After a sleepy winter and spring, we noticed that the island began waking up right around Easter. The locals busied themselves with a cleanup campaign that impressed even the Germans here. Potholes were filled, roads repaired, construction sites hummed, hardware stores were crowded, terraces and pathways scrubbed and walls (and tree trunks) were given a new coat of whitewash. The island buzzed as it prepared for the annual arrival of its most welcome guests – the tourists.
Summer (kalokeri) came to Crete on the heels of strong springtime sirocco winds – big, blustery winds that stir up the red “kadhafi” dust from Libya and make you want to put a gun to your head. As a resident of the island once remarked:
Came spring, and Africa had its voice in our affairs: ‘the Big Tongue’ as the old women of Crete call the hot, dust-laden sorokos that comes howling up from Libya. We would see it coming through the gap in the mountains to the south – a distant finger of haze drifting into the still blue gulf of Merabello. Innocent it looked, but the fishermen knew it for the devil it was, and when they saw it coming they made for port at once. It arrived all in a rush, churning the sea to angry foam, blowing the salt spray right up on to our terrace, raising little tornadoes of dust all over town. The first day of a sorokos was bad enough; the second was even worse; and by the third you were ready to commit murder or suicide. The air became clogged with yellow dust, you felt restless and often had a headache, couldn’t work, couldn’t read, couldn’t do anything. Tempers wore thin, quarrels flared, domestic peace was threatened. There are archaeologists who say that a south wind was blowing when Knossos burned about 1400 B.C; and to anyone who has lived in Crete there is nothing surprising about this, for it is easy to believe that all bad things happen during the southerly storms. But the essence of the Cretan climate is the imminence of sudden change; and so the south wind would leave as quickly as it had come. and then for a few days peace and calm seas and blue skies were ours. But never for long -always another wind would come, and some of them, like the cool meltemia breezes that blew steadily from the northwest for forty days in summer, were most welcome.”
(First page of Winds of Crete, by David MacNeil Doren, 1974)
Of course, in between the infuriating days of Sirocco winds we enjoyed many days of warm sunshine and moderate temps that were perfect for biking, hiking and touring around the island. As summer rolled in so did the hot temperatures averaging around 30C (that’s around 90F) with nights in the high 70’s and 80’s. (Thankfully, the humidity is only around 40-50% so its ideal) So, how do you beat the heat here? One word: WATER. Beautiful, azure, clear, warm, deep, gentle inviting water of the Aegean Sea.
On the south coast of Crete there are many towns that are out-of-the-way havens for fun, food and nightlife. One of these hidden treasures has fast become our favorite – Paleohora – a remarkably pretty little town with an enjoyable end-of the road, laid-back feel. It’s located on a spit of land about 6 blocks wide that juts out on the southwest coast and sits below the shadow of an old Venetian castle. We loaded our bikes up on the car, drove over the mountain range and came into town early afternoon. What we found was a sandy beach on the west side of the spit and a pebble each on the east side. Depending on where the wind is blowing from you can always find a quiet beach spot on the opposite side of town. This beach area on the pebble side was just about deserted – perfect for our afternoon swim.
Paleohora was originally known as Kastel Selinou. Built by the Venetians in 1279, it was destroyed by the famous pirate, Barbarossa in 1539 and never properly restored. Now it’s the perfect perch for a wonderful view down to the harbor and over the Libyan Sea.
Another beat-the-heat outing was organized by our American friend, Silvia. We loaded up all the kids (of all ages) and took the ferry out to Gramvousa Island and Balos Bay (west coast). What a blast! Temps hovered around 100 with no wind but we were on the water and loving it!
View from the Venetian fortress on Gramvousa Island:
One of our favorite bike rides was on a little rural road in the mountains that gently ascended up into the hills, skirting a beautiful little creek and eventually ending at a main road where we found refreshment at a local taverna.
Sometimes we just look at a map and our trusting “Rough Guide to Crete” and blindly pick where we want to explore. This particular day we found a little out of the way cove just east of our area on the Dhrapano peninsula.
Driving around Crete is always a revealing experience. If you’re willing and adventurous enough to get away from the main roads and cities and follow the obscure little roads, they will lead you to what I’d call the “real” Crete. We’ve had some of our favorite “finds” on these outings and are so glad we pushed past our comfort zone. You never know what you’ll see or who you’ll meet. One of the many adventures we absolutely love about this place. We spent a whole day just meandering around the Dhrapano peninsula winding through little villages with names like Vrisses, Vamos, Paleloni, Eksopoli and Kefalas.
One of the south coast ferries runs from Hora Sfakia along the coast and stops at various coastal communities. We took this one on a hot Saturday afternoon to the little village of Loutro that is only accessible by boat or foot. We set out from the port of Hora Sfakia around 1:00….
…past rocky coast caves…
…and finally set into Loutro about 20 minutes later.
The tiny town is set beneath the high arid hills of Sfakia and the miniature waterfront is packed with tavernas and beach umbrellas. At first we worried about how we’d pass the 6 hours waiting for the return ferry. But then, that’s the beauty of the island – choosing which relaxing activity to do – swim, kayak, hike, eat or sleep. Too hot to hike or sleep so we did all the rest and were actually surprised how fast the time flew by. We were sorry to leave when our ferry rounded the corner from the west to take us back to Hora Sfakia.
Outdoor tavernas always have a spit roasting meats for souvlaki. This one is cooking up pork, beef and chicken (or could be rabbit?).
Another one of those “suspended boat” phenomenons so common on the water. Truly gives the impression of hovering in the air just above the water level!
A Loutro resident has claimed his perch in the shade. This Cretan cat already knew what we strive to discover in our busy lives – Slow down and take time to just “be.”