Adrian had booked this 2 ½ week trip to Crete earlier in the year. Recently we wondered if it would go ahead, as, after many tests, he was found to have prostate cancer. His suggested treatment is hormone therapy for 3 months, followed by four weeks of daily radiotherapy. Once this was known, we could go about thinking again of our trip.
We'd had a wonderfully busy summer, culminating in our 'glorious Golden Wedding weekend' in August, where everything, including the weather, was perfect. Our children & grandchildren came up trumps, as did many of the family.
The weather in England had been beautiful, and we set off at 1.00pm on a day with clear blue sky. Adrian had had a last minute panic, when the computer wifi connection stopped working, but with that sorted we set off for a smooth run down to Gatwick.
Tuesday 4th October Heraklion and Knossos 22km
We woke to a beautiful morning, and watched from the balcony as the sun came up over the town and the sea.
We were pleased to find a pleasant selection of food for breakfast. From our table, we looked down to watch a group of elderly gentleman gathered outside a cafe, chatting and drinking.
We left on foot at 9.30, stopping at a nearby bakers to buy rolls, but it turned out to be a ring of rolls – more than we needed for lunch. We also bought a seemingly expensive baklava, which was put into a box, but even so had leaked out when we opened it later, having made everything sticky. After this, we passed bakers shops everywhere!
We enjoyed walking around the town, with no worries of a car, which we were picking up later. There were a plethora of scooters, giving a retro feel amongst all the touristy and posh clothes and shoe shops. We soon came to the Venetian Square, which goes under many different names, with its central fountain. Nearby was the Venetian City Hall and St Mark's church. Later we saw the church of Ayiou Titon. All were very ornate, with enough icons to keep Margherita happy! We didn't go into the religious icon museum!
We walked on down to the Venetian Harbour, with its sea of masts amongst the antiquity. We came to some of the City Walls, which we'd glimpsed last night on our way from the airport. It was a nice sight to see children playing ball games in pitches beneath them.
On our walk back, we came to the Archaeological museum. We looked around the large patio surrounding it, but decided against going in, as it was late morning by now, and we were collecting the car at lunchtime and were then planning to visit Knossos. We read that the museum was being refurbished, but maybe by now it is completed.
We had become hot walking around, so stopped to buy an icecream but the only flavour available for me was vanilla, so not very exciting. It reminded us of a time when the children were small, and Simon asked for 'Pornish'. Flavoured ice creams were rare then. When his 'Cornish' icecream came, he was most disappointed – 'It's just plain white'!
We were now refreshed enough to walk back to our hotel via the cathedral. We passed where the supposedly busy market was held, but there was nothing there. Now near our hotel, we got lost on the last bit in the maze of streets, so it was gone midday when we returned.
Heraklion’s Venetian Square
We ate lunch on our balcony, feeling a bit like Chad, as our eyes just peeped above the wall! We enjoyed our eggs brought from breakfast with some of the 'roll ring'. Afterwards we shared the sticky baklava.
Then it was time to take a taxi (which came to the hotel in less than 2 minutes), to collect our car. Europcar was right back by the airport. Consequently we had a long wait while other travellers collected their cars. We collected our Nissan Micra and set off for Knossos, with Adrian following the tablet sat nav. We were pleased when we got there to read in Rough Guide that there was a free car park and not to be taken in by the touts enticing you into their private car parks. What we were not pleased to find was that the price for entry was €15, whereas Rough Guide said that it was €6, and €10 for joint tickets with the Archaeological museum! It now €16 for that so it would have only cost €1 to go in the Archaeological museum – we'd have popped in there if we'd known. We think the busy site of Knossos was paying for the restoration of the Archaeological museum!
This massive ancient Knossos site dates from 1900 BC, although the area was originally inhabited in 6,700 BC! The person responsible for its discovery and early restoration was Sir Arthur Evans, curator of the Oxford Ashmolean Museum. This was in the early 20th Century. The site was impressive to see, but I did get the irreverent feeling of our fellow traveller Bob Angle in Central America – 'It's just another pile of old stones'!
Part of the city walls
After joining the hordes of visitors in wandering around much of the site in the hot sun, we stopped at the cafe for a cup of tea. We had been pleased at the listed price of €1.30, so weren't pleased when the exuberant waiter charged us €3 each! At least we'd enjoyed sitting under the shady gazebo covered with bougainvillea!
We now drove back to our hotel, Adrian managing to negotiate the narrow roads. We had intended stopping at a large fruit stall we'd seen, but Adrian also wanted to visit a supermarket. On making our way to one, we saw a Carrefour, so visited that instead. Now, with some booze, we headed for the hotel, parking in an open parking area behind it (€5 per night).
In the evening we set off to find somewhere to eat. We had liked the look of the fish restaurants near the harbour, and that was what the receptionist at the desk suggested. It seemed a long way to walk, but we made it, walking through the vibrant centre around the Venetian fountain.
The ancient site of Knossos
We ate at Fish Tavern right near the sea, and chose a fish platter for two. This we really enjoyed, with a large beer each. Being near to the airport, planes took off over us and we had the sights of the harbour to look at. Numerous small cats pleaded for their supper. A lovely atmosphere – only spoilt by the lady at the next table smoking in between each course.
At the end of the meal, we were brought a plate of watermelon and two slices of cheese cake, along with a small bottle of raki. This gave us the strength to wander back up through the town to our hotel, arriving at 10 o'clock. It had been a good first day.
Adrian waiting for his fish
Wednesday 5th October Westwards to Hania 160km
It was another lovely morning as we tried to get organised into travel mode - thinking how much easier it is in a camper.
Adrian photographed the old gentlemen outside the cafe when we went down to breakfast.
We got packed up and left at 10 o'clock to travel west along the coast.
Our first stop was at Paleokastro, where we turned down to come to a delightful little sandy/rocky cove beneath the E75 bridge, backed by a small taverna. We sat on a wooden bench by the beach to have coffee. Several, mostly older, people were in the sea. We joined them for our first swim of the trip. The water was pleasantly warm, but I, in particular, with my bad balance, found it difficult to get in as the beach was steeply shelving. It was nice to feel warm after coming out of the water, not shivering under a towel!
Paleokastro - our first swim
We continued westwards towards Rethymno, Adrian fighting with sat-nav problems. At Panormos we came down to a quiet, sandy harbour. We ate our lunch sitting by the beach, finishing up our rolls with feta cheese, and with eggs brought from breakfast. Afterwards we had another pleasant short swim in the calm, warm water.
Soon afterwards we passed two well stocked tourist supermarkets, and Adrian was able to buy the tonic which he'd forgotten to get, then we passed pleasant beaches as our road led along near the sea.
Panormos - our second swim
At Georgioupoli (Yeorioupolis) we turned off to explore some of the Dhrapano peninsula. Georgioupoli was a delightful little town with small shops/cafes surrounding a square with fountains, beneath huge eucalyptus trees. We'd stopped beside a house with many sculptures looking like a museum. As we ate an icecream by the square, we thought that this would be a happy place to come for a holiday, and thought so even more when we saw that a river came out to the sea here.
We continued into the hills, passing remote little villages. We wound up to the village of Aspro, mentioned in our guide book as being 'like Greece of old', but were only struck by the new houses which we passed.
We came back down to the sea at pretty Almiridha, a sandy, shallow cove, which would have been nice for children. It was lined with tavernas. A lot of people were lazing on the beach - this would soon have bored us!
Looking back down to Georgioupoli
We carried on towards Hania, finding our way through to Hotel Poseidon (Posidonio) which was right by a long sandy beach backed by eating places.
We were able to park right outside. Having booked in, and had a look at our room, we waited for the small lift, wondering why it took so long, before we realised it was there all the time!
We sat on our balcony, with views down to the beach, with a reviving cup of tea and then a sundowner.
We then walked out along beside the beach. There was a nice looking fish restaurant right next door, but tonight we continued to another one, which turned out to be excellent. We shared fried vegetables to start - courgette, aubergine and mushrooms in a light batter, then followed this with giant prawns and calamari, all very nice, and accompanied by a pleasant carafe of house wine. A group of 3 young musicians came in briefly and played Greek music (2 with accordions, one with a drum), which added to the happy atmosphere. We were brought raki, and a desert, so felt quite mellow as we walked back at 10 o'clock.
