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Rural Crete Goes “green”

Posted by Kritsa Yvonne, 31 October 2010 · 1,183 views

Many people enjoy trips to the Lassithi Plateau but when we drive to Crete in our 4x4, we enjoy opportunities to explore beyond the tarmac road that runs the 15 miles around the plateau. A good example is a trip where we combined going “off road” in the car with a walk in early October.

We stopped to read a convenient “tourist map” sited in the village of Avrakondes to double check we were about to take the right track towards Mount Dikti. Within seconds, an old man materialised keen to know if we were English or German, a very common question up high on the plateau where people have very long memories of wartime atrocities.

Once our origins were established and applauded, the man wanted to know where we were going. We explained we were going to walk to the Limnakaro Plateau below Mount Dikti; he obviously found this puzzling and told us there was a perfectly good road for our car. My Greek was not good enough to explain that we were to drive up the rough track a short way to find part of the E4 Hiking route to take us up to Limnakaro Plateau. (The full path crosses many countries and runs from Zakros on the far eastern point of Crete across to the west coast and eventually across Europe to Gibraltar)

The old man asked if we wanted a drink and we realised the tourist map was directly outside of his tiny taverna, no wonder he was keen to engage in conversation! We could have anything we liked as long as it was beer, wine, or lemonade. We chose lemonade as it was far too early for alcohol but when the complimentary Raki arrived, we thought it would be good fuel to rocket us up the steep bits! With a bill of only 2 Euros, we enjoyed the best value refreshments in Crete.

It was a tough hike at times and the path frequently crossed the road the man had advised us to drive up, but our way was more fun. Cresting the top of the last hill showed the small Limnakaro Plateau, it was dry and parched brown but full of goats and fruit trees; it would be a fabulous sight in the spring, green meadows and trees full of blossom below a snow topped Mount Dikti – this is now on our to do list! After walking down to visit a Byzantine chapel in the middle of the plateau we walked back to the car using the vehicle track, this gave us opportunity to look around without watching our footing all the time. From this road, we had a great view of the Lassithi Plateau and noticed that some farmers had given their plots over to banks of solar panels to generate electricity to sell into the national grid. Similar panels have sprung up in many parts of eastern Crete including Kritsa.

There is a reservoir on the plateau to capture winter rains but now it was virtually empty. A second reservoir more than twice the size of the original, is nearing completion right next to the existing one. Add the reservoir and solar panels to the long established wind farms and the new recycling bins and it seems that Crete is taking a big “green” step forward.

In mid October, there were six of us keen to walk so we used two cars to get us to Agia Fotia on the south east coast and then we all piled into our car for the uphill trip to Agios Ioannis. Everyone was being very polite and trying not to be too assertive when finding the right route, needless to say, without one leader we got very lost. Eventually backtracking and setting of in a new direction we reached the place where we intended to have lunch. Each couple had taken some food to share so we all had some nice surprises before setting off again. By the time we reached the coast at Agia Fotia, four of us were pleased to have a swim whilst the two drivers set of to fetch the car left at the start of our walk.

The next weekend, four of us set off from Kavousi on the north east coast below the Thripti Mountains to drive up to the village of Thripti and on over the mountains to for another swim on the south coast. All four of us are good walkers but using our car allowed us to share views that the other two had not previously seen. There is a more direct route up to Thripti but since it is now tarmac all the way it does not have the same sense of adventure!

There is a substantial archaeological site not far from Kavousi, called Azoria with remains from the Dorian period, the same era the large site of Lato near to Kritsa. Our friend had previously collated information and brought the site “alive” for us using maps, pictures and explanations; he was puzzled that he could not locate a 70 cm slab of limestone that was a feature of one particular area so thought he might return another time to search again.

Onwards and upwards, enjoying breathtaking views but trying not to look down the sheer drops we were driving along we soon came to Melises, a pretty hamlet in a fertile area. As we left Melises, we stopped to look at a small church with far reaching views back across the Mirabello Bay to Agios Nikolaos with its backdrop of the Dikti Mountains. The site was obviously a very old church that had benefited from some tasteful modernisation with an Alter made from a 70 cm slab of limestone! Another slab, used as a shelf for icons, was obviously part of an intricately carved pillar, an archelogical "find" and this heightened our suspicions that the Alter was the missing stone from Azoria. Oh well, more people will enjoy them where there are now!

Driving up on some very rough tracks, we eventually came to a long deserted village called Tsamantis it is built in a cleft of the hillside with evidence of some very clever water reservoirs and ducting. Feeling adventurous, we clambered down to explore and when we turned to climb back up we were surprised to find a painted red dot, a modern method of way marking ancient walking paths. Back at the road, we stood discussing where the walking path might start when to our amazement two people walked into sight and up the hill side - and we thought we were in a remote place! These were a Swiss couple who had walked up from Kavousi and they said the way markers were quite clear and they were going on up to Thripti, they even challenged us to a race! After looking at our maps, we all agreed that another time we would walk. The walking route must be direct because as we rounded the bend into Thripti we saw the Swiss couple again; they cheerfully claimed their victory as we passed.

On the trip down towards the south coast, we stopped for a picnic lunch in the very pretty village of Orino. To make this lunch memorable my friend produced a birthday cake for me complete with candles; it is not hard to guess what I wished for as I blew the flames out.

As we had enjoyed two consecutive Sundays with these friends we suggested they might like to make it three in a row but they declined when they realised we would be spending the next Sunday cleaning up the house prior to our departure.

The heavy rains in mid October had given the ground a real soaking so whilst enjoying our last few walks in the week before we returned home we saw the start of Crete’s second spring. In addition to fast growing grass and weeds there were tiny crocuses, cyclamen and bright shoots on the bushy herb pillows, once again rural Crete was turning green.