Showing posts with label Loutro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Loutro. Show all posts

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Crete: Hiking through History

From those iconic whitewashed buildings in the Cycladic Islands of Greece we told you about last week, we move south to the southern coast of Crete. The area is laced with hiking trails that wind up stark hillsides and through lush gorges – leading through the island’s ages-old history.

DSCF1275Many of those trails begin or end in Loutro, the small village where we stayed on Crete’s southwestern coast.

Some are what we consider  ‘soft hikes’ – those that don’t require hiking boots or other equipment and could be considered more ‘stroll’ than ‘hike’.

One of our favorite such stroll/hikes snakes along the hill – a backdrop to the village – and leads back more than a century ago; a time of Turkish occupation of this area. . .

The trail in April was lined with spring wildflowers and the hillside carpeted in greens.

Up, up, up the hillside, we left the village and its crescent-shaped harbor far below. For those in moderately good physical condition – the pathway with an easy grade (a hiking pole would be nice, but not required). Trail markers like those below are posted on rocks and signs along the route..

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We’ve visited this area three times in recent years and the setting has remained as enchanting as the first time we saw it.


As you crest the hill you step back into a time of Turkish occupation – a time when the koule, or small castle, dominated the hill top. Back then this fortress was probably a hub of activity while nowadays only goats laze and graze among its ruins.

PicMonkey Collage

Sometimes we’d pass another hiker or two and we’d nod a greeting – no one wants to break the silence that envelops you here. . . it’s broken only by the hollow clang of the goats’ bells,the buzz of the bees and the rustle of leaves.


The remains of the Turkish koule are unattended – it isn’t a tourist attraction that requires security or entrance fees. Only those who hike between Loutro and Phoenix, as the neighboring harbor is called, are even likely to know it is there.


This area was once the base for Saracen pirates who were driven out by the Venetians and later the Turks drove out the Venetians.


The solitude here is so enveloping that just a short visit can refresh the soul and clear the mind.  I chuckle though each time I see this modern-day addition: a labyrinth. . .I guess it’s for those who need a kick-start in absorbing the solitude.


Hope you enjoyed our stroll through history – as always, your time is much appreciated. Hope to see you back here again soon!

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IF YOU GO:  Crete’s northern cities, Heraklion and Chania, have ferry connections to Athens and other Greek ports and airplane connections from Athens and other European airports. Buses, taxis or rental cars could be used to reach the southern shore.  Loutro, however, is accessed only by boat (there is a local ferry) or on foot.

Hiking: The trail we wrote about is part of the European long-distance path, the E4, a network of some 11 long-distance paths that stretch across countries in Western Europe and were developed by the European Ramblers Association (made up of walking groups throughout Europe). In Greece, it stretches across the Peloponnese and then takes up on this island. The Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing established and maintains the trails. They also produce a multi-language pamphlet with information about the trails. 

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Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Travel Photo Monday

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It is Easter in Loutro, Crete

Easter arrived in the village on the south coast of Crete with much the same fanfare and celebration as it did when we were here last year. And that is one reason we returned to this special little place on the Libyan Sea this year.

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Long recognized as the most important celebration of the year in the Greek Orthodox religion, the traditions surrounding Easter are  particularly special in the small places like Loutro.

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In the evening on  Good Friday, Megali Paraskieve,  (the Friday before Easter) the flower-covered bier (shown in the first photo) was carried in a processional through town to near the ferry dock where a brief ceremony was conducted by the village priest, Papa Geogious (Father George).  There are no vehicles here. The processional made its way along  ‘main street’, the sidewalk that bisects the dozen restaurants, hotels and stores that line the harbor.

The umbrellas were due to the inclement weather this year – the rainfall was heavy and it was such a chilly evening that we donned our long johns to keep us warm. . .in the restaurant and our room!
Holy Saturday, Megali Savato, dawned bright and sunny and by noon “Judas” had appeared on the beach to await his fate later in the evening. 

(We had a good chuckle during a morning hike outside the village when we encountered a tourist from a  neighboring hamlet. He was coming from Loutro and upon learning we were staying there, asked, “Say, did you notice the chap hanging from a noose on the beach?” We assured him it was Judas. . .)

