Wonderful place through it is for many activities, Paleochora is not ideally situated for cycling.
Nearby villages of Anidri, Azogires, even Voutas and Sarakina all entail steep climbs, tiring (and dangerous) during the heat of summer. To the east, Ianiscari beaches, and west via Koundoura to Krios are relatively flat, but are uninspiring rides, often with passing traffic to contend with.
With my two sons, Simon and Christian, coming to stay in late August, both regular cyclists and keen to enjoy a day’s riding, there was a problem – solved by planning a day with E-bikes. I contacted my friends Manu and Fiona Coleman, who run “Fit in Crete”, a family-run company based in Kissamos offering E-bike rental/guided tours, kayaking, wild swimming/snorkelling, gorge hikes and coastal walks. Could they organise a morning’s ride for us in the foothills of the White Mountains ? Of course they could, and suggested a 45km route, through the Theriso Gorge, climbing to the high villages of Zourva and Meskla, before descending back towards Chania.
We met Fiona and mutual friend Paul in the bougainvillea-covered village of Perivolia, just south of Chania ; then unloaded the bikes, adjusted saddles and donned helmets. Fiona explained the mechanics of the e-bike system, with power levels of Eco/Tour/Sport/Turbo, advising us that to preserve the battery power, keep to Tour, or when steeper, to Sport level.
Then away, out of pretty Perivolia, and soon into the shade of the 6 km long Theriso Gorge.
There are (bolted) rock climbs here, on sheer vertical walls with difficulties far beyond anything I could have achieved, even in my youth, impressive … And soon a stop for water, re-hydration so important, and sadly the cause of several incidents during this very hot summer on Crete.
Ready for a rest, we stopped in the platea in Theriso, close to the statue of Eleftherios Venizelos, the revered Cretan statesman.
Snacks were produced, and drinks from a nearby cafenion, whilst Fiona told us the history of the village. It was here in 1905 that Venizelos, who had played a large part in the struggle against Turkish rule, convened the Revolutionary Assembly (or Theriso Revolt) to oppose the autocratic regime of Prince George, imposed by the Four Great Powers, which paved the way for the eventualunion of Crete with Greece (Enosis). In 1910 he became Prime Minister of Greece.
Two museums here are very well worth visiting : the Museum of National Resistance and the
Historical Museum of Theriso, both in the village centre, and only a 15 km drive from Chania.
Then onwards out of Theriso, and very definitely upwards on a gradient where ordinarily I would have dismounted and pushed the bike ; but with some assistance, we powered up to the highest point of the tour, at 761m, and paused to admire the view.
Chania was out of sight, but below us stretched the coastline from Ag Theodorii island to Kolymbari, and beyond to the Rodopou peninsula. Closer, and almost directly below, was the Sarakina Gorge, yet another to explore.
Now we could freewheel easily into Zourva, less isolated now than it was, once the secure home of partisans and resistance fighters during the German occupation, safe here in their mountain retreat. In “ The Stronghold ”, and visiting ten years after his wartime exploits here, SOE agent Xan Fielding wrote :
“ Zourva is a compact fortress, its buttressed front soaring upwards and backwards
like the inclined walls of the Potala at Lhasa …”
There’s little here to see, and no sign of any cafenion, but what views ….
We paused again by the church in Meskla, incongrously large for a small place. Then down on roads becoming wider, busier, and better-surfaced, through Fournes to Aghia. Turning right here, Fiona led us through the Chania suburbs of Miloniana and and Varipetro, and back into Perivolia.
The tour of c. 45km had taken us a little over 3.5 hours. Total ascent was 901m, with our highest point at 761m / 2,500 ft. Simon recorded a maximum speed of 54.5 kph descending the bends between Zourva and Meskla. Me …. I kept the brakes on all the way down…..
Contact Manu and Fiona at www.fitincrete.com for more adventures on land and sea.
Both Notos and Sabina Travel, on the Main St in Paleochora have e-bikes for hire, daily/weekly.