Around Asfendiles

Rather like last month’s walk from Dris, this excursion from Asfendiles, 13km from Paleochora, is short, circular and straightforward, and has stunning scenery, this time with breathtaking views over the south coast of Crete.

P3030377It’s less than thirty minutes’ drive to Asfendiles, though longer if you stop for coffee or soft drinks at the Alpha cafenion in Azogires.  Just beyond here, turn right across a ford and continue 4km to Asfendiles, parking at a sharp bend near the village sign.

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‘Asfendiles’, says ‘Lucky’ at ‘Alpha’, derives its name from the plant ‘asphodelus’, which grows in profusion in the area.  Once a thriving community, with a population of over 150, and a reputation for pottery making, there are now only four permanent residents living here.

Start by walking into the village ; the way out is by a track right, but first go ahead to the tiny ‘platea’, where benches in the shade may tempt you to sit awhile, even after just five minutes.

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The track descends, then bends left around the head of a small valley (which much later will become the Anidri gorge.)  Ignore a track right, and climb up to the ridge, where you go left. On the way here, and afterwards, you may need to pass through wire ‘gates’, keeping sheep and goats in/out.  Leave as you find them, fastening again carefully if necessary.  Below is the road winding up to Prodromi from Anidri, and 60km away is Calypso’s isle – Gavdos, far out in the Libyan Sea.

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Follow the track, easily at first, then climbing steadily north, to where it overlooks Asfendiles again.  The 1834 census recorded 3 Moslem and 5 Christian families living here, during the Turkish occupation.  By 1881 there were 100 inhabitants, when Paleochora numbered a total of just 38.  Keep right, on the wider track, to reach the ‘main road’ to Platanes, and walk up to the former village school, now sadly neglected.  Built in the 1930s, to accommodate pupils from nearby Asfendiles and Platanes, but also from Strati, Achladiakes, Prodromi and Azogires, it closed in the early 1970s.  As school playgrounds go, there must be few better.

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At a height of 700m, the views from here are extensive, along the coast over Sougia towards Agia Roumeli and beyond, with the hill-top chapel of Profitis Ilias easily recognisable.  On a very clear day, the Paximadia islets can be visible far to the ESE, a distance of 80km.  And nearer, to the SW, is the tip of Paleochora’s peninsula, whilst above NE, and just a kilometre away, is the former Dorian stronghold of Yrtakina (see ‘Explore!’  February 2011)

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Walk back along the road, and in fifteen minutes reach the quite beautiful church of Agios Ioannis, which has some of the best-preserved frescoes in the area, painted by the famous Ioannis Pagomenos (John the Frozen), with the church dating from the 12th century.  There’s also a water tap here.

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Passing between the houses of Asfendiles, the road twists and turns down to where you parked your car.

Although one of the shortest walks in the “Explore!” series, and barely 4km in length, there is beauty here in small measures.  Go in the clarity of early morning, or the cool of evening, to enjoy rural Crete as it is now, and try to imagine what Asfendiles was like a hundred years ago.

Thanks once again to ‘Lucky’ at the “Alpha” in Azogires for fascinating background & history.

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EXPLORE! Book Now on Sale….

explore cover 2 trans10 popular walks within striking distance of Paleochora.

This book is in pdf format so you can instantly download it, print off the walks when you need to or just view it on your computer or mobile device. There are handy maps and more extensive descriptions.

The book will be updated regularly if and when the walks alter and it comes with free updates. Also, in the private members area there is a forum for people to post on…asking questions, suggesting updates and fining walking companions

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Hidden villages near Dris

All visitors to Paleochora travelling by car to Elafonisi will have passed through the small village of Dris en route to Elos. What they won’t have seen, except possibly a fleeting glimpse of the road signs, are the two “hidden” and even smaller villages of Motziana and Kopeti. With the warmth of spring arriving, and the heat of summer approaching, here’s a short walk of around two hours and barely 6 km, perfect for a morning or late afternoon/early evening stroll.

View to Motziana

You’ll need a car to reach Dris, which is not on a ‘bus route. Drive first north to Plemeniana, then west to Dris, total 17 km from Paleochora, and park near where the main road bends left over the river. Walk on out of Dris for 300m and take the side road left, signed to Motziana. P2050877The surfaced road winds pleasantly through olive groves, with Moziana still out of sight. Cross a bridge with a view of a small waterfall (and the former ‘ford’, before the bridge was built), after which the road climbs gently, and ends at Motziana.

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As recently as forty years ago, the population of Motziana was over a hundred. Now only five people live here permanently. Others, who maybe grew up in the village, return at weekends, Easter and summer or to harvest olives in the autumn, from homes in Chania, Heraklio, Athens and further afield.

Permanent residents of Motziana

Permanent residents of Motziana

Decision time now, with a choice of two options ; the first, easier, is to continue uphill above the village on the rough track, keeping left at a junction, then contouring around the hillside, to meet the alternative route.

Ancient Olive Tree

Ancient Olive Tree

This, for the more intrepid, is to walk through Motziana, initially ahead, then left, down through houses both derelict and inhabited, on a path which, after some 100m, joins a wider track in the valley. Turn right, between ancient olive trees, to reach stepping stones over the shallow river, a perfect place to rest awhile in the shade of plane trees.

Stepping stones across the river

Stepping stones across the river

Cross the river to the church of Agia Pareskavi, previously hidden from view. The path ends a little beyond the church, below a small enclosed garden. Keep right here (bearing 200 deg) to reach the river where it bends left. Procopi, working in his garden, recently showed us the way from here. Cross the river, by a quick boulder-hop or paddle, to a narrow footpath below steep hillsides on the far side, and follow it left to orange and olive trees, below old terraced walls. “How old are the stone walls?” we asked Procopi. “From my grandfather’s grandfather’s time,” he told us, taking oranges from the trees to give us. Living in Chania, Procopi still grows vegetables here, has sheep and five hundred olive trees, and drives over to spend several days a week in his home village.

From the riverside meadow, keep right of a fence, to reach a wider track leading uphill, and when it forks, go left to reach another track (the one coming direct from Motziana). Left again here, and a pleasant walk climbing gently to the outskirts of Kopeti. When the first buildings come into view, and just past several tall eucalyptus trees, take a small path (easily missed) down through houses into Kopeti. On reaching the surfaced road take a diversion left to visit the interesting church of St. John the Theologian, with ancient frescoes, two carved wooden doves, and the all-seeing “Eye of God” watching you. If not open, the key is easily located.

Church of St John the Theologian in Kopeti

Church of St John the Theologian in Kopeti

Return through upper Kopeti, keeping left at two successive road junctions, into the lower part of the village, above the river. Cross this by a bridge (noting the old one below), and walk up to where the road sharp bends sharply right. Go left here, on the smaller, less obvious old donkey path (gate/fence on left, stone wall on right). Turn right at the top, through and past a single house, on to a surfaced road. This leads pleasantly back to the Plemeniana/Elos road, and a short stroll back into Dris.

 

On the return to Paleochora, the previously recommended riverside taverna ‘O Milos’ near Plemeniana is as good as ever.

 

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