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Hania - Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)


4. HANIA - HORA SFAKION (see Map )

4.1 Hania to Vrisses (1) 4.2 Hania to Vrisses (2) 4.3 Vamos Peninsula 4.4 Hora Sfakion

In contrast to the “tourist craze” prevailing on the entire coast west of Hania and the equally crazy situation in Georgioupoli, which is fast spreading to the Almiros bay area too, the Vamos peninsula will delight you with its peaceful beauty and unique landscapes.

Map  Hania Hora Sfakion

The lack of beaches to swim and the new national road which cuts the peninsula off from the rest of the island are the two main barriers that have kept the hordes of tourists away and have made it possible to save the region from tourist development. As a result, the traditional ways of the Cretan farming community have remained intact.

On this low rocky peninsula, some twenty small villages are nested, truly charming with their stone-built houses and narrow cobbled streets, and full of the wonderful smell of home-cooked food and the sound of playing children. Yet many houses have been abandoned and neglected by their “modern” owners who preferred the profitable tourist beaches to the exhausting farm labour and the isolation of the village. Fortunately, many of these houses have been bought - often at bargain prices - by foreigners who seem to appreciate them more, and instead of lying in ruins they have been carefully and lovingly restored.

To enter this beautiful area, exit the National Road twelve kilometres outside Hania and turn left at the junction leading to Kalami and Kalives. If, however, you decided to visit ancient Aptera first (a wise choice!) you can continue south of Megala Chorafia to Neo Chorio (the name means New Village, but the village was actually visited by Pashley in 1834) and from there you can head east towards Armeni on a road lined with huge eucalyptus trees. You will at some point encounter the National Road and cross under it. When you arrive at Kalives you’ll see that all roads crossing the peninsula begin here.

Kalives (the word is Greek for “huts”) is exactly the opposite of what the name suggests. It’s a large noisy village with a lot of traffic, much like Kalami which lies three kilometres to the west. These two places are the only ones that have been infected by “tourist fever,” mainly because they are situated to the right and left of a long beach, which happens to be the only good place to swim in the peninsula.

Somewhere along this beach, or perhaps a little closer to Almirida in the east, stood the ancient town of Ippokoronion, one of ancient Aptera’s two harbours. This is also where the Arab conquerors of Crete landed their troops in 826 AD, a “performance” repeated some thousand years later by the Egyptians, Turkey’s allies. During the latter attack, the local people fought back with iron determination and the beach was filled with dark corpses. Today the beach is filled with dark bodies every summer, which the locals also “attack” with iron determination.

Though less crowded, Almirida has also its share of tourists, concentrated around a small beach which is surrounded by many country houses, taverns and Rooms to Let.

Almirida, floor mosaic of Basilica

At the entrance of the village, you will immediately see to your left the remains of an old Christian basilica with lovely floor mosaics.

From here on starts an interesting route (A4), which will take you through the charming villages of Plaka and Kokkino Chorio and all the way to cape Drepano, the tip of which is inaccessible due to the presence of an army camp. Continue to the south towards the attractive Drapanos, Palialoni and Kefalas, and make a stop at the Likotinara village square to enjoy an impressive panoramic view of the Almiros bay and Rethimno. Then take the road to Selia and Amigdali and continue until Vrisses. From here you can head for Sphakia.

Vrisses is the starting point of an impressive route (A3) through the eastern side of the White Mountains, which goes through the Sphakia mountain area and ends at the southern coast of Crete and the Libyan sea. This route is popular and very scenic, and the road is asphalt-paved and quite decent, but one needs to be careful of the many sharp U-turns and the heavy traffic.

Approximately four kilometres south of Vrisses you will spot a road (A3) heading east (toward Alikambos). It’s worth making a detour and following this road. At Alikambos you will see a dirtroad (D3), also heading east. This stops suddenly after a while, but it is worth taking if only to enjoy a magnificent view of Lake Kourna and of the entire bay of Almiros with its sandy beaches. On your way back you will also enjoy a great view of the eastern side of the White Mountains.