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As Saturday afternoon arrived, so did the boats, water taxis and ferries bringing families and friends to the small village. Not as many, we noted, as last year but then Easter fell two weeks earlier this year and this sleepy little village has barely arisen from its winter’s hibernation. 

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At 8:30 p.m. the church bell began ringing and it was time to gather for there for the service that culminates with the priest announcing “Khristos Anesti” (Christ is Risen)!  We missed it last year as we expected it later in the evening, but like many of those similar ‘ midnight’ services throughout the world, it has been moved up to an earlier hour.

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The church in Loutro, sporting a new whitewash, is small as one might expect in a tiny hamlet. Its grounds are dirt and stone, a single bell hangs from the bell tower. The priest is elderly – very elderly – and very revered by locals and we outsiders alike.

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The next half hour was pure magic – and not all church services we’ve attended over the years on Easter could be described that way. The church and church yard filled with the faithful to hear the priest -- his voice sometimes halting with the cadence of age as he told the centuries old story of Easter.  And then the call, ‘defte lavata fos’ (light the candles):

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Here it isn’t about chocolate bunnies and baskets filled after backyard hunts with Easter eggs (some plastic ones filled with coin) like back in the United States, here it is about celebrating Easter and its meaning while surrounded by family and friends.

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And as for Judas, as soon as the call went out, “Khristos Anesti” and the bell rang the news, (prompting much hugging, kissing and hand shaking) it was time to move to the beach. . .

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We hope where ever you are and if you are celebrating Easter that it is as memorable as ours has been.  We’ll tell you more about Loutro in a future post and tell you where we’re headed this week. (And we’ve just learned that a favorite fellow travel blogging duo will be there . . .so you will have to come back and see who it is and where we are!)  Happy Easter!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Crete’s Gorgeous Samaria Gorge

Sometimes our travels take us to the end before the beginning.

Such was the case with Crete’s Samaria Gorge. Our first views of the Gorge were of  its end, at Agia Roumeli, a small village on Crete’s southern coast. 

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Approaching Agia Roumeli, Crete, from the Libyan Sea

Sfakia2Amster2013 162Since our first visit to Crete five years ago, we’ve:
*vowed to hike the Gorge, and
* visit this small town -- with a population of less than 150 people - that welcomes hikers as they emerge from the Gorge's 18 km  (11.8 mile) route.

The gorge, by the way,  is said to be the longest  in Europe.

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Streets are lined with cafes in Agia Roumeli
Last spring, while not accomplishing that hiking goal, we did have an introduction to both. We took a small Greek ferry across a portion of the Libyan Sea, traveling from Loutro, the village to its east where we were staying, to Agia Roumeli. (Part one of our adventure appeared last week, click this link to read it.)

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Much to our surprise, Agia Roumeli, with paved roads and sidewalks that lead visitors to a large selection of restaurants and tourist accommodations, is more spread out than Loutro.

(And until we arrived in Agia Roumeli,we hadn’t seen ads for fish pedicures since we’d left the big city, Heraklion, on Crete’s northern coast a week before.)

And the Gorgeous Gorge. . .

Guidebooks say the Samaria (sah-mah-rih-ah) Gorge is carpeted with spring wild flowers and is home to a number of endangered species, including the Kri-Kri, a wild Cretan goat. 

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Samaria Gorge from Agia Roumeli
It became a national park in 1962.  Overnight camping isn’t allowed though so trekkers need to make the trip in a single day. (an estimated 350,000 from around the world do just that each hiking season).

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The Scout sets out to see the Gorge
Technically the Gorge ends at the 12.5 km marker, just before the now-abandoned village of Old Agia Roumeli.  The new town is at the water’s edge. So, we set out for the old town on an oleander-lined road that took us to the remains of that village and a bit further into the gorge.

The 1.2 km stretch we walked is described as ‘uninteresting’ in Lonely Planet’s guidebook. 

