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Kissamos - Paleochora


8. KISSAMOS - PALEOCHORA (see Map )

(Through Topoliano gorge)

Take the old road to Kolimvari in the east of Kasteli, and when you get to Kaloudiana turn south (in the direction of Topolia). This route is a classic for most people who wish to get from Kasteli to Paleochora, because it promises a first encounter with the famous Cretan gorges.

Map  Kissamos to Paleochora

And indeed, the Topoliano gorge, through which it takes you, is quite impressive; a deep ravine stretching over an area of 1.5 km, it has very steep limestone walls (sometimes as high as a hundred metres) full of small and inaccessible caves, while its floor is covered with beautiful plane trees. The road (A3) is carved on the west side of it and it is very narrow. (At one point there is even a tunnel, which is one of two or three on the entire island). It also has many turns without visibility, so although the scenery in the gorge is indeed very attractive you should always keep an eye on the road!

Many tourist guides mention the cave of Aghia Sophia as an impressive sight. In reality, it is a rather shallow cavity in the rock without much interest, and it is full of garbage thrown by the deceived tourists and never collected by the Greek authorities. There is also a small church at the entrance of the cave which looks more like a decrepit hut.

At both ends of the gorge there is a village - Topolia in the north and Koutsomatados in the south - with many Rooms to Let and even more restaurants. These are concentrated on the main street in order to attract the passing tourists, but they are not worth much. After Koutsomatados you have two options. You can take Route 8.1 and travel on an asphalt-paved road (A3), or you can take Route 8.2 and travel mostly on dirtroads (D3). Both routes will take you to Paleochora.

Koutsomatados - Voutas - Paleochora
The road (A3) from Koutsomatados to Strovles goes through a typically rural area full of olive groves and small hills. Approximately one kilometre after Strovles you will see an intersection with a sign (Gr) that says “BÔ×Ù¿˜ 15” (Voutas 15). Turn right (south) on the road (A3) that climbs the mountain and keep going. The asphalt is excellent, the turns are great, and you will be tempted to drive fast. Although there are no signs, the turns are not dangerous and there is always a protective bar by the roadside.

Topoliano gorge

You can ride all the way to Archondiko with excellent conditions - the road is one of the best mountain roads in Crete - and you will have the chance to see some beautiful White Mountain scenery. Right after the pass at the north side of Mount Kendoukles, at a height of eight hundred metres, a wonderful picture appears before your eyes: at your feet the valley of the Pelekaniotis river, which is covered with olive trees, and in the west the villages of Sklavopoula. When you reach Voutas, the largest village in the area, you have again two options. If you want to drive on asphalt, follow the Gr/E sign directing you to Paleochora and turn left; you will go down the mountain, driving through the olive groves at the east side of a ravine, and you’ll arrive in Paleochora in no time.

But if you want to visit the charming Sklavopoula area and do not mind driving on good dirtroads (D1 / D2), follow the Gr sign that says Sklavopoula 7 and turn right. You will see many mountain villages - Kalamios (at the end of an asphalted road), Sklavopoula, Sphakia, Maniatiana (the starting point of a dirtroad leading to Elafonissi in the west), Vathirrouma, Azogires and Aghii Theodori - and they are all very picturesque and full of hidden charms awaiting a discerning eye. The route is also very pleasant, taking you through beautiful mountain slopes and offering some lovely scenery. After Aghii Theodori the road continues southward, going downhill, until it takes you to a seaside village, Koundouras, planted in the middle of an area with very large greenhouses. Here you turn east on the main coastal road (A3) and follow it all the way to Paleochora.

Koutsomatados - Sassalos - Paleochora
Once in Koutsomatados, turn left (east) on the road that leads to Sassalos (you’ll see a Gr/E sign at the intersection). The road goes downhill, passing through several olive groves, and takes you straight to the heart of the village. It is a very picturesque village, built at the bottom of a ravine with lush vegetation, but its only inhabitants are unfortunately a few old people that have refused to leave their homes for a larger town. At the two kafenìa of the village, the old men gather and tell stories. It is worth stopping here for a simple meal and a glass of raki or red wine. (The latter, by the way, is produced locally and has an excellent taste). A chat with these simple mountain people will certainly make your day.

