Kandanos Churches Walk

Ascension of Christ

Last year’s Christmas Puzzle (see ‘Explore’ – Dec 2017) featured several churches in our local villages, among them in Anidri, Kalamos, Voutas, Kadros and Spaniakos. Here’s a leisurely 4 km circular walk from Kandanos, just a short drive from Paleochora, (or which fits in with the ‘bus schedules, see footnote) passing a number of “hidden” Byzantine churches between Kandanos and Plemeniana.

Start from the highly-recommended “Platea” taverna in Kandanos centre, close to the war memorials. Walk up to the dominating Church of the Ascension (pictured above), which, under construction at the time, was spared the destruction of the town, and the massacre of many of its inhabitants, by the Nazis in June 1941. Continue past the Town Hall, and on the outskirts of the town, as the road heads west, keep ahead (with the street lights.) Soon the road dips, to reach pretty Ag. Athanasios ; carry on, then ahead at a ‘cross-tracks’, to meet the main road.

Ag Athanasios


Walk left along the usually quiet road, over a bridge, and just before Plemeniana’s modern church of Ag. Nektarios, turn right into the approach to the Byzantine church of Metamorphosis Sotirou (Transformation of the Saviour.) If you’ve not been here before – and I drove past hundreds of times without visiting – you’re in for a surprise. The German authority Hans Kieser comments: “ Of all the churches in Crete I have visited, this, in my opinion, is the most beautiful and impressive.” * Dating from the Middle Byzantine period, 11th-14thC AD , the church was renovated with great care from 2007-13 and the frescoes restored. An information board gives more details, including that 23 large scenes from the Christological Cycle have survived, and that 36 full-length Saints, and 23 busts of Saints, are depicted.



Metamorphosis frescoes


A further 150m will bring you into the village, and the junction to Elafonisi, which you take; but only briefly – down to cross the stream, then almost immediately up the side road marked XENONAS – in Greek (a villa for rent, you will pass later.) Always on the surfaced road, pass through the ‘settlement’ of Krioneri to reach the spring of Tramountana, then turn left up to Profitis Elias. Built c. 1350, frescoes are very well preserved, especially of Archangel Michael “portrayed in brilliant attire.”

Profitis Ilias


A little further along the lane is a sign to Agia Paraskevi, a short diversion below walnut trees to a secluded picnic site by the stream, and the very old church, seldom visited. Paintings c. 1352 show the martyrdom of the saint, and Agia Paraskevi in prison.



Return to, and follow the lane into Trachiniakos, turning right here, and in another 400m reach the roadside church of St. John the Evangelist (also called Ioannis the Theologian), where the main fresco is of the Baptism in the Jordan, painted c. 1328-29.

Ag Ioannis


Not far into Kandanos now ; stay ahead at the next junction, then a final rise to re-join the main road. On the short step into town, be sure to take the paved pedestrian way and visit Ag. Antonios, recently restored (information inside.)

Ag Antonios


If you’ve time, enjoy lunch (or after an evening walk, dinner) at the ‘Platea’ taverna, whose owner, Samantha Ntountoukalis, translated the book * into Greek and English, painted the signs around the village, and has done much to promote Kandanos as a place to stop and explore,
rather than just pass through on the road south.

Platea taverna

* Byzantine Churches around Paleochora and Kantanos Hans Kieser
Available locally, with descriptions of 26 churches, and exceptionally well illustrated


Currently, the 11am bus from Paleochora reaches Kandanos c. 11.15am, and the 12.45pm bus from Chania passes through c. 2.15pm, giving ample time to walk the route and enjoy lunch. You could also take the 6.15pm bus to Kandanos, with a service leaving Chania at 8.00pm – but don’t have that extra “raki” and miss the last bus home …

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Kallergi Mountain Refuge

Pachnes from Xyloscala


Whilst the ascent of Gingilos, 1,974m, is a reasonably straightforward ascent from Xyloscala * (see Explore ! – April 2014), summits across the Samaria Gorge – Melindaou, Pachnes and other peaks in the Levka Ori – are less easily attainable, and outside the scope of many visitors to Crete.

