There’s a reasonably straightforward route between Loutro and Agia Roumeli, following the waymarked E4 path through Finikas, Marmara and Agios Pavlos, a distance of 14km taking around five hours. But of course we didn’t go that way …..
Lynne and I first visited Loutro in the summer of 1991, staying with Alison at Hotel Porto Loutro and meals at nearby Blue House. Both are still there, but how different Loutro is now. I’m with Yeats here : “All changed, changed utterly : a terrible beauty is born ….” The sight, as the “Samaria” turns into Loutro after the cruise along the coast from Paleochora, is idyllic, with blue/white houses bordering the shore, and a background of the White Mountains …. but ……
… “ O ! call back yesterday, bid time return …..”
After a late breakfast with Georgos at the Blue House, now squeezed between gift and tourist shops, we set off towards Agia Roumeli. The plan was to cover the route in two days, our first an easy half-hour stroll over the headland to stay at Finikas (Old Phoenix) where Michelle has known the family for decades. And there a leisurely lunch on the terrace, a leisurely afternoon on the beach, and a leisurely dinner, all in a very different world from today’s Loutro.
We left at 9am next morning, in retrospect three hours too late. There’s a road almost down to the coast now, from Anopolis through Livaniana, fortunately not (quite) reaching Loutro. Bitterly opposed by some, fought for and welcomed by others, it was the latter faction who prevailed. We kept on the original path, to Likos and on to Marmara along a high level terrace which some may find disturbing, the path being rather exposed at times.
The entrance to the Aradhena Gorge is dramatic, and best admired from the ferry. The gorge, from the sea to the ruins of Aradhena village is c. 5km, and difficult enough to take around
3 hrs in either direction, with several rockfalls to negotiate. We would follow the gorge until just beyond halfway, then branch west up a side ravine, where – the Anavasi map promised us – was a “clear path with cobbled sections” leading to the plateau below Agios Ioannis.
Initially level below immense cliffs, the nesting sites of griffon vultures and other raptors, the ‘path’ soon climbed steeply over boulders, and, crossing from east to west side, passed a spring of cold clear water. Knowing this to be the last source of water for several hours, we drank from, then filled our (heavy !) bottles. After two tough hours from Marmara we reached the junction ; a sign helpfully confirmed the way to Agios Ioannis, and an arrow on a large rock pointed to “BEACH ” for those heading downhill.
The climb of 350m to the plateau was relentless, and it took us a further two hours to cover less than two kilometres. Definitely a route less travelled, and although we lost both the path and waymarking occasionally, the way ahead was obvious – onwards and upwards. Relief on reaching the forest road, and an easy walk, first on tracks, then ‘kalderimi’ – ancient walled mule trails – to the Sellouda.
The view from Sellouda, at 600m high, and almost vertically above the Libyan Sea, must be one of the most sensational in Southern Crete, possibly the whole island. Gavdos far out to sea ; along the coast to Agia Roumeli and on the far horizon, Paleochora’s peninsula. Below, out of sight, Agios Pavlos ancient church with adjacent taverna and much anticipated refreshments.
And even the good ship “Samaria”, silent from up here, drifting serenely along …
Then we lost, in rather more than an hour, all the height we had so laboriously achieved earlier.
The impressive ‘kalderimi’ soon gives way to a loose-stoned path winding steeply down through the pine forest, thankfully in the shade. While I took photos of the church, Michelle went to buy drinks – water and lemonade, then …. “same again” …. before we plunged into the sea.
By now it was 4.30pm. I went to take more water for the final stretch of a long day, not an easy walk although mainly level, over sand, stones and boulders, and now, in the late summer heat, directly into a westering sun. “ You’re walking to Agia Roumeli,” said the cafe owner. “ Yes, another hour,” I replied. “Maybe more, or just ten minutes in Costas’ taxi-boat, 25 euros.”
We didn’t hestitate ….
“We’ll not tell Andreas,” we said, walking up to the Calypso Hotel to spend the night there. But he’d spotted us climbing out of the boat. “Better you left at six,” he admonished when we told him about our walk, and pouring us a raki. “ Nine is much too late …”
Older – definitely, and wiser …. not necessarily, but still looking for fresh challenges and pastures new.