The Rebellious Soul of Platanias…….
After leaving behind the popular coastline, you turn to the fertile plains of the inland : to the Omalos Plateau hideout, to fairy-like Palea Roumata, to rich-in-greenery Meskla, to the fertile soil – pitch of Rodopou village. You go through the places which comprise all the contrasts that make up the individuality of Crete.
Endless arches at Rodopou Villa, one of the Venetian mansions in the Hania area.
From the tourist coastline of Hania to the famous Omalos Plateau. From the orange groves of the Keritis valley to the rich vegetation of Deres village. From the ravines of “Faraggas”(as the Samaria gorge is also called) to the shady plane trees of “Mavros” (in Karanou village), to the trails of “Sarakina” ( in Meskla village), to “Vavouledo” ( the ravine in Palea Roumata)and then the ravine of Deliana village. From Episkopi village and its renowned “Rotunda” to the dry and not easily accessible Cape Spada.
Even though the motorway along the northern part of the island is easier to use than the one on the southern coast, you have to plan your itineraries. In the vast inland of the island you will come across countless monuments of the land and its people. You will come across thousand-year-old olive trees next to statues or memorials intended to preserve historical facts and heroic deeds. You will also come across Byzantine churches being restored as well as bridges- symbols of self sacrifice.
On the one hand there are the “bare” mountain tops of the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) and on the other ,to the north, there is the vast, blue Cretan Sea. In the rich vegetation , right next to villages situated away from the most popular tourist areas, you can look for the taverns which the locals prefer (they know !)or you can find shelter in cafes in the middle of nowhere, which you prefer ( because nobody else knows about them !)
The foundations of the Keritis bridge are literally “dipped” in the blood of civilians executed by Nazis in World War II
Away from the “beaten track” everything is authentic. The flavours , the words on the signs, the occupations, the hospitality. At a distance of 6 kms .on your way through the Therisso ravine, the route for nature lovers closest to the Platanias resort , you find yourself right on the “spinal chord” of the island. Before you even realize it, you have already gone past the few little houses of Zourva village, and you enjoy a wonderful view of Meskla and Fournes which look like beautiful flower gardens decorating the valley below.
You can already sense the change. You can sense the rebellious souls living in and around the foot of the Lefka Ori (or Madares , as they are also called in the Hania region)
When in Lakki village, you can enjoy a view of heroic places- behind you there lies the road leading to Omalos , the road mentioned in rizitiko songs as “the road of the Moussouri”. This road is like an imaginary line separating the plains from the mountain range.
The late-Minoan era tomb in Maleme
These villages, these trails are the exact spots where the chieftains and the rebels took refuge during the most important and critical phases of the Cretan history. They also took refuge in the 25.000- acre plateau which was the headquarters of the rebels all during the battles of the Cretans against their numerous enemies.
Nowadays, the 38 – km distance from the city of Hania to the magnificent plateau hardly scare away visitors. On the contrary, the road also leading to the entrance of the Samaria Gorge, one of the wonders of nature, is being repaired and improved. After all, the biggest gorge in Europe , 16 kms long, deserves all this attention.
the Rotunda in Episkopi village , the most significant Byzantine monument in Crete
Before going up to the high mountains , stay back in the plains for a while, in order to have a look at the Byzantine churches of Ai- Kyr- Giannis and Agios Georgios in Alikianos village as well as the remains of the famous Da Molin castle, to pay tribute to the executed by the Nazis at the Keritis bridge. You can walk along the banks of the Keritis river all the way to Meskla . The banks are lined with orange groves , lemon trees , various citrus trees, plane trees . When you reach Meskla village, take a walk and visit the small and the big church of the Virgin Mary. Take in the colours and the aromas of the wonderful surroundings until your soul can’t take in any more.Only then can you turn your attention to the mountains and to their peace and quiet.
