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Heraklion - Rethymnon

 

18. Heraklion - Rethymnon (travelling inland ) (see Map1 - Map2)

18.1 By the old national road 18.2 Througg Anogia 18.3 Through the wild mountains

By the old national road

Between Iraklio (Heraklion) and Rethimno (Rethymnon) there are hundreds of villages, small or large, perched on the north side of Mt. Psiloritis and connected with a rich network of roads (both asphalt and dirt). They offer many interesting opportunities to explore the area, and if you are not in a hurry you can treat yourself to some leisurely trips.

Map, Heraklion to Rethymnon

A classic and popular choice is the Old National Road connecting Iraklio and Rethimno (Route 18.1, A3/70 km). If you’d like to see more mountains, you might want to take the route that goes through Tilissos and Anogia (18.2, A3/85 km). Finally, for those that love dirtroads there is a third route (D2 - D3) which starts from Kroussonas and goes through the Nida plateau in the heart of Psiloritis. Just take your pick!

After the construction of the New National Road connecting Iraklio and Rethimno one would expect that the old road would be left to its fate. Oddly, though, it was just the opposite; the State, to its credit, paved it with high-quality asphalt and keeps it in good condition, repairing it at regular intervals. The road is narrow and full of sharp turns and steep inclinations, which discourages most drivers of cars and tour buses from using it. For motorcyclists, however, it is a real pleasure, especially if your bike has a good grip on the asphalt. Of course, you cannot travel as fast as you would on the New National Road, but the route will reward you with many more sights and more interesting scenery.

Leave Iraklio from the Hania gate (west), pass Gazi, and go under the New National Road, following the Gr/E signs to “Rethimno, Old Road.” You’ll find yourself going uphill on a pleasant ride (A3) on the side of Mount Stroumboulas (800m). At a certain hairpin of the road you’ll see on your right-hand side the Voulismèno Alòni (“sunk in threshing floor”), a crater with a one-hundred-metre diameter that was apparently formed by a meteorite crash or the collapse of a cave roof. Incidentally, the late Manos Hatzidakis, famous Greek composer, had proposed that the place be turned into an open-air theatre.
About 1 km later you’ll see on your left-hand side a dirtroad (D3) without any sign, which climbs toward the peak of Mount Stroumboulas.

Stroumboulas plateau

If you follow it you’ll soon be at the idyllic Stroumboulas plateau, at an altitude of 500 metres, where you can pitch camp and enjoy the absolute stillness of the place. If you cross the plateau you will get back on the main road at Marathos or Damasta. However, you can also get back from the same road.
Approximately 1.5 km after Marathos you’ll find a dirtroad (D1) which leads to Fodele in the north (see page 399). If you keep straight you’ll travel through some beautiful mountain land and after a while you’ll go down to the Milopotamos valley which is covered with fruit-bearing trees and vineyards. When you get to Perama, the largest village in the valley, you’ll see a road that leads to the historical Melidoni cave in the north. This cave has beautiful stalactites that have remained almost intact, and it is easy to explore, even if you are a beginner, provided you have a couple of good flashlights and shoes that aren’t slippery.

After Perama the road goes through the cultivated valley, taking you to Stavromenos where it meets the coastal road that leads to Rethimno. About 2 km west of Perama there is another road that goes to Margarites (a village known for its pottery), ancient Eleftherna and the monastery of Arkadi. This, however, is quite a big detour, and it is described in more detail in Route 18.2. If you are interested in archaeological sites and picturesque villages, you better take this route from the start.

The Minoan settlement of Tilissos
Some time around the turn of the century a farmer was digging his vineyard. Suddenly he struck something metal. Digging around the thing, he unearthed a huge bronze pot that weighed 50 kilos! Of course, such a large object could not have gone unnoticed. The news spread to the entire village and pretty soon the Department of Archaeology also got word of it. The archaeologists took over where the farmer left off, and, under the direction of Iossif Hatzidakis, they brought to light two more pots, large jars with colouring substances (red, yellow, blue, black etc), a bronze talent (ancient coin), and some clay tablets inscribed in Linear A. Here, then, was the treasury (1, 2, 3) of a Minoan home, the storeroom where everything precious was kept. The rest of the excavation revealed a building of impressive architecture, a mansion that must have served as the home of the local lord.
The mansion dates from about 1700 BC, the same time when the second palaces of Faistos and Knossos were built, and it was destroyed at about 1450 BC, apparently by the same cause that destroyed the palaces of these important Minoan cities.

The Minoan settlement of Tilissos

Scattered all over the island, the mansions of this period reflect a change in the social and political structure of the Minoan society. It seems that after the destruction of the first palaces in 1700 BC, the kings started to co-operate more closely with local lords in order to make their power more secure. These lords had their mansions around the important palace towns and on the streets connecting these towns between them and with their seaports.
The lord of Tilissos lived in a comfortable - even luxurious - house, apparently with two (or three) storeys. We can walk on the same stones as he did and follow his progress from the main gate (4) to the paved inner courtyard (5) and the staircase (6) that led to his private quarters in the upper floor. (The first seven steps have survived to this day). Based on evidence found on the ground floor, we can picture these quarters with large windows and beautiful wall frescos.
As we go around the place we can visit the lord’s storage rooms (7, 8, 9) and touch the large jars he touched whenever he checked his provisions in oil, wine etc. We can sit at his living room, the so called Mègaro (10), which due to the hot climate did not have a fireplace in its centre, and then go down the steps to his lustral basin (11).
This mansion, labelled House A, was not the only one in the area. Just west of it, I. Hatzidakis discovered the foundations of a second mansion, House B, which was somewhat smaller but had an equally impressive architectural design, including of course the typical Megaro at the centre (12). A third mansion, House C, situated north of House A, gave us fragments of remarkable frescos with floral designs (13). At the north end of House C there is a cistern (14), which was used to collect the water that was transported there from a spring in Aghios Mamas (the same spring in fact on which the modern village relies!)
After the mansions were destroyed in 1450 BC, the place was inhabited by the Dorians, who arrived here and built their own, self-governed town. The town was named Tilissos, and in the following centuries it became so rich that it even minted its own coins. Unfortunately, we don’t know yet where the ruins of the ancient Tilissos are buried, because there are no funds to continue the excavations and the entire region is covered with vineyards. Maybe one of the reasons why the red wine they produce tastes so great is that their roots are wrapped around the hidden treasures of the past ...

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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