View from our balcony at Hania
Thursday 6th October Hania (Chania, Xania) and the Akrotiri peninsula 45km
This was supposed to be our lazy, catching up day, but didn't really seem that way!
After showers and breakfast, I caught up with the diary, so we didn't leave until late morning.
We drove down into Hania, arriving at a car park at 11.50. No change was given, so we had 2½ hours, which we though was loads of time!
It was hot in the sun as we set off, we were glad to find a shady side street. We came to the very ornate church of St Nicholas which had both a tower and a minaret from its Christian and Moslem Turkish past. Beside it was Square 1821 with shaded eating places.
The church of St Nicholas, Hania
We wandered down to the Inner harbour and then along to the outer harbour, passing some ancient buildings and walls. It looked very Italian, from its Venetian past, mingled with the Turkish minaret of the lighthouse.
The mosque of the Janisserris
The waterside was lined with eating places, many very smart, but others more touristy, with touts trying to entice you in. We finally settled on one, and ordered a 'small beer', each which turned out to be enormous!
We watched the tourists walk by, and the occasional smart horse and carriage, looking across to the strange mosque of the Janisserris, built in 1645.
Our meal of stuffed vine leaves (memories for me of Margaret Massialas in Athens) and Greek salad, was excellent. We were given the usual raki, with some Turkish delight afterwards. Now the interesting part came! Adrian handed over a €50 note for our €24 bill, and when asked for our change, the waiter and owner went dashing off. It would appear that the change had been given to another family, who were making off with it! We did eventually get it.
The minaret lighthouse
We now started wandering back along the narrow, atmospheric alleys full of attractive eating places. I bought some postcards, and we then came to the market. We'd missed the cathedral, but in looking at the time, found that we only had 10 minutes left, so rushed on past the minaret and got back to the car just in time!
We drove on now to the Akrotiri peninsula, stopping first at Kalathas beach, which had sand, blue sea and sky, but was very windy, so I just settled on a paddle. One family was enjoying the water and there were a few takers for the sunbeds.
We continues to Tersanas - a beautiful sandy cove where we both had a swim in the calm water. As I waded ashore, I stumbled on the one underwater rock an fell full length into the sea!
One of Hania’s narrow streets
Sitting by our car after a swim at Tersanas beach
We revived with a shared cup of tea before driving on to Stavros, at the north of the peninsula. This was a divine place - a near circular bay with a barren mountain behind it - referred to as Zorba's Mountain, as it is where the final part of Zorba the Greek was filmed.
The water here is so calm, that many families were enjoying it. We walked along to a delightful old windmill, now part of the restaurant.
We now drove back down the peninsula, stopping to look at Venizelos graves - of a famous statesman and his son, who had resisted the attempted take over by the Turks. It was set amongst scented pine trees, with lovely views back to Hania.
When we got back to our hotel, it was 6 o'clock. We ascended by the tiny lift, which amuses us, as it is dark when you enter, and the light only comes on when you've pressed the button for your floor - which you can't see in the dark!
By now it was time for sundowners on the balcony!
We had decided to eat at the restaurant next door, which we thought yesterday was a fish restaurant. It did serve fish, but we ate veggie dishes – stuffed aubergine and mixed veg, with a beer. Ouzo afterwards (not raki tonight) came with a piece of ‘chocolate biscuit cake’.
I should think so too!
Friday 7th October To Paleochora via Elafonissi 127km
Another fine morning, although it felt cooler at breakfast, but soon became hot. We looked down to see several people swimming in the sea.
As we continued, there were numerous roadside stalls selling honey.
We came to the tunnel at the start of the Koutasamasados gorge, and after driving through it, had views of the impressive gorge. At Elos, a new bypass had been built - but signs were directing cars through the village - they obviously didn't like losing their custom!
We'd made good time, so continued with our plan to visit Elafonissi - a spot in the south west corner of Crete which has become really popular. We managed to pull off on one of the hairpins to have our tea/coffee under the shade of some plane trees.
We arrived at Elafonissi at midday. There were very many cars, parked haphazardly in large parking areas. We found a spot, and set off across the huge expanse of flat sand where the swarms of visitors were scattered. Because we'd read what a fantastic place this was, it didn't quite grab us, although we could see the attraction of the immense area of shallow warm water, with the chance to wade out to an uninhabited island.
Shady coffee stop
We waded out and managed to find some water deep enough to swim in. There were shoals of tiny fish. Adrian continued to the island while I returned to the beach. We then wandered back over the decrepit boardwalk, passing the few tavernas and stalls. We had been glad to visit, but now set off to find somewhere to eat our lunch, being 1 o'clock.
We drove back a short way and turned off on a road to the Monastery of Assumption. The shady car park was a quiet place to sit under the trees for lunch before we walked over to look up at the monastery. We took a rough track to view a beautiful rocky cove.
Now 2.20, we stopped to have one last look at the sea where a camper had found an idyllic spot to stop, before ascending into the hills again.
When we reached Elos, we drove through the village this time before joining the road to Paleochora. The road was lined with sweet chestnut trees - we stopped to gather a few nuts.
Monastery of the Assumption and the delightful cove beside it
Now we descended to Paleochora, and located Hotel Aghas, at the northern end of the town in the centre of the peninsula which makes up Paleochora. We had no sea views here, but our room was spacious (3 beds), and the balcony looked out onto greenery. We stopped to have a reviving cup of tea before driving out to see something of the town.
Driving to the eastern side of the peninsula first, we soon came to an area with many eating places. The beach on this side is pebbly, on the other side it is sandy.
At the southern end, we came to the remains of an ancient castle. It was very atmospheric as we wandered over the stony site in the warmth of the early evening. There were wonderful views of the barren remote slopes to the east.
Collecting sweet chestnuts
A man was sculpting in wood - Adrian had a chat to him.
We stopped on the western side of the peninsula and wandered onto the coarse grained beach as the sun went down.
Back at our room, we sat on the balcony with our aperitif, looking at our onward route for tomorrow.
Afterwards we walked back to find somewhere to eat. Adrian had looked at Rough Guide, and we made for two veggie restaurants. The one we chose 'The Third Eye' was excellent. We sat outside in a 'garden' and ate delicious food. The owner’s son Luke chatted to us afterwards. He was Cretan/New Zealand, and loved travelling, so talking came easily!
We wandered back along the pleasant little streets to our hotel.
Man carving at Paleochora Castle
Paleochora castle and the view of the town from it
Saturday 8th October A glimpse of the Samaria gorge 83km
Another lovely morning!
We went down early to breakfast, but nobody was there! The lady arrived soon afterwards and began bringing us breakfast – it was a good breakfast but it came in bits and pieces! No-one else was about, but we did see two other guests eating before we left at 9.20.
Our first stop was at the little supermarket by the beach for Adrian to get his tonic.
After we set off, we soon began ascending into the mountains eastwards, with views down to the coast at Sougia, where we were heading. There were wild goats - later we saw many more. We stopped beside plane trees at 2,600ft (800m), it was beautifully quiet.
At Temenia there was again a newly painted white church with red tiled roof and blue window frames. The village was a distance away, but this was obviously the communal place - there was a surfaced area with lots of seats beside a hall. We had coffee here before starting off on all the hairpins down to Sougia.
Cafes lined the road by the beach of this little town, although the road we came on is the only access except by walking. A footpath goes from here back to Paleochora, the first part along a gorge. We drove to the western end of the 'town', and Adrian walked a short way uphill, but the going was too rough for me. I sat on the pebbly beach by the pretty harbour.
Further back along the beach, Adrian had a swim, but the uneven pebbles and the waves were sadly again too much for me.
We ate lunch sitting on a low wall beside the beach, in the shade of a tamarisk.
Now we ascended into the mountains again, taking the road at Rodovani to Omalos, our stop for tonight after we have viewed the Samaria Gorge.
We drove on up and up passing tiny villages. At Agias Irini, a walk starts to the Agias Irini Gorge.
Soon afterwards the road separated at 3,250ft (990m), in this gorgeous mountain scenery. We could see right down to the north coast at Hania. A large flock of sheep huddled into the shade at the side of the road.
Looking towards the harbour at Sougia
The start of the gorge walk
We continued ascending - to a 'pass' at 3,670ft (1120m) and then descended a little but by the time we came to the end of the road at the start of the Samaria Gorge we were at 4,193ft (1280m).
