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 …”

Share This:

Exploring Ancient Aptera

A different ‘Explore’ this month, with August heat heading for 40c, and a trip over to the north coast to visit the ruined city of Aptera. Most visitors to Chania, and on over to Paleochora, will arrive in Crete through the airport at Daskalogiannis, or on the overnight ferry from Piraeus. Both might give a glimpse of Aptera, and the imposing Turkish fortress, high above Souda Bay.

Aptera view

Aptera is situated 17km east of Chania along the national road, taking the exit to Megala Horafia, climbing steeply up into the village, then a left turn to the archeological site. Once through the village there’s a parking space, information boards, and the first view of the cyclopian walls which surrounded the city, enclosing an extensive area of c.1000m from east to west, c.700m north to south. Aptera’s existence occurs in the Linear B tablets, evidence that there was a settlement here in the 14th/13th centuries BC, from when it grew to be one of the most important city states of Crete. Recent excavations show the road leading to the main entrance, with rock-cut tombs nearby.

From here, drive on – or better still walk above on a walled track – to the main area of Aptera.

Aptera main gate

Aptera main gate

The city reached its peak during the early Hellenistic period (end 4th/3rd cent. BC) when it flourished as an economic and political centre, minted its own coins, developed diplomatic relations and forged a substantial trading network throughout the Hellenistic world. It’s two harbours either side of Souda Bay, at Kissamos (now Kalives) and Minoa (now Marathi on the Akrotiri) gave control of naval activities. Jurisdiction as a city state included Akrotiri, Apokoronou, the islands of Souda Bay, and as far west as Kydonia (now Chania.) With an estimated population of 20,000, of which a fifth were “freemen”, merchants, land and ship-owners, and the remainder slaves, Aptera continued to develop.

Aptera ruins

Aptera ruins

Further prosperity came under the Roman occupation (69BC – 365AD) when Aptera signed the “Pax Romana”, along with Polyrhenia, Gortys and other city states. Habitation continued through the early Byzantian period, but following a destructive earthquake in the 7th century, and the subsequent Saracen invasion and destruction, Aptera was abandoned as a city.

Aptera cistern 1

Aptera cistern 1

Much of the main area is fenced off, as excavations are ongoing, including access to a Doric temple and amphitheatre to the south. The two Roman cistern complexes, one superbly three-vaulted, can be admired from the perimeter fencing, but admission to the Monastery of St. John the Theologian, and a closer walk around the ruins, is limited to Tues/Sun, 8am – 2pm. As with many similar ancient sites, imagination (and some wonderment) is required when exploring here, treading in the footsteps of ancient Greeks, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Dorians, Romans, Saracens, Venetians and Germans, all of whom have played a part in Aptera’s long history.

Aptera cistern 2

Aptera cistern 2

Further on, and where the road ends, is the substantial Turkish Fortress, built after the Cretan revolt of 1866, and using much material taken from Aptera. There’s no access, but it’s a superb viewpoint over Souda Bay, Apokoronou, and inland to the high peaks of the White Mountains. Far below is the Itzedin Fortress at Kalami, also Turkish, once used to hold political and other prisoners. With no shade at Aptera, a morning visit is advisable, or wander around the site at sunset, and enjoy a meal afterwards at one of the tavernas in the nearby village.

Aptera Turk fort

The Turkish Fort

Footnote
Readers of our “Ten Walks” and “More Walks from Paleohora” – the former recently revised and re-published in memory of Lynne – will know of the contributions to the descriptions of Lissos, Kadros and Viena by our friend Tony Fennymore. After Tony died in England in 2007, his family and friends brought his ashes to Crete, and were buried at Aptera, his favourite place, and about which he knew more than probably anyone.

Share This: