A day in Milatos and the Mountains of Crete

We are lucky enough to have made Cretan friends many years ago and always see a visit to Crete as coming back to see family and not just a holiday. Aware that when we visit it’s generally at the busiest period for them we are happy to meet up when possible and spend some time together.

the path to the cave of milatos

Dimitris picked us up from the airport. It was very busy, four planeloads of tourists had arrived at once and as usual the baggage hall was chaos. Those who have landed at Iraklion airport will know just what I mean when I say that there are about a thousand people crammed into the baggage hall, when the two baggage carousels eventually creak into life there is never any indication which one your luggage will come up on. As ever the little TV screens above them only show cheery Cretan dancers in traditional costume or advertisements for local restaurants. I can’t be alone in wishing that they would give just a hint of which plane the bags have come off!

With little chance of cases for the foreseeable future I walk through to the arrivals hall to meet Dimitris, it’s great to see him again and after hugs and kisses we walk back through the ‘no entry’ sign (well, this is Crete!) and chat whilst we wait.

We wait so long that I have received news of all of Dimitris family and his somewhat protracted love life before we finally see our bags on their second loop round, I had lost the 50/50 gamble of which carousel they would come off, my husband being the winner, he also has the muscles to swing them off the belt so I’m happy with that. He does however lose the bet of who travels in the front of the car as I jump into the back seat. We drive off with fear and trepidation on two out of the three faces in the car.

After the fastest airport transfer ever, overtaking on blind bends, lots of looking at us to talk instead of watching the road we arrive at our hotel in Agios Nikolaos. We arrange to meet at Milatos tomorrow to visit the caves and the visit his parents in a little village further up the mountain called Kounali.

sign at the beginning of the path to the caves of milatos

From the caves at Milatos the views looking back down to the coast are spectacular, it was a clear day when we visited and we could see all the coastal villages Milatos, Sissi and way past Malia. The sea was the deepest blue and looked like a millpond it was so calm.

We walked up the hill to the entrance of the caves there are numerous types of trees, Dimitris pointed these out as Kermes oaks and Carob trees and of course we recognised the olive trees. There are also many species of birds, we saw a hawk soaring overhead, and there are apparently vultures too.

The caves date back to Neolithic times but are perhaps best known for the tragedy that took place there in 1823, when the nearby residents hid from the invading Turkish army. Hundreds of people were sold as slaves or slaughtered. There is an ossuary there where some of the bones from the people that were slaughtered. Dimitris told us that each year the locals throw 23 sticks of dynamite down into the gorge to remember those killed.

Inside the caves it is very atmospheric, the main entrance leads you into a central chamber that is the largest one. Columns decorate the place and turn it into smaller chambers. Part of the cave has been turned into a church and was built in 1935 it is dedicated to the Apostle Thomas.

the church inside the cave of milatos in crete

On from there we drove around hairpin bends up to the village of Kounali. Mihalis and Maria are Dimitris parents and don’t speak any English, we speak just a few phrases in Greek. It was clearly to be a busy day for Dimitris’ translating skills!

We smiled, nodded, threw our arms up and down, spoke bits of Greek, bits of English, gave up and hugged and kissed each other, a hug being the universal language!

We were then offered chairs under the olive trees and drinks were brought out, a Raki to welcome us and then some ice cold home made lemonade, as it must have been over 30 degrees that day it was the best drink ever! We then offered the gifts that we had brought which were well appreciated.

Sitting outside in companiable silence, Mihalis and I smiled and nodded at each other. A hire car slowly drove past with the occupants staring out at us. Mihalis and I smiled at each other, he shrugged his shoulders and said “Tourists, eh?” I nodded and in my best Yorkshire Greek accent agreed with him.

We were then shown around their home, which was apparently typically Cretan, it was very cool inside and it was decided that because of the temperature we would eat indoors.

Mihalis was tending the BBQ outside on the terrace, Maria was sorting other food so Dimitris took us up one of the hills to show us the spectacular views over the sea, and these were even more impressive than from the caves of Milatos.

We walked back to the house, which was being prepared as if for a feast, two aunts who live in the village had come to meet us and help with the preparations and there were more hugs and greetings. We finally sat down to a meal accompanied with typical Cretan music played loudly on the radio. I have never seen so many courses of food in my life; I think I must have eaten a kilo of meat myself! It just kept coming and coming, beautiful salads, breads, including a sweet bread that had been blessed in the church, home made courgette fritters and golden roast potatoes, what a meal! All washed down with home made Raki, wine and beer. When yet more meat appeared I had to admit defeat and settled for some ice-cold watermelon instead!

old house in crete

Despite my concerns that someone would have to lift me from the table and lie me down in the shade, somehow we managed to muster ourselves for a walk round the village. Dimitris parents own many olive groves there and he was telling us that last year they bought a machine to shake the branches of the trees to loosen the olives rather than beating the tree with sticks. We went to see the old olive press, no longer in use now as it’s done at a central point where olive growers take their olives.

We also saw in a derelict house an area that used to have a wine press in it. In the evenings a board would be put on the top of it and one of the family members would sleep on it. During the occupation of Crete by the German army in the Second World War, a British paratrooper was hidden there beneath grandma who pretended to be asleep when the house was searched by German troops. I wonder if that British airman is still alive today thousands of miles away with his thoughts of his narrow escape in Crete?

We marvelled at the silence, saw lemons and apricots growing and smelled the sweet scent of herbs as we walked the village this clear, hot, beautiful day. All too soon it was time to leave, we said our goodbyes and thank you’s, we hugged and Dimitris father said that we were now family and that we must visit as often as we could. I had tears in my eyes as we drove down to our accommodation and it struck me that it was days like this that made leaving my beloved Crete one of the most difficult tasks in my life.

Article by Janey

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