We stopped to look down into the gorge, where younger and fitter people can make the long hike down to the coast (6hrs). It did look spectacular.
Sheep huddling in the shade
Later more sheep were herded past us
We watched as one or two hikers returned, before driving the few miles to Neos Omolas Hotel in Omalos, arriving at 3.30.
It was windy by the hotel, but not on our balcony as we sat with our cup of tea. With the leaves on the trees turning colour, it felt quite autumnal, but we are at 3500ft (1070m) tonight.
We ate in the restaurant downstairs. With all the wood, it seemed like an Alpine resort. The pleasant waiter handed each person the detailed menu, then came and said the few options available! We both ate a really tasty courgette, potato and cheese bake, which went well with the carafe of house wine.
Looking down into the Samaria Gorge
Sunday 9th October North and south to a 'resort by the sea' 153km
It was different to be cool in the morning.
We felt rather out of place with all the serious hikers setting off to walk the Samaria Gorge! We were practically alone to eat breakfast, which today included freshly squeezed orange juice instead of the watery stuff usually serve up.
The mountain scenery looked absolutely beautiful as we set off at 9.30. We soon passed hundreds of goats on the road, and had to edge our way through.
Today we were driving north to Hania to take the E75 east until we could turn south again.
Very soon we had an amazing view down over the north coast with the two long peninsulas of Robedos and Granivonsa sticking up.
We passed the botanical gardens built in 2006 by brothers who had lost their olive groves to fire. I would like to have visited, but was not feeling good today, even if we had had time.
At Fournes where there was another immaculately white painted church with a red tiled roof, we had to wait while a funeral car 'unloaded'.
A bit further north we came to Agias reservoir, which is supposed to be really good for birdlife. We walked along a boardwalk to a 'hide', which was set right behind a large tree! All we could see was a coot, and a heron taking off!
We drove around to an over-smart taverna beside the water, where we saw another heron, and many more ducks of all sorts.
Looking to the coast as we drive north through the mountains
When we reached the E75 we drove eastwards, turning south when we came to Vrisses.
Adrian noticed a sign to an ancient stone bridge. We’d missed our turning, so were on an odd bit of road. We stopped and found an idyllic spot with the Greek/Roman/Venetian bridge right beside a little white chapel. A broken concrete table made a fine place to have our lunch which I had recovered enough to enjoy.
Agias Reservoir - a rare sight in Crete
Now we ascended mountains, travelling southwards. At Askifrou we had note of a war museum, set up by a local man. It was a wonderful place - now run by his sons, one of whom gave us a guided chat (in broken English), along with a granddaughter. The room and balcony were crammed with dusty helmets, guns, and all sorts of memorabilia, mostly local, including a Norton motorcycle. The museum isn't government funded, so relies on donations. We hadn't known of the great involvement of Crete in the Second World War.
Delightful lunch stop beside the chapel and ancient bridge
Continuing south, we stopped to view the Imbros Gorge, driving though several short tunnels. It was an impressive view down to the flattish land beside the sea, after the seriously steep descent from the mountains. We then began descending on a continual serpentine until we reached sea level.
The war museum at Askifrou
Here we turned westwards to drive to Chora Stakias, the tiny capital of this region, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea.
It was a very pretty place, but parking was always a problem and particularly on this Sunday afternoon, so we weren't able to stop.
The road snakes down to the sea
The Imbros Gorge
As we turned back eastwards, we had views out to sea of Gavolos and Gavdopoula islands.
We ascended through low hills, through the pretty village of Kamitades with its white and blue houses and church. It is near here that the Imbros Gorge reaches the sea.
Our next delight was Frangocastello with its perfect looking castle, which is in fact just the walls and towers - it is quite empty inside! We stopped to view it from beside a taverna right by a little harbour edged with tamarisks. There were photogenic rows of red and blue sunshades on the beach.
We now had a short flat drive, before ascending into the hills again. The steep mountains were stark and barren, some coming right down to the sea.
As we drove on, we could see right down to the resort town of Plakias with its stunning location beside a circular bay edged with high rocks.
Now we came to our stopping place for the next two nights - Kalypso resort hotel. We’d wondered about this 'different 'sort of place (for us). It was set right beside the sea, in this barren mountain landscape - a real oasis in the desert. It took us a while to locate the reception - we walked a long way through the 'resort' until we found it. We were booked in by a Bear Grylls lookalike, who then pointed us to our room. We couldn't complain about this - the most spacious yet. with a large patio edged with bougainvillea, plus a small one at the back.
Looking down to Plakias
The room was very large, again with 3 beds, and with lots of places to put things, and there was a bathroom with a BATH!
Apparently there are three swimming pools for us to discover tomorrow, and an evening meal is included as well as breakfast.
It was a long walk down to the restaurant area, which was seated both indoors and outside above the sea. We were confused, as there were menus on display, but unknown to us, there was a buffet set out to help yourself from. The woman receptionist appeared rather brusque when we asked about it, as did our waiter. We discovered that there are in fact a lot of people staying here, but we found a table for two. For hungry meat eaters, this must have been a joy, but we still found things to tempt my small appetite. We discovered after we'd got up to leave, that there were desserts too, but not a great selection. We felt that we weren't really part of this scene, but we couldn't fault it – everything is very tastefully done.
We just drank water with our meal – we'd had an aperitif on our patio, and afterwards climbed back up there to drink a beer. We really enjoyed the warmth and the quiet – unaware of the many other guests here, apart from hearing some disco music later. Adrian walked all the way back to the car to get the little bottle of raki which he'd brought from the restaurant in Heraklion, although there was some to help yourself to in the restaurant here.
Adrian on the balcony at Kalypso
Monday 10th October A relaxing day at the 'resort' 0km
It was lovely to wake and think that we weren't going anywhere today, and could have a relaxing, catching up day. We went down to breakfast quite early, so enjoyed eating with very few people about, unlike last night, and in the relative cool. Again there was a lot of choice, so we were able to get some extras for our lunch. We stopped at the reception area to log in, but after much trouble, found that there weren't any emails.
We had time to look at our onward route. When it was coffee time, we realised that the main patio was far too hot, so sat at the little back one. Then it was time to walk to two of the pools – cleverly designed like the one we had been so impressed with in Lausanne in 1983 – water flowed right over the edge, so this wasn't visible. We had a lovely swim, followed by a short laze in the sun. The only other people here were a group of Russians. We came back to have lunch on the back patio.
Afterwards we went for a walk around the vast complex, including down to the narrow inlet between high rocks, where the diving people left from. From here we walked along a rough concrete path set into the rough cliffs above the sea. Then it was time for a swim in the superb large pool. We were surprised that the pool changed depth, with no signs saying how deep it was. We climbed back up to our room, when it was time to try out the bath.
Our balcony and one of the pools
We enjoyed our aperitif on the patio again, walking down to the restaurant at 7.30, when it opened. The doors were still shut, but soon they opened, and along with a few others, we traipsed in. We sat at a table over the pool (nobody using it) and enjoyed the buffet meal. We had some freshly cooked fish, which attracted the cats! There was no raki put out tonight, so we came back up to enjoy the rest of our wine on the patio. There were some clouds tonight , but it was still warm.
Kalypso Resort Hotel
Tuesday 11th October North again to Rethymno 61km
Another nice day, but today there was some cloud, although it remained warm. We ate breakfast above the pool and sea again. We stopped on the way back up to get an internet connection, but again there were no emails. We had a pleasant swim in the third pool before leaving this enjoyable 'resort' at 10.30.
Adrian hadn't been at all sure about this place, but we couldn't fault it – everything was really attractively done, with streams of (salt) water running through the site, with even a few large goldfish. It was completely hidden from view until you actually got here, an incongruous oasis amongst the bare, steep cliffs.
We drove back to Plakias, which had looked so glorious from high above when we'd passed it two days ago. It didn't seem so attractive from ground level – maybe because there wasn't the clear blue sky this morning. We stopped to have coffee beside the beach.
From here we drove towards Moni Preveli. We stopped by a delightful Roman bridge, with water flowing beneath to form a small pond.
