“Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket,” sang Perry Como many years ago, “save it for a  
 rainy day ….” 

Well, rainy days in Paleochora have been few and far between recently, and with little chance of any more between now and September or October.  But with little or no light pollution, especially away from the town itself, this is a wonderful place to watch ‘shooting stars’ or meteors, especially in mid-August, the annual occurrence of the Perseid meteor shower, which this year reaches its peak on the night of 12th/13th August.

In recent years it’s become a custom of mine, on “Perseids night”, to kayak out of Paleochora at dusk and spend the night on an empty beach, usually paddling east to one at Ianniskari (Anidri), then lying under the stars to watch the meteors, at regular intervals, streaming through the night sky and seemingly falling into the Libyan Sea.

Last August, for a change, I kayaked west, leaving the tiny harbour at Koundoura at 7pm, heading  for Akrotiri (cape) Krios, and the tiny inlet known as Kokkino or “red beach.”

Koundoura harbour - Starting point

Koundoura harbour – Starting point

It took me an hour, passing south of Krios beach, below the awesome sheer cliffs of Cape Krios, and close to the sanctuary of Viena, to run ashore at “Red” beach.

Cape Krios

Cape Krios

En route was a new discovery  – a sea cave only accessible to small craft, its features formed and eroded over a million years, and visible to few.

Sea cave

Sea cave

 

Nr Red beach

Nr Red beach

Red beach gains its name from the masses of dark red stones along the shoreline, possibly old pottery worn smooth by the sea over centuries.

Red beach stones

Red beach stones

The sun set beyond Elafonisi as I quickly “made camp”, simply throwing down a sleeping bag on top of an insulation mat.

Sunset at Red Beach

Sunset at Red Beach

Leaving Koundora I had asked a returning fisherman about the coming weather, their  predictions being far more accurate than any TV or Internet forecasts.  “Calm sea, Beaufort 2, maybe 3 tomorrow,” he advised  – ideal conditions for me, as Force 4 and beyond is  too dangerous at sea.  So it was disturbing to see flashes of lightning, and an imminent storm, in the far west, maybe 400km away out at sea.  These, but with no thunder, were to continue all night.

With no moon, the planet Venus and a million stars gradually appeared.  The closest star system to earth is Alpha Centauri, 4.3 light years and some 40 trillion km away, but can only be seen in the Southern Hemisphere.  Here in Crete the nearest is Sirius (the ‘dog star’) in Canis Major, at a distance of 8.6 light years.  Twice the mass of our sun, Sirius is the brightest star in the earth’s night sky.  Time for reflection as I lay back waiting (and not for too long) for the first of the meteors.  On a good night, there can be between 50/100 per hour, emanating from the constellation Perseus, some leaving a seconds-long train, before burning up c.100km above earth.

Some I missed by looking the wrong way (to the NE is the best direction), some by falling asleep (and pre-dawn is the best time to watch), but the night was spectacular. When I woke up it was already early daylight –  so,  “time and tide, etc …”  and I was soon up and away, calling in at Viena to chat with a lone camper there, also a meteor watcher.

Waking up at Red Beach

Waking up at Red Beach

 

A Stop off at Viena Beach

A Stop off at Viena Beach

The first rain fell as I loaded the kayak onto the roof-rack back at Koundoura, and half an hour later it was torrential, strangely falling heavily on a calm sea, but by mid-afternoon the sun was blazing, with temperatures again in the mid-30s.  Climate change indeed ….

Footnote:  Red/Kokkino beach can be reached on foot off the E4 path between Elafonisi & Krios,
just north of Agios Ioannis church.

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Exploring Grameno

After the mildest, and (worryingly) the driest winter for decades in Paleochora, the searing heat of summer is now here, making long walks inadvisable and potentially dangerous.  So why not ‘Explore’ the small peninsula of Grameno, just 5km west of the town, where there is much to discover, then relax under shady juniper bushes, swim off either of two beaches, and enjoy a meal at one of the nearby restaurants.

Grameno sign
Grameno is just ten minutes away by car or taxi, but walking or cycling there in heat, with fast traffic, is not recommended.  The 10.15am KTEL bus to Krios (summer only) will drop you off, returning at approx. 2.50pm, giving an ample four hours to explore.

Grameno East beach

Grameno East beach

The south facing peninsula gives a beach to either side ; the east, facing Paleochora, of shingle, the sandy west enclosed by a shallow bay, both provided with sun-beds & parasols, and each with a small “cantina”.  Small paths disappear into the juniper bushes; it’s easy to find a secluded spot among the dunes, although access to the sea is often difficult away from the two beaches.

Grameno dunes

Grameno dunes

A walk around the perimeter of Grameno, boulder-hopping over the rocks, will take around an hour.  At the south tip, in June/July, it’s possible to collect sea salt from pools where the winter waves have washed in and subsequently dried out.

Sea salt

Sea salt

Near the SW tip of the peninsula is a shallow ‘lake’ with a cave behind, which is connected to the sea by an underwater passage.  Strong swimmers (only!) can take a face mask & flippers, deep breath, and head (literally) for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Grameno sea cave

Grameno sea cave

Slightly less intimidating is a climb to the concrete surveying pillar, on rocks at the highest point of Grameno, at only 4m a.s.l. giving fine views to Paleochora ; but even this isn’t easy, so be sure to remember the way down again.

Grameno summit

Spring at Grameno sees the arrival of many migratory birds, especially the unmistakable hoopoes, always seen here in March/April, in passage from Africa northwards.  And from August to October the sands are covered with ‘sea daffodils’ (Pancratium maritimum), which decorate the beaches every summer. In late autumn the lightweight black seeds float away on the sea, which disperses them along the shoreline.

Sea daffodils

For most of the year, apart from rough seas in winter,  Grameno is calm and peaceful. The exception is on “Clean Monday” – ‘kathara deftera’ – which marks the first day of Lent, and falls 40 days before Easter.  Here the community meets to fly kites, and enjoy a buffet provided by the town council, with traditional food of ‘lagana’ bread, black-eyed beans, and sea-food.  Weather permitting, this is a fine day out, enjoyed by all.

Grameno kite

Grameno kite

To conclude your visit, why not visit either of the two nearby restaurants, ‘Houmas’ on the shores of the sandy bay, or ‘To Grameno’, slightly further away, both highly recommended, and offering a wide range of Cretan and Greek dishes.

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