by Barry Rodgers.
When my wife, Jenny, couldn’t get the time off work, our proposed family trip to Agios Pavlos beach turned into a boy’s only trip. Yes, I was to take my two 9 year old sons on our first ‘male bonding’ camping expedition. A daunting prospect indeed. Especially as I would be having to carry what would have been in Jenny’s pack.
Having packed the essentials (tent, sleeping bags, torches, towels) and the things that I would never need in a month of Sundays that I always seem to end up packing, we headed off to get the boat from Paleochora to Agia Roumeli. This is a real pleasure this year as the Samaria ferry is still out of service and in it’s stead they have re-introduced an old, small wooden boat (The Neptune) which last plied these waters 25 years ago or more. Much as we love the Samaria, it’s temporary replacement does have a tad more romance about it.
So, on to the walk. Having arrived at Agia Roumeli, you need to walk to the right in front of the restaurants along the beach towards the strange looking sea defences. This is a concrete path and is the same path you would also take if you were heading up the Samaria Gorge. Just as you round the corner there is a path off to the right with a big sign showing the route you will take. You cross the open ground towards the river and then turn right – away from where the garbage bins are. You can then walk down to the river and either use stones as stepping stones, use the temporary plank of wood, or paddle through the icy water coming down the gorge. The boys were amazed at the sheer number of tadpoles in the water and wondered if the people who bottle Samaria Water employ someone to fish them out of the bottles at the factory.
Once you are past the river and you have gone through a stock gate (remembering to close it), you start the walk proper.
Football pundits and managers often trot out the cliche that football is a “game of two halves”. Well, this walk could be described as a “walk of three thirds”. The first twenty minutes are spent in an easy stroll along a sandy path at the back of the beach. It alternates between hard and soft sand and gently undulates. A nice, easy start.
At about the twenty minute mark, you reach a rock pass – still with an obvious path – past a big cave which you can go inside and explore. Enjoy the cool shade here as there is not much of it for the next part of the walk.
After the cave, the next, second stretch is on much softer sand and get get a little wearisome. Stop frequently to give your legs a rest. Then, the path stops and you have to walk along a beach of pebbles for around a kilometer or so. For me, with the heavy pack, this was the worst part of the walk. No shade and difficult to walk on the pebbles I was glad when I saw the beach coming to an end at a rocky outcrop.
But, just when my calf muscles were saying “are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet?”, there is a big soft sand dune to ascend, TE Lawrence style, to rejoin the path on higher ground.
Rejoice when you get to the top of the sand dune. Just go round the first corner and take a break under the pine trees. Not only are you just thirty minutes or so away from Agios Pavlos (in fact you get your first proper view of the church and taverna on the beach from here) but you are also just starting the most beautiful third section of the walk. From here the path meanders up and down through pine tree shade always a good 20 – 50 metres above the coast. With clumps of thyme at the side of the path and the wonderful pine trees, the scent is lovely.
Around an hour and twenty minutes after starting, you arrive at the beach, descending another sand dune to reach the taverna below.
Agios Pavlos is so named because it is one of the likely spots where St Paul was delayed on a passage from Egypt (I think) to Rome (I think) because of storms. While he was there he did what he did best and baptised some of the locals before moving on. There is a church built on the beach from local rocks in his name and the place gets very busy at the end of June for the name day of St Paul.
Having met and rapidly made friends with Georgos, the owner of the taverna, we pitched the tent on the beach and did a load of swimming, snorkeling and fishing in the crystal clear waters. The taverna has a wonderful old fashioned feel to it. On the evening we wandered in and Georgos and his employee put a load of food on the table which we all shared with the other three people who were staying on the beach that night. We all became friends very quickly and we watched a total lunar eclipse together from one of the best places imaginable. As I drifed off to sleep, I couldn’t help but wonder if St Paul pitched his tent next to the sea, like we did, or on the soft sand under the pine trees up above behind the beach.
I often say to people who come out here for two weeks to pack a small tent (or in high summer – just a sleeping bag) to take advantage of these wonderful opportunities. You can often free camp on beaches such as this one and really get ‘in touch’ with the place. There is nothing better than drifting off to sleep just meters away from the sea lapping on the beach and waking up to the early morning tranquility. You can even buy a tent for around 30 euros in Paleochora which is less than the cost of a night in a room and much more fun!
The next day, we swam and explored and then took our leave for the hike back. We just had some time in Agia Roumeli for ice creams and a spot more fishing on the harbour before returning on the Neptune to Paleochora.
A great couple of days and heartily recommended to all who visit and who have a sense of adventure.
Bob Tait is taking a break