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Kissamos - Paleochora


9. KISSAMOS - PALEOCHORA (see Map )

(Through Episkopi, Astrikas)

Head east and as soon as you are out of Kasteli turn right in order to get on the old road (A3) that goes to Kolimvari (there is a Gr/E sign at the intersection that says “Hania Old Road”). About a couple of kilometres after Plakalona turn right, following the direction of Nochia.

Map  Kissamos to Paleochora

(You will see a Gr/E sign at the intersection pointing you to the village). About 1500 metres after the intersection - and a little after you have passed Nochia - you will see another intersection with a Gr sign directing you to Gerakiana, Drakona. Turn left, and follow the road (A3) as it winds up and down some small hills covered with olive groves and vineyards. When you get to Drakona you will notice that the village itself has nothing special to see. Yet 200 metres after its south exit there is a very narrow path - so narrow, in fact, that a bike can hardly follow it - which leads to the chapel of Aghios Stephanos, just 150 metres away. This is a small Byzantine chapel that’s certainly worth visiting. Built in the beginning of the 10th century on the side of a small ravine that today is full of plane trees, it has thick stone walls and a vaulted roof and it is decorated with some exquisite wall paintings that are quite well preserved.
As you continue southward, you will see a Gr/E sign just before Episkopi, which directs you to the Byzantine church of Michael the Archangel

Episkopi

(otherwise known as “The Rotonda”). It is a very imposing church, which once served as an Episcopal seat (2nd Byzantine period, 961 - 1204 AD), and it is like no other in Crete. Its unique architectural feature is its dome, built in five successive levels. Judging from the few surviving parts of the paintings, such as the face of the archangel , its decoration must have been very impressive. Also impressive is the carved marble font with the two seats. The excavation of the area has revealed that religious worship in this place must have been an ongoing practice for at least 1500 years; the church was apparently built on the ruins of an earlier basilica, possibly of the 5th century, whose foundations (as well as a part of a floor mosaic) have survived to this day. Currently, the Rotunda is undergoing extensive restoration work, both on the inside and on the outside. Despite the fact, the people from the surrounding villages continue to visit it, and they never leave without lighting a candle.

If you plan to spend a night in the area, the best place to camp is the plateau at the east side of the impressive Rokka gorge. To get there, go through Astrikas, and take the dirtroad (D3) which you will see about 400 metres after the south exit of the village. (It is just opposite the Panethimos intersection and it goes west). The road goes through some olive groves and ends before a steep precipice just above the gorge. The place where it stops will charm you with its serenity and panoramic view, especially in the direction of the Kissamos Gulf and the village of Rokka. For those that would rather stay in a room, there is a new guest house in Astrikas. Also, this village is famous for the "Biolea" brand of Organic olive oil from Astrikas Estate in Crete, pioneering a renewed interest in the authentic traditional stone ground and cold pressed method of olive oil extraction.

The Astrikas Estate organic olive groves are located in the small village of Astrikas, within the PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) area of Kolymbari in northwestern Crete. They were acquired by the Dimitriadis family in the mid-18th century and today are farmed organicaly by 5th generation descendants. George Dimitriadis founded Biolea in 1994; the company specializes in artisan production of organic olive oil, stone milled and cold pressed. Biolea's organic olive oil is exclusively estate-produced and bottled. For a guided tour, contact George Dimitriadis Tel 00306932046044 or 00302824023281

Astrikas

To continue your trip toward Paleochora, you can take one of the many fairly smooth dirtroads (D3) that start from Glossa, Vassiliana or Zimbragos and take you to the main (asphalted) road. The most interesting one starts at Zimbragos. You will probably have a hard time finding its beginning, so ask someone pou ìne o chomatòdhromos ghià Kakòpetro (where is the dirtroad leading to Kakopetro). That road goes through a beautiful small gorge and takes you to the main road just east of Kakopetro. From here you can continue south on the main road (A2), and you will get to Kandanos and then Paleochora. However, you must drive very carefully; even though you are on the main road, the asphalt is very slippery, the signs are totally inadequate, and the road is too narrow to accommodate the heavy traffic.
The above route is recommended for street bikes. But if you have an off-road bike, you can take an alternative route after Episkopi, one that will take you through the mountains and offer you the most wonderful panoramic view of the entire Hania prefecture. The Voukolies - Sembronas - Palia Roumata part of it could in fact be rated among the best three mountain routes in Crete. The desolate landscape, the incredible scenery almost during the entire trip, the great places to camp along the way, and the very good condition of the dirtroad (D2 / D3), all contribute to this rating.

To follow this route, go east once you get to Episkopi and take any of the roads that will take you to Voukolies. In Voukolies you will see a road (A3) to your left, which goes toward Sirili in the northeast. (There is a Gr sign at the intersection that says.... This is the starting point of our route, so reset your counter in order to follow Road Book 1. Turn left on this road and after 200 metres, in fact right after a small cement bridge, turn right on the narrow concrete-paved road that you’ll see. (There is no sign to direct you). This road goes through an area with orange and lemon trees, and after about 1 km it turns into a dirtroad (D3), climbs through the olive groves, goes through the half-deserted Kafouro, and offers a great view of the Tavronitis valley. All around, the mountain slopes are covered with bushes, and there are gorges with thick clumps of plane and chestnut trees. After 9 km you will be at an altitude of 800 metres, at the highest point of the route, and you will be driving just a few metres below the peak of the mountain and enjoying the truly panoramic view. The view to the north is particularly charming; you can see the entire Gulf of Hania, the Akrotiri peninsula to the east and the Rodopos peninsula to the west. And if you feel like an eagle, you won’t be the only one; just look around, and you may well see a family of four eagles flying slowly and majestically around the Plataniani peak (900 metres) where they have their nests... If you feel like camping here, there is a wonderful small plateau just a little bit further on the way, at an altitude of 750 metres. After the plateau, the road goes along the mountain ridge, offering the most spectacular view. It eventually leads to the Hania - Sougia road, which it meets right where the first of the area’s three roadside coffee shops is (the one furthest to the north). Unfortunately, there is no sign at the intersection for those that would like to do this route backwards and to get on this dirtroad as they travel from Sougia to Hania. The only mark that could help you is a small white building. It is situated exactly where the dirtroad starts, and on the wall it has a big “WC” written with green paint...

