Rather like last month’s walk from Dris, this excursion from Asfendiles, 13km from Paleochora, is short, circular and straightforward, and has stunning scenery, this time with breathtaking views over the south coast of Crete.
It’s less than thirty minutes’ drive to Asfendiles, though longer if you stop for coffee or soft drinks at the Alpha cafenion in Azogires. Just beyond here, turn right across a ford and continue 4km to Asfendiles, parking at a sharp bend near the village sign.
‘Asfendiles’, says ‘Lucky’ at ‘Alpha’, derives its name from the plant ‘asphodelus’, which grows in profusion in the area. Once a thriving community, with a population of over 150, and a reputation for pottery making, there are now only four permanent residents living here.
Start by walking into the village ; the way out is by a track right, but first go ahead to the tiny ‘platea’, where benches in the shade may tempt you to sit awhile, even after just five minutes.
The track descends, then bends left around the head of a small valley (which much later will become the Anidri gorge.) Ignore a track right, and climb up to the ridge, where you go left. On the way here, and afterwards, you may need to pass through wire ‘gates’, keeping sheep and goats in/out. Leave as you find them, fastening again carefully if necessary. Below is the road winding up to Prodromi from Anidri, and 60km away is Calypso’s isle – Gavdos, far out in the Libyan Sea.
Follow the track, easily at first, then climbing steadily north, to where it overlooks Asfendiles again. The 1834 census recorded 3 Moslem and 5 Christian families living here, during the Turkish occupation. By 1881 there were 100 inhabitants, when Paleochora numbered a total of just 38. Keep right, on the wider track, to reach the ‘main road’ to Platanes, and walk up to the former village school, now sadly neglected. Built in the 1930s, to accommodate pupils from nearby Asfendiles and Platanes, but also from Strati, Achladiakes, Prodromi and Azogires, it closed in the early 1970s. As school playgrounds go, there must be few better.
At a height of 700m, the views from here are extensive, along the coast over Sougia towards Agia Roumeli and beyond, with the hill-top chapel of Profitis Ilias easily recognisable. On a very clear day, the Paximadia islets can be visible far to the ESE, a distance of 80km. And nearer, to the SW, is the tip of Paleochora’s peninsula, whilst above NE, and just a kilometre away, is the former Dorian stronghold of Yrtakina (see ‘Explore!’ February 2011)
Walk back along the road, and in fifteen minutes reach the quite beautiful church of Agios Ioannis, which has some of the best-preserved frescoes in the area, painted by the famous Ioannis Pagomenos (John the Frozen), with the church dating from the 12th century. There’s also a water tap here.
Passing between the houses of Asfendiles, the road twists and turns down to where you parked your car.
Although one of the shortest walks in the “Explore!” series, and barely 4km in length, there is beauty here in small measures. Go in the clarity of early morning, or the cool of evening, to enjoy rural Crete as it is now, and try to imagine what Asfendiles was like a hundred years ago.
Thanks once again to ‘Lucky’ at the “Alpha” in Azogires for fascinating background & history.
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