Mountain and Plateau, Crete Island
Thoughts of a better meal by the pool at our excellent resort then haunted us all day as we continued to circumnavigate the Amari Valley, probably highlighted by the constant views of Mount Idi, at over 8,000ft, the highest in Crete, and still with patchy snow up top.
The Amari Valley loop is shown as a 92 km scenic drive; well, 92 kms if you manage to follow the signs. We came to a Y intersection and neither of the villages signposted was on our guide so we took the right hand road and added an estimated further 20 kms to the trip.
It’s windy and scenic, straight sections are few and the view changes constantly.
At Amari itself we climbed the Byzantine bell tower, savouring the 360 degree vista afforded by this ancient bit of architecture and then pushed on home along the coast, once again savouring the sea views and their juxtaposition against the mountainous inland.
Spincat has materialised out of the mists of the sacred Diktean cave to take you on a tour of the sacred caves of Crete. Spincat, always the lady, has still got her handbag and high heels with her.
The Dhiktean cave is the birthplace of Zeus - or one of them: there is competition. It now has opening times - 8am to 7pm, but here we'd climbed up as it was getting dark, many years ago when the guides had departed and oening hours and the admission fees of 4 euros were still to come. We actually climbed up to thecave's mouth but were too scared to go any further so maybe the tour paries and the opening times are a good idea! The nearest place to the cave is Psychro on the Lissaithi plateau. see my accommodation tip on Lassithi rooms though for a tip re nearby accommodation.
One of the largest caves on Crete is near Topolia and the Katsamatados ravine. It is a short climb, steep in places, up to the cave of Ayia Sofia. I was reading 'Metamorphoses' and the shapes of the stalagmites suggested the work of vengeful gods and goddesses... There is a chapel in the cave, and I heard that there were regular processions up to it as part of the church calendar.
There are rooms at Topolia nearby (I can't remember the name of the very good rooms - we got a taxi from Kastelli Kissamos about 10 kilos away and the driver kindly asked around for us!) and good walks in the ravine below. I also recommend the Platania taverna where we had dinner followed by a bazouki turn from the proprietor's small son. There's a lot to see in this area and I wish we'd had longer here.
If you are on foot, there is a dodgy car tunnel between Topolia and the cave - you need to hitch a lift through it.
I recommend spending the night in one of the quieter villages. You don't see the most interesting aspects of the place on a day trip.
If you don't have a car - steep road alert - take a bus from Ayios Nikalaos or Neapoli; the journey is about 20 kilos from Neapoli, but you seem to be travelling vertically at times. Watch out ( ! ) if you get a bus, to check the return times - they don't necessarily run every day.
Lasithi is famous for windmills, wind power to aid irrigation... well, you may see a few, but there are not many around these days, and that is not really the main attraction of this lovely plateau.
Ayios Georgios is a great place to stay - a quiet farming town with friendly people,a couple of kafenions and some simple and highly recommended hotels/rooms, (esp. Hotel Dias -see my accommodation tip).
-Visit the birthplace of Zeus ( or one of the birthplaces!) at the dramatic Diktean cave, near Psihro - you'll find tavernas and room places there too;
- Take a walk down the dirt tracks across the plateau. Surrounded by giant mountains, sometimes you'll feel like you have shrunk, and are walking across a toy farm of tiny fields, each one with a different crop.
- Wherever you walk everyone will wish you 'yasas' or 'yah' - you'll meet goats and donkeys; mules are still used to plough by some farmers.
- Wild flowers and blossom everywhere in Spring.. and mists in the morning.
-There are other walks - you can climb to Minoan site of Karfi - i haven't done this yet, but I have heard it is a good hour's climb (next time.....).
A lovely drive up through the mountains , the scenery is spectacular. Almost at the highest point a visitor centre and the Homosapiens museum are to be found, We did not visit the museum as a chance meeting with a german couple gave it a massive thumbs down and said it was just a money spinning venture, which is exactly what it looks like. On through the mountains beautiful views every where and once up and in the plateau it looks like life has been the same here for centurys. A small farm zoo is also open to visitors but again do not aggree with this. a worthwhile drive for the scenery but a long and tiring route in the heat.
At Kissamos there is a turn off to Falasarna, a pleasant drive down to the fertile plain and some magnificent views on the way. A beautiful beach here and at one end of the beach a steep rocky hill is where ancient Falasarna stood. A throne like sculpture still stands today and at the end of the track the ruins of the ancient city can be seen. The swimming here is great.
Oh well, I should be used to the roads by now, and I was forewarned. As usual I just had to go. The road is a rough path climbing steeply up and around a peninsula with massive drops about 2 yards away fromt the car. The worst thing about the road is knowing you have to come back! On arrival at the end of the road there is a carpark and a canteen selling light snacks and drinks, water is most welcome as you have a bit of a walk to get down to the beach. What a spectacular sight! The view is stunning and the colours of the sea is unforgettable. An alternative is to go round the peninsula by ferry from kissamos, but we missed it. A very scenic and hairaising trip. See main pic on crete island page.
Not only the gorge of Samaria is worth visit even if it's the most famous from Cretan gorges.
The gorge of Agiofarago starts from the road from Odigitria Monastery to Kali Limenes on the south coast of Iraklion and ends at the sea, west of Kali Limenes.
"Agiofarago" means "Gorge of Saints". This gorge used to be the shelter of the monks of the near-by Monasteries.You walk through the gorge that leads to one of the most beautiful and quiet beaches of Crete at Liviko Pelagos. It is an easy, pleasant walk through the gorge, which has 100 metre high walls.
Nida Plateau is one of the three largest Crete limestone massifs where the highest Psialoritis Peak (2456 m) of the island is situated. What concerns caves, the second in depth and the third in length cave of Greece – Tafkoura (819 m) is located at the same plateau. Its length is about 6500 m. Entries to Tafkoura are all around Nida and may be found at all altitudes: from the base almost to the summit.
Kourtalioti Gorge is a short but impressive gorge that you drive though on your way to Prevely Monastery and beach. High imposing walls are all around you, and there are a couple of places where you can stop the car and step out to admire the landscape and the river below. A stop is imperative especially if you're headed to Preveli Beach: the peaceful river that you'll see down there is the same powerful river that over here has cut violently through these stone walls.