Scenic Crete, by Steve Baker

A round trip of Rethymnon, Spili, Plakias, Frangokastello, Chora Sfakion, Askifou

The following tour can be done in one day, but why not include an overnight stop and get the most from it?

This tour can be started best from Rethymnon area, but can start from anywhere. Our particular trip began at lunchtime from Agios Nikolaos after a particularly late night the previous evening! The tour really begins, by the main highway taking the road through Somaras and on towards Spili, a pretty enough place if a little touristy, and should you wish, a pleasant place for refreshment.

However, our route really begins by taking the turning on the left a few kilometres before Spili, signposted for Agia Pelagia and Frati towards Plakias. As you leave Frati, the first spectacular surprise is just around the corner, as you suddenly find yourself enveloped in the amazing Kourtaliotiko gorge, with a drop down to your left and spectacular mountains to either side of you.

Fortunately, a few hundred yards in, there is a parking area on the left, with picnic tables. This is a wonderful place to watch huge Vultures and Eagles soaring majestically above, especially if you have binoculars.

After spending some time here, our route takes us on through Lefkogia and on towards Plakias where tourism rules, but far better, take the road out through Myrthios a small busy village with some very popular tavernas, but we continue onwards to Selia and into the Kotsifou gorge, less spectacular than Kourtaliotiko, but still worth seeing.

From here, the road twist and turns as only Cretan roads can. Not too much of a problem in daylight, but as due to our late start, darkness is now rapidly closing in, our progress becomes much slower, as there are no road markings, and the edge of the road is your only guide. Just to make things more interesting, as we approach Rodakino, the village is plunged into darkness by a power cut, about the forth one we have had this week.

One can only imagine the mayhem that would have en-sued had there been a power cut when Greece where playing Portugal in the football final! I think the power engineers would have found themselves going down Samaria by the very quick route!

As darkness takes over, our spirits are lifted as suddenly, a rich full moon makes a welcome appearance from behind the mountains, casting its mystical glow about the landscape, as ahead of us we see our destination for the night, Frangokastello.

As this is our first visit to this part of Crete , we drive slowly down towards the fortress, dramatically illuminated at night. About a hundred yards further on, we find a turning on the left signed “Mylos taverna and rent rooms”. A short road brings us to a seafront taverna on the edge of the lagoon-like harbour, shimmering beneath the now fully risen moon, a scene of such serenity that even the tiredness leaves us as we gaze and feel the stillness that pervades the air, as if the world is holding its breath, the stillness that can only be Crete.


Our initial enquiry for a room at Mylos (windmill), draws a blank, as they are full, but the owner takes us to a table in the taverna, to introduce us to Maria, a polish lady, who owns the apartment immediately behind Mylos, who smiles warmly, assuring us yes, she has a room, no problem, and takes us off to see it.

As I intend to review the room separately on the reviews pages of Explore Crete, all I will say for now, is that after many years, and staying in rent-rooms all over Crete , this, was something special! For now, all Ill say is, rating: 10/10

We took alight refreshment at the taverna, then a gentle stroll around the fortress, to get a feel of the place, before tiredness began to take over, the price of our late night the previous day, so we slipped into bed, looking forward to what would greet us when ,after a good nights sleep, we could explore in daylight. What was waiting for us ,was even better than we imagined!


I woke early next day, about 6-45am,and after making a drink, opened the shutters, only to be stunned at the scene before me. As I looked out across an incredibly still, shimmering sea, a golden flash appeared from behind the mountains, as the sun began its climb into the morning sky.


I could do nothing but to wake my wife, grab my camera, and dash out to capture this magic scene as best I could, as almost imperceptibly the rising sun began to reveal the features of the mountains, and the silver sea turned through a million shades of blue, reflecting the hulls of the boats in the tiny harbour like a magical mirror.

By 8-30 we were eating breakfast alone, the only people in the taverna on the edge of the sea, happily enjoying the peace and serenity of Frangokastelo.

Such is the atmosphere of the place, I think we would be hard pressed to think of a more relaxed, laid back place in Crete . Not a spot for those who crave excitement, but for those who want peace, or safety for young children, ideal. The almost a lagoon of a beach, has water so clear and shallow, its warmth like climbing into a bath. So laid back is the place, that no one even takes their belongings with them when leaving the beach. They simply leave them there for the next day. There is such an air of safety here, that whilst I went to search out and talk to our host Maria, my wife simply upped and wandered off to the beach alone for more than an hour, totally happy, in-fact all I could get out of her some time later was “I want to stay here!”

So the end result was, we spent all morning lazing, swimming and snorkelling in this little piece of heaven.

Mid afternoon, we sadly cleaned our belongings from the beautiful room, and bidding a fond farewell to Frangokastelo, set off towards Chora Sfakion.

Chora Sfakion or Sfakia town

Chora Sfakion or Sfakia nestles at the base of the Lefki Ori ( White Mountains ), a tiny cove, famous for the help given to escaping soldiers during the war, a tiny group of houses and tavernas clinging closely to the cliffs. Providing you avoid arriving as the boat returns bearing the hoards of Samaria walkers, tired and hungry, you can spend a few pleasant hours here, but its worth noting, if you arrive early morning, you can get a boat from there to spend a day at either Sweetwater beach, beloved of naturist, or the serene Loutro, for as little as 3 euro.

Imbros Gorge

After a good meal, as the Samaria hoards arrived we decided it was time to go ,so we turn back for a few kilometres towards Frangokastelo, to take the road that climbs spectacular scenery up the side of the impressive Imbros gorge.

As you reach close to the top, ahead a taverna defies gravity, clinging unbelievably to the side of the gorge. Inside along with fantastic views down the gorge, is a collection of relics from the war, found in the gorge. Though not noticeable at first, the owner has lost most of one arm, an eye, and has severe damage to his leg and chest. This, he explained, was the result of accidentally hitting an un-exploded mortar shell, while digging in the gorge in 1997,so all these years later there is still hidden danger from those terrible days. After sharing a glass or two of Raki and paying a bill that was far too cheap, we gave our “Yassou” and went on our way. (Note: it is far better to ask for “Tsikoudia” here than Raki, after all this is Sfakia, and Raki is a Turkish word)

Before to long now, the road becomes easier as you travel on towards Amoudari and Askifou, passing through pleasant plains and finally on to Vrisses, before rejoining the main highway, to turn east for Rethymnon and Heraklion, or west to Chania. A pleasant day or 2 days if you wish, visiting some dramatic and beautiful places, and I can recommend it for those who want to get to know Crete a little better, or even those of us who know and love this place so much.

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