One morning in Hora Sfakion: one of a kind, a few drops of rain fell. We decided to postpone the day trip to Loutro by one day, and reached to our map to see what we could visit by car. Since we had arrived from Chania (in the north), and since we were planning to head toward Frangokastello (in the east) after Hora Sfakion, there was only one choice left: go west! The curvy, steep road from Hora Sfakion to the west takes the curious traveller to the heart of the Sfakia region, home to three villages: Anapoli, Aradena and Agios Ioannis. Very few people still reside in this region, and there are definitely more sheep than human inhabitants. The first stop 12km away from Hora Sfakion is Anapoli, a former capital of the Sfakia region, and an important resistance center. There is a restaurant and a bakery, but nothing much else. After Anapoli, there is another 3km to reach Aradena. This is where the famous Vardinogiannis Bridge, used also for bungee jumping, is located. The gorge is 138 meters deep at this point. Most people make a u-turn at this point, but we wanted to see what is in the end of the road. After all, we were only 5km away from the last stop, Agios Ioannis. This is where they road gets very interesting. It almost seemed that we entered a micro-climate zone and a different world. The trees looked different, the clouds were all over us, and the weather suddenly got very cool (bring a sweater!). At several points we thought of turning back, because the clouds were so thick and we would have not seen a sheep should it have stood in front of our car! But we did reach Agios Ionnis in the end. According to the map there are four orthodox churches but we could only find one. We stopped to take some photos but did not stay long: I was convinced that if there are ghost in this world, they would appear to me here. That is how spooky the place is (at least under the weather conditions we had).On our way back, we decided to turn right toward Livaniana. We did a good twenty minutes by car toward this seaside village, but the road suddenly turned really bad and we did not want to risk getting a flat tire, so we turned around. Before returning to Hora Sfakion, there was one more place for us to visit: Sweetwater Beach. It is located a few kilometers before Hora Sfakion, and as you are approaching Hora Sfakion by car, you will see a small sign to it. We did like the others and parked the car by the roadside. After a medium-difficult (bring your running shoes and water!) walk of 25 minutes, we reached this secluded beach, which can only be visited by foot or boat. We arrived toward the end of the afternoon, and saw some nudists and some other people putting together a tent. We swam for a while, before climbing back to our car by the same path. I would not recommend the path to you if you are traveling with children or elderly people. Althought I like exercising and think it is important always “to walk instead take a lift”, I do think the path can be quite dangerous. If you hesitate, visit Sweetwater by one of the taxi boats! This last photo gives you an idea of the path…
The southwestern coast of Crete from Paleochora to Hora Sfakion is famous for its stunning nature, distinctive culture and strong history. It is one of the most remote regions in the island, located behind rough mountains, and many of its beautiful pearls are only revealed to those who take the effort to reach them by boat or by foot.During our two trips to Crete this year, we visited all of the ferry line stops except Sougia and the Gavdos island.
1. Paleochora is the largest of these ferry stops, and a very good base for exploring the famous southwestern corner of Crete. One-day trips are organized from Paleochora to visit the famous “pink beach” Elafonisi. We visited Paleochora last May but because the high season had not yet started, the ferries were smaller and not capable of accepting cars (check this if you are traveling by car!). However, despite this small disappointment, we spent four lovely days in Paleochora and stayed at Hotel On The Rocks (http://www.hotelontherocks.gr).
2. Sougia is a laid-back, small village that lived its golden years during the Romans and the Byzantines. It is 40 minutes away from Paleochora by ferry. We did not visit Sougia, but the photos look appealing. For more info, visit http://www.sougia.info.
3. Agia Roumeli is 1h30minutes away from Palechora and one hour from Hora Sfakion. It is the “official” main base for exploring Europe’s longest gorge, the Samaria Gorge. We did a day trip to Agia Roumeli from Hora Sfakion, and enjoyed beach time. If you are not using the opportunity to explore the gorge (you definitely need running/hiking shoes), then there is nothing much else to do except watch colorful fish to swim by your feet.
