From Omalos to the Sea

It’s 11am on Wednesday 13th June (2016), Stage 11 of this year’s Tour de France.  Chris Froome, wearing the race leader’s Yellow Jersey, and challengers to his title are preparing to ride 162km from Carcassonne – Montpellier.  Laura and I are ready to set off on our own challenge, to descend 1200m (4000 ft) from Xyloscala at the top of Samaria Gorge, riding around 45 km to sea level at Sougia.

xyloscalaFirst the logistics.  Early morning we took two top-quality ‘Geant’ cycles from ‘Notos’ * on Paleochora’s main street, loaded them on to my car’s cycle-carrier, and together with Due, one of Notos staff, drove 65km to Xyloscala.  Just 1.5 hrs later we unloaded the bikes, and then Due drove back, leaving the car for when we returned later by the “Samaria” ferry.

 

We took photographs against the backdrop of Gingilos and the Linoseli col (see ‘Explore’ – April 2014), adjusted saddles, strapped on helmets, then free-wheeled 2km down to the Omalos plateau.  Around 20 sq.km, the plateau has a cool climate with fertile soil which produces cereal crops, potatoes and apples, several trees of which we rode by, sadly not quite ripe.

Omalos apples

Omalos apples

Sheep are brought up to spend the summer here, often moving even higher to the ‘Madares’ at Katsiveli.  We paused by the shallow lake, originally believed to have been far more extensive, and thought to have emptied centuries ago through the Tzani cave, 1 km north of Omalos ‘village’.

Omalos lake

Omalos lake

A short rise took us to the small church of Ag. Theodorii, the start of the E4 high-level path to Koustoyerako (see “Explore” July 2014), then a long run down to Petra Seli col, and the road junction to Chania.  Above us the turbines were turning slowly – at 850m now, and with little wind and cool temperatures, conditions were perfect for cycling.

wind-turbines-seliA sign indicated we had already ridden 12km from Omalos, with a further 29km to Sougia.  A further 5km, with Laura well in the lead, brought us to the start of Agia Irini gorge, and a stop for drinks at the Porofarago taverna, where three generations  – Maria, her mother, and daughter Maria-Eleni – were full of admiration and most impressed by our exploits.

Another short climb up to Epanochori, then on down through Prines and Tsiskiana to Kambanos, and decision time.  There’s a 3km contouring road from here towards Moni, which would save us the long climb to Rodovani.  But the prospect of an 11-km all-descent from Rodovani to Sougia was too great, so upwards we pedalled, through Maralia and Agriles to Rodovani, just 3.5 km with a rise of only 100m, but which certainly felt more.

It was worth it, and the next half-hour was sheer exhilaration.  Laura flew through Moni at a speed Mark Cavendish would have been proud of, and 5km later we were at sea-level Sougia.

Flying through Moni

Flying through Moni

Of several tavernas, “Omicron” is undoubtedly the best, and their “Special Vegetarian Omelettes” were perfect for replenishing lost calories, and our thirst assuaged by fresh orange juice.

Sougia Beach

Sougia Beach

That left us with a couple of hours to fill before the ferry, not a problem, swimming and relaxing on sunbeds just metres from the Libyan Sea, then an ice-cream, before riding slowly to the jetty as the “Samaria” approached from Agia Roumeli, and a 45-minute cruise home.

sougia-ferry-2

 

*    Cycle hire, at just 10 euros per day, from Notos on Paleochora’s Main Street.

Further details  from  Olga and Akis at www.notoscar.gr

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The day We Went to Antikythira

“ Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to …. Antikythira ? ”
No, it doesn’t have the same ring about it, but we had a lovely time anyway.  Watch the original  by Fiddler’s Dram (‘The Day we went to Bangor’) on You-Tube, and a slightly more risque version by Jasper Carrot (‘Day trip to Blackpool’.)

Ferry at Kissamos

Ferry at Kissamos

Even those of us fortunate enough to live here in Paleochora need a holiday, so it was decided to take a day-trip to Antikythira, a small island c.35 km off the NW tip of Crete, and around a two hour ferry journey from Kastelli-Kissamos (just over 1 hours drive from Paleochora).  The rather complex schedule of Lane Sea Lines dictates that only on Wednesdays (in summer) can you take the boat to Antikythira and return the same day.

