15. IERAPETRA - ZAKROS (coastal road) (see
Map Crete Agios Nikolaos)
From the centre of Ierapetra take the road to Sitia and after
passing the hospital at the northern exit of the town you will
reach a fork (no road signs posted) where you turn right (east).
The road continues along the coast, which for the first two
kilometres from Ierapetra is pebbly and with enough trees to
offer shade. The beach is wide and clean, but not the best choice
for a swim, as the busy road running alongside it causes a lot
Map of Crete. Zakros, Xerokambos
Even more disturbing is the ugly landscape beyond the coast
that has suffered horrible defacement from the agricultural
over-exploitation and the vulgar and haphazard tourist development.
The ugly scenery continues for many kilometres to the east until
the village of Analipsi. Hence it is better to ride through
In the village of Makrigialos you will see
a sign that says “Minoan Villa”. If you wish to
get a good idea of the meaning of utter negligence on the part
of the local authorities, the neighbours and, certainly, of
the Ministry of Culture, turn left (north) at this point and
visit this archaeological site. We are not dealing here with
a medieval chicken coop or a broken Roman column, we are dealing
instead with a wonderful Minoan villa of 1600 BC,
miniature of the Knossos Palace, the residence of the local
lord. The elementary steps that the local authorities or the
Ministry of Culture should have taken, is to pave the 300 metres
of road to the site and spend a pittance per year to keep it
Carrying on eastward from Makrigialos you pass the likewise
miserable village of Analipsi, immediately after which you turn
right onto the coastal road (there is a Greek/English sign at
the junction that reads: Kapsa Monastery, Goudouras,
Kalo Nero). From here onward the landscape is rocky, desolate
and increasingly interesting. Up to the village of Kalo
Nero the road is very good (A2), but also the dirt
roads traversing the landscape beyond this point until Zakros
are generally very good (D1, D2).
Eastward from Kalo Nero the road runs very close to the rocky
coast. On your left (north) you have a nice view of the precipitous
craggy hills with their countless large and small caves. Shortly
past Kalo Nero you will unexpectedly encounter the Kapsa Monastery,
perched on the cliff at the mouth of the narrow and impressive
Perivolakia Gorge. Below the monastery there is a small sandy
beach with coarse pebbles and shady trees, a very good spot
for rough camping.
Following the Kapsa Monastery the road is asphalted (A3) until
Goudouras village, which is a small community within a plastic
sea of greenhouses covering the entire plain behind the coast.
In front of Goudouras there is a large beach with coarse pebbles,
totally unsuitable for a swim. A road begins at this beach (an
English sign at the crossroads reads: Aghia Triada, Apidia,
Ziros) and initially winds through the greenhouses, to turn
later into dirt (D2) in an easterly direction. About 2.3 kilometres
from Goudouras beach you will run into a junction without signs.
Continuing straight leads to the village of Aghia Triada, while
turning right also leads to Aghia Triada but via a much more
interesting coastal route through a deserted landscape. Now
then, here turn right and at the next crossroads, some 300 metres
ahead, turn left (the right branch stops at a storehouse). One
kilometre after this junction there is a second junction where
you turn left again (right will lead you over a very bad road
to a spot of no special interest on the coast, called Atherinolakos).
At the next (third) junction turn left again and, following
a few kilometres of enjoyable ride in a desolate landscape,
you will run into the main dirt road just before Agia Triada
village (formerly called Tsou!). Unfortunately, no coastal road
exists from Atherinolakos to Xerokambos
and therefore you are obliged to take this detour north. Carry
on northward from Aghia Triada until you come to the main road
(A3), a bit south of the village of Ziros. With the exception
of the small church of Aghia Paraskevi, boasting beautiful frescoes
dating from 1523, there isn’t much to see at Ziros, so
head left (south) on the road that climbs to the Air Force installation.
At some point along this road you will see large signs warning
that you are approaching a military zone and prohibiting further
advance. Exactly at that point you will also see two unmarked
roads (D1) branching off to the right. The southernmost of these
roads (i.e. the one on the right as you face them) goes to Kalo
Chorio. You follow the northern one (left) to Xerokambos. From
this point onward to Xerokambos and from there to Zakros lies
the most enjoyable part of Route 15. An excellent dirt road
traverses an utterly desolate rocky landscape covered in bushes
and wild flowers, unchanged for centuries. Equally unchanged
through time is the small hamlet of Chametoulo,
perhaps the most authentic village of Crete,
which you will encounter at some point of this route. The short
detour that leads to Chametoulo stops a short way out of the
village, at the church next to the cemetery, and just after
that start the houses, two score all in all, whitewashed and
clean, clinging to each other, with narrow cobble alleys between
Crete, Gorges de Zakros
The poor villagers living here keep a few flocks and tend a
few barren fields on a small stretch of flat ground that holds
a little earth among the craggy hills. Visiting this village
and riding the stretch from here to Xerokambos are reasons enough
to try Route 15.
Past Chametoulo the road descends towards the coast offering
a splendid view of the Libyan sea. The best time to enjoy it
is late in the afternoon when the sun’s slanted rays create
sharp shadows on the rocks and paint the sea in vivid blue hues.
For many kilometres you will not come across either houses,
fields or any trace of humans whatsoever.
