It seems appropriate, after the wettest winter in many years *, that this month’s ‘Explore’ should include a visit to a waterfall …. or a cataract (from the Greek ‘kataraktes’). And not just any waterfall, but the 15m cascade at Retzakas, reputedly the highest in the Selino and Kissamos regions, and possibly the highest in western Crete.
Despite the prolonged wet months, the fall may well be dry after April ; even so, this circular 4-hour walk is an enjoyable introduction to the ‘enneachora’ (nine villages) area of SW Crete. You’ll need to drive through Vathi to Plokamiana, villages in the long valley leading down to the west coast and Elafonisi, taking around an hour from Paleochora, or longer if you break for coffee in Elos or Kefali on the way.
Park on the left as you reach Plokamiana, by the road sign.
Walk into the village, but almost immediately branch left down a side ‘loop’ (follow the signs)…
…and 300m later, turn left again for the 3km climb to Tzitzifia. En route lies plenty of interest, all signposted : first the ruined ‘Hamam’, a reminder of the long Turkish occupation, then the former school, and a little further on, the “Mother of God” church (Panagia), b. 1858.
Higher comes a sign to a ‘Big Olive Tree’, but this is quite a diversion, and nothing as impressive as similar trees at Anisaraki and Palea Roumata. Always heading uphill, steeply at times, the rough track meets a surfaced road ; keep right here, and similarly soon afterwards, into the now almost deserted village of Tzitzifia.
Lynne and I, exploring an area new to us, wandered into the village one December morning many years ago, to be greeted by an elderly couple distilling ‘raki’. And inevitably … “Elate, come” … and we were handed two large glasses of warm liquid straight from the still. Lynne, who didn’t like raki, surruptiously emptied her glass into mine and thanked them, smiling.
“Einai kala?” they asked. “Poli kala,” I replied, realizing immediately – “Big Mistake”, as our glasses were refilled. “Yammas !” That afternoon still remains blurred ; somehow we found our way back to Vathi, and Lynne drove us home.
There are signs to the church, below the village, and to ‘Kastello’, reached by a track across the stream, both worth investigating, but no indication of Retzakas and the waterfall. So, head out of Tzitzifia by the way you entered, and take the first right turn (surfaced), and follow this for 500m to a junction (at a small quarry) where there is a sign to Retzakas.
If it’s still spring, and the rain hasn’t abated, the waterfall is well-worth the “there & back” walk of 1.5 km each way. Pass left of a house, beyond which “the road goes ever on and on, and we must follow it, if we can …” until it crosses the valley, and over a (usually) shallow stream. Logically, the fall should be in the steep-sided ravine here, but it’s not – it’s in the next one, a short distance further. But after just 80 metres, look carefully up left, for faded metal markers on olive trees, not easy to spot.
There’s no path climbing through the terraces, but sporadic waymarking continues (yellow arrows) and will lead you to the stream and up to the waterfall, hopefully impressive enough to justify the visit.
Return by the same route to the road junction, and turn right on the surfaced road, passing Timeos Stavros church, with fine views to Plokamania far below, to Vathi. And from there easily down the main road, in twenty minutes or so, back to Plokamiana.
If you’re lucky enough to view the fall at its best, as we have this winter, Robert Southey’s onomatopoeic verses describing ‘The Cataract at Lodore’ in the English Lake District may come to mind :
“ A sight to delight in ; confounding, astounding,
Dizzying and deafening the ear with its sound.
Dashing and flashing and splashing and clashing,
And so never-ending but always descending ..….”
Although no Poet Laureate, here’s my own contribution :
We know all about Niagara,
And seen pictures of Victoria,
But the prettiest of them all …
Is Retzakas waterfall.
* Paleochora’s rainfall in January 2019 measured 194mm, compared to 56mm in 2018
February’s figures will probably be even higher !