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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

Only two kinds of mammals have been able to survive on the isolated mountain slopes: wild goats and the Sphakia people. The Arabs and the Turks - both members of the carnivorous feline family(!) - conquered the island, but they hardly ever set foot in these places.

Map  Hania Hora Sfakion

And though the people of Sfakia suffered occasional raids, they never faced true slavery. Isolated on these mountains with the dozens of gorges and the countless paths and caves, keeping their primitive customs and their strict tradition of marriage within the family, they have managed to a considerable extent to retain their physical characteristics. They are generally blond, tall, and well built, and they have light-coloured eyes. The elderly as well as many of the younger people continue to dress in the traditional way (with boots, breeches and a headband), and most of them carry guns!

They live on a steep and barren rock, and the land, for the most part, is not fit for cultivation. Yet these people not only managed to survive, but they even became wealthy. How? Piracy, of course! They were the most feared and unscrupulous raiders and they terrorised the entire southern coast of Crete. They made no distinction as to the nationality of their victims, although they did show a distinct preference for Turkish ships... And whenever they were out of ships to loot they simply lowered the pirate flag and practised the honest trade of sea transport instead.

Today, the Sfakia people continue to make money out of sea transport. And although it is tourists that are being carried to and from the Samaria gorge and the surrounding beaches, their small shipping company, ANENDYK, still operates on a pirate mentality, threatening to sink any boat a competing company

Hora Sfakion, Sfakia

might dare to sail. You see, the stakes in this area are quite high: more than 300,000 passengers each season at 5-6€ a person equals about... 1,650,000 €. ANENDYK was founded in 1975 and today it has six ships, among which a couple of ferries that carry passengers like sheep in a truck! (Conversely, they will take no vehicles). Info on their timetables can be obtained at the following telephone numbers : (0825) 091 221 (Chora Sfakion), (0825) 091 251 (Agia Roumeli) and (0821) 044 222 (Hania).
Despite the threats, a small competing company, the A.N.E. SELINOU, was founded in 1993. Its base is in Paleochora, and it has one ship on the Paleochora - Agia Roumeli line. Departures and arrivals take place during hours other than those of the ANENDYK boats (info tel. 0823 041 180), and of course the company would not even dream of touching Chora Sfakia although it has every right to do so. After all, how could the independent state of Sfakia, which did not surrender to Venice and Turkey, possibly bow to the laws of the Greek state and to the rules and regulations of the free market economy?

Today the Sfakia region still has an air of roughness about it, and this roughness characterises not only its people but also its landscapes, which are the most exciting and least spoilt in Crete. The infertile ground, the steep mountain sides with the deep gorges, and the fact that the area is far away from the north beaches and the famous archaeological sites, all seem to suggest the same thing: Sphakia will probably remain a fairly quiet place for many years to come.

Chora Sfakion, however, is extremely disappointing. Abandoned during the difficult years of the Cretan revolution at the end of the 19th century, it succumbed to the destructive force of Time and saw its beautiful stone houses reduced to ruins. When during the early 70’s tourism developed at the Samaria gorge, the Sphakians returned to this village to do business with the tourists who arrived by boat after crossing the gorge. But in the place of the old mansions they built tasteless hotels and restaurants , perhaps because they tried to do it overnight. They destroyed every traditional building, let the old neighbourhoods and the picturesque harbour go to pieces, and threw cement on the pebbly beach in front of the village. Today, Chora Sfakion, the once proud capital of this isolated region, is a chaotic mish-mash of buildings that have no character at all. Unless an effort is undertaken immediately to smarten up the place, even the most tired and starving tourists will pass through it without making a stop.

But do not let this ugly place get to you. Just keep going westward and smile, because just a little further you will see landscapes of sheer beauty, picturesque villages with all the authentic Sphakia characteristics, and some of the loveliest mountain routes on the island.

One kilometre east of Chora Sfakion you will find a pebbly beach - the only one you can reach by road - and a small bay, where you will see the ILINGAS BEACH (a quiet hotel with no phone). We recommend, though, that you go up the mountain and stay at a Room to Let in the picturesque Anopolis, which is an ideal base for exploring the southern side of the White Mountains.

The road (A3) from Chora Sfakion to Anopolis climbs the bare mountain side with plenty of 1800 turns, so you will have a change of view from east to west as you ride. It’s a truly enjoyable mountain route, and it will suddenly take you from the sea level to an altitude of six hundred metres.

Anopolis is a shepherd settlement with many stone-built houses and people that insist on wearing the traditional costume. There are a few olive groves around the village, but the rest of the region is full of landscapes of unique beauty that have no sign of human presence. If you wish to stay here for a few days - a smart idea, by all counts - you will find a few Rooms to Let and a tavern at the village to accommodate you. From here you can make several trips - whether on foot or by bike - and explore the beautiful White Mountains.

