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

Friday, August 6, 2021

Crete ~ Those Haunting Echoes of the Past

The summer sun was already punishing as we began the mid-morning climb to that monument on the hill overlooking the village of Chora Sfakia on Crete's southern coast.  It was tempting to stop mid-point in the ascent, but that wouldn't have been a fair tribute to those the monument honored. We have visited it each time we have been here and we weren't going to miss it this time. 

As I last wrote, we were covering as much ground as possible during our week-long visit to Greece's largest island. I am beginning today's tale where I left off, in the small harbor town on the Libyan Sea that played a big role in World War II:

Chora Sfakia

The Chora Sfakia Monument

In May 1941 Chora Sfakia was the last hope of escape for some 16,000 British, New Zealand, Australian and Greek troops after German forces began an airborne assault on the island, today known as the Battle of Crete. Over four successive nights 11,000 escaped. Five thousand were captured and held in captivity.  In villages throughout the island, Cretans were subjected to severe punishment -- up to and including executions -- for helping the Allied Forces.

The plaque to the side of this monument reads, 'Lest We Forget, This plaque is laid to the everlasting memory of these Cretan patriots who in 1941 were executed by the Germans for helping New Zealand soldiers escape from Crete.' The skulls of those executed patriots are visible in the base of the monument.

Similar chilling reminders of the past -- monuments and statues - can be found throughout the island. We have visited a number of them but Chora Sfakia's will always stand out as among the most memorable reminders of war's atrocities.

Loutro and the Libyan Sea

The Church near Loutro

The ferry trip  from Chora Sfakia to Loutro is short, about 20 minutes, but memorable.  The landscape along this section of the southern coast is some of the most barren to be found. The harshness of the stark hillsides assault one's senses and lets the imagination soar. One of the few signs of humanity along the route is the small church, shown in the photo above. One might say its location is 'in the middle of nowhere'; perched above a steep cliff with only a hiker's trail, or goat trail, to get to it. Who built it?, we wonder. And who keeps it up? 

Loutro on the Libyan Sea

I often describe Loutro as one of our favorite places on earth. And it cast its magic spell on us again as the ferry turned just slightly and the white washed village appeared, almost as if a mirage, in the stark landscape that surrounds it.  

Loutro in late June 2021

Our previous visits here have been in the early spring when businesses were just opening and the season not quite in full swing.  It was different place in late June . . .still charming, very hot, and full of tourists! We were glad we revisited this special spot but equally as glad this visit was a day trip.

On the Road Again

Not far from Chora Sfakia

Lonely Planet guidebook says you can tell you're approaching Chora Sfakia by the increasing numbers of gun shots in the road signs.  I can tell you that all traffic signs we've encountered in Greece seem to be targets of graffiti artists and marksmen.  But I will admit, signs are definitely full of bullet holes along the road to this section of the southern coast.

Heading east: destination Plaka

We headed north, then east, after two nights on the southern coast. Our next destination, Plaka, would be our base for the next two nights. It is the gateway to the island of Spinalonga, the island that for decades served as Crete's leper colony. The remains of the village created there by those castaway victims of  Hanson's Disease, is today a tourist attraction.  The island was made famous by British writer, Victoria Hislop, in her novel about the colony, The Island

Spinalonga island from Blue Palace Resort

Our room at the Blue Palace Resort provided us a stunning view of his haunting place. Tour boats regularly take visitors to and from the island but having visited it on a previous trip, we were content to view it from afar - again letting our imaginations run with the echoes of the past.

Elounda, near Plaka

The weather was hot, as we've learned weather can be in Greece in the summer. We limited our outings to a few hours in the morning then sought the comfort of our air-conditioned room. We often ask ourselves why we travel in the summer in Greece and then further ponder what the appeal of Greece is to the thousands who come here each summer. (Spring and Fall are really much nicer times to travel here.)  

Blue Palace Resort, Plaka, Crete

It was so hot that the resort, operating with the strictest of Covid protocols, (including downloading an app on your mobile and checking yourself in), had to discontinue the practice of taking the temperature of arriving guests before they entered the lobby.  It was so hot that aiming the thermometer at one's forehead made it impossible to get an accurate reading.


Don't believe everything you read in a guidebook, we reminded ourselves again when we were sitting at the cutest beach bar we've visited in a long time. We'd crossed the island again and were back at its west end. We were just down the road from the ferry dock in this port town of Kissamos, on Crete's west end. Our ferry back to the Peloponnese would depart early the next morning.

Kissamos, on Crete's west end

Lonely Planet had us believing if we blinked that we miss the town and it wouldn't be much of a loss if we did.  Au contraire, we would say now that we've been there.  So taken with the town and the hotel in which we spent our final night on the island were we, that we will likely use it as our base on our next trip.

Charming coffee shops, quaint restaurants and numerous shops beckoned.  But in the heat of the day, we headed to the beach - it was the perfect place to end the week.

