconographer Antonis Alexandridis. He appointed heir to this fraudulent racket his grandson, Iosif, who carried on the work faultlessly after his grandfather’s death in 1874. Indeed, he had an ornate reliquary made, where he placed the bones of Gerontoyiannis and on top, in a special case, he put his skull for the people to make pilgrimages to. As you can see for youeselves from the size of the skull. Gerontoyiannis really had a lot of brains !


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

Ios means “flower”. Did you know that?
Íos or Niós, as the locals call it, is one of the most beautiful islands of the Cyclades, like a flower, as its name “Ion” denotes. According to the ancient tradition, Íos was the homeland of Homer’s mother and the final resting place of the great epic poet. Upon reaching the island, the view before you is enchanting: as pretty as a picture, Hóra lies very close to the harbour in Ormos and greets the travellers, built in an amphitheatre-like manner on the slope of a hill, on the top of which there are ruins of a mediaeval castle. This is a listed traditional village, one of the finest examples of Cycladic architecture. Snow-white little houses, picturesque arcade-covered alleys (“stiyádia”), the twelve windmills, churches with arched belfries and light blue domes create a unique residential area. Hóra’s sheltered alleys is the “stage” where Koúnia, an ancient local custom is performed every May, as follows: young men make swings for young ladies who rock themselves while listening to traditional love songs being sung to them in the form of a dialogue.

 

 

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