Σάββατο 18 Αυγούστου 2018

Moni Preveli - the monastery of Preveli

Preveli is located on the South coast of Crete roughly at the same longitude as the city of Rethymnon. 

If you come from the North you will follow the road to Spili and branch off around 20 km from Rethymnon following a sign to Plakias and Preveli. 

Heading South you pass through the Kourtaliotiko gorge , a short but impressive gorge through which flows the river Kourtaliotis which is then joined by other streams to form the Megapotamos (literally the big river) which flows towards the sea through the palm forest of Preveli
This is one of the few rivers in Crete that flows all year around.

After the village of Asomatos turn left then 1.5km later left again. You will soon arrive at an impressive Turkish style bridge crossing the Megapotamos. It was built in 1850 for the monks of Preveli.

After the bridge the road ascends again and skirts around the ruined monastery of Kato Preveli. 
 Unfortunately it is fenced off and you cannot visit it but you can have a good view from the road.

The road keeps ascending and turns to the West (leaving a short branch heading South to Preveli beach and the palm forest). 
It passes a recent monument commemorating the resistance of the monks of Preveli to the German invaders in World War II and their help in evacuating Alllied soldiers to Egypt.

Another bend in the road lets Moni Preveli appear. The monastery is a famous place for visitors so it may be busy at times. In the summer it is open daily from 8.00 to 13.30 and 16.00 to 19.00 (bear in mind that these times could change).

The Museum 
A substantial number of icons is kept in the Monastery of Preveli. The icons compose interesting themes, covering a period from the first half of the 17th to the end of 19th century approximately, an era that the good tradition of Crete has been interrupted by the Turkish conquest.

The painters continue the tradition of the late Cretan school of painting, turning equally into account the austere orthodox tendency as well as the copper painting of the masters of the first half of 17th century in Rethymno and Chania, influenced by the western ones, mainly the Flemish.

The choices made in the selection of the various themes of the icons, indicates a good level of culture of the monks - who purchased these at the end of 19th century, considering the distance from the urban centers and the isolation of the area.
 (source: west-crete)

Κυριακή 12 Αυγούστου 2018

Plakias Village, South Crete

Plakias Village, on the south coast - directly south of Rethymno about 30 km south of Rethimno small town. It is part of the municipal unit Foinikas. 

A big crescent bay holding a fine beach between two immense wind tunnels, the gorges fo Selia and Kourtaliiotiko.

This is quite a busy tourist destination, but has a unique feel, which appeals to some who normally choose to stay in smaller, quieter places. Beautiful surrounding countryside, fine walks and gorges. 

Plakias is surrounded by mountains to the north and the Libyan Sea to the south. The name in Greek means "flat" but the approach and coastline are quite mountainous and dramatic.

Small hotels and many beachfront restaurants & cafes. The large crescent bay of sandy beach and the harbour provide a varied and yet not too busy destination.

Frangokastello and Sfakia is a pleasant twisting and scenic short drive. Above Plakias, Myrthios, affords gorgeous views of the bay, coastline and sea.

The gorges of Prevelli (and the monastery), Kourtaliotis and Kotsifos are easily visited.In addition visit the mountain village of Spili, Preveli Monastery and Preveli beach and the wonderful villages in the hills on the road to Sfakia.

The name in Greek means "flat", because the town stands on an alluvial fan of material that has washed down the Kotsifou gorge directly to the north.

This material has formed along the sea's edge into a long, fine, gold-hued sand beach, which shelves very gradually out into the bay, making it quite safe for swimming and hence, for family holidays.

The history 

Initially just a fishing jetty and a few houses, Plakias developed during the last few decades into a tourist resort. The first official mention of Plakias was in 1961, when it was recorded in a census as the permanent home of six fishermen.

The recorded history of surrounding mountain villages like Myrthios and Sellia goes back to the 10th century, when the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas (961 AD) built roads and bridges in order to link those villages, and there are some fragments of wall remaining from a fortified area on a hill top just northeast of the present main town .

The local area is geographically suitable for a settlement, having plenty of agricultural space, and there may well have been a settlement there since Minoan times .

How to get there 

In summer there are six buses a day from Rethymno (€3.50, one hour). Have a look at Buses timetable.  Some of these buses go via Preveli Monastery. The Plakias bus stop is on the seafront taxi rank .

It’s possible to get to Agia Galini from Plakias by catching a Rethymno bus to the Koxare junction (referred to as Bale on timetables) and waiting for a bus to Agia Galini. The bus stop has a timetable. Or we recommend that you should rent a car in order to discover better the area.

Parking along the main town road is difficult in high season, but visitors should note that there is a large, free parking area just east of the main town .

There are plenty of places to eat along the sea front with the biggest cluster of tavernas at the west end.

What to see & do 

Beaches. Plakias has a 1300 metre long sandy beach and there are several other beaches within walking distance (Souda, Damnoni, Ammoudi and Skiinaria). The south-eastern end of the beach, near the Kakomouri headland, is used by nudists.

Damnoni beach is worth visit out of high season, despite being dominated by the giant Hapimag tourist complex.