A swim in the third pool before we leave Kalypso
We continued upwards, stopping by the Preveli International Memorial for Resistance & Peace just before the monastery. It was set in a large gravel garden, with a soldier and a monk in fighting mode. It was surrounded by a wooden fence, but for some reason the gate was locked, so we could only view it from outside. The monastery is a symbol of resistance, particularly during WW2.
Lovely Roman bridge at Preveli
A small road led down to Palm Beach, an apparent idyll of green set in the barren cliffs where the River Kourtaliotiko reaches the sea after flowing through the canyon. We found that this was a fee paying area - fine if you were coming for the day, but it is a long descent (and even longer ascent!) and we would just have been popping in. It's the site in 1941 where hundreds of allied soldiers were evacuated from by submarine after the battle of Crete.
Our route now took us through the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, which was extremely rugged with barren vertical cliffs. When we stopped to view it, we saw the amazing sight high above of dozens of vultures circling before landing on prey.
The Preveli International Memorial for Resistance & Peace
We followed a back route through the hills to Spili, hoping to find somewhere to eat lunch. Our luck was in, as we came to a wooden table and bench set above a lovely deep valley, There was even a litter bin! The only thing it didn't have was shade, but it was cloudy at that point, so we were willing the sun to stay in!
Kourtaliotiko Gorge where we watched griffon vultures
We continued to the tourist town of Spili, which was very pleasant, but quite busy. The roads were steep, but the fascinating thing was a line of spouts gushing spring water, in the centre of the town. It tasted really fresh. There were lots of little cafes and shops. In one we bought some local ouzo.
Now we followed the main road north, stopping at Armeni, where there is a Minoan Cemetery. This was said to be free in our book, but now, with a newly built entrance, it cost €2, so we didn't stop!
At 2.30 we reached Rethymno. Adrian drove through the town until we found our hotel, Palazzo Vecchio, right opposite the fortress. We were able to park on the corner outside while we booked in. The hotel was very smart, with a tiny attractive blue and white swimming pool set in the little courtyard. The receptionist marked all sorts of things on the map, saying 'behind our church' and 'our market'. There was a large private car park opposite, and she directed us in there. After looking at our spacious accommodation – on the 2nd floor, up flights of marble stairs - we unloaded. This is our poshest hotel, and includes a kitchenette with kettle and hob and a balcony. It was too warm to sit there for our cup of tea, and we cooled off with a refreshing swim in the minuscule pool. By now the sun had gone from it and with no sunbeds down there, it was a climb back up in wet cozzie!
Lunch on the way to Spili, where we tried the spring water
When we sat on the balcony with our aperitif, there were really strange clouds overhead.
Afterwards we walked out through the streets of the old town to To Pigadi, a restaurant recommended by our hostess. We sat outside in a shaded courtyard and enjoyed delicious salmon and giant prawns with a carafe of local wine.
The tiny pool at Rethymno
Wednesday 12th October Rethymno 0km
Breakfast was eaten in the little courtyard by the swimming pool. The sky was clear blue again this morning.
We set off to explore some of the old town of Rethymno, revelling in all the narrow little side streets, many with small shops selling clothes, shoes, jewellery and gifts. The streets were pedestrianised, but this didn't preclude scooters, which sometimes zoomed past.
We came to a large square beside a mosque and sat on a shady seat with our morning drinks. There was a school adjacent, and children were happily playing in the playground – it felt like being back home! The whistle went, and a class of older children, wearing T-shirts and leggings or shorts, came out with a teacher to practise marching around the square, complete with claps and stamps. Although it brought back memories of guide church parade, it gave me an uneasy feeling.
Some of Rethymno’s narrow streets
There were many eating places here, as everywhere, but as I wasn't on top form again, we bought a small loaf from a little bakers we passed, and brought it back to our room to have lunch – inside, as it was too hot on our sunny balcony.
We spent a relaxing afternoon, having a swim in the minuscule pool. We shared a pain au raisin with a cup of tea before walking out to explore some of the fortress. We looked in at the restaurant Melina’s on the way, wondering about eating there tonight.
The Venetian fortress was immense. We paid our €3 (oldies rate) entrance fee before wandering through the vast area of the castle. It was just an enormous open area, with one or two restored/rebuilt buildings. There were marvellous views down over the town. It was a good time to visit, as it wasn't too hot.
We walked back, and when we entered our hotel, the receptionist invited us to have some more raki. We sat by the pool with this, chatting to him. He was actually from Bulgaria, and had been here for 8 years. He loved it here, especially being away from the cold of winter. We felt quite mellow as we walked back up the stairs at 10.30!
We'd had a look at the sea by our hotel when we set off, but now we wandered down to the harbour – atmospheric as all the harbours have been. Once again there was a nice lighthouse, and also an old sailing vessel, but Adrian couldn't decide how authentic it was.
Children marching in the square by the minaret
The harbour and a fountain in the old town of Rethymno
We stopped off at a well-stocked supermarket on the way back and bought tonic, lemon (lime), pears and water. Back in our room, we had drinks on the balcony before setting off to find a place to eat tonight.
We settled on going back to Melina's, which we'd looked at earlier. This worked out really well. We enjoyed octopus and calamari, with a half carafe of house wine. My 'chips', amounted to three large wedges of potato, but were good. The food was delicious, and the ambience great. Our raki afterwards came with a moist piece of chocolate cake.
Melina’s Restaurant, Rethymno
Thursday 13th October South to Agya Galini via Arkadhi Monastery 73km
The mountains looked wonderful on this beautiful morning.
After a pleasant breakfast beside the tiny courtyard pool, we packed up and left at 9.30. It had been a lovely stay.
We drove past the fortress before going through the town, passing the market which is held today.
On the eastern side of the town, we came to the enormously long sandy beach with its lines of coloured umbrellas.
We continued east until we took a road going south, following the sat nav. This took us on a rural route through remote hills with pretty villages until we reached Arkadhi Monastery. This place is of great significance to Cretans as it symbolises their struggle for independence. It is much visited – two coaches unloaded while we were there. It had an evocative attraction, a simple church standing in a walled enclave. In 1866, an explosion took place, killing dozens of people – both Greeks and Turks, while under siege from the Turks. It looked and felt like the Alamo.
Rethymno’s sandy beach
We'd had tea/coffee sitting on the wall outside, before wandering around enjoying the scenic and significant site.
We continued south through the wild mountain scenery of the Amari valley, with the very occasional incongruous field of vines, and nearer the south coast, olive trees. We had difficulty in finding shade to eat lunch, stopping beside an old olive tree, with a small horizontal bough just large enough for Adrian to sit on, but with great views.
We carried on south to Agya Galini, our place for the next two nights. This one-time fishing village of white houses is now used by tourist companies, and is apparently very busy in summer.
We passed our hotel, the Hotel Fevro, as we drove on down to the harbour. It was attractively bedecked with bougainvillea, but was a way back from the sea.
We had a look around the harbour area, with its plethora of fish restaurants. There was no beach here - that was a good 10 minute walk away. We drove back to the hotel and were welcomed by a lady who spoke no English, only German. She telephoned her daughter, and then offered us a room on the second floor – or on the third floor. In the afternoon heat, we didn't relish the long walk up to the third floor, so settled on the 2nd.
Lunch stop in the Amari Valley
After our last two hotels, which had excellent facilities, this one was a let down. A small but clean room, but with none of the extras – no air conditioning, no fridge, no pool, and just a tiny balcony – overlooking the next hotel's swimming pool! There was a distant glimpse of the sea. Also, there is no parking – just on-street parking. Adrian was particularly disappointed – especially when he looked up and found that we had paid more on booking.com than the going rate now, which is not usually the case. We went down to ask the manager about the air conditioning, but in German (he looked like George V) he said 'Kein problem' on 2nd floor, only top floor gets hot!.
Later we walked down to the harbour and enjoyed a wonderful fish platter for two at the Mezetzidiko Restaurant with a carafe of white wine. We walked back up the narrow street and then the many steps to our room at 10.30.
Agya Galini Harbour and the view from our hotel (note next door’s unused pool!)
Wonderful fish platter at Agya Galini
Friday 14th October 'Piles of old rocks' and a hippy beach 125km
We had two days booked at this hotel, so today was the day to go off exploring.
It was cool until the sun got to us, then a beautifully warm day.
We enjoyed a good breakfast sitting on the terrace, with the unfortunate sight of a half finished building beside us.