4. Loutro is a tiny, delightful village only accessible by boat or foot. The fact that there are no cars makes it very charming. I fell in love with Loutro and could spend one week there. In a way it is this picture-perfect Greek village that you have always dreamed about. There is a nice beach right in the center and the water is very clear. It seems that every single house on the waterfront is a hotel or a bed and breakfast, and the restaurants are multiple, too. Since Loutro is not easily reachable, I would recommend reserving accommodation at least for the first night. We only made a day trip to Loutro (15 minutes from Hora Sfakion) but if I ever return to Crete, Loutro will be on my must-do list!! I would bring a pile of books with me, and when I get tired of reading, I would rent a boat for a day (I saw ads for 60€ per day) and catch octopus. Talking about relaxation…
5. Hora Sfakion is the easternmost stop on the ferry line. It is the capital of the Sfakia region, which is the only region of Crete that was not taken over by the Arabs, Turks or Venetians. Thanks to its rebellious nature, Hora Sfakion has remained very authentic (read my previous article Hora Sfakion: one of a kind). Today, this charming little village provides tourists with a variety of activities. One can rent a boat, hike all the way to Loutro or Agia Roumeli (and return by ferry) or visit the nearby mountain villages. Or simply talk to locals who are very friendly and happy to share stories about their daily life. We stayed four nights at Xenia Hotel –the only hotel in town– but there are several bed and breakfast places. To taste famous Sfakian dishes, you have a choice of several restaurant on the waterfront, or Three Brothers with an impressive view on the Libyan Sea. Visiting this part of Crete by ferry should be on everyone’s must-do list, regardless of one’s age group or interests, I reckon. Most of the tourists you will meet are those hiking in the gorges, and the places I mentioned above are quiet and authentic. As you already know, my favorite is Loutro, but I enjoyed every single village we visited on the ferry line. If I intrigued your curiosity, visit this wonderful website called http://www.sfakia-crete.com/sfakia-crete/ferries.html#B for more information (it is also where the map in the beginning of this article comes from).
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The town where I was born played an important role in Finnish independence battle, so rebellious places around the world in general intrigue my curiosity. Since I first heard about Hora Sfakion, it has been on my must-do list.
Hora Sfakion is the capital of the Sfakia region, located behind the Lefka Ori mountains in the southwestern part of Crete. It has been an important resistance center against the Turks and the Venetians, thus the heart of the Cretan independence. Lonely Planet Crete (2012) writes “the more bullet holes you see in the passing road signs, the closer you are to Hora Sfakion, long renowned in Cretan history for its rebellious streak against foreigners.”Even if very little remains of the rebellious days, Hora Sfakion has its own personality that is very much alive particularly in local kitchen. For example, everyone visiting Crete and especially the western part will hear about the Sfakian pie and other treats. The village’s remote location has indeed allowed it to maintain its distinctive culinary culture that is now famous all over the island. Today this village of some 300 inhabitants is calm and picturesque. The time has stopped, it seems, and locals mainly live from tourists who use Hora Sfakion as a base for hiking trips in the nearby gorges.We stayed four nights in Hora Sfakion and tried to scratch below the surface to understand what being a Sfakian means today. Along our stay we met many lovely people who seemed proud and slightly reserved, and who never hesitated to smile. Xenia Hotel’s manager George was one of these true Sfakians we met, and willing to share some of his stories.
George described Sfakians as “friendly and sensitive” but continued “do not make enemies here”. When I directed the discussion toward famous vendettas, asking if they still exist, he smiled and responded “no”, but continued laughingly “you never know.”We then talked about the World War II and how difficult the life had been in this mountainous region immediately after the war. People had guns and traumatizing war memories, but no food. Before I realized, I was listening to a fascinating story of a group of Sfakians walking all the way to the Preveli Monastery, located 50 km to the east from Hora Sfakion. The Sfakians had come to the point where they were starving to death and something needed to be done. They knew that this important, rich monastery possesses over 2000 sheep, so off they went to steal some of them. The story goes that during several “missions” over 300 sheep were brought to Hora Sfakion to fill hungry stomachs. Apparently the monastery, regardless of its suspicion toward these rebellious people, remained powerless, because no authority would be able to confront the Sfakions. Nowadays, the life in Hora Sfakion is much more secure and comfortable, but the Sfakians have kept their playful and rebellious mind. The last story that George shared included once again sheep. George himself owns sheep but does not keep counting them on a regular basis. Once it happened that he was invited to a delicious lamb dinner by some local Sfakians. The evening was delightful, and everyone happy. A week later George met the hosts, who finally revealed the origin of the lamb dish by asking if he had appreciated the way they had prepared the lamb, emphasizing the words “your lamb”… I asked George if he got upset, and he responded truthfully “we spent a wonderful evening together and the dinner was delicious, so who cares about one sheep. If you asked me, I would give you one”!
So, if you are searching for an original holiday destination, think about Hora Sfakion. We are surely going to return there one day, and I am sure that the stories will get more fascinating the better we learn to know the famous Sfakian people…