Over the past eight years this series has ‘Explored’ Paleochora and nearby areas mainly on foot, occasionally by kayak and cycle rides, but never on horseback.  So here’s a first  – a morning’s pony riding from the Deres Horse Riding Centre.

Publicity poster for the centre

Publicity poster for the centre

Deres is around an hour’s drive from Paleochora (but see footnote) –  over to Voukolies, then on 3.5km towards the National Road, before turning right to Sirili, from where the Riding Centre is well-signposted, situated in the green hills south of Platanias, in a private wooded area of 200 hectares.

Follow this sign

Follow this sign

Established over twenty years ago, the centre provides trail rides suitable for all ages, from complete beginners to experienced riders.  It’s open daily (10am to sunset) from April – October, and at weekends during the winter months.  A restaurant/cafe offers traditional Cretan dishes using organic products from their farm and other local producers.

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The centre has qualified and experienced instructors, but we took our own  –  friend Janna from Paleochora who occasionally works there leading tours, and helps with stabling and grooming.  And there we met my old friends John and Avril, together with their grand-daughters Molly (11) and Megan (9), in Chania on holiday, and who, having their own pony in the UK, were experienced enough to try a long 2-hour+ ride, taking along Avril and a less-than-enthusiastic Dad Ben.

Megan with the ponies

Megan with the ponies

I had ridden twice before, most recently 24 years ago, and persuaded John to join me on a less demanding 1-hour-or-so stroll (with occasional trotting, as we found out later.)  A latter-day Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, we joked about Starting Prices before setting off : odds of 9-2 on John (to stay on), and 10-1 on me (to fall off.)

Under starters orders

Under starters orders

I have no idea how we got there, just concentrating hard on staying in the saddle, but we climbed through olive groves, with occasional glimpses into deep valleys far below us, then came to a high plateau where Janna called a halt.  What a view! From 600m we could see the north coast stretching along from Kastelli, the Rodopou peninsula, Ag. Theodorii islands, to Chania and the Akrotiri, but sadly the White Mountains were indistinct, hidden by low cloud.

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance kid

Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid Ride Again!

Descent seemed easier, or maybe I was more confident and relaxed  ….  Back at the centre we congratulated each other on remaining aloft, rewarded our horses (‘Aris’ and ‘Ellie’) with apples and carrots, and relaxed in the cafe with fresh orange ‘ximos’ until the others returned, trotting smiling and nonchalantly (both horses and riders) into the stable yard.

Coming home

Coming home

Although I probably (almost certainly …) won’t take up riding seriously, I thoroughly recommend a visit here, and to quote from the Centre’s publicity leaflet :
“ Enjoy Crete’s beautiful nature on the back of a horse, and you will have a memory
of your holiday you won’t forget easily.”

Saddle cam

Saddle cam

Footnotes : 
The centre offers free (mini-bus) transfer from/to Paleochora for groups of 4-6 visitors.
Deres itself, just 3 km away, has a quite superb taverna/restaurant, 1st on right as you reach the village.   More information about the Deres Riding Centre at  http://chaniahorseriding.com

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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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