Frangokastello

Frangokastello, Crete, Greece

I made a day trip to Frangokastello, attracted by its legends and a sheltered sandy beach.

The fortress was built by the Venetians in 1204, soon after the Fourth Crusade had resulted in the division of territories formerly owned by the Byzantine Empire amongst the crusaders.  Crete had been given to Boniface de Montferrat, who sold it to the Venetians.  The new rulers were not popular and faced resistance from the Cretan population, and their maritime trading routes were always in danger of pirate attacks.  Hence why they needed to build so many fortresses.  This one in particular was meant to contain the attacks of fierce Sfakians and guard their ships from pirates.

The most important episodes in the history of this fortress happened more than 500 years later, though.  In 1770, a wealthy shipbuilder was betrayed here.  As a foreigner in Crete, you will quickly become acquainted with his name, as you’ll see it in streets, squares, schools and Chania airport. This local hero, known as ‘Daskalogiannis’ (Teacher Ioannis), was approached by emissaries of Queen Catherine the Great of Russia, who offered support for a revolt against the Turks.   Count Orlov was meant to provide money and backup troops to the rebel army assembled by Daskalogiannis, but they did not show up.  The Turks outnumbered the Cretan rebels and crushed the uprising.  Daskalogiannis was brought to Candia (Heraklion) where he was brutally tortured and murdered in front of his brother, who lost his mind.

Hatzimichalis Dalianis, a Greek rebel, landed in Crete in 1828 to ‘revive’ the revolutionary spirit.  A fierce battle was fought in Frangokastello on 17 May, and again the Turks outnumbered the rebels and mercilessly massacred them. Ambushes by pockets of rebels descending on Turkish troops from the nearby gorges accomplished little in denting the power of the mighty Turks.  It was a bloodbath.  Dalianis died in battle and was apparently buried by a nun in a nearby monastery.  According to local legend, on the anniversary of the battle, every 17 May there is a strange occurrence, whereby a ghost army of fallen revolutionaries returns to Frangokastello and march toward the fortress at dawn.  They are called the Drosoulites.  I can’t testify to this, because I was not there in May.  There is a debate between the traditionalists and scientists who have proposed explanations for these visions which involve winds and sandstorms in the morning mist.  Regardless of the plausible science of floating sand in a misty morning, the poetic vision of an army of fallen revolutionaries materialising on the anniversary of their epic battle is more appealing to me.

After visiting the castle, I enjoyed the sandy beach, and spent hours swimming in the sea and then enjoying a book on a sunbed under a parasol.  There are tavernas around which sell scrumptious food and fresh drinks to keep you going.

If you come to visit magic Frangokastello, contact Karma Travel to sort out your transportation and accommodation.  I heard some horror stories from tourists staying in the area.  Save yourself some trouble and consult the experts!

Sfakia

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Loutro, kri kri, mountain goat

I spent half a day in Chora Sfakion, and used the time to visit nearby Loutro as well.

The seascapes in this area are stunning. I used to say that my favourite colours were blue and turquoise, but I don’t think I had an idea of the intensity of the hues these colours could have until I was in Crete last week.  What an amazing feast for the eyes, just to look at the Mediterranean glistening in the sunlight!

I had wanted to go to Loutro lured by the promise of Roman ruins and the opportunity to hike for a short distance towards another nearby beach.  I took a ferry from Chora Sfakion and as soon as I descended in Loutro, I walked up a hill.  The signposting, again, was missing, so I was not sure whether I was again looking for the E4 in the right place.  I suppose it becomes a matter of trusting your instinct, given that there will not be a sign, plaque, or arrow to direct you.  There were, indeed, some ruins, both of what seemed a Roman settlement and a Venetian fortress.  I took plenty of pictures.  There were also kri kri (wild goats) and these were so relaxed in my company, that they even posed for pictures!

I then spent about two hours swimming in the sea before taking the ferry back to Chora Sfakion.  Chora Sfakion (Sfakia) is a seaside resort, and has lovely tavernas by the seafront.  I had drinks by the beach in a taverna a little up the hill.  The owner was chatty and very hospitable.  I tried a local speciality, a ‘Sfakian pitta’ which is a pancake filled with soft white cheese and served with honey.  Simple and brilliant!

If you want to organise your travel to this area, ask Karma Travel for advise and buy a tour from them!  It will make your life easier 🙂

Imbros Gorge

Imbros Gorge, Sfakia, Crete, Greece

I am a keen walker, and had heard of beautiful gorges which extend across the middle of Crete.  I wanted to see for myself, so I went to Imbros, a small village, and started on an 8Km walk through the gorge which ends at another small village called Komitades.

The walk is not difficult at all, and I would say it is not strenuous either.  The terrain is not difficult: you march along a beautiful path with breathtaking scenery.  Holding your breath would be a pity, though, as the gorge is lined with bushes of aromatic wild herbs such as sage, thyme and oregano, pine and cypress, and the scent is a delight.

When you reach the end, it is a 5Km ride (or walk, if you still have the energy and will) to go to Chora Sfakion.

There are organised tours to visit this region.  Consult with Karma Travel to find out the best option to suit your plan.

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