The recent spell of scorching temperatures – four consecutive days of 40c-plus – made thoughts turn to pleasurable cool evening walks, followed by leisurely meals in village tavernas far away from Paleochora’s often “madding crowds” of July and August. A favourite is the Vavouledo Gorge, above Palea Roumata, and afterwards at the simple taverna in the village “platea” (ref. “Explore” August 2009). Others are a walk up to Ancient Yrtakina ( see “Explore” – February 2011) with dinner at “To Temenia” ; above Voutas ( “Explore” November 2015) with now a choice of two tavernas in the village, or an easy stroll around Azogires, and then to the “Alfa” cafenion.

Here’s my recommendation for an evening in July, escaping the heat of the coast for a short (less than two hour) walk in the foothills, then a meal of traditional Cretan food at a riverside taverna. Note that a car, or taxi arrangement, is necessary for this “experience.”

Many visitors to Paleochora will have driven, or travelled by ‘bus to Elos and Elafonisi, passed through Psariana, and seen …….. absolutely nothing, except for the village sign on the main road. And that’s where you need to drive to, just 20km from Paleochora, first north towards Chania and then turning left at Plemeniana (signed to Drys, Elafonisi). A little further on, look out for and pass by the roadside taverna “O Milos”, where we’ll return to after the walk. Then on through Dris to reach Psariana, parking 100m past the sign, at the foot of a surfaced road leading up to the village.

O Milos

First, look for a “shaddock” tree, 40m away on the other side of the road, the only one I’ve ever seen, which in spring has pear-shaped citrus fruit similar to grapefruit, but a sharper taste.

Shaddock Tree

Seeds were introduced to the West Indies (Barbados and Jamaica) c.1683 by Captain Shaddock of the East India Company, after a voyage from Malay, East Indies. How this specimen came to grow in SW Crete is a total mystery, but the fruit makes splendid ‘marmalade’.

Shaddock fruit

Walk up, ignoring a turning right, into Psariana ‘hidden’ village, comprising of some half a dozen houses, and a similar number of loud (but chained) dogs. Continue ahead, the road soon becoming unsurfaced, below chestnut and several pear trees. The latter were laden with fruit on a recent visit, and a substantial amount fell into my rucksack as I passed by.

Chestnuts

Avoid all left turnings, and keep to the main track. Alongside are myrtle bushes, currently in blossom ; the ripe berries, bottled in a solution of ‘raki’ and sugar, make a powerful spirit, similar to English “sloe gin”, and will be ready for Christmas.

Myrtle blossom

Higher up are large areas of Arbutus Unedo, or Strawberry Tree, the red/orange berries edible, despite what the Latin name might imply. Truly a rural delight.

Strawberry fields

Twisting then rising, the track (now concreted) reaches a 4-way junction, height 460m. Ahead (left) is a contouring route leading to the high point of the Aligi/Sassalos road, from where you could walk NE over to Floria. But we take the second right, downhill. Distant, the commanding view is of the long ridge leading to Agias Zinas, our “blue moon” church high above Kandanos (see “Explore” – August 2015) and a landmark from many points in our Selino region.

Easy walking now, this time avoiding a track right, will lead into Despotiko, close to a splendid Umbrella Pine tree (Pinus pinea). We’ve been here before, on a walk from Floria (‘Explore’, July 2013.)

Umbrella pine

Turn right through the village, ahead at a fork, but soon afterwards make a detour, on a track winding up to the small church of Panagia, the short diversion worthwhile for the views, especially towards sunset.

Panagia church

Return downhill, avoid a left turn (into Fragoudiana), and soon reach the “main” road, virtually traffic-free, for a 1 km stroll back to Psariana.

“Eal Cafe”

Relax in the cool of the evening at “O Milos” and enjoy the “Eal (sic) park welcome”, where there are eels in the river below, and also possibly on the menu ……

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I’m often asked about the E4 route between Sougia and Agia Roumeli – how far it is, how long will it take to walk, and especially its difficulty.

Answers : around 18km, taking 10-12 hours, which might be completed in a long day, but better to overnight on Domata beach, and it’s by far the most difficult walk locally, short of treks in the White Mountains.

The first part of the route, from Sougia to Profitis Ilias, is  described in our guide “More Walks from Paleohora” * after which comes a steep 45-minute descent to Tripiti, from where, last October, we began the rather harder second part along the coast and over to Agia Roumeli.  We took the “Samaria” ferry to Sougia, and later a pre-arranged water-taxi with Captain Yiannis (tel: 6973220472) to Tripiti, the rolling 45-minute journey on his small boat making me regret the cooked breakfast at ‘Omicron’ an hour earlier.

Capt Yiannis boat

Tripiti

With no easy landing at the foot of Tripiti Gorge, we jumped ashore, and walked slightly inland to visit the memorial, unveiled in May 2013, to mark the 70th Anniversary of the final evacuation of Allied forces from Crete.  On the night of May 7th _ 8th 1943 the Royal Navy ship ML355 came here from Egypt under cover of darkness, and took off some 60 British, Australian, New Zealand and Cypriot soldiers, along with several Special Operations Executive (S.O.E.) agents and Cretan refugees.  Many of the Allied servicemen had been sheltered by Cretan families after the Battle of Crete in 1941, and the plaque reads : “To honour the people of Western Crete for the sacrifices they made … erected in gratitude by the families of the evacuees.”  **

Tripiti memorial

After a pause to reflect on events here all those years ago, we set off around the coastline (impassable in rough seas) to Sedoni, the beaches there tempting us to relax and swim, but with “miles to go before we sleep”, we pressed on.

The waymarking is good, but you need to be vigilant looking for E4 black/yellow painted rocks, and occasional (and gradually disappearing) poles.  After an hour or so, the path drops almost, but not quite, to sea level, then crosses a steep, eroded and exposed section not for the nervous.

Above Domata

Then the path rises again to a point overlooking the Kladou Gorge, before a necessarily careful descent to beautiful Domata beach, which we reached after just two hours ; fifteen seconds later we were floating in the turquoise waters possibly unique to this part of the Libyan Sea.

Domata beach

Now comes the hard part !  “Does the road (path!) wind uphill all the way?”  wrote Christina Rossetti.  “Yes, to the very end …”  Or at least to a high point of 520m, with very little respite en route, just frequent stops to gaze and admire the view below, and see the path disappearing “onwards and upwards”.  Through a pine forest, around the head of a ravine, contouring around the mountain side, gradually losing height, and soon Agia Roumeli comes into view, far below.

The 300m drop down a steep-sided gully, often on loose stones, is difficult on tiring legs/knees, but probably worse in ascent (though I’ve never tried it.)  Halfway down we watched the ‘Samaria’ depart (west) and the ‘Daskalogiannis’ (east), meaning that Agia Roumeli would be peaceful and almost empty that evening and the following morning (and if you’ve not experienced it, you should …)

Finally comes an airy traverse, again not for the faint-hearted, of only around 200m, but with the beach alarmingly 100m below, and much space below our feet.

Ag Roumeli

Safe on ‘terra firma’ – and the greater the firmer, the lesser the terror, if you follow me, we made for the ‘Calypso Hotel’, and a warm welcome from my old friend Andreas Stavroudakis, with (what else?) a large, and much appreciated ‘raki’, well-deserved after our walk of 6.5 hours from Tripiti.

*  ‘More Walks from Paleohora’ available from “To Delfini” bookshop in the village
**   A similar memorial at Sklavopoula, see “Explore” – June 2015

 

 

 

 

 

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