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.

P2050880

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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A Whale of a Kayak Trip

With a crocodile close to the south coast (see ‘Explore!’ February 2010), and a whale lurking off the north coast,  Crete is not exactly the safest place in the world for sea-kayaking.  You didn’t know about the whale?  Well, once upon a time, O best beloved, and long, long ago, this enormous sea-monster was heading towards Crete, intent on swallowing the island whole.  Fortuitously, and only just in time, the Greek gods spotted it, and instantly turned it into stone, when it became the island of Ag Theodorou,  just offshore from Platanias, and 7 km WNW of Chania.

The island from the starting point

Whale Ho!

We chose one of Crete’s 300 sunny days a year  – this one at the very end of November –  to circumnavigate the islands by kayak.  Plural here, because there are two, the smaller rocky islet of Ag Theodoropoula being largely hidden from the coast.  Launching from Platanias, we set off on the 1.8km crossing to the island on the calmest sea imaginable.  Still waters usually run deep, but the sea bed was visible below us all the way over, a leisurely half hour paddle.

Bob increases to ‘ramming speed’

In 1930 Ag Theodorou was designated a wildlife sanctuary, and  home to the famous wild goats or “kri-kri” ; in 1935 one male and two females were brought from the Samaria Gorge and released here, and have since procreated, the herd now around eighty.  It’s also the habitat of several raptors, safe from Greek hunters.

A beautiful calm sea

Like most of Crete the island has a long history.  Remains found in the enormous cave suggest it was a site for Minoan worship ; centuries later (in 1583) the Venetians turned the island into a fortress against the threat of piracy and Turkish invasion (and similar to Gramvousa island, it held out against the Turks long after the Cretan mainland had fallen.)  Access is (officially) prohibited except on the Saint’s Day in June, and even then, on paths limited from the shore up to the church.

If you can read this..you are too close!

Nearing the small beach and jetty, we tried to make out the words on a rusting notice, and when 50m away, could decipher them :  “No approaching to 100m from the beach.”  But we made a brief landfall, stretched legs, then set off around the SW tip of the island, below the huge cave which is the eye of the whale from some aspects.  Cliffs fall sheer into the sea from the island’s high point of 165m, with cormorants nesting in crevices and small ledges.

Resting, ” by still waters …… “

The strait between the two islands is a narrow channel  measuring c.30m across. We paddled  carefully through, watchful for sharp rocks below us either side, then anti-clockwise around Theodoropoula, where a landing looks almost impossible.  To our north lay nothing but open sea until Athens, some 250km distant, reminding me of the Breton fishermen’s prayer :

“O Lord, the sea is so great, and my boat is so small.”

Through the strait ... "and my boat is so small."

Through the strait … “and my boat is so small.”

Through the strait again, then keeping close to the north and south-east cliffs, watching for ‘kri-kri’  on the rocks above us, and spotting three males, larger than imagined, looking down on us as we looked up at them.  An hour or so and 5km after leaving it, we were back at the beach, this time for a picnic lunch and rest in the sunshine.  But, as we used to sing in school assemblies years ago :  ” Not for ever by still waters, would we idly rest and stay …”

The island from Kato Galatas

Phil had driven from Platanias to the small harbour at Kato Galatas, where we had arranged to end our voyage.  Ag Theodorou receded behind us on our 4km return to the mainland, leaving us with memories of a fine day, and the thought that, to misquote Psalm 107 :

” They that go down to the sea in kayaks, that go paddling in great waters ;

these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. “

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