This concludes the first part of this beautiful mountain route. About 200 metres further, you will see a Gr sign directing you to Sembronas. Turn right and prepare for the second, equally impressive part of the route. Just before the first of the five spread out settlements that make up Sembronas, you will see a dirtroad to your left with a small handwritten sign. The sign says Drakouliana, Aghios Ioannis, Apopigadi, Palia Roumata, and in English it says “Palia Roumata.” Here you turn right and reset your counter once again. For the next 500 metres the road goes through a cultivated area, climbing to Drakouliana. When you get to Drakouliana turn right. (There are two Gr signs at the intersection pointing you to Aghios Ioannis and Palia Roumata). After the last house of the settlement - at kilometre 1 - you will run into the gate of a fenced pastureland. Open the gate, go right in, and close it behind you. The landscape from here on becomes increasingly wild, and it is full of shrubs and gorges with thick clumps of plane trees. The road (D3) is generally “decent,” with the only exception of two or three sharp turns with gravel. It goes uphill and at some point - kilometre 4, altitude 800 metres (the highest in the route) - it splits. At the intersection you will see a handwritten sign that’s written half in Greek and half in English. One arrow points left, towards Aghios Ioannis, and another arrow points right toward “Palia Roumata.”

As mentioned, our route goes through Palia Roumata, so here you must obviously turn right. However, if you happen to arrive at this point when it’s about to get dark, there is no better place to spend the night than the chapel of Aghios Ioannis. It is a beautiful stone-built chapel at the edge of a cliff, only 2.2 km from the intersection, and it has a paved courtyard with a wooden roof and wooden benches, offering the weary traveller a spectacular view of the White Mountains. If you’d rather not sleep outdoors, there is also a small room with a bed right next to the chapel, which is all yours (unless of course somebody was there before you). Finally, there is a fountain with ice-cool water, straight from the spring!

To continue toward Palia Roumata, you make a right turn at the Aghios Ioannis - Palia Roumata intersection, and you follow the road as it goes downhill. At kilometre 5.5 you will pass a col from where you have a great view to the west, a view reaching as far as the Gramvoussa peninsula. At kilometre 9 you will start passing through some small rural settlements, and at kilometre 11 you will encounter the concrete-paved road that connects Palia Roumata and Micheliana, where you must turn right. The main square of the village is only 1 km away.
Like all villages in the area, Palia Roumata

Paleochora

is unaffected by tourism because it has nothing to do with the classic itineraries of most tourists. Its economy is clearly based on farming, and more specifically on the production of olives and olive oil. There is a good kafenìo hidden in a small alley, where you could try some very tasty Cretan specialties, but do not confuse it with the kafenìo at the main square. When you have walked around the village, get back on the road - no longer a dirtroad but an A3 - and follow it till the place just outside Kakopetro where it meets the main road that leads to Paleochora.
As you continue southward on the main road, you will pass through the large village of Kandanos with its many taverns and coffee shops. If you visited the place in the summer of 1941, the only thing you would see here would be a marble column informing the world - in both Greek and German - that:

“At this site stood the village of Kandanos. It was destroyed in compensation for the murder of twenty-five German soldiers.”

In no other instance of the second world war did the Germans show such a raging desire for revenge. They destroyed an entire village and shot every person arrested, because the peasants put up a fight. A second sign went even further:

“Because the men, women, children and priests dared to resist the Great Reich, Kandanos was levelled to the ground and will never be rebuilt.”

Kandanos was rebuilt and grew into a beautiful small town. Yet its main square still has the column with the Nazi inscription, a permanent reminder of human stupidity and beastliness.
After Kandanos you continue southward through the Kakodikian ravine and as with the street route you reach Paleochora.
If, however, you cannot get enough of off-road routes and have refused to drive on asphalt, there is still another option before you reach Kandanos. When you get to Floria, you will see a dirtroad to your right and a Gr sign at the intersection that says Sassalos 7. If you turn here and follow the road to Sassalos, you can continue until Paleochora following route 8.2. Here is a quick outline of the Floria - Sassalos route so that you don’t get lost: At kilometre 2.2 you will see an intersection where you have three options. Here you turn left and go down the west side of the mountain. At kilometre 3 you pass a small village called Selia. At 4.3 you will see a dirtroad going up the mountain, but you ignore it and continue straight. At 4.8 you will pass another small village called Maneriana (this is in fact one of the Sassalos settlements) and you will see Sassalos, which is built in a ravine. At 5 you will see an intersection, where you turn left and go straight to Sassalos. (The dirtroad on the right leads to the picturesque Pirgos, another one of the Sassalos settlements, and from there to the asphalt road just north of Sassalos).


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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