We left at 10 o'clock, stopping to buy drinking water and then to get fuel. We drove into the hills, passing through timeless white villages with delightful views down to the sea. We stopped in this peaceful mountain setting to have coffee under the olive trees. The only sound was the bleating and the bells of the goats.
At the village of Kamares, two goats actually blocked the road, tethered to a man who was sitting at the side. We made a diversion through the village here, glad that we weren't in the van as it was all so narrow!
At Vorizia we were amused at a small cabbage plantation beside the plantings of fir trees.
At Zaros we had to negotiate past two huge lorries and later a tanker, on these tiny roads.
We headed for nearby Limni Lake at Votomas, an artificial pond full of trout. Its dark green colour looked very attractive beneath the sheer vertical white cliffs. There were rustic wooden seats beside it – we should have stopped here to have our lunch, as picnic spots in the shade are hard to find.
A patch of cabbages in the dry hills!!
Beehives - a more common sight
We continued to Agya Varvara, where there was nothing of note. From here we took the busy road south, where there were no pull-offs – why hadn't we taken the smaller road which Adrian had suggested?
We drove through the town of Ayii Dkeki, stopping soon afterwards at the ancient site of Gortyz. There was a large parking area here, but with very little shade, and no seats. We managed to stop beside an old bit of wall, and sit there to have our lunch. This significant vast site was hard to orientate. We crossed the road, but it really was just 'a pile of old rocks', and we couldn't make anything out, despite having a map in our guide book. There was a roped off olive tree, supposedly 1,600 years old, although others nearby were more impressive.
Limni Lake at Votomas
Back on our side of the road, we came to the entrance and paid our €3 (€4 normal rate). There was no map – we were lent a useless laminated sheet in Greek. The thing to see was the ruins of St Titus church. It seems to be the oldest Christian church, but it was all roped off! Adrian wandered down to the Odeon where there were ancient tablets in a fenced building. It all left a bit to be desired really!
A ‘pile of old rocks’ at Gortyz
The so-called 1,600 year old olive tree
We drove on westwards through the Messara Plain. At the large town of Mires, Adrian went into a large Carrefour to get more drinking water – cheaper than other places - and found the shop strange and empty.
We stopped at the site of Festos, climbing to the entrance. The vast site was set out below. I didn't fancy walking round another place in the heat, even if the 'oldies' rate was only €4 instead of €8. The pleasant man at the desk said – 'you can look from the top, you only pay if you go down' So that's what we did. It looked good from here, especially framed by bougainvillea.
St Titus Church, Gortyz
Law code tablets
A more impressive olive tree
We'd seen enough old rocks for one day, so now made our way down towards the coast. We drove through pretty Siva, where we had trouble negotiating cars, coming down to Malata. This had been a real hippy hangout in the sixties, and still had a slightly hippy feel. We walked along a narrow street lined with shops and eating places, coming to the beautiful looking beach. This was really crowded, with lots of people enjoying the sea. We would liked to have joined them but had left our swim things in the car, so had to suffice with a paddle. The beach was actually of coarse grit, but the vertical barren sandy cliffs edging it made it look really attractive. The cliffs were famous for the caves formed in them, apparently hippy hangouts for such people as Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.
The site at Festos
We drove on to nearby Kommos, stopping first to enjoy the view beside a little chapel of this bit of coast, and looking across to Agia Galini. We drove on down to the beach, where there were some sunbeds, but far less people. We changed into our cozzies this time, but were thwarted, as in addition to having small waves, there was an underlying line of rocks, so no good for us to swim. I sat on the edge of the water.
The beach at Malata with its caves
We drove back to Agia Galini via the steep and narrow village of Kamilari. It was 6 o'clock when we got back to Hotel Fevro – time when we'd got sorted for a drink on the balcony.
Tonight we had decided to eat at Faros, another restaurant recommended in Rough Guide. The fish was caught locally, and the restaurant run by a local family, but it didn't sell itself! Our waiter, who reminded us of Gareth, took us in to see the fresh fish, after we'd asked. We chose scaro (parrot fish) and pandora and we ordered a carafe of wine. There were no frills here – the food was good, and we were brought a little 'afters', but no raki tonight.
We walked back up, on the warm evening, to our hotel.
Looking to Agia Galini from Kommos
Saturday 15th October An ancient site, a museum, and a hotel with no-one there 85km
A lovely morning again. We ate our good breakfast on the balcony, served by the cheery lady. We were packed up and ready to leave at 9.45, but when we went to pay, the gruff proprietor said 'no card, cash only'. Hence Adrian had to go dashing off to get enough cash to pay. He also called at the bakers for some bread, but it only served cakes, and he had to trail the back streets to find a bread shop so it was gone 10.00 when we left. The smiling wife at the hotel had given us a bottle of family produced olive oil.
We followed yesterday's route back through Timbaki, across the Matala plains with all its plastic greenhouses.
We hadn't far to go today, so planned to stop at two of the places we hadn't had time for yesterday. The first was Agia Triada, near Festos, which we reached at 10.30. It was another 'pile of old rocks', but in a lovely location looking out to the Gulf of Matala and down to the plain. First we had to clamber down a long steep set of rough steps, to the glum man at reception. It only cost us €2 each (oldies rate) to get in. It was good being there early, as it was a pleasant temperature. It was a large site, and had contained many frescoes but these are now housed in Iraklio Archaeological museum. The little 13th century chapel of St George built on the site appealed to us. There were shady seats overlooking the site, and Adrian gallantly climbed up all the rough steps to get our flasks of tea and coffee.
We climbed back up the steps at 11.30, and set off for nearby Vori, where we'd read that there was an Ethnological Museum. We drove through the quaint, unpretentious, white village, which had no concessions to tourism, except a small tourist information, where we asked directions to the museum. We'd had to park in a rough area before wandering the narrow streets. We'd heard that the museum was tucked away in a side street, and it certainly was!
The museum (€3each) was rather old fashioned (circa 1992), but was crammed with artefacts, all behind glass screens. I was amused to see a log basket much like ours. Everything was labelled in English as well as Greek, but I found things difficult to read in the dim lighting. We had quite a chat to the lady receptionist afterwards. She sadly said what a struggle it was to keep the museum going, as the government wanted to close it. She also said that most craft skills had been lost, and people weren't yet interested enough to redevelop them. All rather sad.
We now followed yesterday's route back past Gortyz to Ayli Dreki. We'd toyed with the idea of eating lunch on the old bit of wall in Gortyz carpark, as we had yesterday. We should have done this, as lunchtime was not a success!
We turned south onto a minor road at Ayli Dkeki, driving through the miles of olive groves. After Vagionia we came to the village of Fournofarango, which we hadn't expected to be in. We spied a bit of shade beside a (dry) fountain, and stopped to have lunch, sitting on the narrow surrounding wall. Unfortunately the wind was blowing in sudden gusts, which was too much for me, so I ended up sitting in the car!
Continuing on our way, we came to the village of Charakas, which had a huge pillar of rock with a building on the top. The village also had an interesting bell tower.
The ancient site at Agia Triada and 13th century chapel of St George
We now left the plains, and ascended the steep barren mountain range before descending dramatically to Tsoutsouras via dozens of hairpin bends. This was to be our stopping place for tonight. The seaside town was hidden from view until the last moment. We first saw the deserted harbour before driving along the desolate front.
Huge rock at Charakas
Interesting bell tower
The place must be teeming with visitors in summer, but there was hardly any sign of life today. We came to Triton Hotel which we'd booked, and went in. Not a soul! We waited around for quite a while - Adrian even phoned and got no reply - so as we were right beside the beach, we thought that we'd go for a swim. The beach was of grey grit/sand, and the blustery wind was blowing here too, but the water was warm. While I dried off on the beach, Adrian tried the hotel again and this time he found an elderly lady - the owner's grandmother. She spoke no English, but it seems that the hotel is closed, or about to close for the season, and the owner is away. The good news was that we had a pleasant room overlooking the beach, so once we'd sorted all our stuff we sat on our balcony with a cup of tea and later with an aperitif.
We ate at Zorba's, next door, recommended in Rough Guide. There was a French couple there when we arrived, and later a local couple came in, but that was all. We enjoyed calamari/dorado with some house wine. We chatted to our genial host, who came from a local village. The watermelon which came with our saki was delicious. We were given another bottle of local olive oil.
