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On the way to Omalos

SKINES VILLAGE

One of the magnificent orange-growing villages of the Keritis Valley and, at the same time, one of the Martyr Villages of Greece: Skines. Officially declared one of the villages of the “Network of Martyr Towns and Villages of Greece”, it was literally burnt to the ground by the Germans during the Nazi Occupation and its male inhabitants were all executed. The village was reborn from its ashes, however, and now it is prosperous again, having a lot to offer both to its residents as well as to its visitors.

The main site in the village is the village square round which there are numerous traditional cafes and taverns where you can enjoy coffee, refreshments or even a delicious meal made of pure, local ingredients. A few metres away you can visit the impressive main Church of the village, dedicated to the Assumption of Christ, celebrated on August 6th. On the Eve and also on the Day of the Feast there are very many visitors coming to the village and there follows a traditional local Feast.

As we approach the village of Skines from the side of Alikianos( from which it is less than 2 kms away) just a few metres before entering the village square, on our right we can see the “Ioulianos Tsirakis” Foundation, a multi-purpose Hall for all kinds of events, donated to the village by the entrepreneur Mr. Emmanuel Tsirakis who, coming from Skines, emigrated to Brazil where he worked and succeeded but never forgot his village and its people.

If we follow the road leading away from the village square to the right, after a few metres, we come across the main Church of Christ. As we keep driving along the steep road leading to the mountains on the South East of the village, after a short drive through an incredible route lined by orange trees and olive trees, we reach a level spot which, at an altitude of approximately 400 metres, offers a fantastic view of the Valley as well as the surrounding mountains. This is the site where the National Shooting Range was built and where National or Pan- Cretan Shooting Competitions are often held.

Some metres away, we come to the site called “Golgothas” by the locals where three gigantic marble crosses have been erected in memory and honour of the Crucifixion of Christ. The site is well worth a visit even if it is in order to enjoy the view and the rich aroma of thyme and other specimens of the local flora!

FOURNES VILLAGE

This is one of the most picturesque orange growing villages of the Keritis River, “drowned” in the green of the orange groves, the olive groves and the huge plane trees. The village is 15 kms. away from Hania and a mere 2 kms from Alikianos. It is situated at the foot of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) and has a lot to offer its visitor. The first thing one can enjoy is the incredible natural beauty. Both the village and the road leading into it are lined by orange trees, “decorated” with rich golden-orange fruit, and by gigantic plane trees among which the unique plane tree which does not shed its leaves-unique all over Crete. It is not by chance that the “Feast of Blossomwater” is held here every May , or end of April, the time when the sweet aroma of orange blossoms fills the air.

In the tavernas and cafes of the village the visitor can taste delicious Cretan recipes cooked with pure local products. He/She can also take a walk along the river under the huge plane trees enjoying their cool shade or the cool waters which flow down from the mountain tops where the snow is gradually melting. One can also buy products made by the members of the local Cultural Club.

Another spot worth visiting is the central Church of the village. It is a two-aisle church : one is dedicated to the Ascenssion of Christ and the second one to St. Pandeleimonas, the Doctor-Saint who is said to cure all ailments . On the 26th of July a big Feast is held there in honour of the Saint with traditional Cretan music and dancing as well as plenty of food and wine.

The church also attracts visitors’ attention due to the fact that it has 3 domes.

Another church worth visiting is a chapel situated near the top of a hill just outside the village. It is dedicated to Agios Konstantinos and on the 21st of May all the young people of the village organize an excursion there and have a great feast! Don’t miss out –join them, but you can only go up by 4X4 or on foot. It’s worth it, though!

Last but not least: nature lovers can enjoy two very special routes on foot. They both start at the centre of the village One leads to the south, moving parallel to the river and after 2-3 kms comes to the village of Meskla where the source of the Keritis river is. The second one, also parallel to the river, moves in a North easterly direction and comes to Alikianos. Both of them are unsurpassed: they help you relax and refresh body and soul!

KARANOU VILLAGE

After leaving behind the truly remarkable village Lakki, and moving on South towards the famous Omalos Plateau, after 5-6 kilometres we come across a right turn which leads to the village Karanou, a picturesque village perched on the slopes of the White Mountains hidden in the rich greenery, awaiting to pleasantly surprise its visitors with unsurpassed beauty. Karanou is also accessible through the village of Skines with little difference as to the distance and time needed to reach it.

Apart from its natural beauty, the stunning view and the delicious food-sample of the genuine Cretan Cuisine –all prepared with top quality local ingredients- which you

can enjoy in the local taverns found both in and a little outside the village, you can find information on the rich Historical and Cultural Heritage of the village which dates back to Venetian times, something proven by the Byzantine churches-such as that of St. Dimitrios and the Holy Virgin Moussourena which are still in very good condition and where you can see frescos of the 12th century AD.

And, last but not least, a treat for Nature lovers:

3 fairly short but beautiful ravines!The ravine of Boriana, that of Kydoni and the slightly longer one of Raymia. Visit them and enjoy samples of the rich local flora!

