A boat trip to Ayiofarango, the Holy Gorge
was the 1st of May, a warm but cloudy day. The boat trip was arranged several
days ago, after an invitation by my friend Nikos Tsagarakis. By
8:30 everybody was on the dock of Kokkinos
fishing harbour waiting for the signal of the captain.
and the crew were taking care of the last details when someone remembered
that there was no ice in the boat, nor the necessary amount of beer.
A volunteer was found and he rushed to buy all that was needed.
Soon he was back with a big bag full of ice and a dozen beers and
The captain decided that everything was ready
and we should board the boat and sail. Five minutes later we watched
the little harbour getting smaller and smaller. The trip to Ayiofarango
had just started.
Kokkinos Pyrgos is a small hamlet 2 km (1,2 miles) west of Tymbaki in
Messara plain, south of Iraklion. Our boat "Kapetan Manolis" is
a 45 feet wooden Mediterranean fishing boat owned by Nikos Tsagarakis,
owner of the "Little Inn" Hotel in Kokkinos Pyrgos.
Kokkinos Pyrgos (meaning Red Tower) is an agricultural area full of greenhouses that produce
many kinds of vegetables, mostly tomatoes and cucumbers. A great quantity
of them are exported to Germany and other West European countries.
It is not a tourist area but there are some taverns and a few small
hotels. The beach of Kokkinos Pyrgos is a long sand one and extends all
the way to Kalamaki and Kommos. It is a nesting beach of the Caretta
-Caretta sea turtle and a place that many migrating birds use
to rest on their joureys between Africa and Europe. The tourist towns
of Agia Galini to the west and Matala to the south
are close by as well as the archaeological site of the Festos Minoan
Palace and the Ethnological Museum of Voroi.
is a short gorge south of Matala and west of Kaloi Limenes
town. The name comes from Ayio (meaning Holy) and Farangi ( meaning Gorge).
It was so named because many hermits used to live here in previous centuries.
During the Turkish occupation period Ayiofarango was a remote place ideally
suited to people who wanted to worship God undisturbed. It is said that
300 hermits used to live here under strict rules (strict diet and lack
of social life). The legend says that, but for one occasion each year
when they met together in a big cave (the "abbot's cave"), these hermits
lived alone and isolated from one another. This annual meeting was their
only opportunity to socialize and find out who had died the previous year.
There are several
ways to get there either by boat or by car. You may take a boat from
Kaloi Limenes, Kokkinos Pyrgos or Agia Galini or drive to the traditional
village of Sivas, close to Matala and Festos and then follow the road
signs to Moni Odigitrias (Holy Monastery of Odigitria). It is a several
Km dirt road but easy to drive. You have to keep driving past Odigitria
follow the road signs to Kaloi Limenes or Ayiofarango (whichever you
may find). A few km past Odigitria you will have to leave your car and
continue by foot for about 1 hour. If you trust your car or you do not
care about it, then you may drive along the dirt track that enters the
gorge. If you go this way then you won't have to walk more than 15 minutes.
Let's return to our trip. The sea was calm and the
journey was great. Soon we could see the town of Matala to our east and
the Paximadia Isles to our west. The coast all the way to kommos beach
is sandy, but right before Matala, it changes to rocky walls interrupted
by the sandy beaches of Matala and Kokkini Ammos (Red Sand), south of
Matala. It is a naturist's beach and people who want to spend some time
there will have to walk the 30 minutes trail from Matala town.
There is a further, more southerly, beach at Vathi.
It is a remote bay with an entrance so narrow that it has the appearance
of a lake. The road to Vathi is a dirt track, not easy to drive on and
it is several km past Odigitria Monastery. It is a little adventure to
get there and there are no facilities for tourists, just a small cafe.
Some twenty minutes past
Matala we approach Cape Lithino with the yellow
The view and the sensation of being in the most southern
point in Crete are impressive and we look at the steep south shore
Lithino means "made of stone" and it sure is like this; no more
rocky shores that slope into the sea.
From now on the landscape turns
to huge rock walls rising from the depth of the dark blue sea up
to 1000-1200 feet above sea level.
The highest point in the Cape Lithino area is Mt Kefali.
It is 1200 ft high and its south side is a huge cliff with an almost
vertical drop down to sea level. It's a bit scary being up there
carefully approaching the edge to glance over it while big vultures
are fly in circles above your head...
Remnants of the German Army
World War II defenses can still be seen.
The view is unbelievable:
it extends at an angle of 270 degrees from Lentas to Agia Galini.
There have been many times that I have felt jealous of the soldiers
waking up to face a view like this first thing in the morning...
The boat keeps sailing to the east and we see the beach of the
Martsalo gorge followed by Ayiofarango beach.
Some of the people
in the group have never been here before and they look around admiring
the crystal clear water and the rock walls that surround the pebble
A ladder is used
to get off the boat. Some attention is necessary as it doesn't look so
stable but soon we are safely on the beach looking for a nice shady place
to spend the day. We move to the west side of the beach right under a
huge rock that looks frightening as it stands out above our heads. Some
jokes are being said about it falling on us but soon we decide that as
future is unpredictable we might as well stop worrying about the rock
and start a nice fire for our barbeque.
The charcoal we have with us proves damp enough so
we have to collect some dry branches. We do that and after a while the
fire is ready and the steaks are being slowly grilled. Some decide to
take a swim but a friend and I think that the sea is probably not warm
enough for us and we decide to go for a short walk in the gorge.
We head to the church of Agios Antonios, an old chapel
5 minutes from the beach. It is always nice to be in the chuch and watch
the sunlight enter through the small windows in the roof.
Curiosity may have
killed the cat but it also prompted us to walk around and discover new
sites to photograph. ... Thinking that we had enough time before the lunch
would be ready, we went further and climbed the barely visible path on
the east side of the gorge. 15 minutes later we were standing on a rock
admiring the view of the beach and the gorge beneath us. The result is
these 2 fine photos.
We set off back
and as soon as we were down at the beach the smell of the grilled steaks
was strong enough to guide our steps and make us move faster. Mmm...the
chef receives our warm congratulations and we enjoy every bite of the
tasty pork meat together with a cold beer. After lunch the whole group
is lying on the beach doing nothing but enjoying the peace of the place
and the relaxing sound of the sea waves.
After 1 hour in this "nirvana"
state the captain gives the signal for our departure. There are
some noisy complaints but soon we collect all the waste and head
to the white boat. Ninety minutes later we enter the Kokkinos
Pyrgos harbour and thank the captain for the great trip. Do I
have to say that we have already started planning the next trip?