One shorter, easier, and rewarding ‘expedition’ is to walk up to the mountain refuge at Kallergi, a climb of 450m from Xyloscala, and enjoy wide-ranging views over the Samaria Gorge, Pachnes, Gingilos and the Omalos plateau .

Kallergi Hut

Situated at 1,680m on the north-west rim of the Samaria Gorge, Kallergi Refuge was built during the Greece dictatorship (1967-74), opened in 1971 and used for military training.

Kallergi Refuge


Afterwards it was taken over by the Chania Mountain Club (EOS), and is open daily during the summer months (May – October) and at weekends in winter.

Kallergi Hut

An overnight stay is an experience, with accommodation (for 45) in bunks or an Alpine-style sleeping platform, and simple meals available. ** Onward routes include the difficult trek via Pachnes to Anopolis, the even harder E4 trail to the Niato plateau and Askifou, and through the Eligas Gorge to Agia Roumeli.

With the exception of a few setting off for Linoseli and Gingilos, almost everyone at Xyloscala will be heading down the gorge to Agia Roumeli, so leave the crowds behind, and take the path signposted E4 and ‘Kallergi Refuge 1 hr 30’.

Path sign


But first, gaze across the vastness of Samaria Gorge to Pachnes, highest White Mountains peak at 2453m, which usually holds snow until late June, but which this year, worryingly, had all but gone by mid-April (see photo at the start of the article).

The path climbs gently, contouring around the hillside above Xyloscala, and soon “the voices on the road, they have gone.” After twenty minutes or so, pass through a gate to join the rough service road, but before that, enjoy the view to the wide Omalos Plateau, now a thousand feet – 300m – below.

View to Omalos


Turn right, uphill : this isn’t particularly inspiring, but height is gained easily and quickly. At the next bend, waymarking (blue & purple) leads up a gully, more directly to Kallergi, but this is loose, rocky, and you’ll lose the views, so better to stay on the road.

The top is marked by a small stone shelter (“koumi”) built in memory of a young Cretan shepherd murdered here in 1941.

Koumi sign


Kallergi is just five minutes’ away, and en route you’ll pass the legendary wooden toilet, overlooking (and overhanging !) the depths of Samaria, far below.

Kallergi toilet.. Gardez l’eau!


Views from the terrace are breathtaking – you remembered a camera and binoculars, didn’t you ?

South are Volakias, 2116m, Gingilos and Psilafi, 1984m,

Volakias & Gingilos


to the east is Melindaou, 2133m,

Melindaou ridge


and the ridge over Mavri, 1883m, to Psari 1817m (the route to Katsiveli traverses this high ridge.) Pachnes is more distant, with the cliff face of Zaranokefala, 2135m, away to the south-east.

Kallergi Hut

There’s every chance of seeing eagles here, possibly Griffon Vultures, and if you’re very lucky the rare Lammergeier, or Bearded Vulture (recognisable by a distinctive diamond-shaped tail, and wing-span up to 280 cm) circling high in the thermals.

Descent is by the same way, either returning to Xyloscala or following the service road down to the Omalos plateau. There’s an alternative, from Kallergi over the Koukouli ridge heading north-west to Omalos village. I’ve not yet walked this route, but Christoforos Baladimas, the summer warden at Kallergi, who waymarked the path, tells me it takes around three hours, and is easier to follow in ascent rather than descending.

* Xyloscala is 65 km from Paleochora, through Rodovani and Agia Irini. An early morning
KTEL bus runs in summer, and both Notos Travel and Psarakis Taxis offer transfers.
One suggestion – tried and tested – is to climb Gingilos, stay overnight at Kallergi, and
next morning walk down to Agia Roumeli to take the “Samaria” ferry back to Paleochora.

** Bookings/reservations through Christoforos Baladimas at (0030) 28210 44647

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