After Sassalos, the road (D2) continues southward, following the course of the river that flows through the gorge. It goes through a beautiful area full of plane trees and takes you to a small village called Milones. There are no sharp inclinations, so this entire route is good for walking or bicycling. If you like, you can pitch camp in many places, as the whole area invites camping. About one kilometre after Milones the road splits. Turn left and you will soon be on the main road, at a point just north of Dris. A couple of kilometres after Dris you will see a dirtroad (D2) to your right - there is a Gr sign at the intersection that says Kopeti. Turn right, and as soon as you cross the river turn left. This will give you the chance to enjoy a very pleasant route

Kakodiki

alongside the west bank of the Kakodikiano stream. The scenery includes thick olive groves and a dozen hamlets with beautiful stone-built houses. Unfortunately, most of these houses have been recently abandoned, and it is only when the olives are picked that people come and stay. All the other months, they are completely deserted.

The dirtroad you are on will eventually take you to Vlithias, a small village with a Byzantine church in its cemetery. This dates from the 14th century, and it is dedicated to Christ the Saviour (Christòs Sotìras). It has some beautiful wall paintings that are worth seeing, so follow the sign (Gr/E) on the main road and you will soon be there. From here on you simply continue on the main road (A2) that leads to Paleochora.

 

Raki (also known as “tsikoudia”)
It is impossible to visit Crete and not be treated to a few glasses of raki! Raki is the national drink of the Cretans. It is produced in practically every household, with a ritual that takes place at the courtyard, and despite the fact that it’s a family thing rather than an industry the production is massive! There is no home without a pitcher or a small barrel of raki, and all through the day people drink small glasses of it, usually with friends. The custom is to accept the first couple of treats, to

Raki or Tsikoudia

raise your glass and say stin ighià sas (“to your health”), and to toss it down. If you are not used to it, though, or if you are on an empty stomach, do not drink more than two glasses, or you are going to find yourself in a state of tipsiness (or downright intoxication!)
The distillation ritual usually takes place in the evening. They light a big wood fire and heat an old copper cauldron in which they place the stèmfila (the left over parts of the treaded grapes whose juice has been made into wine) along with aromatic herbs collected from the fields. The vapours are channelled into a spiral tube that goes through a barrel of cold water, they are condensed, and the raki drips into a ceramic jar that is half buried in the ground.
The peasants gather in big parties around the cauldron, and they sing and dance. They also consume large quantities of raki, freshly produced and tempting. The ritual has remained unchanged through the centuries, and if you happen to run into a group of folks engaged in it you should consider yourself welcome and prepare for a MANQUE TEXTE

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

Naxos. “Big Sweet has this island, virtuous are the faces of people, piles are shaped by melons, peaches, figs and the sea is calm. I looked at the people - never this people have been frightened by earthquakes or by Turks, and their eyes did not burn out.
Here freedom had extinguished the need for freedom, and life spread out as happy sleeping water. And if sometimes was discomposed, never rose tempest. Safety was the first gift of island that I felt as walking around Nàxos." (N. Kazantzakis, "Report to El.Greko").
Náxos is the biggest and the greenest island in Cyclades with impressively high mountains, fertile valleys, lush green gorges, stunning seascapes and traditional villages perched high on mountain tops, where the inhabitants still wear their traditional dress and live off the fruits of the land! Náxos is also an island of beautifulold churches, monasteries and Venetian castles coexisting harmoniously with Cycladic cubic houses. Explore traditional villages spread around the island, with a particular, “magical” character: Apérathos is a colourful mountainous village boasting five museums, stone-built houses, beautiful squares and narrow alleys paved with marble, and Panayia Drosiani, a beautiful church of the Early Christian Period!

 

 

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