**IMPORTANT: There are very few organized campsites on Crete. Unfortunately, there are many pristine areas that have been ruined by filthy humans who have no respect for the land. If any of my readers intend on camping “off trail” you must tread lightly and remember, “If you pack it in, you pack it out.” And also, be aware of private property boundaries otherwise you may end up with a Cretan knife under your nose in the morning (just kidding – sort of…)
LISSOS (May 2012)
There’s nothing like an online shop-fest with REI to get the blood flowing and brain rushing for camping adventures! The Clarks and the Cranes headed out to find the trail that leads to ancient Lissos on the southwest side of Crete. The trail (part of the E4) that starts in Sougia and heads west for roughly 4 kilometers was once used by ancient pilgrims seeking out the healing waters in the Asklepion, or temple of healing, built against the cliffs next to a curative spring in Lissos. In a nutshell, the trail rises gently through a gorge, peaks at the top of a plateau and eventually drops in a steep descent to a fertile valley that spills out into the sea.
The first part of the hike is shaded under oleander and tamarisk trees and it spills into a dramatic gorge with towering stone cliffs.
Eventually the trail rises up to a high plateau where it’s considerably warmer and very dry.
At the end of the plateau, before the descent into Lissos, we were rewarded with a stellar view of Lissos cove.
The descent took us past a well marked spring where we tanked up on more water.
We set up camp under the trees near the cove and relished in the quiet beauty of this ancient place. Lissos was originally the harbor for the Dorian city of Elyros which grew to flourish during the Hellenistic and Roman times until it was destroyed by the Saracens in the 9th century. “In no other city of Crete, apart from Gortys, there were found so many pieces of sculpture. This fact testifies the prosperity and the power of the Asclepieion of Lissos. Lissos has its own coins with the images of Artemis and dolphin and the word LISION (of the Lisians).” (Wikipedia)
The hillside is dotted with numerous chamber tombs, threshing floors and ancient walls. It was said that at its peak, this area had 30,000 inhabitants. Excavations are ongoing and recently a beautifully preserved mosaic floor was discovered along with remains of a theater, aqueducts, roman baths and homes. Because this site was an important sacred healing center, archeologists anticipate many more treasures to be discovered under the Cretan landscape that is now home to ancient olive trees and herds of goats.
At the end of a long day, relaxing by the fire and enjoying the full moon and company of good friends over a cup of wine and roasted marshmallows was the perfect nightcap.
ARGIROUPOLIS (June 2012)
Another camping trip took us to the hills outside Rethymno and into the area of Argiroupolis. After a failed attempt to find the E4 trail along the roadside, Shelby looked up and saw a sheep trail leading up to a ridge. We were dubious but the combination of late afternoon light fading quickly and her enthusiasm won us over and we followed the trail leading upwards.
Finding a nice shaded area off the trail, we quickly set up camp and enjoyed the view. No campfire this time, since we weren’t exactly sure of where we were (private property??) The next morning we broke camp after coffee….
…and set up our breakfast table in the shade of a nearby chapel yard where Shelby whipped up her famous batch of camp pancakes!
Later that morning, we ditched our heavy packs and hiked around the Argiroupolis area.
This beautifully shaded and lush community is actually divided into two areas – the lower half is famous for its copious springs that create cascading water in every direction. This cool refuge is a welcome summer treat from the hot, arid climate of Crete. The water thunders from the hill above flowing through the chapel, over cliffs, into basins and through the well-placed tavernas that sit shaded under the giant trees. The upper village named Lappa is a restored settlement that was originally an ancient city that prospered on and off from Dorian times through the Venetian era. Ancient Lappa’s necropolis is located at a site called the Five Virgins, named after a nearby chapel. The chapel gets its name from five young women who were executed in the third century by the Romans after they were discovered secretly practicing Christianity in this location.
There are literally hundreds of tombs carved into the rock cliffs here and many more are being excavated. Archeologists recently opened one tomb and discovered a beautiful gold diadem inside. The path continues down to a delightfully shaded spot with a fresh spring where it cuts through a 2000 year old plane tree (locals claim it is the oldest on Crete.)
After a refreshing rest in the cool shade and dipping our feet in the cold spring water, we trudged back up the hill to the heat and headed for home. Now we’re planning our next entry into the chronicles of “The Adventures of the Cranes and Clarks!”