4. HANIA - HORA SFAKION (see Map
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.
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
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
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
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
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
height of 1800 metres, and the second to the west, to the picturesque
Aradena and Aghios Ioannis. Both of these routes are indeed
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 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 .
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.