Milia and a Chestnut Festival

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I thought that perhaps a new experience was in order. Somewhere without TV’s and gloomy news that make me conscious of living in ‘interesting times’. I thought a few days perhaps even without Internet access could do me good.  Mind you, giving up my Internet connection seems like being deprived of human contact, almost like becoming a modern-day anchorite.

So what is really essential for living?  What or how much can you give up?  I thought for these considerations alone, it was worth going to Milia.

Milia is a 17th century mountain settlement nestled in the Lefka Ori (white mountains) which has been transformed to accommodate tourists -mostly hikers- in its stone houses.  These have been restored to provide simple and basic yet very hospitable accommodation.  There are wood burning stoves for heating, and the furniture in the bedrooms is rustic. Solar panels generate enough electricity to meet the very basic needs, but there is no access to media or the Internet.  The houses have simple bedrooms, bathroom and a dining room.  Stream water is piped into the houses.  The experience is not about locking yourself up in one of the houses, though -there is a spacious communal dining room, where you can enjoy home-grown organic food lovingly prepared by Giorgos and Tassos.  Their delightful stifado with chestnuts, baby onions and potatoes in red wine sauce will stay in my memory.  I really enjoyed my stay and did not want to leave!  Indeed, it is possible to give up technology and embrace a simpler life without so much as a hiccup.

Then again, here I am, back in ‘civilisation’ and blogging.

From Milia, you can rent a bike or hike to visit the surrounding little towns, called the Innaxorion (‘nine villages’) dispersed in this mountain area, where time seems to be elastic and go slowly.  I found a few gems, such as a 15th century basilica dedicated to Agia Varvara (near Latsiana) and a church dedicated to Agios Nikolaos (near Mouri) which contains beautiful frescoes.  There is also the Topolia Gorge nearby, which makes for a most enjoyable hike.

Elos is the largest of the Innaxorion.  It is a pretty village surrounded by a chestnut forest and several natural springs,  and boasting  a few well-preserved Venetian buildings, such as a governor’s house and a fortress.  There are also fragments of Roman mosaics to admire.

The speciality of Elos are chestnuts.  I arrived in time for the annual Chestnut Festival, which this year was held on Sunday 4 November.   The festival sees everyone in the village get involved.  There was food, wine, music and dancing. A particular form of raki typical of this region was on offer (‘koumaroraki’). Small children had prepared ‘mantinades’ (poems) about chestnuts. Or at least this is what I was reliably informed that they were reciting!   Huge, sweet and juicy chestnuts were on offer, and you could also try them in a variety of dishes, sweet and savoury.  Then, in the climax of the event, the chestnuts are roasted.  What a pleasure!

If you would like more information about Milia or want expert advise to include local festivities in your travel plans, which will make for an unforgettable stay in Crete, contact Karma Travel!  Their expert advisors will help with accommodation, transportation and offer knowledgeable tips to make your travel a true delight.

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Lake Kournas, Argyroupolis and Ancient Lappa

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With Lefka Ori (the white mountains) behind me, and surrounded by greenery, facing Lake Kournas, I’m spending an afternoon in an idyllic scenery.  This is Crete’s only natural freshwater lake, some 1.5 km wide and fed by underground springs.  Its crystal-clear waters change colour, I’m told, according to the season and time of day.  The lake is very much alive: turtles, crabs and fish can be watched from pedaloes or canoes, which one can leisurely paddle about the lake during the summer months.  Since I’ve missed that opportunity and we’re now in October, I’m quite content to spend my afternoon sitting on a lounger and soaking up the sun whilst reading a book.  There are tavernas around the lake, and so I can wander towards them to get myself a fresh portokalada (an orangeade) and sip it in pure bliss.  I’d been told to make sure I tried the myzithropitakia, cheese patties made with Cretan sour myzithra cheese, a staple of this region. So I obediently stopped by ‘Omorphi Limni’ (a taverna aptly named ‘Beautiful Lake’) and gave these heavenly treats a go.

I spent the morning visiting the pretty village of Argyroupolis, which was built upon a hill, and is built on several levels, with Kato (lower) and Pano (upper) sections.  With the advise of my trusted Karma Travel, I was able to hire a local guide to show me around, and knew to look for a particularly interesting herb shop in Argyroupolis, where I found a few cosmetic treasures.

