Last month’s walk above Kandanos, 20km from Paleochora, referred to the attack on German soldiers by Cretan partisans on May 25-26 1941, and the subsequent retributions. This circular walk of around 12km visits the gorge where the battle took place, then climbs through the little-known Spina Gorge to the village of the same name.
Take the bus from Paleochora (ask for Farangi Kandanos) or drive to the junction with the ‘old road’, 6.5km above Kandanos (parking opposite.) Clear signs, and a smaller marble plaque, indicate the route to the ‘Historical Gorge of Kandanos’.
Follow the road, appreciating the engineering and construction of the walls especially, for some 2km as it winds gently downhill. Look for the old ‘milestone’ – ‘Chania 51’ – from where there are spectacular views into the gorge below.
Walk below aromatic pine trees to reach the church of Agios Eirinaios, (see footnote), where a plaque in Greek records that “men, women, children and priests resisted the Germans.” After the Battle of Crete, heavily armed motor-cycle detachments were advancing towards Paleohora to prevent Allied reinforcements from Alexandria being landed there. Although inferiorly equipped, the Cretans had the advantage of terrain, and held the forces off for two days. As historian Antony Beevor notes, “their success could be sadly measured later by the scale of reprisals at Kandanos.”
Leave the road, and take the track to the right of the church, leading below plane trees into the Spina gorge. In late autumn all the leaves are brown, but hopefully no grey skies as the rough track crosses the river by a ford (the first of five, take a towel after heavy rain.)
The gorge is a delight, full of chestnut trees, goats, birdsong and enclosed by steep cliffs. After twenty minutes, and beyond the final shallow ford, the valley widens as the track climbs steadily out of the gorge. Later, after rounding the head of the valley, the gradient eases, with views over two rocky ravines to the mountain of Aghios Zinas, 1331m, over to the east.
Where the track divides, keep left – uphill – to meet the surfaced road, and turn right for the short walk into Spina village. In truth there isn’t much to see. The population has dwindled to single figures, the cafenion closed long ago, and many houses are now unoccupied or derelict. Below the path up to the church of Ag. Constantinou & Eleni is a spring of cold water, and in season, walnuts and chestnuts.
Leave the village the same way, keeping to the surfaced road, which gives easy walking at a height of around 700m. Although it’s officially ‘Spina 7’ to the main road, the distance is nearer 5 km. Checking the route recently, it took me less than an hour at a steady pace (and although I wouldn’t have accepted a lift, not one vehicle passed!) The views both distant and near are impressive, the heather was in full-scented bloom, and if I closed my eyes I could have been in Scotland …..
The bus to Paleochora passes the Spina turn approx. 1hr 15mins after leaving Chania, or turn left for 300m to reach the starting point. An alternative way back from Spina is to return down the valley, through the gorge to Ag. Eirinaios, then left along the old road for 5km into Kandanos, in some parts scenic, others less so.
This is the same church which Alan Hall in ‘Walks in Western Crete’ (Cicerone Press) maintains is called St. Antonios, “with ten tiny windows” – far from accurate. This is the worst guidebook by far that I’ve ever used. Commiserations to anyone who has tried to follow his walks from Kandanos, Elos, Kefali or elswhere and got totally lost. If you’re tempted to buy the book for Christmas, don’t – at an expensive €20 it’s a complete waste of money. Paleochora bookshop ‘To Delfini’ doesn’t stock the book, but they do have a few remaining copies of our (much acclaimed) guide ‘Ten Walks around Paleohora’.