‘Uninteresting’ ?!?!  That must mean the gorge is pretty spectacular or the reviewer was tuckered out by the time he/she got to this leg of the hike.

We heartily disagree with that description! Here are just four reasons why:

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This beautifully maintained church and cemetery we passed along the way

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One of the many buildings that make up the abandoned Old Town

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This minuscule chapel built into the rock wall high above us

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And scenes like this along the way
So taken were we with this area that we are already planning our next visit to include a night or two  in Agia Roumeli and perhaps we’ll not only arrive via the Gorge, but have enough energy to climb the cliff behind the town and explore the remains of its Turkish fortress.

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Remains of the Turkish fortress that towers over Agia Roumeli Crete 

If You Go:

There are excursions to Samaria Gorge from every sizable town in Crete.

* The full one way hikes leave from Omalos to the north (not pictured on the map) and end in Agia Roumeli; shorter round-trip hikes loop from Agia Roumeli taking you the narrowest part of the Gorge, its Iron Gates. 
* Locals have said it is more fun to hike the gorge on your own and not keep pace with an organized group. Note: It also means you are on your own for transportation arrangements to and from the gorge.
* Starting before 8 a.m. will help beat the bus-loads of hikers that have purchased the package hikes.
* The gorge opens late in the spring. It had been open only a couple of days when we visited in early May 2013. So, if hiking the Gorge is in your plans, make sure it is open.

Thanks to Lonely Planet for the map above.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday, but to continue your armchair travels head to Budget Travelers Sandbox.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Crete: A Tiny ‘Ferry” Tale About A Sunday Sail

The Place: The Libyan Sea. . .
The Backdrop: . . .blue sky . . .blue sea. . .
The Time: . . .a laid-back Sunday afternoon. . .

That’s the setting for this week’s Greek ‘ferry’ tale - the tale of a trip from one of the tiniest villages on the southern coast of Crete to another tiniest of villages . . .

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Both of the villages we traveled between in this ‘ferry’ tale are accessible by boat or on foot. We opted for the easier option and traveled on the sea.

The Libyan Sea, as a matter of fact, is the sea on which we sailed. It is the rather exotic sounding  portion of the Mediterranean Sea, that lies north of the African coast (eastern Libya and western Egypt) and the southern coast of Crete.

It is the same sea that St. Paul is believed to have sailed (landing somewhere in between the two villages – a place still marked by a small chapel and spring.)

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Our trip between two tiny villages was aboard one of the tiniest of Greek ferries, the Neptune.

We left Loutro on a warm spring Sunday afternoon. It was that time just after mid-day when the intensity of the heat has slowed the pace to near standstill. The only things stirring are the ferries that serve the villages and those who, like us, were waiting to board them.

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On this small ferry we shared deck space with the supplies and every seat guaranteed a non-obstructed view.

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Our journey of an hour and a half took us along a section of Crete’s rugged, uninhabited southern coast.

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It also allowed us to look back on a route we’ve walked so many times that links Loutro to Phoenix, an even smaller hamlet on the coast. How interesting it was to see our pathway from the sea and the little chapel where we’ve so often stopped to rest – a quiet place disturbed only by the sound of distant goat bells.

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For miles the coastline entertained us with its peaks and valleys and then off in the distance we caught a glimpse of our destination:

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We docked next to the larger ferry that alternates with our small boat, serving the small towns on this route and we set out to explore.  Where had we landed?

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Well, you’ll just have to come back next Thursday and we’ll give you a walking tour of Agia Roumeli and part of Crete’s famous Samaria Gorge.

If You Go: 

Loutro and Agia Roumeli are on Crete's southwestern coast.  We traveled by car to Hora Sfakia, parking there and catching the ferry to explore these villages.

Map picture

That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday, so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for a bit more armchair travel! If you’ve not signed up to receive our posts regularly or haven’t added your photo to the Google friend section (both on the right hand column) we hope you’ll do so today. Happy Travels ~

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

That Easter in Greece ~

We may never experience another Easter like the one in Greece. . .

Sfakia2Amster2013 046Greek Orthodox Easter is considered more important there than Christmas. We were fortunate this year to be in Crete and experience first-hand Easter Sunday, May 5th.

