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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 the wild Mountains

If you like mountain dirtroads, Route 18.3 is the best way to get from Iraklio (Heraklion) to Rethimno (Rethymnon). It combines the best part of asphalt route 18.2 (Anogia - Arkadi monastery) with impressive rides on dirtroads at the beginning of the route (Kroussonas - Anogia) and at the end of it (Arkadi monastery - Rethimno). Incidentally, these rides can make excellent daytrips from Iraklio or Rethimno respectively.

Map, Heraklion to Rethymnon

Start as in Route 18.2, but right after the New National Road bridge turn left (south) following the Gr/E signs to Kroussonas. Keep following those signs at all the intersections you’ll encounter as you travel through the fields. When you get to the village - or rather town(!) - of Kroussonas, pass through it, heading for its east exit where the road forks. Here you’ll see a Gr/E sign that says “Ideon Andron” and “Holy Monastery of Aghia Irini” and sends you to the right. Take the right road, then, and reset your counter.

Three kilometres past Kroussonas, after the indifferent monastery of Aghia Irini, the asphalt road ends before the gate of some institution for children. Here you’ll see a dirtroad (D3), which goes left and climbs the mountain. One kilometre later (and after you’ve passed two more crossroads as shown in the Road Book), you’ll find an intersection where you must make a choice. The road to the right climbs on the north side of Mt. Gournos (1295 metres) and offers a great view of the ravine below and the town of Iraklio in the north (at the end of the horizon). The road to the left goes inside the ravine and along the foot of Mt. Gournos (the south side of it), eventually taking you to a second intersection 3 km later, where you’ll see a nice stone fountain. Here you have again two options.

The road to the left offers a truly charming ride through the natural passes of a rocky and wooded area. You will follow it for about 3.5 km, pass a couple of sheepfolds, and stop in front of a permanently locked fence gate, which marks the beginning of some community pastureland. Of course, you can bypass it from the right and keep going, but there is no reason to do so because the road stops anyway about 700 metres later, right in front of a shepherd’s hut.

The gorge to the north of the Pelopidas river,  on the Arkadi - Rethymnon route

On the other hand, the place where you run into the fence gate is indeed beautiful. Right next to the street, you’ll find a wonderful nook for camping, in fact one of the best in Crete. In the heart of a quiet and secluded gully, with Mt. Schinakas (1750m) towering above it and plenty of trees shading it, is a nice area with a carpet of soft grass. The Forest Authorities have landscaped this area, adding some low, tasteful stone walls and a “barbecue corner.” Wood is plentiful all around, water can be found at the fountain we mentioned earlier, and milk and cheese can be provided by the local shepherds.

Your second option at the intersection with the fountain is to go right. The road climbs the ravine that’s at the foot of Mt. Gournos - at the southwest side of it, to be precise - and eventually meets a second road that comes from the north side of the mountain. The point where the two roads meet is at a cultivated plateau where you’ll see two or three farmhouses and a few chapels. Then the road (always D3) continues in a westerly direction, passing through some mountain pasturelands with an occasional mitàto (traditional shepherd hut made of stone). It finally meets the Anogia - Nida road (an asphalt road) at a point marked by a shepherd hut and a nice stone chapel dedicated to Aghia Marina.

Here you have three options. No 1: You decide you have plenty of time to spend in the area, so you turn left and go to the impressive Nida plateau. You pitch camp, visit the Ideon Andron, and, why not, attempt to climb to the top of Psiloritis, 2456 metres above sea level. You are an experienced off-road driver with a light bike and an appetite for wild mountain rides, so you turn right, only to kiss the asphalt good bye after 200 metres and take the dirtroad that you’ll see to your left. (You’ve certainly had enough of the asphalt!)

The Kroussonas - Anogia route,  taking you through the ravine

The dirtroad will lead you to the beautiful forest of Lake Roussa, and from there on you’ll try to find the road that takes you just out of Zoniana. (No, you cannot see it in the Road Book, because what good are the mountains without some adventure?) No 3: It is getting dark and you are starving to death, so you turn right and follow the asphalt road all the way to Anogia, where you go straight to the tavern Aetos.

From Anogia to the Arkadi monastery, Routes 18.3 and 18.2 are exactly the same, so follow the directions on pages 409-420. At the Arkadi monastery you’ll see a road (A3) that goes north, passes through Amnatos, and takes you to Rethimno. This is the main artery connecting Rethimno with the Arkadi monastery, and it is always full of buses and rented jeeps. You, however, do not like... consorting with buses, so you’ll smartly avoid this road and turn left on the nice dirtroad (D3) that goes south (left) of the monastery. This scarcely used dirtroad, which at some point turns into a narrow asphalt strip, crosses a scarcely visited but very beautiful area covered with shrubs, and takes you to a couple of scarcely known but very picturesque villages, Kavoussi and Charkia.

About 50 metres before the south entrance of Charkia, turn left on the dirtroad (D3) that goes up the mountain. After 1000 metres you’ll see an intersection where you turn right. (The left road stops in the middle of the fields). The road follows the south side of Mt. Gargani (650 metres) and offers a spectacular view of the fertile Pelopidas valley. About 2800 metres later, you’ll see a second intersection. The left road goes down the mountain and over the river and meets the main artery connecting Rethimno and Amari (A3). The right one heads north and offers a very nice view of the valley from an approximate height of 500 metres. After 5 km or so it turns into a narrow, cement-paved road that goes downhill. This takes you to Platanias, which is practically the east suburb of Rethimno.

