Ever found yourself at Chania airport with a few hours to spare, usually the result of a delayed incoming flight, or taking returning friends/relatives, and having a free afternoon? Here’s a fine way to spend the time, an interesting walk of three hours maximum, both historical and scenic, with a short drive, just 7 km from the airport, but into a different world.
Agia Triada monastery is signed from the airport approach, beyond which the road continues for a further 4km through a narrow ravine to Gouverneto, where you park.
There’s a small entrance fee for the monastery (not always open) and the walk beyond to Katholiko Monastery and the sea (which is.) Dating from the 16th century, Gouverneto is still a working monastery: if open (usually 9-12 and 5-7), look inside, where there’s a small museum and gift shop, but dress appropriately, and no photographs allowed.
Then begin the walk, on a paved path passing a monument to local Cretan heroes, murdered during the dark days of occupation by Nazi Germany. Away and below to the left is the abandoned monastery of Saint Anthony, established by monks from Katholiko in the late 16th century, but destroyed by the Turks in 1889, and now used only by shepherds.
After around fifteen minutes, you’ll reach the Arkoudospilios or ‘Bear Cave’, deep-set with a large white stalagmite near the entrance. According to legend, monks from the monastery, suffering badly from thirst, discovered a bear stealing what little drinking water they had ; the Virgin Mary turned it into stone, and the bear, understandably, was petrified ….
Pass what may be a burial tomb (?), when the path steepens, with stunning views into the Avlaki Gorge and the sea beyond, to reach the Katholiko monastery.
The oldest in Crete, it was founded in the early 11th century following the death here of John the Hermit. This was the same John who had lived in the Cave of the 99 Saints, above the village of Azogires, and left to pursue a solitary life on the Akrotiri peninsula. Some time later, stooped and wearing a dark sheepskin to keep out the cold, John was mistaken for an animal by a hunter, shot with an arrow, and killed. With a torch, you can reach the cave where he died, through a narrow 100m passage with an immense stalagmite, from floor to roof, at its far end.
The monastery became a popular site for pilgrims, and was further extended in the 17th century, with the bridge across the gorge containing store-rooms and cells for monks and visitors, but frequent raids from sea caused the monks to move inland to safety, and build Gouverneto.
From here it’s a short walk to the sea, descending (with care) into the gorge and under the bridge.
After 15 minutes you’ll reach a narrow fjord-like inlet, where the easiest place to swim is from a “slipway” where monks kept and maintained their boats. Further to the left is a quarry, the source of building materials for the monastery.
Return is by the same way, from the sea to the car park taking maybe 1.5 hours. As the path ends back at Gouverneto, cross to the Memorial Stone, to read the passage from Micah 4, 3-4…
” Nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree ….. “
Wise words to reflect on in these troubled times ….