Azogires, the village of the 99 Holy Fathers, 5 km from Paleochora
Azogires at first glance seems unassuming – just another mountain village to whip past on your way to the ever popular beach resort town of Paleochora, 5 kilometres downhill. But looks can be deceiving.
Azogires comes with countless caves of ruggedly rocky climes where pungent sage, thyme and oregano ceaselessly scent the surrounding mountains of overgrown gorse, brazenly colourful wild flowers and thistles of every kind. They add to the beguiling ambience of Azogires’s seven churches.
How to go to Azogires
In order to reach Azogires from Paleochora, you can take the morning bus that leaves at 6.15 am for Sougia and Omalos Plateau (the entrance to Samaria Gorge is here).
On Thursdays there is a local public bus, that goes from Paleochora to Azogires in the morning and returns around noon.
If this itinerary is not very convenient for you, you can rent a car in Paleochora to explore Azogires and other villages in the area.
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Azogires reveals its secrets slowly
Saints stalk the nether regions where divine dittany (diktamos) grows. When boiled into a coveted tea, diktamos offers beneficial healing to the heart, nerves and skin.
Azogires springs, aloni sites - ancient threshing circles on flat ground, - its plane, fruit and fig trees add to the miraculous beauty of this peaceful haven with its own kind of weirdness. No wonder hippies who flocked here in the 70s called it Paradise Village.
Azogires reveals its secrets slowly, but to get a head start there is one place everyone goes to.
The Alfa Kafeneion in Azogires
Azogires means life in a circle, and at the Alfa Kafeneion, it would seem that all human life does indeed converge here. This unique hub with its homey style and easy banter has its own surprises, including Gero, the resident pet goat who wanders in and out of Alfa Kafeneion.
There are also gawking turkeys that occasionally roam atop cars and strange little birds that dart among Alfa Kafeneion’s wild mountain flowers.
Alfa Kafeneion rests alongside the main road – you can’t miss it as it announces itself among the huge overhanging mountains whose cyclopean crests form human facial expressions. Many of these rocky faces undeniably appear to be smiling down at Alfa Kafeneion.
In fact, one such geological wonder nicknamed Smiley Cave is often mentioned by Alfa Kafeneion’s ubiquitous host Lucky Koukoutsakis. His family has been in Azogires since 1712.
Lucky’s knowledge and stories about Azogires are both amusing and riveting. He gives you a brief introduction to the local sites, while sharing amazing family history. Generations of Koukoutsakis family members – most resistance fights in all three wars - are buried at their own personal church - the 700-year- old Church of Saint John the Hermit.
This nook was built inside the underbelly of a cave where the healing Saint lived. Don’t be surprised if a snake suddenly appears clinging to the cave over your head. I thought it was fake until its tongue darted in and out!
Lucky’s own uncle had a supernatural encounter inside the cave that he refused to describe, but suffice it to say, Saint John The Hermit’s Church and adjacent wide mouthed cave is like no other. They are just a skip past Alfa Rooms (also owned by Lucky’s family) and very close to the Alfa Kafeneion.
Alfa Kafeneion is a restaurant, so leaving it without savouring its legendary Sofia omelet (Lucky’s grandmom) would be a shame. The omelet ingredient gauntlet has been passed to Harriet, Lucky’s mom.
Well fed and heady from drinking a few glasses of raki, intrepid travelers are prepared to meet Azogires’ mysteries which lie beyond Alfa Kafeneion.
What to do in Azogires
The Historical Museum of Azogires – once the Monastery of the Holy Fathers - houses memorabilia pertaining to Cretan resistance against the Turks and the Germans with explanation in Greek only.
Beside this museum stands the Holy Fathers Church with stunning ancient icons.
More icons can also be viewed in the interior of Saint Theodoros Church five minutes up from Alfa Kafeneion.
On much higher ground you can climb to the Holy Fathers Cave, inhabited some 700 years ago by monks who also used the Monastery.
Hiking from Azogires to Anidri (Anidroi or Anydroi) village.
There is a marked path from Azogires over the mountain to Anidri village. The path starts up and across from Alfa Rooms in Azogires.
The walk takes two hours at a slow pace. It offers medium difficulty, but is not for those who fear heights. Follow the blue markings on rocks which bring you over sa series of mountain crests of dry vegetation to Anidri village. The views are breathtaking.
Arriving in Anidri, you can stop at the restaurant for refreshments.
Hiking from Azogires to Paleochora via the Anidroi Gorge
From Azogires to Paleochora via the mountain, Anidroi gorge and road, expect a good six hours. It’s a long day best started very early in the morning with water bottles and snacks on hand.
In Anidroi village head past the 14th century church of Saint Georges to reach the entrance of Anidri Gorge, almost barred by several brambles. It’s all downhill from there. It takes about two hours to walk down to the gorge’s end.
Don’t go alone as you need one person to lift you down some rather high boulders at one point. Otherwise, it’s an easy descent with interesting flora, a dry river bed and some shady spots. At the bottom, you will see sandy Anidri Beach.
The easy walk from Anidri Beach to Paleochora takes almost two hours. You’ll pass Gialiskari Beach, where you’ll see Artemios’ and Pavlos’s Taverna. Here the beach is rocky, the water crystal clear.
Veer to the tavern’s left to catch the road leading to Paleochora. This stretch can also be driven. Bordered by cyclopean red rocks at one point, walkers always stop for pictures. The sea views to the left are unforgettable.
* Article by Nancy Snipper - Copyright 2009 Explorecrete.com