In the long term, little seems to change in Paleochora ; the sun shines for over 300 days a year, winter snow falls on the White Mountains, the welcome to visitors from hotels, tavernas and cafeneia remains as genuine as ever, beaches bordering the Libyan Sea entice as always, the “Samaria” ferry links the town (and walkers especially) with Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Loutro and Sfakia, and Gavdos island floats on the distant horizon.
Each year though, there are differences, some noticeable, others imperceptible. Premises change businesses and sometimes owners ; last year a new bakery opened and a traditional one closed ; Stavros, the barber on the Main St, retired ; the popular “Skala” at the harbour is currently closed, and the new Mayor and Town Council elected last autumn “have promises to keep.”
An innovation which proved successful last summer, and hopefully will be repeated this, was the introduction of a twice-daily mini-bus service between Paleochora and Sougia. This allowed a variety of walks around Temenia, Maza, Rodovani and Kamaria, and the one described below, from Strati over the hills to Kandanos, taking around two and a half hours.
First, check to see if there’s a bus to Sougia through Strati, and if not, book a taxi for the 14km ride through Azogires and Achladiakes. Then find out when the KTEL bus will pass through Kandanos (1hr 30 mins after leaving Chania.) There’s no water after Strati, so take an ample supply with you.
The driver, bus or taxi, will drop you off in the “centre” of Strati, once a thriving village (population 79 in 1881, now with fewer than 20 inhabitants), under the slopes of Anemomilos mountain. This translates as “windmill”, and one stood on the summit during the Turkish rule, and another (watermill) in the river below the village. Walk on along the main road to a spring of cold clear water.
The village church, Agia Marina, is below right, and, as many others hereabouts, has frescos painted by the renowned Ioannis Pagomenos in 1323. Continuing north, ignore a left turn, which leads (only) to the remote church of Ag. Dimitrios, but take the next track left, shortly before a sharp 180-degree bend in the road.
Now comes a steady ascent of 1 km, climbing 100m, and avoiding all side turns, to reach a “col” at 800m. Relax and enjoy the view over the Kandanos valley below, and far away, the two peninsulas of Gramvousa and Rodopos on the north coast.
Several tracks meet here, be careful! The one you need is the lower of two leading right, keeping right of a locked gate, and slightly uphill.
The track heading initially west would take you towards the summit of Anemomilos, 936m (and at 3,070ft, a Scottish ‘Munro’), but you need to be careful in more ways than one. The terrain once the track ends is rough and rocky, and there are several gates and fences to cross. One evening last summer, having traversed the ridge via the summit, we were relaxing in the Alpha cafe in Azogires when Meiki, the Paleochora postman, who owns many goats, sheep, and areas of land hereabouts, came in and spotted us. “You’ve been in the mountains,” a statement rather than a question, “did you close all the fences?” “Yes, of course,” we assured him. “Are you sure?” he persisted. “Certainly,” we confirmed. “Because I’ve been watching you all the way (through binoculars)” he replied.
The track to Kandanos climbs slightly to a gate (easily unwired, close behind you), then, losing height, bends towards – then below – a large animal building. Soon afterwards, turn sharp left (possible gate), the track then twisting and turning, always downhill, to reach the shade of tall oak trees. Look out for the ‘rhinocerous’ …… Stay on the main track to reach Ag. Giorgos, with picnic tables and seating, but mind your head on the low doorways.
Soon the track becomes a surfaced road ; keep right in the hamlet of Labriana, then through Benoudiana and a final stretch into Kandanos, where there are several excellent tavernas to rest and relax whilst waiting for the ‘bus back to Paleochora.