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 Kantanos, just a short drive from Paleochora, (or which fits in with the ‘bus schedules, see footnote) passing a number of “hidden” Byzantine churches between Kantanos and Plemeniana.
Start from the highly-recommended “Platea” taverna in Kantanos 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.
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.
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.”
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.
Not far into Kantanos 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.)
If you’ve time, enjoy lunch (or after an evening walk, dinner) at the ‘Platea’ taverna, whose owner, Samantha Ntountoulakis, translated the book * into Greek and English, painted the signs around the village, and has done much to promote Kantanos as a place to stop and explore,
rather than just pass through on the road south.
* 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 Kantanos 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 Kantanos, with a service leaving Chania at 8.00pm – but don’t have that extra “raki” and miss the last bus home …