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Published: April 28th 2017
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Monday 24th April: unknown to us we'd saved the best till last. Our destination was Plakias, a beach resort on the south coast and only 22 miles away. Also, the Archaelogical Morgan wanted to stop off on the way to look at a Minoan era cemetery at Armeni, just 6 miles from Rethymno and basically at the top of the mountain behind the city. When we arrived at the ancient site the caretaker was there but told us, rather brusquely, that it was closed on Mondays. With some grinding of the teeth by our resident archaeologist we resumed the journey then pulled over at a taverna in a scenic spot that I'd noted on our way back from Ayia Galini. After a reviving coffee to
Road to Plakias
Coffee stop halfway with view of Mt Psiloritis to the east
smooth the still ruffled feathers and to enjoy the magnificent view from the taverna we resumed the drive through the wonderfully green and scenic countryside. We turned off the main road and headed for Plakias then after another 2 miles we passed the (usual bullet riddled) sign saying Ravine Kourtaliotis, went round a corner and WOW! In the space of 500 meters we'd gone from green countryside to the bottom of a ravine with cliffs towering hundreds of feet above us. The entrance was so impressive that we turned round, went back up the road and did it again. (You can also do it if you go to Google Maps and enter " Rethymno" as the start point in the directions panel, then enter " Eparchiaki Odos Koxaron-Moni Previlis " as the destination: then switch to Google Street View at the point EOK-MP and enjoy the ride down the gorge.) After recovering from this very pleasant surprise we continued down the Kourtaliotis Gorge for just one mile until it emerged at the little village of Asomatos where we turned off to look for the Moni Preveli Monastery. After a couple of wrong turns we found the correct road and continued
Road to Plakias
Coffee stop halfway view to the east.
to the monastery which is perched high on a hill overlooking the sea. The monastery is famous in Crete as being a centre of resistance to all invaders/occupiers of the island. A tradition that continued in WW2 when the monks helped many allied soldiers escape by sea following the German invasion. There is a memorial park near the entrance to the monastery dedicated to the WW2 resistance. The park had two lifesize bronze statues, one of the abbot of the monastery in full regalia but holding a rifle and the other of an allied soldier also bearing a rifle, and a large memorial stone. The park gate was locked but we were able to walk around the fence and get close enough to the memorial to see that it was engraved with the Greek: British, Australian and New Zealand flags. As we were returning to our car another car pulled up and a middle aged European couple (German I think) got out, stepped over the boundary fence and walked to the memorial. The man then put his arm around the shoulder of the abbot statue while his wife took photos of him. I shouted at him that he should show
Road to Plakias
Innocuous entrance to Kourtaliotiko Gorge
some respect and he stopped - lucky for him that we weren't Cretans otherwise he would have received a lot worse than an verbal admonishment (presumably the gate to the park had been locked precisely to prevent such behaviour). Then we headed off down the hill towards Plakias but stopped for lunch at a taverna next to an ancient looking bridge over a river. The taverna was clearly intended to cater for tourists but that didn't mean that the service, food quality or prices were in any way different to most countryside family run tavernas and we had a delicious meal in idyllic surroundings. Later on we finally made it to Plakias and were not disappointed. The town itself is a bit scruffy and to judge by the number of low cost hotels, supermarkets and tavernas it's geared primarily for tourism but not over-commercialised like Ayia Galini, old town Rethymno or old town Chania. We parked the car on the seafront at the western end of the beach and walked for half a mile along to the eastern end of the beach which had very little development behind it. We went to the single beachside bar and ordered some drinks.
Go round the corner and you're faced with this. A "Wow!" moment
Afterwards Jane wanted to sit and enjoy the sun for a while I headed off along the headland at the end of the beach to investigate a path and a cave which seemed to indicate a possible route to the tip of the headland. In the event the path didn't lead anywhere other than along the face of the cliff and then stopped; but I did get some good photos along the way. When I got back Jane was having a chat with a Dutch couple who had arrived at the bar who confirmed that the path didn't lead anywhere. They were very familiar with the area, owning an apartment in Plakias. After chatting with them for a bit we returned to the car and headed back to Rethymno through the amazing Kourtaliotis Gorge: almost as impressive driving up it as it was going down. We planned to go to dinner at a seafood restaurant about half a mile from our hotel but when we got there it was closed: another Monday closing like the Minoan cemetery. However, we found another restaurant near the hotel which was ok but nowhere near as good as the ones we'd enjoyed in the
Looking back to that innocuous entrance
Tuesday 25th April: last day and more fine weather. We decided on the Minoan cemetery and Plakias again. This time the cemetery was open and the caretaker chap was just as brusque as he had been the previous day; but this time at least we got in. Interesting place in that the tombs are cut into solid rock. Some were merely trenches dug out of the rock but there were others, presumably high status families, had elaborate steps leading down to chambers carved into the rock with stone doors fitting the openings. Very impressive craftsmanship considering that these were over 3,000 years old. Then on to Plakias but via a different route this time; through another gorge, the Kotsifou Gorge which like the Kourtaliotis Gorge is not very long but nevertheless very impressive. The gorge emerges near the village of Mirthios high up on the mountainside directly behind Plakias. We descended to Plakias and continued through the town on to the coast road to take a look at Damnoni Beach. Our guide book was not particularly complimentary about the place but to us it's the best beach we've been to in Crete (maybe the Rough Guide is trying
Road to Plakias
Looking back at the southern entrance to the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, centre background, from near the coast
to keep it low key). Golden sand: sheltered, clear sea, not crowded, three tavernas behind the beach and nothing else. Given that it's only 24 miles from Rethymno it would be understandable if it had been crowded, and it quite likely is in high summer, but it when we visited it was truly fabulous. The icing on the cake was a delicious lunch at the Mesogeios Taverna (voted 1st out 4 in TripAdvisor), fresh ingredients cooked to order. After a leisurely lunch I headed off along an interesting looking coastal track while Jane enjoyed the sun and beach. Late in the afternoon, and regretfully, we headed back to Rethymno to pack up and get ready to depart the following day.
After three visits to Crete in the space of 11 months we agreed that the Plakias area and Damnoni Beach especially is the best we've seen: and that's not to detract from some of the other wonderful places we've visited here. So it seems that we saved the best till last.
Wednesday 26th April: up early and a final excellent breakfast before we departed the equally excellent Macaris Hotel for the 40 mile drive to Chania Airport. We
Imitation Ottoman Bridge
Actually constructed in the 19th Century by an abbot of a local monastery: nevertheless very picturesque and in a lovely setting on the Megalopotamos river which flows out of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge - try repeating that lot after a few drinks
even negotiated the interchange with the E75 main coast highway without the customary drama (see the attached aerial photo of the maddest junction in the world). We arrived at the Hertz Office next to the terminal half an hour before the check-in for our flight opened so we had a bit of a rest there. Then we were whisked to the terminal, straight through check-in, immigration and into the Departures lounge. The terminal has been completely modernised and is unrecognisable from the unairconditioned shambles of last June: our last visit to this airport when our flight was delayed just over three hours. This time the flight was on time and we benefited also from having Priority Boarding (well worth the extra), and we arrived in Bristol on time at 3.30pm. Our car was delivered to us within a few minutes of calling the car parking service and we were back in (a chilly) Cardiff in just over an hour. It could not have gone more smoothly. A good way to end what was an exceedingly enjoyable time; on a beautiful island populated by some of the nicest people one could hope to meet anywhere.
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