Kondokinigi to Paleochora

Paleochora from Vigles

Many visitors to Paleochora, especially those who have followed Walk 1 in my recently published book of “Ten Walks around Paleohora”, will have walked up through Panorama and climbed to the masts high above the town to enjoy the magnificent views. But very few will have approached this viewpoint from the north, along the ridge which separates the two valleys running down from Kakodiki and Sarakina.

From the outset, this is more than just a walk, more of a mountain expedition. Paths are few, the terrain is difficult at times, and you’ll need to scramble over rocks on the climb to the summit of Kefala, 522m. You’ll need good footwear, and route-finding skills. But there’s a real sense of achievement in reaching Vigla, high above Paleochora, with the peninsular spread out far below you.

Kefala above Kondokinigi

Kefala above Kondokinigi

Kondokinigi is 8km out of town, before the road splits for Voutas and Sarakina. Leave the road at a small white building, pass above the village church, and then turn left.

Start here!

Start here!

Soon, as it bends left, leave this track and go right, to pick up a narrow winding path climbing, via a large, prominent boulder towards the ‘col’ above. This route, now little-used, connected Kondokinigi with Kalamos and Vlithias. Keep right of a wire fence to reach the top, and take a rest before the strenuous climb ahead.

Ascent to Kefala

Ascent to Kefala

If you got this far, the way above is clear – south and steep, becoming steeper. Again keep right of a fence, which, high in a narrowing gully, is easily crossed. Now keep right over slabs and rock outcrops, to reach a subsidiary summit, and then walk and climb east to the stone cairn on top of Kefala, with views in all directions.

Kefala summit, 522m

Kefala summit, 522m

From Kefala the ridge curves, with occasional sheep/goat tracks through the thyme and leg-scratching bushes. Drop down sharply to reach a rough track, which is an “escape route” to take if preferred, leading to the hamlet of Vasilaki, and from there to the ‘main’ road back into Paleochora. Otherwise continue ahead, to reach a second summit, this one with a concrete surveying pillar.

Second summit

Look out for remains of shepherds’ huts (‘koumi’) and former animal enclosures. Eventually, swing right to reach another fence, keeping left of this to a gate, and a (wired) opening to its right. The masts are in sight now, but still with route decisions to make before reaching them. The higher masts are at 335m altitude, at the end of a rough road taking you 100m down to the lower ones on Vigles ( a short diversion to here), and from there to sea level.

Nearing the masts

Nearing the masts

We enjoyed this route one summer’s evening, taking three hours from Kondokinigi to a car left in Panorama, but we’d been before and knew the way; a first occasion would take longer. A word of warning – on no account attempt a descent east from the ridge. The only safe ways off are from the masts, or by the track leading to Vasilaki.

To end on a sad note. The German occupation began in May 1941, and its end is recorded in “Paleochora, a Look Back into the Past”, a book still available. “ In October 1944 a rumour circulated that the Germans would withdraw from Paleochora, and this was actually true. Many inhabitants climbed the mountain to the north of their town called “Vigles”. The sight they saw was both shocking and haunting. Many homes had been destroyed, shops and storehouses had been set on fire, ammunition was being exploded. The Germans left hardly anything behind. Germany had lost the war; Paleochora was liberated, and its inhabitants returned ….”

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Kayaking to Chania

A calm, though very hot day in late August brought to mind the opening lines of the poem “Sea Fever” – the John Masefield original, not the Spike Milligan version :
“ I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky.”

No “tall ships” for us, but Joanna and I dusted down the 4.5m long sea-kayaks, drove over to the north coast, and in mid afternoon set our metaphorical sails for the Venetian harbour in Chania.

Our launching point was at Kato Galatas, where had ended my last voyage in these parts, a circumnavigation of Ag Theodorou island (see ‘Explore’ February 2013).

Kato Galatas harbour

A forecast of light NW winds, Beaufort 2-3, increasing later, would be ideal for a paddle of around 6 km, passing by or landing at several beaches, with a break at the small island of Lazaretta. Kato Galatas has a delightful little harbour, just off the “Old Road” along the coast, where we parked close to the water’s edge and unloaded the kayaks. It seemed auspicious and opportune to visit the tiny quayside church of Agios Nikolaus, patron saint of seafarers and fishermen, before setting off.

Setting off

Kalamaki beach is close to the main road, which then bends inland towards Chania. So the two Agii Apostoloi beaches were new to me, and thus seen, for the first time, from the sea. August sunbeds lined the shoreline, so we continued, preferring the empty coastline, where low cliffs interspersed with sea-washed caves. Chrissi Akti, or Golden Beach, came next, although less commercialised, and with Chania now in view. Rather bizarrely, so were the White Mountains, with Pachnes, the highest, just 25 km away directly, and 2,463m above us.

White Mts & Golden Beach

White Mts & Golden Beach

Also in view was the rocky islet of Lazaretta, some 750m away, and changing direction to NE, we headed there.
Lazaretta, now uninhabited and measuring just 200m x 70m, has a fascinating history. As its name implies (from the story of Lazarus, ref. Luke 16-19 New Testament), it was formerly a “leprosarium island” in the 17th century, where those suspected of leprosy were disembarked before ships reached Chania, and kept in quarantine. When the island was captured by the Turks in 1645, the buildings were demolished, and a huge cannon erected to assist the siege of Chania. Foundations (25m x 7m) are still visible.

Lazaretta island

Lazaretta island

Lazaretta is a stop-off, for swimming and snorkelling, on the itinerary of tour boats from Chania, two of which were moored off the little sandy beach. Luckily they soon left, and we had some time to explore alone before more arrived. There’s little to see, except a small shrine, again to Ag. Nikolaus, with a story to it. In 1954 a young boy from Chania rowed (some say swam) to the island, and fell asleep, later waking in the midday heat suffering from severe sunstroke and dehydration. Somehow he managed to return ashore, was rescued and rushed to hospital, and survived. Later he emigrated to Australia, but on returning to Chania, built the shrine, which he re-visits every couple of years.

The boy's shrine

The boy’s shrine

Having paddled around the island before landing, we set our sights on the lighthouse at the entrance to Chania harbour, 1.5km away. In the 1950s, long-distance swimming races were held over this same route; now they are held every summer from Neo Chorio beach to Lazaretta and back, a course of 2.5km. As forecast, the rising wind was causing a slight swell as we passed below the lighthouse, before reaching calmer waters. Originally built by the Venetians between 1595-1601, the present structure dates from c.1830, during the Ottoman era, hence its minaret-like appearance. At 21m high, though no longer operational, it’s quite magnificent, and a long-time ambition of mine to kayak below it.

Into Chania

And on either side of the harbour were friends John and Avril, waving us into port, and taking photographs as we paddled serenely past the Venetian shipyards (“arsenali”) in the inner harbour to finally land at the slipway below the Chania yacht club.

Dry land!

There’s a very nice cafe here too, where after water replenishment and fresh orange juices, Avril, John and Joanna stayed with the kayaks while I took a taxi to Kato Galatas to bring the car. By late evening we were back in Paleochora, unloading the kayaks, where – to misquote Robert Louis Stephenson – “home are the sailors, home from the sea …”

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