Ever heard of Skoudiana, Xatzoudiana, Lofos and Agakiana?

I thought not; and yet everyone taking the road much travelled from Chania to Paleochora will have passed within a kilometre of each of them. Too small to be termed ‘villages’, all are situated on the outskirts of Kantanos, and a circular walk from there, no more than two hours, and passing through all four, makes an enjoyable prelude to lunch, afternoon tea, or dinner in that very hospitable small town.

 

As with previous walks from Kantanos, take the bus from Paleochora to, or park in the main platea, close to the Memorials. Set off on the main road towards Paleochora, but opposite the Health Centre, after just 150m, turn right downhill. Soon you will reach a junction, and turn right over a bridge, but if you’ve not visited the church of Agios Ioannnis *, with many 14th C frescos, continue on a little way, and then return. Across the bridge, the road rises and bends uphill into Skoudiana, where you go left. Skoudiana seems deserted and abandoned ; I’ve walked through many times, and like Adlestrop, “no one left and no one came …”

Now a rough track between olive trees heads north, soon alongside a streambed now dry, but widened and eroded after the winter storms, and will eventually lead you to the main Kantanos/Chania road.

Beware of flying goats

 

Turn right here, keeping wary of traffic and flying goats, and if still in colourful bloom, enjoy the wild flowers, pink and white cistus and lavender, and vivid yellow gorse and broom bushes.

Gorse in bloom

 

Everything is a little more spectacular this spring after months of heavy rain – “behind every cloud …,” and there have been many earlier this year.

White cistus

 

After 800m you will reach the roadside stall of local products, honey, olives and oil, raki, and more, where Despina will tempt you with samples, all from her family farm above Kantanos.

Local produce

 

Then turn sharp right, signed “Vineyards of Kantanos”, easy road walking between fields of vines, soon swinging left over the brow of the hill, overlooking distant Kantanos. A short descent leads to a T-junction, and a left-turn into rural Xatzoudiana.

 

Vineyards

 

Follow the road, crossing a stream, rising to reach another junction ; make a diversion right here, to Lofos, and the cemetery and little white church of Agios Mamas,* again 14thC, usually open, and with a cold water tap nearby.

Ag Mamas

 

A little further on is the hamlet of Agakiana where the surfaced road ends. Return past Ag. Mamas to the road junction and turn right.

Pink cistus

 

Approaching Kantanos, look out for a “red diamond” sign rather hidden in the undergrowth right of the road. If spotted, take a path right, passing right of a half-built house to a neglected childrens’ playground, through this to another (overgrown) path and up to the main road. If you miss the sign, just continue ahead to reach the road at the (closed) Silk Oil garage, then go right into Kantanos centre.

I’ve already extolled Samantha’s “I Platea” taverna, so to balance things out I must recommend the Greek dishes at “O Platanos”, especially the delicious Cretan cheese/honey pies.

Platanos

 

* More information in ‘Byzantine Churches around Paleochora and Kantanos” by Hans Kieser, translated by Samantha, on sale at her ‘I Platea’ taverna.

To extend this walk (by c.2 hours) follow ‘Kantanos Churches Walk’ – Explore ! August 2018 as far as Agios Ioannis church, then turn left over the bridge to join this description.

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Omalos To Lakki

After two relatively easy walks earlier this year, here’s a longer and more challenging route – one that we used as ‘training’ for our trek in Nepal (see February’s ‘Explore’.)

 

It’s described in Loraine Wilson’s guide “The High Mountains of Crete” (Cicerone), where she writes: “This is an old transhumance trail and a direct footpath between Lakki village and the grazing pastures of the Omalos Plateau.” And I’d recently heard from the Chania Mountain Club that several overgrown sections had been cleared, the path well waymarked, and the route was “not easy, but not difficult.”

Path marking

 

This being a linear walk, we persuaded friend John to drop us at the start, then drive down to Lakki and await our arrival, some three or so hours later.

Start here

 

The path begins 2km north of Omalos “village”, just above a sharp bend on the main road, and marked on the Anavasi map as ‘Neradzoporto’. If you’re walking, look into the Tzanis Cave, which has a length of 2.5km, reaching almost 300m underground, but don’t go far, it’s only for experts, as a sign indicates.

 

Inside Tzanis cave

 

Legend tells us that Omalos was once a vast lake, whose waters drained out through the swallow-hole at Tzanis, and emerged once more as the source of the River Keritis and Agia Lake.

Starting at 1110m, and with Lakki at 508m, the route is practically all downhill, but no easier because of that; the first kilometre is the hardest, steep and rocky, passing below a stone ‘aloni’ to reach a track alongside Melisitis river.

Stone aloni

 

A brief rest and refuel here, then a level walk through stunning scenery to where the track bends sharp left below the conical hill of Stefanoporo. Some history here; on the 28th February 1944 the leader of the Selino “andartes”, New Zealander Dudley Perkins, was killed, along with Cretan Andreas Vandoulas, in a German ambush. The full story is recounted in the later chapters of “Vasili, the Lion of Crete” by Murray Eliot. A plaque on the main road approaching Omalos commemorates the event, and war hero Perkins rests in the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Souda Bay.

 

As the road bends west, our route heads north to begin the descent of the long valley towards Lakki. Initially contouring around the hillside, the path drops to the oleander-filled streambed, joins a smaller valley and then turns north-east.

Long valley

 

Wilson’s ‘time allowance’ from Stefanoporo to where the valley meets the Achlapidiotis river is 1 hr 15 mins, and another 20 mins for the “sting in the tail” climb of 115m into Lakki, but it took us much longer. A sudden, violent and heavy rainstorm – in mid-June! – resulted in us sheltering out of the wind and rain under a lightweight nylon (and super effective) KISU – ‘Karrimor’ Instructor Survival Unit – for 40 minutes until conditions improved. Always be prepared, even in Crete in mid-summer. But afterwards, the path was wet, and rocks slippery, so progress was inevitably slower and careful.

And then the final climb to Lakki, to meet John in the kafenion by the ‘platea’, where a thought-provoking statue commemorates Cretan resistance to three occupations – Venetian, Turkish and German. Less than an hour later we reached Chania, where not a drop of rain had fallen, and were amongst visiting summer tourists, in a different world…

Lakki statue

 

This is a fine and satisfying walk, one of the best I’ve enjoyed in Crete, combining the best of wild mountain scenery, total isolation, but with the security of good waymarking.

Note
As far as I know, this route has not been affected by this winter’s heavy rain and flooding, although Lakki was evacuated because of landslips on the road from Chania. Any changes to the walk will appear here.

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