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Heraklion - Rethymnon

 

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

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

Through Anogia

Start in the same way as Route 18.1, but about 4 km after the New National Road bridge turn left following the signs toward Tilissos and Anogia. After a trip through a fertile valley planted with vineyards and olive trees, you’ll enter Tilissos, a village with a name that goes back 3500 years. To visit the ancient settlement that once stood here, follow the Gr/E signs that you’ll see at the entrance of the village.
As you continue your trip to the west and leave Tilissos behind, you’ll find yourself on a winding road that climbs the north side of Mt. Psiloritis.

Map, Heraklion to Rethymnon

After going through the picturesque Gonies, a hamlet with a beautiful old neighbourhood, you will arrive at Anogia, a large, humming mountain village spread between two hills. Most visitors pass through this place on their way to Rethimno (Rethymnon) and Ideon Andron, and they see nothing more in it than a village with rather ugly houses and a lot of tourist shops. But Anogia is a place with history and character, with warm people and an excellent cuisine. It is indeed worth it to spend a night here, so you can have a chance to enjoy all this.

But it is also worth it to spend a night at the Nida plateau, 1400 metres above sea level, at the heart of Psiloritis. It is one of the largest and most secluded plateaus on the island and certainly the most beautiful. If you come around the beginning of spring you’ll see it in all its glory, covered with wild flowers in full bloom! You can set up your tent anywhere you like and spend a truly magical evening under the light of the Galaxies that seems to caress the snow-capped mountain peaks. To get here, drive to the east entrance of Anogia and turn on the road (A3) that goes south and climbs the mountain. (There is a Gr/E sign at the intersection that says “Ideon Andron 21”). The route itself offers a wonderful opportunity to travel on the mountains, and though it has many sharp turns the asphalt is quite good.

The next morning you can get up and visit the Ideon Andron, the cave where Zeus grew up according to mythology, or, even better, try to get to the Holy Cross on the top of Psiloritis. (This is at a height of 2456 metres, and you should count on eight hours to get there and walk back). Several dirtroads start from the plateau. One of them (D3) goes south, climbing down the mountain, but stops suddenly - and probably with no prospect to continue - just 1 km away from the road that starts from Vorizia, a village at the foot of Psiloritis’ southern side. A second dirtroad (D3) goes northwest, leading to a ski resort, and at some point splits in two.

Anogia

A branch of it (D4) goes north, taking you through wooded mountain slopes and pasturelands, and meets the asphalt road a few kilometres east of Zoniana. However, it is not certain that you will find it in good condition, because it is used very little (having practically become a sheep path!), it is rarely repaired, and it can easily become impassable if there is a heavy downpour. It might be best, then, to return to Anogia the same way you came.

On your way back, you will see a dirtroad (D3) on your right-hand side, which starts about 1 km after the plateau and climbs Mt. Schinakas (1750 metres). A second road branches off to the right and takes you through the wonderful Rouva forest with its big holm-oaks, which seem to have been a permanent feature of the landscape since the ancient times. Unfortunately, the road stops here; had it continued for another two kilometres it would have met the road that starts from Gergeri and climbs to the south side of the forest. In general, you should know that there is no road starting from the plateau that can take you to the villages at the foot of the south side of the mountain.

If you spent the night in your tent and the next day you climbed to the top of Psiloritis, you should treat yourself to a well deserved rest. In Anogia you will find many Rooms to Let, which, though far from being luxurious, will give you that “homey” feeling for a very low price. (This is especially true of the rooms in the lower neighbourhoods with the narrow alleys).

Nida plateau

The village is about 700 metres below the Nida plateau, but keep in mind that the nights are just as cool and you will need a blanket even in the heart of summer. If you’ve spent several days at the beach and have had enough of the heat, you may wish to stay here for a few more nights and enjoy the mountain temperatures.

What you’re certain to enjoy more, though, is the villagers themselves. The Anogians form a closed mountain community with a traditional economy based on stockbreeding. Social structures have remained the same as in the past, and the people have their own distinct dialect and culture. They speak in their own curious way, with l’s sounding more liker’s, they use plenty of ancient Greek words, and they even swear in the name of Zeus!

Giannis Markopoulos & Nikos Xylouris

They receive their visitors with the same hospitality that Homer describes in his epics, they sing and dance and play music, and they have big parties that create a feeling of elation, second only to the celebrations of their ancient forefathers. The greatest Cretan singer, perhaps the greatest Greek singer, Nikos Xylouris, was born in this village. As for the local cuisine, it will offer you a unique glimpse of a world of Primeval Delight.

To get a good taste of it, go to the tavern of Manolis Pasparakis on the main road. It is called "The Eagle", and it is the first tavern you will see on your left-hand side as you enter the village from the east. The small wooden sign of the tavern is not so easy to spot, but the Greek “barbecue” out on the pavement will tell you that you’re at the right place. The way Manolis cooks the meat must not be very different from the way it was prepared by the cave dwellers of the past. He cuts (or tears!) the meat in large chunks, spits it, secures the spits around the three sides of the barbecue, and allows it to cook slowly over the fire that he lights in the centre with dry holly wood. (Incidentally, the meat is of his own production). Even the poor chicken taste like wild pheasants, while the steaks are a true delight and the lamb chops will be a memorable experience. As for the sausages (also of Manolis’s own production), you will need many glasses of strong red wine to recover from their “explosive” taste and aroma. Along with the meat, you will be served crunchy French fries, cucumber-and-olive salad with aromatic olive oil, and apaki, smoked ham kept in brine and vinegar and served slightly fried. Admittedly, during the high season a big part of the magic is lost, because Manolis has to cope with too many hungry tourists demanding service at the same time. But if you happen to come off-season you will have an experience to remember all your life.