The harbour at Tsoutsoura
Sunday 16th October East to Ierapetra 66km
Another hot and sunny day, a bit windy at first, making ripples on the sea – so no swim here before we left!
We had to walk along to a nearby taverna for breakfast. There were a total of 5 guests, but this was plenty for the old couple serving us – the grandma from the hotel and her poor henpecked husband. We heard constant nagging from the kitchen – she sounded like an Italian wife. The dear old chappy staggered in with each tray of food – things didn't happen quickly!
He seemed to understand no English at all – not even tea and coffee. We were served a fried egg with tomato and interesting olives, plus the usual bread/jam etc plus one bowl and spoon of yogurt with honey. Still, the hotel was cheap!
It was after 10.00 when we got going, driving along the coast eastwards to Kastri where we were ascending into the mountains.
We continued past our turnoff, beside nice unspoilt beaches, but they were all pebbly, so no swim. We enjoyed tea/coffee in the shade of a tree on the beach, it was really peaceful. Then it was the spectacular climb up into the mountains with constant hairpins. It was so quiet when we stopped to look down.
The beach at Tsoutsoura
Shady coffee stop near Kastri
We drove through the once very important mountain village of Ano Viannos which now has an EU bypass around it. We ate lunch sitting on a wooden seat beside the road, under a shady tree near Pefkes before descending to the sea again at Myrtos. This town looked very photogenic perched above the beach when we looked back to it. We could see people enjoying the sea, and hoped to join them. We descended the steps to the pebbly/shingly beach. Here we did have a pleasant swim even if it shelved steeply. While we were on the beach afterwards, a man came from the end restaurant with a huge fish which he washed in the sea before cutting up.
After this, we drove through an unpretty area of plastic greenhouses. Even the towns were drab here.
We reached Ierapetra, our stopping place for tonight, and apparently the most southerly town in Europe. It didn't appear very pretty as we drove through. We reached our hotel, El Greco, and were luckily able to park right outside.
It was a rather smart hotel, with fairly spacious accommodation. Our balcony overlooks the street, with just a glimpse of the beach – there's a better view from the bathroom (with yes, a bath again!)
Adrian was really pleased that there was a lift to our third floor room, after the last few nights of so many steps to carry the bags up!
After settling in, we walked along the front to the Venetian Fortress, known as Kales, beside the old harbour.
There were eating places all the way. We wandered back through the little streets of the old town. This was another world of white painted houses, many with pots of plants outside, and with elderly men and women sitting watching the world. The few children were just as European looking as any kids! We passed the house where Napoleon is reputed to have stayed in 1798.
Looking down towards Kastri
Myrtos, where we did have a swim
We had looked at various places to eat tonight and had decided on the one furthest away! We walked past all the other eating/drinking places, arriving at Levante, opposite the Fortress. After courgette/eggplant starter, we enjoyed sardines (A) and 'shrimps' – huge prawns,( me) with a glass of beer. Raki tonight came with some very sweet grapes. When we went to pay, we had an interesting, and rather depressing conversation with the owner about Greece and the European situation. He said everybody in Greece was living day to day with no thought for the future as they will be paying off their country's 'debt' for the next 50 years.
St Georges Church, Ierapetra and ‘Napoleon’s house’
Monday 17th October Fun stops on our way to Sitia 61km
We enjoyed a well laid out buffet, overlooking the sea. The only bad thing was no butter, only margarine!
When Adrian took the bags to the car, he was surprised to be greeted by the owner from last night's restaurant! He was going to the tax office opposite our hotel.
At 9.30 we checked out with the delightful lady receptionist and by 9.45 we were setting off eastwards past the empty long beach. Near Ferma we scrambled over jagged rocks to view the Roman fish tank set into the rock.
We stopped at a little supermarket, and bought a loaf. We were hoping also to buy butter, but the rather sad owner said that he hadn't any, he was closing down soon, hence the empty shelves. We didn't know if he meant for the season or for good.
On a hazardous hairpin at Agia Fotia, we took a rough track down to a shingle cove with a taverna and sunbeds and some shaggy palapas. We had coffee here, but not the swim we'd hoped for as it was steep and pebbly. Soon afterwards at Achlia there was another pleasant cove with taverna and sunbeds, but again we didn't swim.
Roman fish tank at Ferma
Just before Koutsana we stopped by 'Butterfly gorge' and walked on a rough track through fir trees, but not as far as the gorge. On our return, three white geese menaced us!
At a small supermarket we were able to get the butter and cheese that we wanted. Adrian went back to get some more tonic!
Then at Moni Kapsa – with a monastery set high up at the end of Pervolakia gorge – we ate our lunch, precariously balanced on rocks under tamarisk trees. Here we did see a painted lady butterfly! No swim again, as the beach was rocky. However, we were surprised and delighted to find that we could walk a short way up the gorge, with its incredibly high vertical bare rock sides towering above us.
The shingle beach at Agia Fotia
We didn't go up to the monastery as it was closed, but it is apparently a place of pilgrimage. We continued driving along the wild rocky rugged coast as far as Goudouras, which unfortunately had lots of plastic greenhouses.
Just before here though, we came to a delightful isolated, rocky cove of bare rocks, pebbles, and just a bit of sand. Here we did have our swim, and it was delightful! There was even a water pipe, with warm water to wash our feet afterwards!
Pervolakia gorge and Moni Kapsa
Now we turned inland, with olive trees dotting the arid, bare rugged slopes. There were a few vines haphazardly growing beside the road too.
At Ziros, we followed a rough track to Voila, a ruined mediaeval village. We had a lovely wander around this site, in our isolation, with the incongruous sight of wind turbines on the hill behind!
Delightful cove where we swam near Goudouras
Nearby Etia was a fascinating place too – a Venetian mansion (EEC restored, and not open), but the interesting part was the walls of the houses of the former village, an evocative sight!
The evocative medieval village of Voila
Now we made our way to Sitia, and our Hotel Elysee . The entrance from the car park was not salubrious, entering from the rear door past the toilet! The lady receptionist welcomed us in broken English. We took the small lift up to our 4th floor apartment (the only one on this floor).
We were pleasantly surprised to find a large room (for 4), with kitchenette and a huge balcony overlooking the harbour.
The abandoned Venetian village and restored mansion at Etia
Later we walked along beside the harbour, stopping at Zorba's (another one). We were served by an older waitress with our veggie meals of stuffed vine leaves and stuffed tomato and pepper. She'd told us that there was fish. When Adrian asked what kind, she'd said 'fresh'! We were served melon afterwards, but no raki tonight!
View from our balcony, Hotel Elysee, Sitia
The view at night
Tuesday 18th October The far north east of Crete 61km
The wind had howled in the night, especially as we were four floors up. The day that followed was windy, but became hot in the sun. There was a dramatic sky as the sun came up above the mountains by the sea.
Note in this diary, the spelling of place names are variable, as I and Y, Ch and H, H and I are all a bit interchangeable
We went down to breakfast, and came into the empty dining room, and were about to go back, as we thought that we must be early. The receptionist said 'sit down', and soon started to serve us. It was just us for breakfast - maybe nobody else is staying here.
The bread was very fresh. We had sufficient food, but there were no 'extras' – the hot food containers stayed empty.
We left at 9.50 to see something of the far east of Crete. Adrian was wearing jeans for the first time during the day, and I was in leggings, but we soon changed into shorts.
We drove through the town of Piscokefalo, taking a tortuous route through the tiny narrow streets, where we saw oranges and pomegranates growing, to our road through the hills.
We started to ascend the mountains, driving through Zou where there was a spring. High up on the mountain top there was a crowd of wind turbines, and also solar panels looking like perched roofs. Olive trees were growing on any flatter bit of land.
We followed a very deep and steep valley, coming to Katsitoui, perched high up. Much of the rock was a plum colour, contrasting with the usual white and beige. We stopped for coffee in this barren wilderness, sitting in the car as the wind howled outside. While we were there, the skies cleared, and we had blue sky for the rest of the day. We could see a patchwork of fields lower down, and now we started our descent on a continual serpentine of bends. We stopped to view the Gorge of the Dead and then had staggering views down to Kato Zakros with the blue sea with 'white horses', dramatic brown mountains cut by gorges right down to the sea, and green trees.
