7. KISSAMOS - ELAFONISSOS (see Map
If you leave Platanos and head south toward Sfinari you will
travel on a very nice road (A3) that was recently paved. About
a couple of kilometres before the village the road intersects
a dirtroad (D3), which takes you down to the Red Cliffs Beach
(Kokkina Gremna), a nice place that invites camping or swimming.
In Sfinari you will find a few taverns and Rooms to Let, which
accommodate the tourists travelling to Elafonissos (also known
as Elafonissi). There is no special reason to make a stop here,
except perhaps for a swim at the small beach south of
Sphinari or for a nice lunch at the cosy little tavern next
to the water.
After Sfinari, the road climbs to a height of four hundred metres
and you have a great view of the west coast. As you head toward
Kefali, a landscape full of barren rocks and small villages
unfolds before your eyes, a sight typical of the Cretan countryside.
The villages consist of ten to fifteen stone-built houses perched
on a mountain slope, lying close to one another as if in a tight
embrace. Half of these houses have been long abandoned and the
rest are inhabited by a few old people that insist on staying
at the village and taking care of the few vines, olive or fruit
trees which they grow on the terraced land surrounding it. (As
for the terraces, they are a permanent feature of the landscape
and are meant to keep what little soil there is from being washed
away by the rains). One of the villages you will pass through
is Amigdalokefali, where it is worth making a stop to visit
the Byzantine chapel that is dedicated to Michael the Archangel.
The church bell is Venetian and it dates from 1628.
The next stop you must make is at Kefali, which used to be
the largest village in the area. Today its few remaining inhabitants
cultivate their olive trees and do business with the passing
tourists. There are two or three taverns on the main road and
a few Rooms to Let, and there is also a small mini market for
your shopping needs. Of course, we suggest you visit the two
Byzantine churches of the village. The Metamorphosis church
has an inscription informing the traveller that it was restored
and decorated with wall paintings in the year 1320.
The church of Aghios Athanassios was built in 1394, and on the
wall facing south you can see an impressive painting of two ladies
in elegant, low-neck dresses. In case you are wondering, these
ladies were the owners of the church.
Right after the
east exit of Kefali, you will see an intersection with a sign
(Gr) directing you to Chrissoskalitissa and Elafonissos in the
south and to Hania in the northeast. The route to the Chrissoskalitissa
the north side of the small ravine of Xiropotamos, then goes
through a couple of half-deserted traditional villages, Vathi
and Plokamiana. In the wider area around the monastery there
are several country homes, three or four tourist taverns, and
a few Rooms to Let.
Moni Panagias Chrissoskalitissas, “the Golden-Step Monastery
of the Holy Mary,” is a historical monument built on a
low rock by the sea, in the same place where the monastery of
Aghios Nikolaos was situated. According to the legend, one of
the ninety steps of the monastery is gold, but it can only be
seen by those who have the purest heart (we can assure you we
saw nothing of the kind!) If you come late in the day, though,
you will see a golden sun dive into the sea...
It is not quite certain when the monastery was built. The icon
of the Holy Mary, which is devoutly worshipped, is allegedly
a thousand years old. Our first verifiable information comes
when the Reverend Manassis Glynias, a monk consecrated bishop,
came to live in the area and gave the monastery new life. Under
his guidance new cells and storerooms were built and some fifteen
nuns from nearby retreats came to live here. In 1894, a new,
large church was built, the same one we see today, and it was
promptly decorated with paintings of saints. Then, in 1900,
the monastery ceased to exist officially and its property was
sold. Yet the candles never stopped burning, thanks to the faith
and patience of some nuns that never gave it up. Since 1955,
an amazing priest, Father Nektarios, has put in a lot of personal
work and, together with the only nun that lives there today,
has kept up the buildings and the tradition of the monastery.
Though the monastery itself has nothing special to show, it
is worth visiting it if only to meet Father Nektarios. It would
be best, though, to avoid the high season (July and August),
or you will get lost among the two or three hundred tourists
that visit the place daily...
A little before you get to the monastery there is an intersection
with a half-faded sign (Gr/E) pointing you to Elafonissi. A
fairly smooth dirtroad (D3) takes you through an open area planted
with olive trees and... country homes and ends just before a
sandy beach opposite of Elafonissi.
Today this beach has been turned into a huge parking lot, and
it is filled with hundreds of cars that come here every day.
Elafonissi is a small island that can be reached by... walking,
since it is only separated from the shore by a body of water
that is about 100 metres wide and
0.5 to 1 metre deep!
Because the water is so shallow, it is also very warm and has
a sparkling deep colour that reminds of tropical islands. The
island’s beaches are covered with a fine white sand, very
pleasing to the eye, but to see them you must come quite early
in the summer, because in July and August there are at least
a thousand visitors a day. They arrive by bus from Hania or
by boat from Paleochora or in their own private vehicle, and
the beaches disappear under thousands of towels and umbrellas!
Twenty years ago this island was a little paradise, but today,
especially in August, it is more like hell. “Hell”
also describes the situation around the turn of the century,
when the lack of a lighthouse made the island a real death-trap
for all the ships that were caught in the storm. Finally, it
is an apt characterisation for what took place here in 1824,
when 850 people in hiding, men, women, and children, were discovered
and slaughtered on these very beaches by a barbarian Turkish-Egyptian
force led by Ibrahim Pasha. All around them, the water and the
sand were dyed red...
At about three fourths of the way between the monastery and
Elafonissi, the road widens considerably and on your left-hand
side you see some fences followed by an intersection. If you
turn left here you will soon reach a much quieter beach lying
at the end of an impressive cedar forest. This is a great spot
for camping, but unfortunately there is no fresh water available.
A second road (D3) starts here and goes north, climbing the
mountain with many sharp turns. This leads to Maniatiana, from
where you can either continue for Paleochora or take Routes
8,9, or 2 backwards and return to the north coast.
The Cretan Biscuit
Nikos Tsatsaronakis of Platanos Kissamou was born in
a baker’s family, and his first images of the world
included bread loaves and biscuits and barley flour, which
to him had the aroma and the flavour
of Life itself. This is why when he grew up and took
over the family business he named it “The Manna.”
“Since 1952 I’ve been baking biscuits in the
old traditional way. The barley is ground between two
millstones, and the dough is baked in an oven heated with
wood fire. Then it is sliced by hand and the slices go
back into the oven and are baked some more. This is how
my grandma used to make biscuits, this is how I make them
Biscuits come in many different kinds and shapes. There
are the barley and the rye biscuits, made of at least
pure barley and rye flour respectively, which are most
There are the classic biscuits, biscuits that come in
rings or half-rings, and biscuits in bite-size that make
a perfect snack. The latter are the base for a very tasty
appetiser known as “tako.” You will see
it quite often in Crete (as well as other places in Greece),
and it is so nutritious that it can even substitute a
meal! To make it, you simply dip a biscuit in water so
it gets softer, put a little olive oil on top, cover it
with a chopped tomato and some feta cheese, and sprinkle
it with oregano and salt.
Biscuits are a good snack by themselves, but they can
also be dipped in tea or coffee, or eaten with feta cheese
and olives (or with anything your heart desires). They
taste great, cost little and are quite nutritious, which
explains why people like them so.
As Nikos Tsatsaronakis puts it, "if God truly loved
His poeple, then the manna He sent them from heaven must
have been biscuits"
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.