The recent spell of scorching temperatures – four consecutive days of 40c-plus – made thoughts turn to pleasurable cool evening walks, followed by leisurely meals in village tavernas far away from Paleochora’s often “madding crowds” of July and August. A favourite is the Vavouledo Gorge, above Palea Roumata, and afterwards at the simple taverna in the village “platea” (ref. “Explore” August 2009). Others are a walk up to Ancient Yrtakina ( see “Explore” – February 2011) with dinner at “To Temenia” ; above Voutas ( “Explore” November 2015) with now a choice of two tavernas in the village, or an easy stroll around Azogires, and then to the “Alfa” cafenion.

Here’s my recommendation for an evening in July, escaping the heat of the coast for a short (less than two hour) walk in the foothills, then a meal of traditional Cretan food at a riverside taverna. Note that a car, or taxi arrangement, is necessary for this “experience.”

Many visitors to Paleochora will have driven, or travelled by ‘bus to Elos and Elafonisi, passed through Psariana, and seen …….. absolutely nothing, except for the village sign on the main road. And that’s where you need to drive to, just 20km from Paleochora, first north towards Chania and then turning left at Plemeniana (signed to Drys, Elafonisi). A little further on, look out for and pass by the roadside taverna “O Milos”, where we’ll return to after the walk. Then on through Dris to reach Psariana, parking 100m past the sign, at the foot of a surfaced road leading up to the village.

O Milos

First, look for a “shaddock” tree, 40m away on the other side of the road, the only one I’ve ever seen, which in spring has pear-shaped citrus fruit similar to grapefruit, but a sharper taste.

Shaddock Tree

Seeds were introduced to the West Indies (Barbados and Jamaica) c.1683 by Captain Shaddock of the East India Company, after a voyage from Malay, East Indies. How this specimen came to grow in SW Crete is a total mystery, but the fruit makes splendid ‘marmalade’.

Shaddock fruit

Walk up, ignoring a turning right, into Psariana ‘hidden’ village, comprising of some half a dozen houses, and a similar number of loud (but chained) dogs. Continue ahead, the road soon becoming unsurfaced, below chestnut and several pear trees. The latter were laden with fruit on a recent visit, and a substantial amount fell into my rucksack as I passed by.

Chestnuts

Avoid all left turnings, and keep to the main track. Alongside are myrtle bushes, currently in blossom ; the ripe berries, bottled in a solution of ‘raki’ and sugar, make a powerful spirit, similar to English “sloe gin”, and will be ready for Christmas.

Myrtle blossom

Higher up are large areas of Arbutus Unedo, or Strawberry Tree, the red/orange berries edible, despite what the Latin name might imply. Truly a rural delight.

Strawberry fields

Twisting then rising, the track (now concreted) reaches a 4-way junction, height 460m. Ahead (left) is a contouring route leading to the high point of the Aligi/Sassalos road, from where you could walk NE over to Floria. But we take the second right, downhill. Distant, the commanding view is of the long ridge leading to Agias Zinas, our “blue moon” church high above Kandanos (see “Explore” – August 2015) and a landmark from many points in our Selino region.

Easy walking now, this time avoiding a track right, will lead into Despotiko, close to a splendid Umbrella Pine tree (Pinus pinea). We’ve been here before, on a walk from Floria (‘Explore’, July 2013.)

Umbrella pine

Turn right through the village, ahead at a fork, but soon afterwards make a detour, on a track winding up to the small church of Panagia, the short diversion worthwhile for the views, especially towards sunset.

Panagia church

Return downhill, avoid a left turn (into Fragoudiana), and soon reach the “main” road, virtually traffic-free, for a 1 km stroll back to Psariana.

“Eal Cafe”

Relax in the cool of the evening at “O Milos” and enjoy the “Eal (sic) park welcome”, where there are eels in the river below, and also possibly on the menu ……

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Gavdos Island

“ One of the pleasantest things in the world is going on a journey,”
wrote English essayist William Hazlitt, “ but I like to go by myself.”

I don’t agree entirely, as sharing experiences with others seems an integral part of travel, but for various reasons, I spent three days alone last May on the island of Gavdos. I’d been several times before, once memorably on friend Mike’s yacht, when we circumnavigated the island, anchored two nights in Tripiti bay to explore ashore, then headed to Loutro. Another, equally memorable, was one November, when rough seas delayed the ferry home to Paleochora, resulting in long lonely nights in a tent with diminishing food supplies.

The 4.5 hr voyage to Gavdos was not without interest. A high sea at the ‘Skala’ meant the ‘Samaria’ left from the Marina, causing confusion, and similarly at Sougia, necessitating a D-Day type landing on the beach. Then more placidly to reach Karave port slightly late, nearing 2pm.


Climbing steeply away from the harbour, and taking a path to Korfos bay, the scent of the pine trees was pervasive, much of the island covered by Cretan cypress, juniper and Calabrian pines.

Gavdos map board

Gavdos has a well-marked network of trails and footpaths, perhaps the best being from Korfos to Tripiti, at the far south of the island, where I would camp for the night. But a sad sight met my arrival, the beached wreck of a boat which had brought 151 immigrants ashore in April 2015, refugees from Syria, Somalia, Egypt, Sudan, Iraq and Eritrea, including 40 unaccompanied children. Happily all survived, and 6 Egyptian trafficers were arrested.

Later, wooden debris made a fine fire on the beach as darkness fell. Next morning, a climb to the huge wooden chair high above the three-arched promontory, which marks Europe’s most southerly point, and off on a track along and high above the rugged west coast to Vatsiana.

Tripiti cliffs

 

I anticipated a stop at Vatsiana’s small ‘kafenion’, but found it closed ; Maria waved, calling “We’re not open for summer yet, but I can make you coffee, come on in.”

Vatsiana cafe

We chatted for half an hour, Maria, originally from Athens, telling me her two children were two/thirds of the primary school roll, and despite recent developments, their house still had no main water supply. Very much dependent on summer tourism, the remainder of the year would be difficult.

The day becoming warmer, I walked into Kastri, the island’s ‘capital’, on the chance of buying more bottled water, and a bonus – a late lunch of salad and eggs (plus water) at ‘Gogos’ taverna. Then along another marked path through the pines to Ambelos, passing close to Gavdos’ high point of 364m, and through two long-abandoned settlements of Pateridon and Fragediana. The latter, I thought, would be a nice place to camp later, and so it proved.

But first to Ambelos, and the path below to the long beach of Potamos bay, deserted now but thronged with visitors in high summer.

Potamos beach

Eight km distant is the uninhabited islet of Gavdopoula. A long but rewarding day’s walk ended with the tent pitched inside the ruined walls of Fragediana, and sufficient calories on the Gaz stove to replenish the long day’s exertions.

Camp nr Kastri

Next morning, breakfast in Kastri, then a delightful easily-followed path north over to Sarakiniko, the beach totally empty except for tavernas making preparations for the coming season. And from there back to Karave, well in time to relax and enjoy cool drinks before the 45km voyage over to Agia Roumeli, and from there along the coast home.

Footnote

Gavdos measures c. 8.6km x 6km, and covers 32 sq. km. Its name originates from the Roman governor/commisioner Marcus Orbilious KLAVDOUS, and became ‘Gavdos’ during Venetian times. St Paul was blown past here in a storm in AD 64 (ref. Acts 27). During the Middle Ages some 8000 people lived here, and even in 1914 the population was 1400. Now it has dwindled to less than 50 permanent residents, although (bizarrely) the 2011 Census records 152. The Anendyk ferry runs twice-weekly from Paleochora in summer, and also from Chora Sfakia.

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