With Omalos in the centre of our attention
The sun is shining brightly and it seems to be very hot , yet you close the windows . At an altitude of 1.040 m. it is quite cold even in the heart of summer. There is a cold air blowing , displaying its might with every blow. However, the few houses and the people living in the plateau have become accustomed to the cold and the winds . That’s why some people from the nearby villages of Lakki and the Selino area insist on cultivating the fertile Omalos soil and living in the plateau for the greater part of the year.
Draw an imaginary line at Lakki village , after which the scenery changes .
Omalos is the border where three provinces “meet”: Kydonia, Selino and Sfakia. It is also the starting point for descending from the entrance of the Samaria Gorge down to Agia Roumeli village ( approximately 5 hours) , but also for going up to the Kallergis Shelter (5 kms dirt road ). Give it a try. Whether by car or on foot, imitate our foreign visitors : take your kids on your back and set out.
Go up to Kallergis and enjoy the view of the Omalos plateau in all its glory. From up there the plateau looks like a flat, round “monster” lying asleep in the “arms” of the surrounding mountains. The Kallergis shelter also overlooks the breathtaking “gap” , incredible in its magnitude, and , once and for all , get to know what the “Faraggas” really is.
Colourful scenery and a colourful church of the Virgin Mary in Meskla village
When leaving Omalos to return to the lowlands, do so from the road leading to the opposite side of the plateau (Seliniotikos Gyros ). The exit of the plateau overlooks the wind turbines on the outskirts of Agia Irini village. Follow a downward direction through Sebronas, Prasses, Nea Roumata , villages with forests of chestnut trees, and go on to the banks of the Pnigaris river.
As you approach , you look for signs of human beings in the rich vegetation. What you can see is a water mill here, some rows of tiled roofs there and the sound of voices coming from somewhere in the distance.
On the borders of Deres village, Nikos Issouf , coming from Tepeleni- having lived in Deres for the last 24 years- sets fire to outdoor kilns (heaps of wood) in order to produce coal – up to 100 tons. In no way can this be considered an easy task. For 18 consecutive days he sleeps and wakes up on the side of the kiln .
“You have to be on the alert with a spade all day and all through the night, ” he says, not in the least bothered by the clouds of smoke which are nearly smothering you.
Light and shadows on the way to Omalos
On the other hand, turn left just before Sebronas and climb up to the hilltop , Apopigadi, where the chapel of St. John the Baptist is situated. The spot overlooks all the surrounding area below : from Gramvoussa and Cape Spada to Palea Roumata if you continue on the dirt road . This village consists of 18 settlements and prides itself on its nature lovers trails such as “Lidiana” and “Vavouledo” , the “Renier” villa with its well- preserved coat of arms, and, last but not least, the chapel of Agios Georgios with its “secret school” in Hamalevri.
There is even more to see. After relaxing you can take the way to the lower parts of the region which are equally interesting. For instance you can take as much time as you like in the Rotunda , the church of the Archangel Michael in Episkopi village , in order to admire the 7th century frescoes . You can head for Vouves in order to see the 3000-year old Monumental Olive Tree, with its huge gnarled – hollow trunk, and visit the Olive museum which was established right next to the olive tree. After your visit to Vouves , you can head for Maleme.
Fire and coal in the Deres kilns
From the Tavronitis valley, you can head for the tomb of the late –Minoan era and, knowingly, you will go back on your resolution to stay inland and find yourself on the coastal areas again. And, when nobody is watching , you will move further on.
You can take the road overlooking the Kolymbari town and area and go towards the cape where Rodopou is located, Cape Spada.
Seek the ancient temple of Artemis and this is probably where you apply the handbrake and end your journey. You can stay there as long as you like. Probably, it will be for a very long time, since you will be enchanted by the view of the crystal clear blue of the Cretan Sea, the Gramvoussa Cape , the whole scenery with pictures of earth and the sky which literally drive you out of your mind .
The Omalos plateau as seen in a photo taken on the way up towards
The Kallergis Shelter.
(extract from a recent article by Mr. Patroudakis in “Ethnos” newspaper.)