This small town is steeped in history, which is evident from the rocks that make up its houses and public buildings.  As in other places, the building materials have been reused over time, and so these construction blocks were once part of Roman or Venetian structures.  The town’s current name dates back to the 19th century, when it was called Argyroupolis in reference to a silver mine in the neighbouring area.  However, settlements in this area are much, much older: this was once called Lappa, and there are references to its existence in Minoan times.  According to legend, the origin of Lappa can be traced to that era, when it is said to have been founded by Agamemnon, the hero of the Trojan War.

Lappa was a very important city whose territory extended from the north to the south coasts, and boasted two commercial harbours: present-day Dramia and Loutro.  The city was destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout its history. It enjoyed particular prosperity during Roman times (as evidenced by archaeological finds from the period), and also during the Byzantine period, when it was the Episcopal residence of Agios Titus, Crete’s first bishop and patron saint.  I particularly enjoyed a stroll around the Roman ruins of ancient Lappa, with its Necropolis, baths, and  aqueduct.

Down the hill, towards Asi Gonia, lies a particularly beautiful area with ten springs known as ‘The Holy Force’ (Agia Dynami).  Here, water gushes out of the mountains with such force that it was used to power water mills, which in the not too distant past dotted the area.  Nowadays, the mills are gone, but you can still sit to enjoy the view of the beautiful cascades from one of the many tavernas in this gorgeous setting.

If you would like to enjoy the peace and quiet of beautiful Lake Kournas, or are keen to visit the lovely Argyroupolis with its springs and ancient Roman ruins, contact Karma Travel.  They will be able to provide expert information and help you book all the services you need to make this a unique experience.

Chania

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What a lovely place is Chania (which can easily become Xania, Hania or Kania, depending on who you talk to)!  I spent a couple of days here, and when the time came to say goodbye, I was pondering whether I should phone home and ask someone to have my stuff forwarded so I could just relocate.

Wishful thinking aside, Chania is a jewel of a small city in the north western part of Crete.  Its strategic location (and presumably the resources around the area and the sheer beauty of the region) made it a coveted possession.  For a long stretch of time, it was Chania, not Heraklion, that was the capital of Crete. Having been the seat of power, the many invasions, conquests, sieges, stalemates, and waves of migrants left their mark on the city.  The seafront and the old town bear the mark of the Venetians, who built palazzos, fortresses and a pretty lighthouse, which are still standing in defiance of Time and the many successive overtakings of the island.  There are also a mosque and a couple of minarets to bear witness of Ottoman and Turkish rule.  Archaeological excavations in the middle of the old town remind us that the city was the seat of ancient Kydonia (Greek for quince) far back in Minoan times.  In the Archaeological Museum, you will also learn that the area has been inhabited since the Neolithic era, and you will see artifacts that tell the colourful story of a city that has metamorphosed constantly throughout its history, counterpoints and staccattos marked every time that cultures clashed violently in a struggle to seize or guard it.

You stroll along the cobblestone narrow streets of the old town, with bouganvilleas and vines overhanging wrought iron balconies and palm trees shading the far edges along the ruins of an ancient Venetian fortress.  You sip an orange granita whilst sitting on a bench by the seafront, overlooking the lighthouse and the mosque, or you browse trendy or crafty shops set in reconstructed Venetian palazzos in lively Splantzia, which is peppered with nice cafés where you can stop the world spinning by ordering an iced coffee and sitting down to peoplewatch.

The Agora central market is a pleasure to navigate, with the feel and bustle of a bazaar and plenty of delicacies to tempt you.  In the old town, even touristy shops are a pleasure to browse.

I had a couple of wonderful dinners at To Adespoto, a cozy al fresco restaurant set in what once was a Venetian palazzo on Sifaka Str.  Live music and fabulous food and wine made the evenings a pleasure. Whilst on holiday, I don’t often return to the same place for a meal, as I like to try different things. However, the food and the ambiance of this Taverna made me return, and quite happily!

After dinner, I once wandered into a music shop in the old town, and the friendly owner gave me a comprehensive briefing on Cretan music.  I was looking for a song they had played at the Taverna, which I quite liked.  Not speaking Greek proved a bit of a complication, however. All I could make of the song I was after was a woman’s name: ‘Αικατερίνη’.  I had even made up a story about the lyrics in my mind -surely, this Ekaterini was a heartbreaker…   My appreciation must have been fairly off, as the music expert could not quite place the song as per my description.  After a long and pleasant chat, I left with a CD in my hands.  I cannot stop listening to it!  The holiday glow returns whenever I play it. Give it a go and ‘see’ for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sKBDCiuZczk.  The artists are Stelios Petrakis and Bijan Chemirani.  The album is ‘Kismet’.

If you want advise on transfers or accommodation in lovely Xania, ask Karma Travel!

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