To the weast is Souda, a quiet beach with a couple of tavernas and further west is the Polyrizos-Koraka beach.

And of course the well-known palm-studded beach of Preverli whiich gets very busy in Summer, therefore the remote and peaceful Agia Fotini, Ligres, Triopetra, and Agios Pavlos are perfect for stress-free escapes surrounded by photogenic splendour and popular with yoga and meditation groups. An area where there is no  megaresort to distort the idyllic ambience, just a few lone tavernas with modest rooms.
 Strong summer winds are common on these beaches. 

To the east (8 km) is the historic Monastery of Preveli, which may have been founded as early as the 10th century CE. Due to its isolated position, it has played an important role in Cretan revolts against occupying forces such as the Nazis in World War II. 

Hiking. There are plenty of walks locally, and bolder walkers will enjoy the high green country beyond the coastal mountain range north of town . Mountain biking and cycle touring are other local attractions. There are well-worn walking paths to the scenic village of Selia, Moni Finika, Lefkogia and a lovely walk along the Kourtaliotiko Gorge to Moni Preveli. An easy 30-minute uphill path to Myrthios Village begins just before the youth hostel.

Diving. Several diving operators run shore and boat dives to nearby rocky bays, caves and canyons, as well as all manner of courses. 

Birdwatching. Lots of bird species, migratory and other, build their nests and lay their eggs near the coast. On Nature’s path to the north of Plakias, both Kotsifos and Kourtaliotis gorges shelter rare and endangered species like the “Royal Eagle” or “Eleonora’s Falcon”.

Nature lovers. The herbs in the area are worldwide known for their variety and their healing power. Plants like the Cretan Tulip, the Cretan Saffron and many more are part of a unique ecosystem in this area. 

Villages. Visit the small postcard-pretty villages draped across the hillside above Plakias, one of them is Mirthios with a couple of excellent tavernas, both with bay-view terraces.
(source: crete travel)

Πέμπτη 9 Αυγούστου 2018

New Review on Tripadvisor: "Perfect Holiday"

"Plakias Suites is perfect place for quite, relaxing holidays. 

It was our 3rd visit and again was absolutely without any problems. 

We can recommend to all of you, who would like to enjoy beautiful sandy beach, fantastic service of Eleni and Gorge and very nice apartments. 

Apartments are very well maintained, clean, spacious and we absolutely love our terrace. 

Big advantage is also possibility to use free of charge beach umbrellas. 

Suites are just short walk from the centre, where you can find a lot of tavernas, shops etc….definitely will come back again!"
Stayed: July 2018, travelled with family
See here: TripAdvisor
 Plakiassuites: Ranked #1 of 51 Speciality Lodging in Plakias, Retyhymno - Crete!
  109 Reviews Certificate of Excellence

Κυριακή 5 Αυγούστου 2018

Samaria Gorge Travel

The gorge of Samaria is situated in the National park of Samaria, in the White Mountains in West Crete. This majestuous gorge is considered one of the great attractions of Crete and many tourists want to visit it. But you must realise that it is a long (5 to 7 hours) walk on rough terrain so you will need to have a certain degree of fitness and walking experience in order to enjoy it.

Opening times of the gorge of Samaria

The Samaria National Park has traditionally always opened to the public at the beginning of May. It has often been possible to enter the gorge of Samaria at some point in April from the bottom part but this depends on the weather and the amount of work needed to restore the path after the winter rains.

So the opening dates of the gorge vary: it could open a little before the 1st of May, on the 1st of May or later (if the weather is bad or repair work is late).
In 2018 the gorge of Samaria will open on the 1st of May

The gorge of Samaria closes to the public at the end of October. but may close earlier if autumn rains (not uncommon in October) damage the path or make some cliffs unstable.

The gorge will also be closed on rainy days (when there is a danger of rock falls).
In winter, high water makes the gorge of Samaria dangerous and impassable.

The park opens daily at daylight (so the exact time will vary depending on the time of the year) and closes in the evening. If you want to enter the park after around 14.00 you will not be allowed past the first quarter of the walk and will need to return to your starting point.

You have to pay an entrance fee of Euro 5.00 to enter the park (free to children under 15, half price to students).

If you need to know for sure if the gorge is open on a specific day phone +30 28210 67179

Dispelling a few myths about Samaria

It seems that most of what has been written about the gorge of Samaria was plagiarized from the same original source. This means that the same errors have been repeated almost everywhere.
Let's put a few things right:
  • The gorge of Samaria is not 18 km long (the 18 km refers to the distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli) but is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1230m and taking you all the way down to the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli.
    The walk through the National Park of Samaria is 13 km but you will have to walk the extra 3 km to Agia Roumeli from the exit of the National Park making it a total of 16 km.
  •  The very narrow passage near the end of the gorge is often called the "Iron Gates". None of the former inhabitants of Samaria know why the place suddenly got this name. They were always known by the locals as "Portes" which means "doors" or "gates", but certainly no "Iron" anywhere!
  • Samaria is said to be the longest gorge in Europe. Good marketing but not quite the truth: the "gorges du Verdon" in South France are a little over 20 km in length.
  • Samaria is not always crowded. There may be up to 2000 or more people a day walking through the gorge of Samaria but on many days there are only a few hundreds. Keeping in mind that these people do not start at the same time and most of them walk in only in one direction (down) the number of people you will encounter is much lower and it is quite possible to have the gorge more or less to yourself if you choose your time well (see below 'When is the best time to walk through the gorge?' ).