Leaving Kissamos

Leaving Kissamos

Leaving Kissamos at 7.30am, it docks there at 9.45am, continuing on to Kythira and Gytheio, returning by the same route to collect you at 8.45pm, and reaching Kastelli at 11pm. Which gave us eleven hours ashore, ample time to explore the small island, which measures just 10.5 km x 3.5 km, with an area of 22 sq.km.

We booked tickets with Maria at Selino Travel (incredibly, just 20 euros return, and free for my mountain bike) and, because of the early start, stayed overnight at the Elena Beach Hotel, just five minutes from Kissamos port (highly recommended, they even made us coffee at 6.30am.)

Dawn broke as we sailed out of Kissamos Bay, alongside the Gramvousa peninsula, with retrospective views later to the two islands of Imeri and Agria Gramvousa.  Soon Antikythira appeared on the distant horizon, and on schedule, disembarked eight passengers at the port of Potamos – two islanders returning home, and six of us “day-trippers.”

Coming in...

Coming in…

We thought it advisable to find somewhere for an evening meal before the journey home, so we  headed for a taverna overlooking the bay.  This, the only one as it transpired, was also the Post Office, a (very limited) mini-market, and Tourist Information Centre ; someone, possibly the island’s mayor, disappeared, soon returning with detailed maps describing several places we must visit during our brief stay.

akythera

We “booked” a meal for around 7.30pm, then split up, Jane and Michelle setting off one way, Judy and Ulrike another, Dick, a keen ornithologist, heading for the island’s bird observatory (which sadly was closed), and me attempting to pedal south to the lighthouse at Apolytaras on the southern point of the island.

The lighthouse

The lighthouse

Antikythira is best-known for the shipwreck, discovered by sponge divers from Symi in 1900, at a depth of c.50m . Thought to have been Roman, and foundered off the NE coast in the 1st century BC, it contained a wealth of artifacts, many brought to the surface by the French underwater explorer Jaques Cousteau in 1976.  Among them was the “Antikythira Mechanism”, possibly the first-ever ‘computer’, now in the Athens archaeological museum.  Read about its fascinating history elsewhere.

An undulating surfaced road runs south to Galaniana, where is the church of Agios Myronas, the island’s patron saint.  Annually on August 17th, the resident population of 45 increases to c.1000 with visitors, and islanders returning home for the “feast day.”  I rode on, along a rough track to where it ended, then took a stony path towards the lighthouse, now in view ; but with a kilometre to go, and a descent of 150m  – and a similar distance/ascent back –  I gave up.  Next visit……

Ag. Myronas

Ag. Myronas

Instead, I cycled back north, past the heliport and through Charchaliana, left the bike and walked down to the small beach/cove at Kamarela, below spectacular sea cliffs with rock arches.

Kamarela

Kamarela

It was mid afternoon and hot, even in October, and I needed a swim – but not here, too rocky and dangerous.  So from one side of the island to the other, over to Xiropotamos beach, probably once the port of the now ruined Kastro (or Castle), a walled Hellenistic city dating back to the 4th century BC.  Covering c. 3 sq.km, much of the polygonal encircling wall remains intact, and, cooled and refreshed by the swim, my 30-minute exploration was absorbing.

Xiropotamos

Xiropotamos

From here back to Potamos, and the taverna, was a short easy walk around the headland, but for me a steep climb (push!) back up to the “main” road, and a fast descent to the harbour.  We all re-assembled with stories to tell, and enjoyed a far more leisurely meal than anticipated ; the taverna owner announced – “boat is coming, maybe one hour late.”

Anti-Kitty-Ra

Anti-Kitty-Ra

And it was, but it came, and it glided into Kissamos just on midnight.  If you get chance, take a day-trip to Antikythira  – and …….  “ have a lovely time …. ”

Footnote :   So enjoyable was our day on Antikythira that by the time you read this we will havespent a longer holiday on the larger island of Kythira  –  watch this space !

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