There are many villages in western Crete located amongst impressive landscapes, but very few as dramatically situated as Roka.  It’s 41km from Paleochora, an hour’s scenic drive through Sassalos (either via Kandanos and Floria, or more easily though Aligi and Milones), then on through Malarithos and Sfakopighadi.   Leaving Sassalos, stop and look down into the deep Porofarago or Halasses Gorge, the most impressive and difficult gorge in the area ; more of this later in the year.

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With snow and low temperatures on the mountains, and water flowing down many of the gorges, early in the year is a good time to visit Roka, and maybe climb the ‘mountain’ – Trouli  – which rises dramatically above it.   We first went there on a blisteringly hot day one August, with no more intentions than to look around.  There is no taverna or cafenion in the village, but two Greek ladies who confirmed this invited us to sit in their shady garden, and made us coffee, so perhaps there is.

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On our next visit, finding nothing written about the ascent, we took climbing equipment just in case. “Is the climb difficult?” we asked a group of young men at a house by the ‘platea’.  “Not difficult, but not easy ….,” they advised us, “keep to the right, then go left.”  And so we set off.  The way is obvious enough, through some occupied and many ruined houses, rising to ‘Ancient Roka’, and what must have been a huge settlement during  the Byzantine era (330AD – 1204AD), possibly even earlier.  The area must have housed a considerable population, and the ‘fortress’ above provided safety and security.  The site is fascinating, but why no history available for such an important heritage?

Ancient Roka

Ancient Roka

We chose a route through the rocks above, which became alarmingly steep over sharp limestone blocks, with even more alarming views into the Rokas Gorge way below our feet.  With much relief we emerged onto the rounded summit, scrambled over more rocks to the highest point, 267m, and relaxed to enjoy the views, possibly the finest in NW Crete.

The view to the north

The view to the north

The two peninsulas of Gramvousa and Rodopou stretched away to the north, Chania and Akrotiri distant, the White Mountains hazy, with areas to the south more familiar to us.  Just 50m almost vertically below us, but seemingly far more, was Roka village and our car.

The view to the south

The view to the south

Whilst I was taking photographs, and contemplating (and not relishing the thought of) how we would get down again, for our route up had been more than a little scary, Laura found the correct way.  Marked intermittently with red paint dots, the direction slants left from Ancient Roka ; we had climbed far too high before beginning to ascend.  As we’d been advised, it’s still not easy, care is needed with hand and footholds, and some might like the security of a rope, especially near the top.

The correct way down

The correct way down

Back below Ancient Roka, we followed the signs and path, and spent the afternoon exploring the Rokas Gorge, which leads up to the larger village of Deliana.  More about that too, in this year’s “Explore” series  –  what a lot you have to look forward to !

The winner of the 2013 Christmas Puzzle was Eeva Koskela, from Finland, but now resident in Paleochora.  Commiserations to those unlucky in the draw, and to those with the incorrect answer (the remaining gorge was ‘Kritsa’.)

 

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