This is a visit you will never forget!

There are various events and celebrations worth attending: one is the Feast of the Woman Cultivator and the Feast of Cherries held annually in June, the Gathering of all Karaniotes (people coming from the village of Karanou) and the meeting of young Karaniotes every August- as well as the traditional religious feast of the Virgin Mary on the 8th September.

ORTHOUNI VILLAGE

As you drive away from Skines village towards Omalos turn left at the exit of the village where the road signs show the way to Karanou and Omalos. After about 7 kms uphill on the country road, among rich olive groves and the local flora (plane trees, arbutus, furze, wild pear trees etc) you come to Orthouni.

It is a mountainous village, built at an altitude of 400 m, with very few residents who do their best to preserve tradition and the culture of the land. There are two very old churches in the village : one dedicated to the Virgin Mary which was remodeled and restored in the 19th century, and which is celebrated on 15 August, and one dedicated to the Prophet Elias dating back to the Venetian Era, celebrated on 20 July.

Orthouni is the ideal place for nature lovers due to its rich greenery, the beauty of the mountainous terrain and the many caves, most of which remain unexplored. On the spot called “Moutsoudia”, deep in a forest of cypress trees and holm-oaks, there is a spring and a huge plane tree whose foliage covers an area of over 2 acres- a marvelous, unique monument of nature. On the same spot there is a cave with many interesting chambers with rich décor.

Every spot in the Municipality of Platanias is a little surprise for its visitor and creates a pleasant memory which brings him/her back for a 2nd , 3rd or umpteenth visit, as many Greek and foreign visitors admit.

After leaving the village of Fournes behind, and following the upward road leading to Omalos, we can get a close look at and admire the local flora as well as the unique private park with specimens of local flora and tropical plants which can grow in the climate of the area. Our whole journey is “swamped” in the silver-green of olive groves and each bend of the road unveils a new unique picture before our eyes. After approximately 10 kms from Fournes, after taking one last right turn, we come across a post card picture: the historic village of Lakki “perched” on 4 hillsides, with its houses half-hidden among olive trees and cypress trees. It is a village dating back to the end of the 11th century AD. Its history is rich in revolutions, struggles and countless dead in battles against conquerors and enemies not only locally but also all over Greece. The Statue in “Seli”, the Square of the village, is a monument to three generations of these heroic people and their sacrifices for the freedom of their land.

In the Southern region of the village one can visit the small Byzantine church of Agios Georgios dating back to the 12th century AD as well as a Venetian Spring of approximately the same age. On the Eve of November 3 each year there is a feast organized in honour of St George and the locals prepare treats for everyone present. The main church of the village, dedicated to Agios Antonios (St Anthony) is celebrated on the 17 January each year. It is also impressive and worth a visit.

The village is rich in routes for hiking and nature lovers:

  • leading from the square upwards to “Savoure” where one can see the ruins of two towers used by the Turks as watch-towers. There is a fantastic view from this point extending all over the Keritis Valley to the Northern coast of the island

  • from the square to the Southwest leading to “Vrissi” or even to the Omalos Plateau for the more daring

  • from the entrance of the village downwards and to the East through a beautiful hiking of about 30 minutes we come to the village of “Meskla”. The same route can be followed by car via a new country road constructed recently which forks off to the left of the main road about 500 m before the entrance to the village of Lakki.

In any case, you can enjoy a beverage or coffee or even a delicious genuine Cretan cuisine meal prepared with top quality local ingredients at he traditional cafes of the village square. Enjoy the friendliness and hospitality of the locals as well as the unbelievable tranquility and scenic view and the unique beauty of the place. It is certain that the experience will remain unforgettable!

MESKLA VILLAGE

A very short route parallel to the river, next to the tall plane trees, to the accompaniment of the cool , crystal clear waters brings you, after approximately 4 kms, to the very roots of the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) to the village Meskla. It is an extremely picturesque village, with a long history and a rich tradition. It is surrounded by tall mountains. On the southern end of the village you can find the “Sources” of the river Keritis or Iardanos-according to Homer-the river which crosses the whole “Kampos” –the Keritis Valley and flows into the sea at Platanias.The “Sources” are of exceptional natural beauty, hidden in the rocks under gigantic, century-old plane trees. It is believed that the waters of the “Sources”come from the Omalos Plateau through a huge cavern-precipice in the rock of the mountains. In any case, these waters bring fertility and life both to the village of Meskla and to all the other villages of the Keritis Valley as they flow across it. At the “Sources” you can enjoy a delicious meal or just coffee in the shade of the gigantic plane trees and relax for a while listening to the “murmur” of the cool waters. Right next to this spot ,on the square, you can visit the Church of the Virgin Mary and every year on the 14th August(the Eve of the Assumption of the Virgin) a great Feast is held with traditional Cretan music and dancing as well as rich food and wine. Among the traditional Cretan recipes, you can taste the local meat pie-a truly unforgettable experience!

A little further up from the Sources of the river the visitor can admire the Sarakina Ravine with the almost vertical grey rock walls and the scarce vegetation.