We thank you for joining us on the last half of our travels in Crete. 

A firesky at our Stone House on the Hill

In closing, I know that many of you follow us on Facebook and therefore know that Greece is fighting a mind-boggling number of wildfires this week.  Some 80+ blazes, with several large fires remaining out of control as I write this on Friday afternoon. Additional equipment and human resources are thankfully arriving from a number of European countries.  The nearest blaze to us is some 12 miles away and we've watched water-bearing helicopters and planes fly a path back and forth dipping into the Messinias Bay in front of our home in their attempts to bring our closest blaze under control for two days now. Please keep Greece, its firefighters and victims in your thoughts and prayers ~

Stay safe where ever you are ~ hope you'll be back with us next week.

Linking in the near future with:

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter ~ Here and There

“For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter and Happy Passover,”
-- from our Facebook feed
As Easter Sunday has progressed, other similarly softened social media greetings have been received. How odd they seem, I remarked to The Scout. “Why haven’t I noticed those politically-correct softened greetings before?”

DSCF2982We are ‘here’ this Easter holiday; the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States.

It is the first time in three years that we’ve been ‘here’ and not ‘there’ in Greece for this sacred springtime celebration.  That’s probably why I’d not noticed.

Our Easter celebration tradition has been to be on Crete’s southern coast in the small village of Loutro, – a place where internet can be sporadic so we didn’t see those Easter postings – and where, just like the rest of Greece, Easter is a really big deal. Really. Big Deal.

Wishes of ‘Happy Easter’ there ring out  with gusto and conviction.

That’s the kind of thing you notice when you see holidays from the perspective of ‘here’ and ‘there’. On the flip side, we were in Greece for Christmas and were surprised at how December 25th pales in comparison to their January’s Three Kings Day, which pretty much goes unnoticed in our U.S. part of the world. And how it comes nowhere near the holiday hoopla that takes place in the U.S.

Loutro, Crete - Easter Saturday 2014

'Here’ the clerk at the local convenience store said Saturday had been ‘nuts’ with parents buying last minute chocolate candies and goodies for Easter baskets.  Saturdays before Easter in Loutro were been pretty laid back as families start gathering early in the day so they can attend church that night, watch the ‘burning of Judas’ and then head to the tavernas that line the waterfront. There they will feast on those slow-roasting lambs that have tantalized passersby all day. Feasting will last until midnight or later.

Easter lamb roasting at a Loutro, Crete tavern 2014
In recent years the celebration of ‘our’ Easter has fallen on the same day as the Greek Orthodox celebration. This year Greece will be celebrating ‘their’ Easter next Sunday, a week later than ‘ours’. Next Sunday though we will be in Bangkok, Thailand preparing for that cruise we’ll be starting the following week. While we will miss Easter in Loutro we will get to celebrate the Thai Songkran (New Year) that spans two days, April 13 – 15.

Loutro Crete - Church candles
‘Here’ and ‘there’.  It’s a good way to live. It enriches the celebrations. It changes the perspectives.

PicMonkey Collage
Happy Easter!
Happy Passover!
Happy Songkran!
Happy Springtime!
Safe Travels and Lovely Journeys to you all!
And, as always, thanks so much for stopping by~~
We are linking up this week with:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Our World Tuesday
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route 
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

A Few More Reasons, “Why We Love Greece”

I posted a series of photos titled, “Why We Love Greece” on Facebook during our trip.  They were short little snippets of life in Greece and not the things you necessarily see in tourist brochures.

Because not all of you are on Facebook I thought I would periodically post similar photos here just to give you a sample of what makes Greece so special to us. These are the things we think of when asked, “But, what is there to see?”


It was Easter Sunday in Loutro, Crete. We were at one of the village’s sidewalk cafes having a glass of wine before moving on to the nearby cafĂ© for dinner when we noticed one of the small boats putting around the harbor. 


Were we seeing things?


Not at all! I zoomed in on this little Captain and he was taking his job as seriously as any adult.  However, he did start crying when his dad took over as they headed back to tie up at the dock. . .that is until dad put him to work learning how to hand off the rope.


Another ‘reason why’ occurred that same evening. We’d just moved to the nearby cafe and as we were ordering dinner the electricity went off. Not just at the restaurant but throughout the village. 


The place went completely dark. . .two restaurants had small backup generators which provided about as much light as powerful flashlights. 


That’s when the ferry, Daskalogiannis, that you also see in the background behind the little Captain in the photo above came to the rescue. The ferry runs between four small towns on the southern coast of Crete and at night –sometimes, this time of year – stays in Loutro. It cranked up the lights and lit up the harbor.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. I’ll have more tales and tips coming from the trip, but we just last night arrived back in the Pacific Northwest and if you’ve ever had jet-lag, you know our brains are just a bit jumbled.  More soon. Happy travels to you. Stop by Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travel today!

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 ~


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