For the hiking trips, it will be necessary to obtain maps and information from the Hania Mountain Climbing Club . Here we will simply give a sketchy description of the best options available. The easiest one is a two-hour walk to Loutro, a small seaside

Loutro

settlement in the south with quite a few taverns and Rooms to Let. (Note that this can only be reached by boat from Chora Sfakion and not by bike). A better idea is to reach the beach through the Aradena gorge which is no less impressive than that of Samaria (count on a five-hour walk). As you come out of the gorge, the mountain path descends to the very beautiful beach of Marmara. However,a little further to the east (as you head for Loutro), you can find more quiet beaches with a few Rooms to Let and one or two small taverns. Although these beaches are often visited by all those who take the boat or walk here from Chora Sfakion, they are large enough not to be crammed. If you wish to continue walking, you can follow the coast path to the west and reach Aghia Roumeli. This should take you about five hours, including a short break for a swim at the heavenly Agios Pavlos beach. Needless to say, from Aghia Roumeli you can cross the Samaria gorge (8 hours) and from Xiloskalo at the other side you can walk to the Kallergi refuge (2 hours). From here you can cross the White Mountains going southeast and be back in Anopolis in two days.

For those that do not want to give up their bike, there are two motorcycle routes: the first one to the north, to the heart of the White Mountains at a

church of Michael the Archangel

height of 1800 metres, and the second to the west, to the picturesque Aradena and Aghios Ioannis. Both of these routes are indeed beautiful.
To take the first route follow the road (D3) that starts from the tiny Anopolis square with the tavern and heads north. This passes through some olive groves and then climbs the mountain side with many sharp turns. As it climbs it goes through a thick pine forest, which gradually gives way to a beautiful cedar one with remarkably tall trees. As you leave the pine forest behind, you will spot a road (D3) heading towards the east. If you decide to follow it, you will see that it ends at Mouri after only four or five kilometres. Mouri is a very large village that has unfortunately been abandoned. Over two hundred houses stand in ruin, and the only buildings in good condition are two shepherd huts and the small village church.

If you now return to our main route (the first D3 road), you will climb steadily towards the heart of the White Mountains, passing through a beautiful wild landscape with large grey and white rocks. The road suddenly stops at a ravine some 1800 metres above the sea. On the west side of this ravine a small path continues to the north to the White Mountain refuges.
For the second route, head west from Anopolis and after three kilometres you will reach the

Aradena gorge

Aradena gorge bridge, an iron structure which will leave you breathless as a gap of 150 metres opens under your feet! Next to the bridge you will notice an old cobbled road which goes down the gorge and climbs up the other side. This was the only link of Aradena and Aghios Ioannis to the rest of the world until the bridge was made in 1986.

The Aradena gorge is among the most impressive in Crete. Starting at the foot of the southern part of Mount Kedrokephala, it ends at the Phoenix Bay seven kilometres away and is characterised by its extremely steep and tall walls (over 100m). Crossing it is a truly unique experience, and one that is free of the many constraints and rules connected with the Samaria gorge. If you are planning to walk a gorge while in Crete, this is definitely your best choice.

The village of Aradena, on the other hand, is almost entirely abandoned. What will probably draw your attention is the church of Michael the Archangel, built in the 14th century and having a peculiar high dome and many beautiful wall paintings.

From here the road (D2) continues to Agios Ioannis, which has more inhabitants, a few Rooms to Let and a charming tavern. From Agios Ioannis it continues to the north (as a D3) for another three or four kilometres, then stops suddenly in the middle of nowhere at a height of 1200 metres. Here it becomes a small trail leading to the higher tops of the White Mountains .


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

Syros. This is the island where Greek tradition and western influence come to a harmonious marriage. Ermoúpoli(meaning “the city of Hermes”) is the island’s capital town and has been the first important trade and industrial centre of the country in the 19th century. Evidence of this glorious past can be seen on public buildings (the City Hall, the Customs Office, “Apollo” theatre), on the neoclassical houses and at the beautiful squares. Due to its economic activity, Ermoúpoli has been called “Manchester of Greece” and the history of its years of blossom is exhibited in the Industrial Museum.
The Orthodox community has contributed some outstanding religious monuments to the architecture of Ermoúpoli such as the churches of Metamórphossi tou Sotíros (Transfiguration of Jesus Christ), St Nicolas the Rich (Áyios Nikólaos Ploússios), Dormition of the Mother of God (Koímissis tis Theotókou).

 

 

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