The best time to visit Elafonisi is undoubtedly during the winter, when summer hordes are  replaced by a few hardy visitors enjoying often windswept (but usually empty) beaches and bracing sea air.  Since Lynne died, it’s become an annual pilgrimage between Christmas and New Year, finding solace and strength for the year ahead, usually alone, but most recently with Joanna, looking to enjoy a walk en route, and as a keen botanist, hoping to find the rare ‘androcymbium rechingeri’ flowers, endemic to Crete and located only on Elafonisi “island” and Falasarna, and then only in mid-winter.

Elafonisi winter

Elafonisi is 52km from Paleochora, en route passing through a region called “Enneachora” (nine villages), the largest of which is Elos, now with a ‘by-pass’ below it.  A little further on is Kefali, where we stopped for coffee and what what we thought would be a short two-hour walk.  Described in our book “More Walks from Paleohora” *, the route starts from the far end of the village where there is a park and playground area, right, with a small statue (to Nikolaos Pimplis – 1872-1963 – a Professor of Education and local war-time hero.)

Next to here is a large plane tree ; directly across the road from this is a footpath, little used and often overgrown.  This slants diagonally between houses and into olive groves, and appears to end.  But persevere, keeping upwards to meet a clearer track which heads towards Papadiana.  When it begins to descend, fork sharp left, the track winding down to reach the former (Kefali) village school, with a small church in the pine trees above.

Papadiana

Papadiana

Continue down to reach the main road, and turn right to the tiny slate-roofed church of Agios Vasileios, left of and below the road.  Go down the gully below the church to a small concrete footbridge, then turn up right on passageways through Vathi.  Continue along these, then down past derelict houses to meet the surfaced road to Tzitzifia at a bridge over the river.

Church below Kefali

Church below Kefali

Cross the bridge, walking up out of the village, and when the road bends right, turn left up a steep gully. This soon becomes a narrow path, and beyond the last house turn sharp right, passing above a small chapel in a vineyard, to reach a bull-dozed track.  Climb uphill to reach a stone wall at right-angles across this, and walk left in front of the wall, then right, rising again to a wire gate, and through this to a rough road.

Vathi

Vathi

Turn left along this, with good views over Vathi, as it descends to the valley, crossing the river at a ford.  In summer it will be dry, but after rain you might have to jump over boulders or even wade across.  On the far side, walk up to meet a surfaced road, and turn right alongside the river into Pervolia.  Opposite the first house you reach – a former mill –   look for a track on the left, which you will take later.

Stream nr Pervolia

Stream nr Pervolia

Joanna and I, walking fast in late December, reached here in around an hour, and carried on into the village.

Pervolia

Pervolia

An elderly man was depositing rubbish in a skip by the stone bridge .“Yassas,” he greeted us, and the usual questions, “where are you from, where are yougoing?”  “Back to Kefali,” we told him, “ and then to Elafonisi.”  “You must come come to my house for raki, elate,” he insisted, and despite it only being late morning, we followed him.

He paused at the statue of Anagnostis Skalidis (1818-1901), a ‘pallikari’, a Cretan patriot and freedom fighter of bygone days.  “My grandfather,”  he told us proudly, and led the way into his house, the upper floor of which he has converted into a museum.

Pervolia statue

Pervolia statue

And there we spent a fascinating hour or so, with 87 year-old Zacharias (Skalidis) showing us old photographs, news cuttings, letters, books, weapons used against the Turks and Germans and much more.  His voice quavered and eyes moistened when he told us (only in Greek) that his older brother had been executed (at Agia prison in Chania) in August  1944. We signed his Visitors Book and left a small donation, and promised to send copies of the photos we took.  And of course we enjoyed the ‘raki’ and biscuits his wife offered us.

Pervolia museum

The aforementioned track rises gently through olive groves, before a final climb (rear of a building materials yard) to the main road just outside Kefali.  Rather later than intended, we drove on to Elafonisi, almost totally deserted, walked across to the “island” in warm afternoon sunshine, and found masses of ‘androcymbium rechingeri’ just beginning to flower ……

Androcymbium

Androcymbium

 

*  “More Walks from Paleohora” still on sale at ‘To Delfini’ bookshop in the town.

