West side coasts
Drive through the town of Kolymbari, past the Orthodox Academy of Crete and the Monastery of Gonia and drive along the road leading North-North West. The road goes along the steep coastline, with the rugged hillside on your left and the sea on your right. At one point the road seems to “curl around” and disappear behind the peninsula. After about 3 kms. through the Cretan flora, the vineyards, the olive groves, the locust trees- and often small herds of goats grazing on the slopes- you reach the village of Afrata : a beautiful, picturesque village of the area where the traditional elements have been enhanced making it an ideal destination both for Greek and foreign visitors who come to enjoy delicious food or coffee in the traditional little cafe– tavernas of the village or merely to enjoy the peace and quiet of the place. If you follow the road forking off to the right of the village square and leading downwards to the seaside, you will find yourself in a beautiful, relatively secluded beach surrounded by rock “walls” full of crevices and small caves and “swamped” in the rich local flora. This is a real “jewel” of the Cretan land awaiting you to explore it and discover its magic!
(4 Basic points- 4 places worth visiting)
1.Rodopou Village-Aspra Nera Village- Astratigos Village
2. Mennies- the Temple of Diktynna
3. St. Paul Monastery
4. St. John Monastery- Gionas
Cape Spada or the Cape of Peace(officially declared by the European Union as Natura –a region of exceptional natural beauty) lies to the Northwestern part of Crete and extends up to 25 kilometres to the North into the Cretan Sea. Its name comes from its shape (the Greek word “spada” means “sword”). Its other name “Cape of Peace” comes from the Convention held there some years ago with the participation of international leaders- among them the late Olaf Palme and Melina Merkouri. The Convention was the initiative of the former Bishop of the area, Reverend Mr. Irineos Galanakis and its aim was the promotion of World Peace.
The whole Cape is an area of exceptional beauty, mostly rough and mountainous with very few level areas.
The area has remained unspoilt and intact due to the fact that there are no regular roads- just a few dirt roads making the sights accessible only by 4-wheel drives or jeeps.
After leaving Kolymbari behind we follow the road creeping like a snake upwards which, after 2-3 kilometres, brings us to the village of Rodopou , a very picturesque mountain village literally hidden in the olive groves, with a history dating back to Vevetian times.The visitor can see what is left of the “Renieris Villa” the home and headquarters of the Venetian Feudal Lord of the area.
The village is well-known for its top-quality local products (which you can taste in the traditional little cafes and tavernas round the village square) such as olive oil, dairy products, and the superb thyme honey with the exceptional aroma and taste!
Just a few metres before entering Rodopou village, the road forks off to the right leading, after a few metres to a very small but picturesque village with a breathtaking, , panoramic view of the surrounding area: it is the village of Aspra Nera (White Waters).
On leaving the hill top with the spectacular view and following a downwards country road for about 2 kms. through the rough Cretan flora and scenery, you come to the village of Ravdouha which literally “hangs” on the edge of cliffs overlooking a small bay- part of the Cretan Sea. You can enjoy a swim there on the small but exceptionally beautiful, crystal clear beach.
Due to the fact that there is no modern road network, Cape Spada has remained unspoilt and rarely visited –thus being the ideal place for relaxation and concentration. That is why even in ancient times, on its North western side, in the little bay of Mennies, there was a famous temple of Diktynna, the Cretan Goddess of Hunting and wild life ( corresponding to Artemis and Diana of the Greek and Roman mythology) which attracted very many visitors even during Hellenistic and Roman Times. The whole Cape has always been a place of worship since there now exist on it 2 Christian Monasteries dating back to Venetian times.
Monastery of St. Peter & Paul
This Monastery dates back to the 11th century AD and in it you can see many frescos with marks and engravings ,or even scratches, from all those (pilgrims or invaders) who passed by the place over the centuries. Tradition has it that the Apostle Paul passed by the Monastery when he was being led to Rome in order to be imprisoned.
Gionas- the Monastery of St. John the Baptist
After leaving the village of Rodopou behind, and travelling for about 7.5 kms. of dirt road, we come to “Neos Poros”-the point overlooking
the Gionas Plateau. The view from this point literally fills you with awe! Directly below, at a drop of about 500- 600 metres you can see the small but fertile Gionas plateau with the Monastery of St. John the Baptist and the Church which is “covered” by the huge plane tree which has taken root and grows “upside-down”. Straight ahead the eye catches the deep violet-blue of the Cretan Sea and the Kissamos Gulf and, in the distance, even the island of Antikithyra near the Peloponese! On the plateau, around the Monastery, there are many fields which are cultivated even these days (wheat and cereals, olive trees, apple trees, pear trees, locust trees etc.).There are numerous wells and cisterns as well as a small irrigation system leading the water to the point where it can be used for the needs of the pilgrims coming in hundreds or even thousands to the annual Feast dedicated to the Saint (on the 28th of August or even 2-3 days before).There are many legends and miracles referring to the Church and the Monastery. Ask for more information on the huge plane tree and its origin, the 7 graves found underneath the church floor, the group christenings of children on the Eve of the Feast- observe the frescos but, even better, live the experience of the Mass taking place after midnight and taste the delicacies prepared by the “tavernas” set up especially for these occasions. A visit and stay overnight at Gionas is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!