Vamvakades down to Kantanos

Have you ever tasted the Greek delicacies of galaktoboureko, baklava, loukomades and kataifa ? 

If not, you should do, and there’s no better place to enjoy these than at the renowned Kontakaki cafe on the main street in Kantanos.

But first – of course – a walk to build up an appetite, even though this one is largely downhill and not at all strenuous.  You’ll need to ask someone to take you to Vamvakades, 6km above Kantanos on the road to Tememia, or leave a car there to collect later.  On the way up, pause in Anisaraki to visit the church of Panagia (Virgin Mary), almost roadside, with several excellent frescoes from AD 1390-1400. 

Just above is Agia Paraskevi, built 1325, but not in as good condition and usually locked.

On reaching Vamvakades, park close to a memorial to a local partisan (‘pallikari’), where our walk begins.  We’re at 750m here, and will drop over 300m down to Kantanos, starting alongside houses on the outskirts of the village.  This track leads down through woodland to reach secluded Agios Nikolaus, where it appears to end. 

But after visiting the church and small graveyard, continue to their right on a grassy pathway which soon becomes more defined. Once located, this leads easily onwards and downwards, swinging right, into and out of a deep ravine, and gives impressive views over Kantanos and far beyond.

To the NE, and 5 km away is the mountainous area known as Apopigadi, and the summit of Agios Zinas, looking pyramidical from this angle.  At 1331m it’s one of Crete’s lesser heights, but here’s a surprising fact for readers and mountaineers from the U.K.  Only one summit in the British Isles is higher than this, Ben Nevis in Scotland, and only by thirteen metres, at 1344m.  Read more about Agios Zinas, our ascent under a Blue Moon, and bivouac in the summit church, in Explore ! (August 2015) Avoid all side turnings until, much lower down, take – sharp left –  a rough and stony track which leads to the imposing ‘Fountain of Life’ church in Chrysopigi. 

Below the church, turn left and follow the road, to reach ‘Zoi’s House.’  Here Despina and her family (Zoi is their little girl) offer accommodation in a rural and tranquil setting, but close to the amenities of Kantanos and Paleochora’s many beaches.  Despina often has their farm produce for sale  – olives, oil, jams and honey, dried fruit, raki – with an ‘honesty box’ if there’s nobody around. 

And in the river above the house are the Kantanos waterfalls, if you know where to look, and it’s been raining heavily.

Continue along the road, climbing to a remarkable house, with a mural of the Battle of Crete, and a rain gauge in the front garden.  With records dating from 1999/2000, figures indicate that this winter has been unusually dry, and from December/February only 25 mm of rain fell here, compared to 145 mm in 2021/22, and potentially causing a problem this summer.

At the nearby “kri-kri” take the descending path travelled before on our Explore ! walks, and after 10m turn right, narrow, stony and loose initially, then left along a lichen-covered wall to meet a surfaced road.  Turn right for an easy walk of fifteen minutes along lanes back into Kantanos.  

Or, to extend the walk and maybe merit a second cake later, turn left.  This takes you to, and through Lambiriana to a (2nd) road junction.  The left branch (signed) rises in 0.5km to Agios Georgos, a worthy diversion for both the view (with picnic tables to relax) and the church interior. 

Or fork right to Ag Kyriaki where the road ends.  But continue ahead, on a favourite path above age-old pine and oak trees and masses of sweet-scented white heather.  Look out for badger setts, then drop down to the outskirts of Pasakiana.  From here, turning right, follow the surfaced road for a little under 1km, through Sideriana, to reach a junction.  Here go left, and walk easily back to Kantanos.

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