South of Heraklion (the capital city of Crete) there is a beautiful stretch of agricultural land mostly known for its numerous and prolific vineyards. This is the saddle of Crete’s wine country and its scenic beauty along quiet meandering roads make it perfectly suited for a fine road bike ride. We decided to stick primarily to the paved roads weaving in and out of villages and olive groves, pushing through the ascents to be rewarded with views of intricate patchwork fields before enjoying the breezy descents into the valleys below.
We’ve lived here long enough to know not to trust a map entirely so we meandered on our way checking out names of villages like Ano Asites, Nisi and Kitharida Pirou in an attempt to make a big loop. What we discovered was the confirmation that going off the beaten path usually leads to the unexpected. Sometimes it can end with a dreadful surprise – like discovering that big hill you just descended ended up being a dead end (and it’s an even bigger hill going back up). But other times, it can lead to a sweet spontaneous moment. We’ve had our share of both.
“Let’s see where this road goes,” said Richard. Music to my ears, since I’m not one to stick unwaveringly to a plan, and as it turned out, it was a good choice. We happened upon a small chapel hidden among some trees where three men were taking their lunch break after cleaning up the grounds around the building. We stopped to take a photo and they waved at us to join them, “Ela! Ela! (Come! Come!) They insisted on sharing their simple lunch with us consisting of grilled lamb, village bread and fresh oranges. The language barrier was quickly broken amidst elaborate hand gestures, genuine smiles and lots of shrugging. I’m sure there were comments made about the American man in latex and I suspect in an effort to test Richard’s level of macho-ism, they insisted on sharing a cup of raki, which no self respecting visitor can decline. They excused my meager sip but they weren’t about to let Richard off the hook and insisted he join them in a proper toast. (About this time I had visions of scrapping Richard and his latex off the pavement down the road) Not one to lose face, he accepted a cup, drank a toast (or was it two?), then discreetly watered a plant with the remainder. Yiamas!
We did eventually make our way back into the safe and hospitable arms of Babis at our favorite B&B on the island – Villa Kerasia. The next day, we joined up with our German friends, Rolf and Marion who enjoy a good day of exploration as much as we do. We took off from Villa Kerasia towards the south edge of the Psiloritis mountain range. Heading south through Venerato and turning west at Ayia Varvara, we ended up at Zaros, an attractive little village in the hills primarily known for its spring waters, bottled and sold all over the island. But its main attraction is Lake Votamos, a jade-green lake nestled under rocky heights roughly a kilometer from the village. Relatively speaking, it is a tiny lake but the lovely setting with its ring of trees and shaded walkways make it a charming refuge from the Cretan heat.
The lakeside taverna Limni, was the perfect place to have lunch and enjoy the scenery.
I loved this simple array of condiments nestled on a bed of fresh sage and mint leaves.
It seems like most of my blogs end with some sort of amazing food experience and this one is no different. Savoring the sweet moments must include the what lands on your plate and on your palate!