The infrastructure of the National park of Samaria

The park is supervised by the Department of Forestry and is one of a dozen national parks in Greece. You need to pay an entrance fee of 5 Euro (free to children under 15).
  • The path is maintained and is substantially better than "normal" mountain paths in Crete.
  • There are wardens along the way (in radio contact with each other) who will help you in case of trouble or injury.
  • There is also (in theory) a doctor stationed in the village of Samaria. This has not been the case in the last few years (2009-2014).
  • There are well-maintained springs on the way so that you do not have to carry much water.
  • There are toilets in several places and plenty of rubbish bins. You find surprisingly little litter, considering the amount of people passing through every day.
  • You also get a set of rules aimed at protecting the park and making the experience safe and pleasant for everyone.
The gorge is open only during the day time and if you want to start walking in the afternoon you will only be allowed in up to a certain point.

The guards want to make sure that everybody who walks in also gets out before nightfall. This is the reason why they ask you to present your ticket on the way out as it (supposedly) enables them to know if there is anyone still in the park at night.


Getting there

If you go to Omalos with your own car in order to walk through the gorge of Samaria you will be forced to get back to Omalos to retrieve your car and it is not always such a good solution.

Alternatively there are public buses (KTEL) going to Omalos from Chania every morning (only when the gorge is open). Once you have walked through the gorge and are in Agia Roumeli you take a ferry boat returning to Hora Sfakion (or Sougia and Paleochora if you prefer but there may not be a connecting bus to Chania) and take an evening KTEL bus back to Chania.

If you are not alone, why not share a taxi to Omalos? The cost from Chania to the entrance of the gorge is Euro 75 (2017 prices) for up to 4 persons.

The most common way to "do" the gorge is to book an organized tour. This can be done from most places on the north coast (some come from as far as Agios Nikolaos or Ierapetra, which I wouldn't recommend because it entails an almost 24 hour round trip!). 

You will be picked up from and returned to your hotel. The buses are air-conditioned and you have the benefit of a guide. This does not mean that you need to walk in a group: everyone walks at their own pace and meets at a prearranged time and place in Agia Roumeli. 
These tours are not very expensive and can be booked locally, often directly at the hotel where you are staying.

With your own car

If you must, it is also possible to drive to Omalos with your own car, park it there , walk through the gorge, take the ferry back to Sougia and then take a taxi back to your car from Sougia (about 40 minutes drive). 
But you must pre-book a taxi as there are only two taxis that operate from Sougia.

The public bus service KTEL has also been running buses from Sougia back to Chania via Omalos for the last couple of years to connect with the ferry arriving from Agia Roumeli so this could be an option as well. The buses may not run at all times (especiially early in the seaon) so best to check with the bus company.

What to take with you on this walk?

  •   A water bottle which you can refill on the way.
  •   Sun cream and a hat, especially for the last part of the walk which has very little shade.
  •   Good shoes. These don't have to be hiking boots but you won't be contributing to your enjoyment by wearing tennis shoes or sandals.
  •   Some food. There is no food available inside the National Park.
  •  Something warm to wear for the early morning: it can be cold at 1200m.
  •   A supply of plasters in case of blisters.

What sort of terrain will you encounter?

Stones , stones and more stones! The terrain is stony most of the time but it varies. At the beginning the path is paved with uneven stones, then at times it is more like a forest path with some earth.

Once you reach the river bed you walk mainly on pebbles (which is tiring on the sole of the feet). You also have to cross the river at least a dozen times, sometimes on small wooden bridges but more often by stepping on rocks.

These have been placed at strategic intervals but still require some sure-footedness. The only easy path is once you leave the southern end of the National Park: it is flat and there are no stones, no shade either so that the last 3 km can be really really hot in summer.

How long does it take and how fit do you need to be?

A walk of 16 km on flat ground should take just over 3 hours if you walk at a brisk pace. This is theoretically quite easy in the gorge of Samaria as you are going down most of the time but the path requires some care and attention and the walk will take you a minimum of 4 hours of walking time.

Add to this time to rest, to stop and look at the scenery, take photographs and you can count about 6 or 7 hours to cover the entire distance.

The walk is long and can be arduous but it is not a difficult walk. Still, every day people get into trouble or end up having an experience which is far from pleasant. The most common factors are:
  •  people who never do any exercise and suddenly want their body and legs to walk 16 uneven km without protesting.
  •  bad shoes creating blisters and / or foot-ache.
  •  problems with the heat (in summer).
  •  knee problems that develop during the steep descent at the beginning of the walk and have no time to get better once that original strain is over. (source:west-crete)