Glorious morning sky at Sitia
We stopped by the sandy/pebbly beach, which was deserted of course. It looked inviting, but not for swimming today! There were a few simple tavernas, set up with tablecloths, despite the wind. A lady was sweeping up in one. We continued to the Palace of Zakros, an ancient Minoan site, which we viewed through the fence. It was humbling to think of people living here 3,600 years ago.
Back at the beach, we spied a little blue painted shelter, with a bench inside. There was an exhibition of photos by a local man who had died last year, and had obviously been greatly loved. It made a wonderful place for us to eat our lunch, looking out to the pale blue sky, the deep aquamarine sea with its white foam and the beige coloured tamarisks and beach – beautiful!
The Minoan palace of Zakros
We left here at 1 o'clock, driving back to Zakros through a swathe of green olive trees laden with fruit. We stopped and I filled my water bottle from one of the springs. We continued north through Palokastro to Kouremenos beach, famed as a place for windsurfers, but there were none today! Why? It certainly wasn't lack of wind! It was a delightful place with deep turquoise sea and a simple taverna. We drove on to the little harbour.
The beautiful deserted beach at Kato Zakros
North of here, we came to Vai - a beach where all the tour buses apparently come. It is backed by a group of date palms, a variety indigenous to Crete, and only found here. There were lots of cars parked, even today, but we didn't intend paying to join the crowds, even if the beach is supposed to be wonderful. Instead we drove a few miles to Itanos, which we thought idyllic - a little sandy cove, the sea in shades of blue and an ancient Minoan site on the hill above. I had a paddle in a pool made by the violent waves.
The date palms at Vai
We drove part way up the Sideros Peninsula - a finger of barren rock with deep blue sea either side. The government had hoped to develop a resort here, but luckily it seems not to have happened. The top part of the peninsula is military land, so we now returned past Vai to follow the rugged north coast back to Sitia. Adrian had been surprised to see melons growing in patches beside the road.
We passed Moni Toplou, with a pretty windmill next to it and reached Sitia at 3.30. We followed a tortuous route up to the Venetian fortress, closed now, but affording good views down over Sitia. The drive back down was similarly nightmarish, through the narrow streets, as we found our way to the Roman fish tanks set into the now promenade. It was difficult to make out what we were looking at - nothing had been made of them. We guessed that we were in the right place, as ducks and geese were nesting on them, as the book said!
Looking back to Itanos
Watermelons growing - a rare sight
We got back to our room at 4.30, to discover that ants had made an unwelcome visit - on the 4th floor!
It was cool and windy when we walked out to eat tonight. We didn't find the restaurant that we were looking for, so ate at Inodion beside the harbour. It was a popular and busy place, which meant that we waited a while to be served. The two waiters looked alike, making us think of Gareth & Matthew, not knowing which was which. We ate mussels and prawns, which were not as easy to peel as last night's. They came with no extras, so we ordered fried potatoes. Raki came tonight with grapes and watermelon.
Sitia’s Venetian Fortress
Ducks take over the Roman fish tanks
Wednesday 19th October To Agia Nicholaos and a former leper island 79km
It was a nice sky again, with the sun peeping from behind the clouds. There were 3 other people at breakfast this morning - we spoke to an Austrian tourist, who said that it was usually warmer here at this time of year.
We paid the efficient receptionist and by 9.30 we were on our way towards Agia Nicholaos, stopping to get fuel.
The countryside was green with olive trees. We drove on a short stretch of new empty motorway - the rest was being built, carving through the rugged, wild mountain scenery.
We stopped by the pretty, steep mountain village of Exo Mouliana to view the Richlis Gorge which apparently has water running through it all year.
A bit further on we looked at the spectacular view from Morsini, and then again at Platanos. From here there were views to Agio Nicholaos and to the island of Psira. We had our tea/coffee, while constant tourists stopped to view and photograph.
Another lovely sky at Sitia
The valley below was a sea of olive trees as we drove along, stopping at the sandy/pebbly beach of Pachia Ammos, where a few little allotments occupied land beside the sea. It was warm but windy, and a lot of rubbish had been washed up from the sea.
View of the north coast from Morsini
And from Platanos
Just afterwards, we pulled across to a viewpoint marked on the map, and found that we had a glorious view to the former town of Gournia - dating from 3,500 years ago! We could see the town laid out as if it was a plan, with all the walls visible.
The beach at Pachia Ammos
Like yesterday, the skies had now cleared, and the rest of the day was sunny. The sea looked incredibly blue as we looked down to the Gulf of Mirabello, with increasing tourist development as we neared Agio Nicholaos.
This is where we are staying tonight. We drove through the busy streets, parking by the front to walk to Lake Voulismoni. With its steep sides, it made us think of the blue pool in Mt Gambier, Oz. The water was deep and really clear - we could see fish swimming and one man was also out swimming. Eating places surrounded the pool, and it was milling with people.
The Minoan town of Gournia
The sea looked incredibly blue as we continued to Hotel Lato, north of the town. It was a very smart place, festooned with bougainvillea. Although only midday, we were able to book in. We were given the choice of two rooms, and chose the lower one, looking over the pool, and through palm trees to the sea.
With its Lake Voulismoni
Having brought in some of our bags, we ate lunch sitting on our balcony. We followed this with a swim in the pool, and 5 minutes laze in the sun.
At 2.20, we were on our way again, driving northwards past the big and busy tourist town of Elounda, opposite Spinalonga peninsula. We drove as far as Plaka, with the intention of visiting Spinalonga island. This island - a fortress since Venetian times - had been used as a place for a leper colony last century. It was only closed in 1957. I wasn't sure that I wanted to visit - I felt rather like I had when visiting Robben Island, and didn't know if I'd cope. However, I had started reading a book which Hilary had lent me by Victoria Hislop, which was centred on this island, so we decided to try. A boat was unloading as we arrived, so there we were, after a short wait on board, sailing across on the short journey to the island. It was really windy on the boat. At 3.15, we alighted and joined the crowds of other visitors. I didn't like the idea of it becoming a tourist attraction, which it certainly is. We were surprised that we had to pay to visit the island, but pleased that 'oldies rate' was only €4 each. We made our way right around the island. There was a lot of information on both the leper colony, and its former occupancy, but I couldn't help thinking of all the people stranded here, unable to leave. It had a feeling like Alcatraz.
All told, I was pleased to have fitted a visit into our busy schedule.
View from our balcony, Hotel Lato, Agio Nicholaos
Back at the dock we didn't know how you knew which boat to take back - some went to other destinations, and there were no signs! A small boat arrived, and we boarded - no tickets or questions - and luckily it was the right boat - but a different one from the outgoing one! Back at Plaka - a small village which was once the supply centre to the island - we had a short look at the few eating places and gift shops, then drove back south. We managed to find the causeway onto Spinalonga peninsula, which had some attractive derelict windmills but nothing else. Apparently it is packed in summer.
We arrived back with just a bit of sun on our balcony, where we sat with our cup of tea.
We ate tonight at a little taverna, Kri Kri, just along the road. We chose a selection of Cretan dishes, which was good, but plenty! The carafe of house wine went well with it!
The causeway to Spinalonga peninsula and one of the derelict windmills
Thursday 20th October The Lasithi Plateau on our last day 92km
The breakfast this morning was good – with 3 choices of marmalade, whereas usually there is none, so Adrian was happy! We sat outside – the place was quite busy.
We left this hotel, where the staff were very pleasant, at 9.45 for our last day on Crete. We had really loved our time here, but don't think that we would in high season.
It was only a few miles to tonight's stopping place at Malia, so we were taking a route up into the mountains to the Lasithi Plateau.
We were very soon ascending into the barren mountains, sprinkled with olive trees – very thickly in the valley bottom, but sparsely on the slopes. There was no sign of human existence until we came to the village of Ano Amigdala. We passed a lovely old windmill, and then in this remote wilderness, we came to a new stone seat, which made an unexpected and delightful coffee stop. It was warm, and oh so peaceful, with just the sound of goat bells. A butterfly hovered by, and above us was a small church. In the distance was the village of Exo Potami.
Soon after this we drove through Mesa Potami where elderly ladies were beckoning to us to buy their honey.
