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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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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