As with any holiday, decorations and preparations were the prelude to the event. This Easter wreath decorated a restaurant entry in Chora Sfakia, the small harbor town on Crete’s southwestern coast where we spent part of Easter Week.

Holy Thursday – Megali Pempti

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In the early evening, as we walked past our favorite bakery, run by our friend Niki and her husband, in Chora Sfakia, she invited us in to see the production of Kalitsounia, the special cheese pies made for Easter. 

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Her mom, pictured with her above, was taking the lead on the baking. Her sister, on the right, was also called into duty.

Sfakia2Amster2013 060We were honored by getting to sample some from the first batch out of the oven.

(I must tell you – this was one of the highlights of the trip!)

Holy Friday – Megali Parskievi

In the early afternoon, not long after we disembarked the ferry that  - in 30 minutes - had taken us further west along the coast to the small village of Loutro ; the place we would celebrate Easter, we couldn't help but notice that ‘Judas’ had been strung up on the beach awaiting his Saturday night fate.

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As we sipped a libation late Friday night at one of the waterfront cafes, the sound of chanting alerted us to an approaching  processional.

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Led by the priest, along Loutro’s ‘main street’, (a sidewalk bisecting  the waterfront businesses and cafes), a flower covered  Kouvouklion, representing Christ’s tomb, was carried to the ferry landing where additional prayers were said before it was carried back to the church.

Among the Easter traditions. . .

Sfakia2Amster2013 167Easter eggs are dyed a deep rich red, signifying the blood of Christ, most are plain but this basket’s eggs had religious images on them).
They weren’t made of chocolate nor were they hidden as part of a children’s game – they were eaten as part of the traditional Easter feasts on Saturday night and Sunday.

Holy Saturday – Megali Savato

The traditional Easter feast features roast lamb. And by late afternoon  Saturday the air was thick throughout the village with the smell of wild thyme and oregano-scented roasting meat being prepared for the late night feasting that would take place at every restaurant. (The front skewer is filled with pork, peppers and onions.)

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Sfakia2Amster2013 111Judas was hanging not far from the church, where the Saturday‘midnight’ (actual time 9:15 p.m.) service was held.

At the conclusion of the service, the bell clanged repeatedly as its rope was pulled, announcing the Priest’s proclamation: “CHRISTOS ANESTI!” (Christ is Risen!).

Then, in a scene much like a New Year’s Eve, the jubilant people filling the church and its courtyard began hugging and kissing, fireworks echoed across the bay, and candles were lit for the processional to the beach.

And then Judas burned.

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Flames shot high in the sky and the crowd fell back as embers, like fireworks began falling.

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We stood spellbound watching until the flames died and it was time to feast.

You might think this Easter story ended there. Ah, but, not so fast. . .


En route home, we spent a day and a half in Athens. Last Friday morning during a short walk near our hotel we happened upon a picturesque old church.

Sfakia2Amster2013 476Entering, we found ourselves with three priests and another gentleman, (a church deacon or senior warden type, perhaps.)

It quickly became apparent that he had been asked to take the priests’ photo. Even more quickly, it became apparent that he wasn’t quite sure how to use the digital camera he’d been handed. 

So, I did what any shutter bug would do: I offered to take the photos. 

By then, their camera battery needed to be changed and while we waited, the younger of the three clergy, who spoke perfect English, explained to us that the week following Easter was still considered Easter Week – the Easter service was performed each day from Easter Sunday until the following Saturday. 

He told us about the church and its history – its murals dating back to 1100.  Then ‘the photo shoot’ began;  I took group shots and individual shots.  I took a quick one with my camera as well:

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“Thank you,” the young priest said as we finished.  Then, as we were leaving, he called out,

“God Bless You! Christ has Risen!”

Yes, as I said, we may never experience an Easter like that one in Greece. . .

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This is our contribution to Budget Traveler’s Sandbox, Travel Photo Thursday.  Head over there for more photos and come back to TravelnWrite for a few more Greek tales. . .


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