Baywatch in Paleochora
How many different beaches and bays are there between Krios, 8km west of Paleochora, and the town itself? No idea? Neither have I, although the number must run well into double figures. Many can be seen and easily reached from the “corniche” road running along the coast to Koundoura, but others are best viewed and accessed from the sea, and where better than from a kayak, where – as the (very) old song goes – “you’re the skipper and crew.”
Pamela Anderson being busy that September afternoon, Rick joined me for a “baywatch” kayak trip, paddling east from Krios, and hoping to reach the stony beach of Chalikia if the seas off the Paleochora promontory remained calm enough for us to pass between there and the small offshore island.
We left Krios’ shingle beach heading into a slight swell and headwind, which at least kept the temperature down. On a summer’s day it’s hard to imagine winter storms and high seas which wash salt water onto the rocky shore. In early summer the rock pools dry out, leaving crusty high-quality sea-salt (on sale by a roadside entrepreneur in Koundoura at €3 per kilo.)
We edged out to sea, disturbing a cormorant which flapped off noisily. To our left (port!), and almost hidden, lay the tiny sheltered harbour of Koundoura with its colourful fishing boats. Several unnamed shingle beaches came and went before we rounded Cape Plakaki, and turned into the large bay of Grammeno, with shallow water, sandy beach, and a good place to go ashore and stretch our legs.
The west-facing beach of Grammeno is around 100m away from the east-facing, but much longer by kayak around the rocky headland of Cape Grammeno. If you know where to look on the SW tip of the peninsula, there’s a small enclosed lake with a collapsed cave, connected to the sea by an underwater passage. Strong swimmers can take a face-mask, deep breath, and head, literally, for the light at the end of the tunnel.
Many of the beaches between Grammeno and Paleochora’s main beach, Pachia Ammos, have names. The first, Azzurro beach, was always called ‘Umprella Beach’ by Lynne and I because of the “free umprellas” available. Next comes Plakaki, then Karavopetra, translated as “stone prow” on account of the huge rock at the water’s edge. We landed again here, for a late lunch and swim, where the water shelves quickly into crystal-clear depths.
We paddled past, in quick succession, Trochalou, Psilos Volakas (always known as “jumping rock beach” for obvious reasons, if you’re brave enough), and Kalamia beaches, all just a stone’s throw from the road, and virtually empty, even in the heat of late summer.
But then Limnaki with its shallow lagoon, and the “sandy beach” of Pachia Ammos, one of the best in Crete, were busier, but not crowded, with sun-beds and parasols along most of the sea-front.
So far we had been kayaking in the lee, sheltered from a north wind. With the wind increasing behind us we passed easily below Paleochora’s soccer ‘stadium’, as close as any to the sea, into which footballs inevitably finish up. How are they retrieved I’ve often wondered ? Maybe, as once at my home team, Shrewsbury Town AFC, someone waits in a boat to collect them. Visiting defenders regularly cleared the ball over the Gay Meadow stands into the River Severn, where a local boatman collected them – half-a crown for each one returned, and whenever we played Grimsby he made a small fortune.
The gap between the promontory and island with lighthouse is surprisingly shallow, and we took care not to “bottom” on any sharp rocks just below the surface. The easy option, as we turned into the wind, was to paddle into the Marina and shelter, but we continued valiantly through now choppy waters, arms working hard to make progress north to the Skala jetty.
And so to the final beach of our afternoon expedition, Chalikia or Paleochora’s “stony beach”, where, once ashore, the kayaks on dry land and a change of clothes later, we relaxed at ‘Votsala’ cafe and had the best fresh orange juice I’ve enjoyed in a long time.