ZOURVA VILLAGE

The road leading upwards from the “Sources” in Meskla brings us, after approximately 6-7 kms, to one of the most picturesque mountain villages of the Platanias Inland: Zourva. It is a small village with very few permanent residents but which attracts very many visitors due to its remarkable natural beauty and the incredible view it has to offer but also due to the unbelievably tasty food served in its traditional tavernas-cafes. The village is perched on the mountain tops and, wherever you stand , you can enjoy a magnificent view of all the surrounding mountains, the whole “Keritis Valley”down to the beaches of Hania. On the right as we drive up from Meskla the view of another village clinging to the mountain tops leaves us breathless. It is the historic village Lakki at an altitude of 550 metres.

Both the road leading upwards from Meskla, as well as the road traversing the village and for some distance after the exit of the village, is lined with huge cypress trees. However, there are also olive trees, apple trees, pear trees and-at some points-even vineyards. Zourva itself is heavenly for nature lovers as are the many paths leading from the centre of the village to various points of incredible natural beauty. They are charted and absolutely safe for trekkers. There are also many secondary paths which are equally safe. One of them leads to the point called “Vrissi”, approximately 10 kms away, a cavern whose crystal clear waters are used to cover the needs for drinking water of the surrounding villages such as Zourva itself and Lakki. The rest of its waters flows through caverns down to the “Sources” of the Keritis River in Meskla.

Another path leads upwards to “Tromarissa” one of the furthest points on the borers of the Municipality of Platanias, a real “eagle’s nest”, a point of amazing natural beauty!

Last but not least, the road traversing Zourva leads to the East, after approximately 8-10 kms, to Therisso( the historic headquarters of the Revolutionary chief and later Greek Prime Minister, Eleftherios Venizelos) and from Therisso after another 14 kilometres to the City of Hania.

Don’t miss out on visiting this postcard village- there are guest houses and rooms for rent where you can stay and traditional tavernas-cafes where you can enjoy amazing meals cooked with pure local ingredients. Your visit and stay in Zourva will leave you with the feeling that you are on Mount Olympos feasting with the 12 Olympian gods !

OMALOS

As you leave behind the village Lakki , you drive on to the South and the famous Omalos Plateau which lies at an altitude of 1050 m. As you drive along , you leave the village Karanou on our right with the magnificent view extending over the whole Keritis Valley and reaching to the coast of Hania. You follow a route of approximately 15 kms., one of exceptional natural beauty, on which you come across two traditional tavernas where you can enjoy coffee or food and such a view that it’s difficult to set out again and continue for Omalos.

However, the route continues to be equally spectacular: the same rough scenery fills you with awe and admiration for the Creator of such beauty in the inland of the Municipality of Platanias. After a while the road is no longer upwards but it slopes downwards. You have reached the point which leads into the Plateau , which the locals call “Neratzoporta” or “Neratzopora” . On reaching the end of the downhill road, to your right, you can see a small path leading to the entrance of a famous vertical cave- in fact a vertical gorge- called “the Cave of Tzanis”. With a drop of 241 m. and a total length of 2.5 kms. it was named after a local chieftain, Markos Tzanis, the mere mention of whose name brought terror to the Turks! On the other side of the road, perched on the top of the hill, lies the church of Agios Pandeleimonas and the Tower and Grave of the renowned Hatzi Mihalis Gianaris, the historic Chieftain and local Rebel from the village of Lakki who, due to his patriotism , unconquerable spirit and brave fighting against the Turks, was called “the Demigod of the White Mountains”. Sit outside the little church dedicated to his memory, take in the scenery as well as the tranquility of the landscape, breathe in the aromas carried by the refreshing breeze gently blowing from the surrounding mountains.

Then walk downhill again to the main road and move to the South . In a minute you find yourselves in the heart of the Plateau, in the traditional welcoming taverns under the tall poplar trees. You can’t find words suitable enough to describe the delicacies and the specimens of the local Cretan cuisine which you can taste here- tastes which will remain unforgettable due to pure ingredients produced right on the Plateau!

If you wish to continue your way southwards for another 2 kms.-either by car or on foot- you go all the way across the Plateau and come to “Xyloskalo” where, at an altitude of 1250m., lies the entrance of the world renowned “Samaria Gorge”. About 1 km. before reaching “Xyloskalo”, at a spot called “Machi”,the road forks off to the left and leads- by 4 wheel drive or hiking- to the Mountain Shelter of “Kallergis”used by the members of the Greek Hiking Association and overlooking the Samaria Gorge thus offering a spectacular view!

At the same spot ,“Machi, on the main road as you move towards “Xyloskalo” you come across a residential complex “Agriorodo”- a residential complex of stone houses guaranteeing a very pleasant stay for visitors. Both this complex as well as the Restaurant and the Refreshment Hall at the entrance of the Gorge belong to the local Development Association for Lakki and Omalos- known as EALO from the Greek initials. There are numerous trails and paths for nature lovers all over the Omalos Plateau on which you come across amazing specimens of local flora and fauna .