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A Walk Round Voutas

Voutas signAt only a short 12km drive north from Paleochora, Voutas is one of my favourite villages in this area, and the starting point for several fine walks (see “Explore” – April 2012, ‘Villages above Voutas’.)  But Voutas has seen better days…..

Less than half a century ago, Voutas was a thriving community, the commercial centre of the area, with a population (c.600 during the 1950s/60s) larger than Paleochora.  Residents in twenty-one nearby “settlements”, from Archondiko through Kalamiou, Kitiros and Lagadas to Vothiana, enlarged the district even futher.  The village had a forge, blacksmith and saddlery to serve the needs of many equines, (donkeys especially) and many shops and businesses. These  included  (water-driven) flour and olive mills, a tailor and seamstress, cobbler, furniture maker, at least eight cafenia, a mini-market, bakery and butcher.  A ‘taxi’ and bus (with hard seats) connected Voutas with Paleochora, although the road through Kondokinigi was not made up and surfaced until 1985. A cinema provided popular entertainment. The village school flourished, with some 70/100 pupils attending. There was a community centre, police and fire station, doctor and medical centre.  Even so, until 1969 the village had no electricity, drainage, or main water supply.

Voutas signpost
But from the 1970s onwards, people moved away, many to the coast at Koundoura to clear land, build greenhouses and grow tomatoes, others to Chania, Heraklio and Athens looking for a better quality of life.  Slowly the village dwindled, cafes, the cinema and school (in 1978) closed, shops and houses were left empty, nearby olive groves unattended.  In recent years, Voutas seemed a “ghost town”, with just one small cafe/mini-market, where if open, you might get a Greek coffee or Nescafe.  In the 2011 census, the population of Voutas was just 57, many elderly.

But, possibly as a side-effect of the Greek economic crises, things may be changing. Recent walks in the area have passed by new houses under construction in Kitiros and Kalamiou, and renovations under way in other small villages.  Friends this summer rented a restored house in Faleriana for three months.  Better, it’s been suggested, to repair and live in family property, with land to grow food, some animals, and olive trees, than pay unaffordable rents in Athens or other large cities.  Best of all, for visitors to Voutas, is the recently opened (August) taverna “To Steki tis Anna” – ‘Anna’s Place’ – on the main street, run by Anna (of course) and her husband Giorgos, with help, when busy, from their two young girls.

Anna's Place

Anna’s Place

Here’s an easy,  short and circular walk, two hours at the most, above and around Voutas, possibly with a drink at the cafeneio before setting off, and ending at Anna’s taverna.

River at Voutas

River at Voutas

Park in the village platea, then take the road signed to Sklavopoula, passing the old schoolhouse,  and descend to cross the river (Pelikaniotikos).

Voutas school

Voutas school

Keep ahead at the junction (to Chasi), and on past the olive mill to reach the 14th century church of Agia Paraskevi.  Inside are some interesting frescoes, one of which – “The Punishment of the Damned” – may well persuade you to lead a pure and virtuous life.

Ag Paraskevi

Ag Paraskevi

 

Don't look!

Don’t look!

Continue along the road, winding high above the river, for around 15 minutes (1 km), then turn right on a track signed to Agios Spiridon.  This leads through olive groves to the church, not especially interesting, but worth looking inside, and the key easily located if it’s locked.  Take the grassy track right, immediately before the church (possible gate), initially through more olives, then breaking out into more open scenery and rising steadily above the valley.

When you reach another track (which climbs to Kalamiou), turn right downhill.  Avoiding all side turnings, this leads pleasantly to the surfaced road (to Moustakos). Cross the bridge and turn right, simply following the road south to reach Voutas, and a warm welcome at “Anna’s Place”, in two kilometres.

Anna's Place 1

Thanks to Tonia Sarikakis and her family (from ‘Zygos’) for fascinating history of Voutas.

 

 

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