Roussospiti and Mt Vrissinas

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I have taken a day to wander just south of Rethymnon on a bike. In this area, there is a tiny pretty town, Roussospiti.  I was curious about the name of the town. I know ‘spiti’ means ‘house’, but I couldn’t understand what the name referred to.  My query at the taverna got a couple of locals quite animated. There are at least two competing stories: one is that the town was named after a red house, (in Italian, that’s ‘Rossa’), which was built by a Venetian merchant.  The other story says that the name of the town refers to a house built by a Russian woman (hence ‘Rousso’), who was very ill and came to Crete to recover from her ailments.  Apparently, her house still exists.

Beyond the lively taverna and the gossip, the reason for my wander to this part of Crete today is visiting a number of lovely  churches with Byzantine icons and frescoes I wanted to see, which are nearby, and going up Mt Vrissinas.  Wonderfully helpful staff at Karma Travel helpmed me find a place to rent a bike, and also advised on possible routes I could enjoy.  This proved to be a great tip.  Starting in Rethymnon and on the way to Roussospiti, I passed several lovely chapels worth stopping by to take a look at.  This route is best enjoyed on a bike, as the walk would’ve been too long, and going by car or public transport would have meant that I could not stop to see these lovely chapels on the way.

In Roussospiti, there is a 10th century church dedicated to the Mother of God, which hosts some ancient icons that are sadly not intact, as the eyes of saints depicted were scratched during the Turkish occupation.  Nearby, just by the entrance to a gorge, there is also a 14th century convent dedicated to Agia Eirini (Holy Peace).  The monastery is being reconstructed all thanks to the nuns’ keen efforts, with works ongoing since 1989.  The nuns sell beautiful home textiles (like tablecloths and tea towels) and hand-painted icons to sustain their titanic reconstruction work.   In the estate of their monastery, there is also a 15th century church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin, which is also looked after by these dedicated nuns.

At the top of Mt Vrissinas, there is a church dedicated to the Holy Ghost.  The view from up the mountain is amazing.  It took me some effort going up, even though it’s not particularly high. Anyhow, the bike stayed at the foot of the mountain, and I walked up.

I’m told that this was always considered a holy mountain. Before the existing chapel was built, there seems to have been a temple to goddess Artemis at the same site.  Even before this, excavations undertaken in the 1960s revealed a Minoan temple of significance.  The digs yielded hundreds of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic clay statuettes, as well as fragments of a stone vase with Linear A inscriptions, which can be seen in the Museum of Rethymnon.

If you would like to obtain advise to make the most of your time in Crete, contact Karma Travel! From accommodation and transfers to tips on enjoyable cycling routes, they are your reliable travel agent in Crete.

 

 

 

 

Agios Nikolaos

Agios Nikolaos, Crete, Greece creteisparadise.wordpress.com

After the peace and quiet of Psiloritis, I thought I needed a spot of people-watching in a bustling, vibrant place, so I came to Agios Nikolaos.

This town has a ‘bottomless’ lake (Voulismeni), which connects with the sea via a narrow inlet.  The lake is  lined with cafés, pizzerias, and tavernas with parasols all along.  On a balmy night, this was quite the place to be!

This was one of the first places in Crete to see touristic development, and it remains very popular with locals and foreign tourists alike.  It still features a commercial harbour, which exists since the times when the Venetians ruled Crete.  This was a particularly good spot for a major harbour, because it is sheltered by two small islands (where fortresses were built to guard the port), and it’s also sheltered from the sometimes vicious northwesterly winds that sweep other parts of the island.  The two small islands facing Agios Nikolaos are also home to an endangered species of wild goats, called ‘agrimia’.

On a morning stroll along the marina, I could see some dazzling yachts docking here.  I must confess I was a bit curious as to who were the owners of such lavish floating palaces.  Unable to find out any gossip worth mentioning, I was rather happy to find a small café selling wonderful crepes just by the slipway and indulge in a nutella-filled pocket of yumminess!

To plan your trip to Agios Nikolaos and obtain all-important information on the wide variety of options of accommodation on offer here, as well as activities including diving, yachting, golf, and visits to nearby monasteries and archaeological sites, contact Karma Travel!  They will be able to offer reliable help and advise.

Agiofarago

Agiofarago

In search of tranquility, I went to Agiofarago. This is in the Heraklion prefecture (southern coast of Crete), between the Odigitria Monastery and Kaloi Limenes. It was described to me as ‘a perfect place to go seeking solitude’. This is a secluded beach with emerald waters; the shore is covered by small pebbles, and the sea is ideal for snorkelling, which I love. The pristine beach of Agiofarago remains so because there is truly nothing here. Unlike the other beaches I went to, here there were no taverna, parasols, or loungers. There’s nowhere to buy food or water, so you have to carry along all the things you consider necessary. Some people camp here, and it would indeed be the only way to spend the night here, as there are no hotels nearby.

Following a footpath for about 30 minutes, I crossed the gorge towards the beach overlooking the Libyan sea. Hiking along the silent trail took me to the church of Agios Antonios. Its sanctum is inside a cavern. The church was built in the 14th century A.D, and it has been restored three times, but the figures of saints depicted on frescoes on the walls are nonetheless quite faded, destroyed by humidity.