We reached the Lasithi Plateau at Agya Konstantino There was a circuit that you could drive, and which obviously was on the tourist route, but today was pretty quiet. We drove to the village of Tzermiado which had a lot of shops selling embroidery. It reputedly also had a good bakers. We drove round it twice, and all we saw was a tiny cafe, with bread rolls on the counter. We bought two rolls (at €1 each) with none of the fillings!
It was cloudy and quite cool at this elevation as we continued on our circuit. We saw a great many of the old wind pumps that the area is renowned for – many re-sailed.
An ancient windmill and a little white chapel as we approach the Lasithi Plateau
We stopped to have lunch at Agios Charalandes, sitting on a concrete wall beside a trough of flowers. Nearby was a laden donkey – like Greece of old, and something we hadn't seen this time.
A group of Germans arrived at the same time, in a van and with a quad bike – the thing to do round here. There was a delightful old windmill, and in a taverna, men were cooking on a barbecue.
In the timeless villages were elderly women in black, and men sitting on seats outside bars.
By 1 o'clock we had completed the circuit. At the summit, there was a line of ruined windmills. This photogenic spot was also a coach stop.
Windpump and laden donkey, Agios Charalandes
We now came into Heraklion Province as we began our descent to Malia on a continual hairpin through the steep, rugged, barren mountains. Imagine our surprise then, to come upon a Petit Train 1700ft up! (we saw half day trips advertised later.)
Malia, despite its pleasant sounding name, struck us as 'tourist grot', and we wondered what we had come to for our last night! We finally found our apartment 'La Playa - Hotel Beach' it was called, down a maze of tracks by the sea.
The proprietor welcomed us, but said 'one night' as if to say 'only'. He took us to our room, which was fine, with a view over the pool and the beach.
More ancient windmills as we begin our descent from the Lasithi Plateau
Being our last night, we needed to organise everything for 'flight mode', but first we enjoyed a cup of tea on our sunny balcony.
We followed this with a swim in the large, pleasant but rather cool pool, and five minutes on a sunbed. We walked onto the fine sandy beach, where several people were enjoying the rough waves, as we would have done once! We even had a couple of minutes on the sunbeds here too!
Having facilities in our apartment, we had thought that tonight we might eat in. We drove back to the road where there were one or two so-called supermarkets, but these were either closed for the winter or tourist gift shops with a few non-perishable goods at the back! We gave up the idea of cooking, but still wanted something for breakfast and lunch tomorrow. In one store we did buy some cheese and muesli bars. Restaurants were just as difficult - most were shut up for the winter – we found just two open! The soil here was rich and red.
View from our balcony, Hotel Beach
Later we walked back up to the road – trying a diversion through the grounds of another complex, which didn't work! We located the restaurant called Paradise, where we enjoyed an excellent last meal. They didn't have the fish soup which I'd fancied, but the swordfish and sea bream were good. There were several other diners. We had a half carafe of house wine, and were served a crepe and icecream with our raki afterwards. A nice last supper!
It was absolutely silent as we walked back – not a soul about – just the chirping of the cicadas.
The rich red soil at Malia
Friday 21st October Going home! 32km
It was partly cloudy as we ate our simple breakfast sitting on the balcony. We drove back to the little supermarket where we bought some rolls for lunch, and olive spread to go with the cheese.
Back at 'Hotel Beach', we walked down to the sandy but rather scruffy beach, enjoying the sun which had now come out.
We had tea/coffee on the balcony before leaving at 10.45 to drive to Heraklion Airport. We took the motorway, as there is almost constant tourist development beside the sea, backed by fields of olive trees.
We had no problem in returning the car, which had served us well, if a little lacking in 'go'.
It was the usual unpleasant experience in the airport. There was no 'self bag drop' here – after queuing to have the bags weighed and checked, everyone had to make way past the queues to put the bags on the belt to go through the security scanner. Going past passport control and security was all OK, especially as you could leave everything in the bag, including computers.
At our gate, we ate the rolls we had made. Sitting near us were a family (Dutch/US or Canadian) with three delightful young blond boys, aged about 1, 4 and 6. They were so well behaved and happy, despite the older one (who must have been diabetic, as his father injected him), bumping his head on the seat. They were heart-warming to see.
We were called to load, and as on the outward journey, then had to wait ages on the stairs – in this case it seemed as though they were hurrying to clean the plane after it had arrived. At least we could look at the coast and sea, in the sunshine.
We had a good flight, and were very pleased to start work on the website, which our busy schedule had prevented us from doing before.
We arrived at Gatwick on time (3.45), and apart from the horrendously long walks at South Terminal, all went well. We collected our bags, and then things went wrong. Being our first time at this terminal, we couldn't find our way to our 'meet and greet' place. We walked this way and that, but by now I found it was all too much! When we finally got to our man, he pleasantly said 'well, you're here now, that's all that matters, but I must go, I've got to catch the bus'.
We drove out into English countryside, enjoying the autumn colours. Hearing that there was a problem on the M25 (Friday evening of half term) we drove cross country through Reigate and Dorking. We were really enjoying it, eating the sandwiches we'd hurriedly bought in M&S at the airport, until we got to Guildford, that is. The traffic hold-ups here were appalling and it was really slow going.
We reached home at 8 o'clock, listening to the penultimate programme presented by dear Desmond Carrington – now giving up, in his nineties!
We'd really enjoyed our time in Crete in almost perfect weather.
Some things we liked about Crete
The lovely temperature
The almost constant sunshine
The nice food
The many empty, unspoilt beaches
The easy people, despite us knowing no Greek
The dramatic scenery with spectacular mountains
The lack of traffic, outside towns
The warm sea
Few tourists out of season
Timeless white villages
Complimentary raki and dessert/fruit at the restaurants
Days away - 18 : Distance travelled - 1300km (830 miles) - Average 72km (46 miles) per day
We had more confusion here, wondering if we should be at North or South terminal. We were using a different 'Meet & Greet' company, and after our 'diversion' (we always go from the North Terminal!), the man was waiting at the South Terminal when we arrived.
It was 2.30, so we were plenty early for our 4.45 flight to Heraklion. This was lucky, as we found the South Terminal very different from the North one. We found our way to self bag drop, and then to security, where I had a 'body search' and Adrian had his bag searched. We continued to Departures, through even more 'shop grot', and with less seating than the North Terminal. We waited until our departure gate came onto the screen, then it was a long walk to our gate, along interminable slow moving walkways. After a muffled announcement, people began surging forward. We joined them – there appeared to be no order, and then had to wait a long time while descending the stairs. Once on board, we had another delay on the tarmac, and then taxiing to the far end of the airport to take off. We finally left just after 5.00pm, travelling east over Kent, then as we reached the channel, there were little white fluffy clouds after the clear blue sky. It became more cloudy as we travelled on, and gradually became dark. We could see lights from towns below, but really missed not having flight screens as on International flights. We landed at Heraklion at 11.30 pm – 9.30 to us. There was a couple with a nine month old baby boy seated near to us. They were English/Australian, accompanied by Australian family – it made us think of Ed & family who had recently had a similar family holiday in Crete. It was very quick going through passport control (me with my new passport)and customs, and then there was our taxi driver waiting, with 'Adrian Bower' displayed on his tablet! He welcomed us to Crete, then drove us to Hotel Iraklion. We'd enjoyed the warm temperature and the sights of the town. Our room was on the 5th floor, accessed by a tiny lift. The room was quite small, but with a long balcony overlooking the town.
We left at 9.30, finding the post box which the owner had pointed out to post our cards. Nearby was a small supermarket where we bought a loaf of bread for lunch. There was a sudden power cut, so it took us a while to pay. We then discovered that we still had our keys from the hotel, so had to return!We left at 9.30, finding the post box which the owner had pointed out to post our cards. Nearby was a small supermarket where we bought a loaf of bread for lunch. There was a sudden power cut, so it took us a while to pay. We then discovered that we still had our keys from the hotel, so had to return! Twenty minutes after starting off, we were on our way again! I had spent ages last night deciding on the best route for today. We opted to take the main road west to just before Kastelli Kissamos, then driving south through the mountains. We wound up, through pretty unspoilt mountain villages, stopping at Voulgaro to get fuel and then to look at a pretty recently painted church in white and orange. Bourgainvillea made a lovely show.