Ancient Eleftherna
Like an excellent sculptor, working patiently over a period of several millenniums, Nature has carved two deep ditches on the left and right side of a large rock of limestone. Her work was done with the use of two streams and the outcome was indeed spectacular Highlighted between the two ditches, the rock projects against the sky like a huge Stone Boat. Its shape is oblong (with a length of 800 metres and a width of 200) and it has two pointed edges that are only 4 metres wide. No doubt, it must have seemed like a boat to the Dorian settlers who arrived here in their own ships some day in the early 10th century BC. These people left their boats at the north shore of Crete and walked through the valley until they came to this hill. Their decision to build a town here proved very wise, since the Stone Boat gave them a safe voyage through the centuries. At least it was safe until the 8th century AD, when the boat was sunk by the most blood-thirsty pirates ever to show their face in the Mediterranean, the Saracens.
The first people to inhabit the area, however, were not the Dorians. Much earlier than the Dorian settlement, in the Early Minoan period, it was inhabited by some people who built their huts here (but left nothing behind except for a few vase fragments). When the Dorians came along they built their own town, which they named Eleftherna. The name seems to reflect their great love for Freedom (Eleftherìa), which they tried to safeguard with a strong wall made with large blocks of stone cut for this purpose. Thus they fortified their hill - which could not easily be taken in the first place - and made it almost immune to enemy attacks.

Ancient Eleftherna

At the south endof the hill, the only access to the fortified acropolis, they built a tall tower that has survived to this day, though its original form was altered during the Roman and Byzantine rule. The Dorians built their houses on the west and east side of the hill and in the valley with the two rivers that lies at its foot. At the time of its glory (that is, throughout Antiquity), the town was spread as far as the opposite hill, where the modern Eleftherna is built.
Most visitors simply walk around the level top of the hill. However, with the exception of the (admittedly) impressive tower and the passageway that’s carved into the rock and leads to the acropolis entrance, there are very few things left to see here. To visit the most interesting ruins of the ancient town, take the narrow path that starts behind the chapel of Aghia Irini (at the west side of the acropolis), and walk toward the valley. The first thing you’ll see is a couple of large and very impressive cisterns, which used to hold the water brought by a large aqueduct. Further down and close to the river bed, underneath the highest part of the acropolis, Professor Nikos Stamboulides discovered an archaic cemetery. The evidence found here suggests that the townsfolk burned their dead, together with their personal items (jewellery, weapons etc) and the votive objects that accompanied them to the tomb. On certain special occasions, the burial ritual may have included human sacrifices, as suggested by a knife with a thirty-centimetre-long blade that was found in an unusual position, next to the neck of a dead person. After the archaic cemetery the footpath continues northward. About 500 metres later you’ll see a big stone bridge with a triangular arch, which dates from the hellenistic period and reminds of similar Mycenaean structures.
These scattered - but significant - ruins of the ancient town are the most certain signs that, underneath the vineyards and olive groves of the fertile valley around the Stone Boat, there are many treasures to be found. Somewhere around here lie the foundations of the house of the famous Diogenes the Physicist, the ancient scientist whose views on Nature and cosmogony were so ahead of his time that they caused him to be exiled from his hometown. Somewhere around here lie the ruins of the ancient Agora, where the famous sculptor Timochares had his workshop. And it was in this same Agora that a nice yang man named Ametor recited his love poems and played his guitar. Only twenty centmetres of soil cover the twenty centuries of glory of one of the most important Dorian towns in Crete...

 

The Arkadi Monastery
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. This monastery is the most sacred symbol of the Cretan fight for independence. On November 9, 1866, a Turkish army force of 15,000 men, led by Suleiman Bey and having 30 cannons, besieged the monastery. Inside it were 350 armed rebels along with their wives and kids, a rough total of 1000 people.

The Arkadi Monastery

The battle that followed was entirely uneven and the rebels were doomed from the start. Still, they put up a fierce resistance against the Turks, who suffered heavy casualties. When the cannons knocked down the gate and the Turks rushed into the monastery, the rebels, along with their wives and kids, shut themselves inside the powder magazine. Hundreds of Turks gathered outside, never expecting what would happen next. When the courtyard was filled with Turks, one of the rebels set the powder barrels on fire, and the building went up in flames, sending some 1500 Turks to the Muslim paradise. Many of the street names you’ll see in the Cretan towns and villages, especially on the main roads, belong to the protagonists of that tragic event. Among them were Hatzimichalis Giannaris, Gabriel the Abbot (Ighoùmenos Ghavriìl), Giamboudakis, Yannis Demakopoulos and Giorgos Daskalakis.
After the liberation of the island, the monastery was rebuilt according to its original design, so what you see today must not differ much from the way it was then. In the small museum of the monastery you can see some wonderful icons and precious relics from the time of the holocaust. The architecture of the place, which reminds one of a fortress, the excellent maintenance of the buildings, and of course the History behind these walls are the primary reasons why the Arkadi monastery is at the top of all the travel offices’ list. This is also the only drawback in visiting it; no matter what time you come, the monastery will be full of visitors ...

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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