A story goes that Agiofarago was visited by Saint Paul, the Apostle, in 62 BC, when his boat capsized near Kali Limenes. It is said that St Paul spent some time as an anchoret inside the caves scattered within the gorge. Since then, this became a holy place where hermits came to live in the caves, and there are records of this practice from the 7th century A.D; the first known hermit was Agios Kosmas. Agiofarago was ideal for meditation. It’s not hard to picture why: you really seem to leave the whole world and its noise behind!

According to the story I was told, the hermits gathered once a year inside a cavern close to Agios Antonios called “goumenospilios”. They sat around a table, and noted who was absent. Any absentees were considered dead! An oath of silence was imposed on the members of this ascetic community which remained unbreakable. Therefore, they sought solitude even to avoid contact with each other. The austerity of these hermits was extreme. Their life was frugal; in the first place, food was scarce, and only a well outside Agios Antonios provided them with water, as no other springs are found along Agiofarago.

It is said that hermits were seen here until the end of the 19th century. Some claim that they have come across silent monks, and I heard stories that invisible monks appear only to those whose faith in God is strong. You can come and find out for yourself!

I have to say I did not encounter any invisible monks. Perhaps my faith was not strong enough to attract them… Anyhow, I crossed the gorge and reached the beach. Here are absolutely amazing high rocks, ideal to take a dive into the clear waters of the Libyan Sea.

The seclusion of this beach is due to locals’ and tourists’ preference for easily accessible beaches. Since Agiofarago is not one of them, it remains ‘untouched’. It’s also a great place for practicing rappel. I saw several people practicing this on the cliffs as I crossed the gorge. I was really sorry I did not come prepared to join in!

If you want to organise your travel to this remote beach, contact Karma Travel.

Monasteries

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It was my last day in Chania, and a Saturday.   I had promised myself I would visit Moni Agias Triadas and Moni Gouvernetou, which are in the Akrotiri Peninsula, to the northeast of Chania.

I had foolishly forgotten my drivers’ license, so I could not rent a car.  I thought it was easy enough to follow the rough instructions on my Lonely Planet tourist guide and just get there.  So I went and took a bus.  Firstly, I made enquiries at the bus station, and the girl in the information booth sent me to buy a ticket towards the airport, which is south of the peninsula, and told me to get off the bus at a particular point, then take a taxi.  I bought the ticket.  When I was about to board the bus, I looked closely at my map and the guide, and realised that she had sent me to the opposite end of the peninsula, which would make the taxi fare quite costly.  I had to quickly exchange my bus ticket, and boarded a bus to Stavros.

Without knowing the region, traveling by bus becomes a bit of an adventure, as stops are not necessarily called by the driver, and at bus stops, there are no signs to tell you the name of the place.  I was following my map carefully and looking for any signs we passed on the road, as I was not going all the way to Stavros, but getting off two villages before.  I did manage to get off at Horafakia, and called a taxi to take me from there to Moni Agias Triadas.

The monastery of the Holy Trinity is proudly active and still plays a part in the local economy. Monks own a vast amount of land, and they produce olive oil, wine and other products.  You can visit the gardens, a chapel, and an exhibition of Byzantine icons and religious paraphernalia.  The paintings were particularly beautiful.

From there, my book said you could walk about four kilometres to Moni Gouvernetou.  I am a keen walker, and thought of this as a short ‘pilgrimage’ of sorts, so I set off walking.   About one kilometre down the road, an Ucranian couple stopped their car and generously offered me a ride to the monastery, which I accepted.   I am glad I did, as little did I know, a few hundred metres down the road, it narrowed to the point that two lanes became one tightly winding road, which could have been dangerous to walk on, particularly if cars were coming from up the hill at some speed and would not necessarily see you!

We got to the monastery at about 4.20 PM, and the gate was open, but the actual monastery was closed. It would reopen at 5.00 PM.  We could go in and take a walk in the premises, though.  These, I have to say, are spectacular.  The monastery is the guardian of a vast amount of land that includes mountains and valleys rolling towards the sea.  They have some olive groves and vineyards, but the valley, importantly, is home to another monastery which is located closer to the coast, and is where St John the Hermit used to live in a cave at the bottom of a rock staircase.  You can walk down a beautiful rock path towards it, and visit a few caves where his disciples dwelled, which hold small chapels.  Again, the hills are covered in aromatic herbs, so you walk amidst the smell of thyme, sage, oregano, and olive trees.  The natural beauty of the place is breathtaking.  It inspires awe and gives you a feeling of tranquility.

I walked down, then up the path, and returned to the monastery, where you are welcome to visit a patio and a small church in the middle of it. By the time I walked in, it was time for vespers.  It was beautiful.  Chants and sweet incense wrapped around me and engulfed me.  I stayed there quite a while to meditate and pray.

When I got out, I figured I would just call the same taxi company that brought me to Moni Agias Triadas and ask them to pick me up at Moni Gouvernetou to take me to Chania.  By then, I already knew that I had missed the afternoon bus from Stavros to Chania; I was conscious of the need to find my way back.  However, I had not considered the possibility of being unable to call the taxi in the first place.  My mobile had no signal!

Luckily, a French couple walked out of the monastery and made their way towards a car.  I explained my problem, and they kindly agreed to take me down to the first village.  I was really very grateful.   From where they stopped, I called a taxi and finally got back to Chania.

The adventure was worth it.  The monasteries were beautiful and I enjoyed the journey.  However, if you are considering a visit to these wonderful places, I suggest you save yourself some trouble and plan your own transportation ahead.  Contact Karma Travel and get a great deal in car rental, transfers or a guided visit!

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