When you reach the seaside settlement of Xerokambos
you will be greeted by two of the most beautiful beaches in
Crete, spacious, sandy, serene and spotlessly clean. Here you
will find three very good tavernas and a few rooms to let. On
Xerokambos’ west side beach there are (alone in the open)
the brand new rooms to let owned by Constantinos Takakis (tel.:
0843-91206 and 31792), all with private kitchen and bathroom.
Crete. Kato Zakros
In the same complex there is a mini market with a maxi choice
of goods where you can buy provisions and cook in your room.
If you are seeking a quiet spot for quiet holidays you cannot
find a better or cheaper place than Xerokambos.
Beyond Xerokambos the road (D3) continues northward to Zakros,
crossing very impressive rocky scenery full of large and small
gorges, perhaps the most virgin corner of Crete that keeps a
lot of beauty concealed from all but those willing to walk and
You will come across many secondary roads intersecting the
main route and leading to incredible places! If you stay on
the main dirt road you will end up eventually on the asphalt
road connecting Ano Zakros to Kato
Zakros, only a few metres from the last houses of Ano
Zakros. Exactly at that junction you will see the foundations
of a Minoan house, which came to light during the road construction
works in 1965 and is the first example of the Minoan settlement
that flourished in this isolated part of Crete.
Ano Zakros is the head village of the region. The inhabitants
are mainly farmers, taking advantage of the plentiful waters
available locally, while the limited tourist flow to the Minoan
palace of Kato Zakros (that mandatorily passes through their
village) has left them indifferent so far. Hence you are not
going to witness here the misery of haphazard tourist development
so prevalent east of Ierapetra.
The name of Zakros sounds pre-Hellenic and most likely it
has remained unaltered since extreme antiquity. Although the
area has been inhabited continually until the present, there
is no reference of Zakros in the works of ancient historians,
or in the censuses conducted by the Venetian and Turkish conquerors.
It is mentioned for the first time in the census taken by the
Egyptians in 1834. Such oblivion shows how isolated this area
was, an area which still receives very few visitors.
From Ano Zakros a new road (A3) descends to Kato Zakros where
the Minoan palace was discovered. Here is a wonderful pebbly
beach dotted with several tavernas and rooms to let, open from
May to October.
The spot is ideal for quiet holidays and as a base camp for
hiking excursions to the surrounding hills, or for rides to
the magnificently desolate Ziros Plateau west of Zakros, as
well as for exploring the entire eastern end of Crete, a land
still retaining plenty of its authentic beauty.
If you have hikers amongst your group, a good idea would be
to let them off at Ano Zakros in order to walk to Kato Zakros
through the impressive Zakros
Gorge or “Gorge
of the Dead”, named after the numerous Minoan
burials discovered in the caves that line its vertical walls.
The footpath is passable and well marked; it starts at the
southern end of the village and if you can’t find it just
ask the natives. It is much easier to find the path if you set
off from Kato Zakros.
|The Kapsa Monastery
We do not know exactly when the monastery was founded (it
is conjectured that someone called Kapsas built it in 1450),
but we do know when it began to flourish. It was in the
spring of 1841, when its owner, Hatzinikolis Zaphiris (who
had bought it from the Turks together with all its land),
granted it to a small-time crook, Yiannis Vincentzos or
Gerontoyiannis, from the village of Lithines. Gerontoyiannis
had been using the ruined monastery for some time as a hideout,
as he had done with the inaccessible caves of the Perivolakia
Gorge, and he lived off petty theft. One day, while sitting
in the monastery garden, he thought of a wonderful way of
becoming rich not by plunder but by means of voluntary contributions
by his victims!
Crete, Kapsa monastery
So he spread it around, with the help of several of his
trusted friends, that he had been visited by Divine Grace
which had made him a saint capable of working miracles.
He could make the sign of the cross over sea water and
render it drinkable, sit on his overcoat and float over
to the islands opposite, and of course, with God’s
help, cure the faithful of all illnesses (if he failed,
this was not his fault, but that of the believer whose
faith was not as strong as it should have been and so
God had refused to cure him). It was then that Zaphiris
granted him the monastery and soon the (over-gullible)
faithful were forming queues outside his cell for him
to cure them, bringing with them, naturally, the richest
gifts they could afford, as proof of their faith and a
token of their gratitude to the good God and to his earthly
The monastery very quickly became famous and acquired
a clientele from all corners of Crete. With a small part
of the wealth he had amassed, Gerontoyiannis renovated
the monastery, built new cells and added a second chapel
(which was dedicated to the glorious Holy Trinity) next
to the original chapel (which was dedicated to the humble
John the Baptist). He decorated both chapels with ornate
wooden iconostases made by the Lasithian craftsman Hatzi
Minas, and with beautiful icons, the work of the Irakliot
iconographer Antonis Alexandridis. He appointed heir to
this fraudulent racket his grandson, Iosif, who carried
on the work faultlessly after his grandfather’s
death in 1874. Indeed, he had an ornate reliquary made,
where he placed the bones of Gerontoyiannis and on top,
in a special case, he put his skull for the people to
make pilgrimages to. As you can see for youeselves from
the size of the skull. Gerontoyiannis really had a lot
of brains !
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