|Walking - From Samaria to Rodopos...
Let me say straight off that I am not a professional walker. Walking here on Crete, Rodopos being no exception, is a serious summer-time business. There are many tours - some veritable journeys with professional guides - that must enable many people to see parts of Crete which might they might never otherwise see. Being able to walk in Cretan countryside is a superb experience if you are experienced or guided, and being able to walk in the area of the white mountains has an exotic quality supplemented by breathtaking views. And sometimes Cretan hospitality in the most unexpected places. Theriso; Meskla; Omalos; Samaria and the boat rides between Ag Roumeli at the end of the gorge and Chora Sfakia. An evening meal in the sun-setting harbour at Hora Sfakia is an unforgettable experience. The last time we did this we were seated next to a fairly large group of English walkers - all seemingly older and fitter than me - when there was a power cut. Waiters lit candles on every table along the harbour side, to the loud cheers and clapping of this group - and loud booing when the power returned! There was probably some groaning from protesting limbs next morning though. The next evening we bumped into the same group in a local taverna here in Kolimbari - they had just completed a day's hike to the church of Ag Ioannis, almost passing our house (unseen) in the process. They were still laughing and making merry! Samaria had set my whole body! Do they have a secret?
|The Rodopos Peninsula - Ag Ioannis and Dyktina...
The most complete way to walk the peninsula, bottom to top, is to start from Kolimbari. Once upon a time it was possible to start through a gate in the wire fence opposite the monastery Gonias, but this is now wired-shut. Just in case anyone has opened it - the link at the top which would have taken you to Astratigos is now wired shut and a steel mesh fence bounds the area in. The best way to walk to Agia Ioannis and/or Diktina is to start at Rodopos village, getting there by bus or taxi. This can leave you a whole day on the peninsula itself, rather than spend hours getting to it.
|Short Easy Walks around Afrata and Astratigos...
Astratigos lies immediately above and to the left of Afrata. Maybe a kilometre or 15 minutes easy walking via the now tarmac road. Remember that there are no tavernas or shops in this area so carry at least water, even if you intend only to be away for only a from civilisation for a couple of hours.
Walk 1. Afrata - Astratigos - country loop - Afrata. This walk can be done in a couple of hours, but allow three - there are some superb sights and you might want to pause. Left turn at the Afrata T junction and walk up to Astratigos on the road. There are two churches here - a small one at the first plateia, rich in modern icons and murals, and the large older church in on the edge of the village. This is usually locked although it makes a good photograph. Continuing on the road from the small church walk past the village exit sign and find a small unpaved road branching left. (Do NOT take the track on the left immediately after the end of the roadside wall - by the village entrance sign with the bullet holes - your track is the one after this). Follow this rough track down and take the first branch on the left, towards the sea, although it is not visible from here. The road drops down to the floor of this little valley about five minutes walking onwards. Passing through a small olive grove there is a small water course at track level, dry in summer, the track rises upwards with olive groves either side. Take the next left, passing a tiny building under construction on your left and through a wide cutting in the hillside. At the peak of cutting you will be faced with a magnificent, (definitely photogenic) view of the bay below and the coastline almost all the way to Chania and around to Stavros on the Akrotiri peninsula. With the tiny island of Theodora, protected habitat of the Cretan Kri-Kri, sitting off the coast of Ag Marina.
A hundred metres or so towards this view you will find a T junction. Turn right here and follow the mostly dirt track - still wide enough for a car which winds along the hillside, through a what looks and sounds like a farm without the farmhouse - the ducks will quack and the (tethered) dogs will bark furiously - they are not usually near the road. Ignore them is the best course of action (or talk reassuringly to them or your companions) but do not threaten them in any way as you continue past. About ten minutes walking straight ahead you will come to another T junction. This one has a concrete pill box-like building on the left hand corner of the right turn. Take the right turn and walk straight ahead - not the small track going off to the right which goes steeply upwards to a concrete water reservoir and on to a vineyard. Go up here only to get the good views of the sea on one side and the hillsides towards Spilia village and White Mountains opposite. But go back to the track afterwards to continue the walk. 10 -15 minutes after turning right at the T Junction you will have the choice of going straight on; turning left on a track that drops steeply to the left; or turning right.
Turn right and carry straight on. You will pass the tree in the photo. The track meanders through olive groves with occasional cypress trees off to the right, rising slightly up and down passing a field of vines on the right with a couple of lemon trees a little further down, until it dips down into a winter water course and rises up where concrete has been poured on the track. There is no water in the course in summer. Just beyond the end of the concrete, a matter of yards, is the right turn you originally took from the track leading from Astratigos. Over on your right is the hillside with the deep cutting leading to the views over the bay. Straight ahead is the track to Astratigos. Turning right at the tarmac will take you there, and onwards to Afrata and refreshment!
|The tree in the picture is a feature of both walks 1 and 2. On walk one you pass it on your left, maybe 15 or 20 minutes before the end of the walk. On walk 2 you pass it on your right, about the same time from leaving Astratigos, just before taking the right turn for Aspra Nera.|
This is a variation of walk one, but only for the first 10 minutes or so (20minutes if you did walk 1) and leads out from Astratigos to Aspra Nera and back to Astratigos by a different route.
Leave Astratigos by the following walk 1 as far as the left turn onto the track which leads to the sea views, but carry straight on, following the track until you reach the offset crossroads at the end of this undulating track. About 20 minutes into the walk you will come to an offset crossroads. Left takes you towards the sea. Straight on is slightly to the right and drops away quite steeply; right take you to the outskirts of the village of Aspra Nera. Turn right and enjoy a quiet walk along the hillside, with views away to the left across the valley towards the village of Spilia and the white mountains and occasional glimpses of the national road below. Ignore the first right turn you see and continue onwards past a concrete strip on the track until you reach a relatively new house by the side of the track on your left. Pass this house and head for the track directly in front with another very small young house on the opposite side. Turn right onto this track and follow it as it meanders through hillsides covered with olives and occasionally vine, back to Astratigos. Again there are superb views and away to you right and in front the sea in the distance. There are a couple of Badger sets along this route; Golden Eagles; various Hawks and other birds and in the spring, the wild flowers just outside Astratigos number about 13 or more different varieties - including Orchids and Anemones. Just before Astratigos, as you reach the tarmac there is a left turn. This goes both to Astratigos - first right leads directly into the village between the houses; second via the big church into the village square by the smaller church; and on to Rodopos. Ignoring this road, a hundred metres straight on is the road you started from, now going off to your right and straight ahead are the village entry signs. An easy two hours or so.
|These walks, although close to villages and on tracks used by locals and occasionally other walkers, are in areas where you may see no one else during your walk once you leave Astratigos. They are best done either before or after the height of summer - I prefer before. Suitable clothing footwear and a water supply is essential.|