If you are interested in caves, Psiloritis is a true paradise. Besides the well known tourist sights - Ideon Andron and the Kamares cave there are hundreds of other small or large caves and chasms on the limestone body of Psiloritis. For detailed speleological info, look up Lykourgos Vrentzos in Anogia. The son of a shepherd and a member of the Speleological Society of Iraklio, Lykourgos knows the caves in the area like the back of his hand.

The road (A3) after Anogia goes down the bare mountainside. As you continue your trip and head west, you will find a second road to your right after a few kilometres, which leads to the village of Axos. (There is a Gr/E sign at the intersection directing you there). Axos is visited by all tourist groups that come here in buses or rented jeeps, so you can expect a good many restaurants and tourist shops with “folk art” that spoil the picture. If, however, you happen to come in the off-season, you will get to enjoy a picturesque hamlet with many Byzantine churches that go back to the 13th or 14th century. At the south entrance of the village, right behind the Byzantine church of Aghia Irini, you will see a footpath. If you follow it for 400 metres or so (5 - 6 minutes of walking), it will take you to the scarce ruins of the ancient town of Axos.

Axos was founded by the native Cretans, the Eteocretans, who fled to the mountains under the pressure of the Dorian invasion that took place around 1100 BC. The Italian archaeologists who excavated the area in 1899 found a wonderful bronze helmet (now at the Archaeological Museum of Iraklio) and the foundations of an archaic temple that was probably dedicated to Athena, the war goddess with the helmet. With such relentless pressure they had to face, the poor Eteocretans may have even slept with their helmets on!

If you took the road to Axos, get back on the main road and continue west (toward Zoniana). A little before the entrance of the village you’ll see a Gr/E sign to your right, which sends you to “Cave Sendoni Zoniana.” Some local authority thought of doing something to increase the tourist flow to this truly impressive cave, but something went wrong. Though there was a lot (an awful lot...) of money spent to smarten up the area outside the cave and build a nice kiosk, everything has been left to its fate and is now falling apart. What’s worse, this is not due to any understandable reasons but to red tape and miscommunication. Apparently, the community felt that it had to get a certain price from whoever rented and operated the new facilities, but no one offered to pay such a price. As a result, the community decided to close them down and let them fall apart, thus making it evident for one more time that the Greek Authorities are totally incapable of managing effectively the country’s “capital” (be it its natural beauty, or the archaeological treasures that have come to light, or any other asset).

The Sendoni Cave served as a hide-out for the Greek fighters during the years of the Turkish rule, but luckily only the entrance area was used. In the largest part of the cave the stalactites have survived intact, offering a truly wondrous spectacle. The cave is one of the most beautiful on the island (at least among those that have been explored), but if you want to see it you must be very careful because it has several galleries and many slippery passes.

After Zoniana the road (A3) passes through some fifteen villages (practically one every one thousand metres). Some are large and ugly (like Livadia), some are large but attractive (like Kalivos and Aghios Ioannis), some are small and picturesque (like Kalamos and Passalites), and some are almost abandoned (like Kalandare). If you drive slow and make a few short stops on the way to visit some old churches and pottery workshops, you will see everything there is to see in the area.

Arkadi Monastery

The next long stop is at the village of Ancient Eleftherna, where you can see the ruins of the ancient town after which the village was named. As you enter it you’ll see a small square with a fountain and a road that starts there and goes to the right. (There is a Gr/E sign at the intersection that says “Antiquities”). After 200 metres or so the road stops before a tavern. On the right side of the tavern there is a footpath with a rusty old sign directing you to “Ancient Eleftherna.” Take it and in three or four minutes you’ll be walking among the ruins of the ancient town.
As you continue west of Ancient Eleftherna, you pass the ugly modern village and then turn left at the intersection with the signs directing you to the Arkadi Monastery. After the monastery you’ll see a road (A3) on your right-hand side, which goes north, passes through some small villages - Amnatos, Kirianna, Loutra, Adele - and takes you to Rethimno, which you enter from the east. If you’d rather not follow this course, there is an alternative route to Rethimno that goes over the mountain, but this is part of route 18.3.


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

Chania (3) Continue on Akti Kountourioti, along the shoreline, where you will reach Eleftheriou Venizelou square, known as Syntrivaniou Square during the ottoman occupation (syntrivani meaning fountain). Today the fountain is on display at the court of the Archaeological Museum of Chania. From Eleftheriou Venizelou Sq. go on to Akti Tompazi where you will see Kioutsouk Hasan Mosque (Yali Tzami) an excellent specimen of islamic architecture, which was built in honour of the first ottoman commander of Chania. This is the oldest muslim building on Crete which is now renovated and used as an exhibition area. Walk further on and you will view the Byzantine walls on Kasteli hill beyond the tavernas and cafes. This is the location of Kydonia, a Minoan town, where the first human settlements appeared as early as the Neolithic age.

 

 

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