Halfway the distance to Chora Sfakion, and about seven hundred metres above sea level, lies the Askifos plateau with four small villages surrounding it. Of these, Ammoudari is the most “advanced,” having a gas and tyre station as well as a few restaurants and Rooms to Let. Since very few people wish to spend the night here, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a room. Your best choice, however, is the rooms of “barba” Ieronymos Gialedakis, located right above his tavern near the gas station (and note that there is also a shed for bikes!)

“But why stay at Ammoudaria” you may ask. Well, there are plenty of reasons. You can stay for the cool, refreshing nights and the star-studded sky. You can stay for the great walking routes:

Road Imbros to Sfakia

one to the west, leading to the Agriokephala peak and the Tavri refuge at a height of 1200 metres; one to the east, taking you to a fortress and peak Halara at about 1100 metres; one to the north, crossing the impressive Katre gorge; and one to the south, leading to Asphendou, and from there to Frangokastelo through the Asphendiano gorge. Finally, you can choose to stay for the great sfakianès pìtes (Sphakia pies) and the mountain tea with piperòriza (ginger root) that “barba” Ieronymos makes, or, above all, for the wonderful stories that he and the other old men share over a bottle of rakì.

The most impressive part of the journey is from Ammoudari to Chora Sfakion. The road, carved on the western side of the impressive Imbrian gorge, is narrow and full of bends and U-turns. It goes through a rough and barren landscape with steep grey rocks and high cedar trees and offers you an amazing view of the gorge below and the Libyan sea to the south. Although it could be characterised as dangerous, keep in mind that it was made in the middle of our century for travel by mule and not for vehicles, and treat it as a sight in itself... As for the old stone parapets, they are ideal for a short break from the journey or for a quick picnic! So drive slowly, enjoy the view, but beware of other vehicles too.

About two kilometres before you enter Chora Sfakion you will see a road (A3) to your left and a GR/E sign at the crossroads pointing you to Frangokastelo. This is where you turn if you wish to go to Frangokastelo and Plakia (see Route 12). Close to this crossroads you will find one of the few decent places to stay in the entire region of Frangokastelo and Chora Sfakion, the recently built Vritomartis Hotel and Bungalows (tel. 0825 - 091 222). Although it is far from the coast, it has a large swimming pool and tastefully decorated areas
.

“It was Crete’s fate
to challenge Death
and to wear on its head
the black veil...”

Cretan mantili

Old Ieronymos was born in 1913, the year that Crete regained its freedom after seven hundred years of Venetian and Turkish rule. The smell of gunpowder, the gunshots and the black colour of mourning have been part of his existence as far back as he can remember.
“Crete wears the black veil for mourning and sorrow. Crete has always been oppressed. There were Venetians, Turks, the Nazis...”
He did not just experience war and occupation through the stories of his father and grandfather but lived through them himself. In the second world war he found himself fighting against fascist Italy on the Albanian front.
“The hunger and the cold, that’s what beat us. For eighty days we were on the 1600 hill to the right of Klissoura. And then that bastard officer commanded my company to take position five kilometres further tothe north, more snow fell, and they lost our tracks. For four days we were stuck there, they didn’t give us anything,

Cretan soldier

they didn’t even know where we were! The fourth day they found us and they gave us some sea biscuits. You opened the pack and the biscuit would be full of insects. So we wiped the insects off and ate them. They dated from 1920! But what could we do? This was all we had, this is what we ate.

We dug a trench, threw two pieces of canvas on top to stop the snow storm hitting us, and inside we laid a few Italian blankets ’cause we had none of our own... So I tried to go to sleep and there was something bumpy under the blanket. I lift the blanket and what do I see: the knee of a poor Italian soldier that was buried in the snow! There must have been more than a thousand dead bodies lying on that hill under the snow, Italians and Greeks alike...

I left the battlefields suffering from frostbite... yes, me, a shepherd and a hunter who’s used to the cold. There were 160 of us in our company, but only 27 survived...

And today young people serve in the army, they have a better time than at home and they want to commit suicide ! They are all a bunch of sissies, that's what they are !


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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