If you have ever travelled along the road from Paleochora to Kissamos, you will undoubtedly have paused, after driving through the tunnel beyond Katsomatados, to enjoy the dramatic view into the Topolia Gorge. And on the far side, just 500m across the gorge, you’ll see a ruined church, with another (white) chapel nearby. It’s well worth a visit, take my word for it, but how to get there is another matter ….
There’s no access from Topolia, or from Kapsaniana in the valley below, as Lynne and I discovered more than a decade ago. You’ll need to drive on down the valley to Voulgaro, turning right there (easily missed, 500m beyond the Aegean garage), and follow the winding road climbing for 4km to Mouri. You could begin this Explore walk from the village ‘platea’, but it’s better to continue out of the village for a further 0.5 km, turning sharp right at a sign marked ‘NISI’, and on uphill for a further 1.5 km to a junction indicating two obscure churches, and park there.
From here there’s a relatively flat walk of 1 km to the few houses of Nisi, and from there a further 500m to the church. Along the way are stunning views, ahead to the Topolia Gorge, and behind to Kissamos Bay and the peninsulae of Rodopou and Gramvousa. On the hillside across the deep valley of the River Tiflos lies Topolia, and far beyond is the ravine of the Sirikari Gorge.
The surfaced road ends at Nisi (Greek for ‘island’, but why here ?) Continue ahead, through a gate, and pass an abandoned circular construction, which after investigation turns out to be a charcoal kiln. There’s a similar one, still operational, on the road up from Voulgaro to Mouri.
Charcoal was used for animal husbandry, horticulture, medicine, and probably more so here as cooking fuel.
Follow the grassy track, but leave the church until later and walk up to reach a “hidden gem,” the ruins of the Monastery of Agia Eirini, possibly dating back to the Byzantine period, 13th century. I’ve tried – and failed – to discover more, though it’s possibly connected to the relatively nearby monastery of Agia Varvara (St. Barbara) at Latziana, in the valley below. The latter is a short, and well-merited diversion on the return drive to Voulgaro.
The monastery ruins are impressive, the remaining arches particularly so, and deserve to be better known. Take care while exploring over the surrounding rocky ground, then walk over, through a wire gate, to the church. Sadly this too is derelict and long abandoned to the elements, with a tree growing in its interior. If you can scramble inside, there are some fading frescoes, including one presumably of Agia Eirini.
A short walk above is the simple chapel of Profitis Ilias, which offers little except its location, some 200m above Topolia Gorge, and with an expansive view over a wide area of NW Crete.
Choose a place for a picnic, or for quiet reflection and contemplation, trying to imagine the scene here long ago, before the easy walk back through Nisi. And on the return to Paleochora, pause before the Topolia tunnel to enjoy the view across the gorge, without doubt one of the most outstanding in Western Crete.