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.

Strati village

Strati village

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.

Spring at Strati

Spring at Strati

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.

Agia Marina

Agia Marina

 

St George icon

St George icon

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.

... and the summit

… and the summit

 

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.

View to Kandanos

View to Kandanos

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.

Anemomilos, 936m, above Strati

Anemomilos, 936m, above Strati

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.

Rhinocerous tree ...

Rhinocerous tree …

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.

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lynneInevitably, after five years and approaching seventy articles, “Explore” will move further away from, but always within easy reach of Paleochora. The walk through the Sirikari Gorge to Polyrrinia is a case in point, with a scenic drive of 45km through Dris and Strovles to Topolia, then branching left through Aikirgiannis and Kalathenes to park 1 km beyond Sirikari at the prominent church of Ag. Konstantinos, well worth the hour or so it takes to reach there.

The way-marked path from here to Polyrrinia is one of the easiest gorge walks in Crete, contouring above the valley, reaching the end in c. 1.5 hours, with a further half hour into the village. Then there is, if you’ve driven there, the problem of how to get back. Lynne and I solved this by driving to Kastelli, and once taking a taxi to Sirikari, another time reaching the village by bus. Tavernas in Polyrrinia will arrange a taxi to Kastelli, another couple of hours away on foot. You could always walk back the same way, or alternatively return by the Koliana Gorge (see below.) Best of all is for a kind friend to drive you there, and meet you later in Polyrrinia.

Start at Ag. Konstantinos

Start at Ag. Konstantinos

Having sorted all this out, let’s set off, through the gate opposite the church, then following green waymarking, steeply at first, on a path down through mixed woodland to another gate and a wider track. (Note this point if you return the same way.) Then turn right, passing a farmhouse, beyond which the path leads gently down the valley. Below, and across the valley, is Sineniana, picturesque but isolated.

Billy Goat 'Gruff'

Billy Goat ‘Gruff’

The path meets the stream at a well-sited picnic table, rises to pass a wooden memorial plaque (another wartime atrocity took place here), then drops to a narrow stone bridge, reminiscent of British “pack-horse” bridges, and a smaller version of the one at Mahia.

The old stone bridge

The old stone bridge

The Koliana Gorge enters from the right here, a useful (and enjoyable, but longer and more arduous) route back to the start. It will take two hours, keeping mainly to the streambed, waymarked with red dots, intermittent at first but clearer towards the end. As a bonus, it finishes at “H Kactania”, where you can rest, before a 10-minute walk back to your car. See ‘footnote’.

Heading north ...

Heading north …

 

and looking back south

and looking back south

From the stone bridge, a track becomes a road and leads to Polyrrinia, where you can easily spend a whole afternoon exploring the village and antiquities, as well as climbing to the Acropolis, at 420m, for a magnificent view over Kissamos Bay.

View from Polyrenia 'summit'

View from Polyrenia ‘summit’

Dating back to Minoan and Mycenaean eras, Polyrrinia became an important city under Dorian rule, and similarly later during the Roman occupation. The fortification walls were repaired during the Byzantine period, and later during the Venetian rule. It’s a fascinating place to wander around, with signs indicating Roman aqueducts still in use today, beautiful Venetian archways, and the more recent (1894) Church of the Holy Fathers.

Visit you must !

Visit you must !

There are several tavernas for refreshments, and if open, the “Old Kafenion” is recommended for English-style afternoon tea & cakes, as well as being an Information Point for the village.

Footnote
Before reaching Ag. Konstantinos, or on your return, be sure to call in at “H Kactania” (meaning ‘chestnuts’) in Sirikari village. Stelios and Argyro will make you most welcome, and tell you more about this delightful area whilst you relax with coffee at the start, or sample their own ‘raki’ at the end of your walk.

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