Like Sting, “I never made promises lightly,” but with apologies to readers of April’s “Explore”, this month’s article moves some distance from Paleochora to climb Psiloritis, at 2456m the highest mountain in Crete. Unlike Pachnes, only 3m lower, and centrally situated in the White Mountains massif, Psiloritis stands alone almost in the middle of the island, and from the summit there is only one way to go – down again.

We made the ascent in early July, after snowdrifts blocking the route had cleared, and before the summer heat made the climb inadvisable. A long drive took us below Chania and Rethymno, then to Anogia, the highest village in Crete, where we found comfortable rooms at the Hotel Aris. Breakfast was arranged for 7am, later amended to 7.30am by the lovely Evangelia – “You must have fresh bread, but the bakery only opens at 7am.”

Anogia

Anogia

After breakfast (mountain tea, fresh orange juice, fresh eggs and of course fresh bread,) we drove 22km up the shepherds’ road, now surfaced, to the Nida plateau. And began the ascent soon after 9am, the route well way-marked, and part of the E4 long-distance path.

Psiloritis flowers

Psiloritis flowers

Although never steep, it’s relentless and rocky underfoot, views limited as the path climbs one gully, then loses height to enter an even longer one. A slope of soft snow was unavoidable but easily climbed, another higher on the mountain crossed on rocks above it with more difficulty.

Nida plateau

Nida plateau

Eventually the summit came into view, still an hour away along a sharp ridge, with views now to both sides of the island.

Summit in sight

Summit in sight

And five hours after setting off, we had made it, resting in a cool breeze outside the church of Timeos Stavros, incongruously built right on the summit.

Timios Stavros

Timios Stavros

Views were disappointing, especially after the effort it had taken us to reach the summit. Both coasts of course, with the islands of Dia and Paximadia to the north and south respectively, and the Amari valley far below us. But the White Mountains were only hazily distant, despite Pachnes being only 70 km to our west. In clearer conditions, both Santorini and Rhodes are reputedly visible, although mathematician friends dispute the latter, which is c. 300 km away.

At The Summit!

At The Summit!

After an hour’s rest we left separately (yes, I know, mountain safety and all that), myself reversing the route to the Nida taverna and the car, whilst Michelle and Karin opted to continue on the E4 to Fourfouras, a steep 5-hour, 2000m descent on a rocky, often ill-defined loose path they both vowed never to repeat.

Can you spot Karin?

Can you spot Karin?

Back in Anogia, having ascertained that my two friends were safely off the mountain, I wandered into the village platea as dusk fell. Children played “chase”, women sat chatting outside their weaving and embroidery shops, men sat drinking “ouzo” and “tsikoudia” whilst playing “tavli”, all seemingly oblivious to the current Greek economic situation. Anogia has a long history, and has endured and survived far greater crises than this.

Anogia memorial

Next day we met up in Rethymno at midday, Michelle and Karin having taken the 7.30am (and only) bus into the town, whilst I drove there leisurely, and very warily through Zoniana, knowing the recent history and its reputation as the most lawless village in Crete

 

 

 

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“What we enjoy, in July and August,” a regular summer visitor to Paleochora told me, “is a scenic drive to a quiet village for morning coffee, then a short walk, preferably shady, returning to the village for lunch, then spend the afternoon on a beach.”

Deliana sign

The only village sign without gunshot holes?

So, here’s an “Explore” which ‘ticks all these boxes’, beginning with a pleasant 40km drive, north
to Plemeniana, north-west to Aligi, then north again through the Milones gorge to Sassalos, on to Malathyros and Trialonia, finally descending into Deliana, a journey of well under an hour. In the village centre is “To Faraggi” taverna, the name referring to the Deliana/Mesavlia gorge (see “Explore” June 2010), but after refreshments, we shall visit the nearby and lesser-known Rokas Gorge.

To Faraggi

Coffee over, walk (or drive) 400m north out of the village, and turn left (signed) to the church of the Metamorphosis 250m further on (parking here.)

Church of Metamorphosis

Church of Metamorphosis

Continue along the track, which five minutes later bends left down to the river. Pass through a wire gate, and before crossing the bridge, drop down right into the stream-bed.

Rokas gorge (1)The descent of the gorge is a little more than a walk, nowhere difficult, but hands are required here and there. Water flows until early summer, especially in the first section, channeled between walls some 3/4m apart (we came here once in spring to find it impassable.)

Rokas gorge (3)

The route is (rather unnecessarily) indicated by blue way-marking, taking you down, after an hour or so, to pass between spectacularly sheer cliffs.

Rokas gorge (2)Soon afterwards, a (signed) path leads left out of the gorge, climbing up to Roka village (see “Explore” January 2014.) If you can arrange transport, the walk from Deliana/Roka makes a fine expedition.

Rokas picnic

Below here, the gorge drops very steeply, soon afterwards ending on a minor track, after which the shallow riverbed continues to reach Kissamos Bay at Nopigia.

Roka village

Roka village

There are ways to return to Deliana to the west, through Astrikas and Mouriziana, complex route-finding, and it seems better to walk as far down the gorge as you wish, then head back to “To Faraggi” for a late lunch of home-cooked traditional Cretan food (but best avoid the ‘Greek couzin grilled’ …)

Greek cousin

Before leaving the village, be sure to visit the 14th century (Byzantine) church of Agios Ioannis, and if there’s time, drive a kilometer to the entrance of the impressive Deliana Gorge.

As an alternative way home, take the winding 7km road from Sassalos to Floria, then easily down through Kandanos to Paleochora, where the Libyan Sea and your favourite beach will be waiting for you.

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