Venturing up into the mountains of Crete always reveals a hidden gem or two of the “real” Cretan lifestyle. Such was the case this last summer when our fellow road trippers Rolf and Marion, set out with us to check out some places of interest near Matala on the south coast. Heading south from Heraklion, we took the winding roads through the mountains and found our first stop – Kousses, a tiny mountain village just north of Matala.
Destination – “Botano” – a first rate herb/spice shop that serves loyal patrons from all over the world. (Love this website: http://botano.gr) This obscure but quaint little shop sits on a steep hillside with its front door just a step up from the street and its back door opening out to a balcony suspended high above the valley below.
I wanted to take my complimentary cup of summer tea and have a long sit here soaking in the view but the sounds and smells wafting out from the room behind me were an enticing distraction. Ioannis, the patriarch of this successful family run business collects thousands of herbs and spices from far away places, from the local mountains and from his own garden and concocts them into teas, lotions, oils and medicinal remedies.
The day we are there, he is doing his books while his wife, Crisa measures out and bags teas with names like “Nice Dreams” and spices like “Raz el Hanout” and my personal favorite, “Aleppo pepper,” both traditional Turkish spices. The smell is intoxicating and we meander through the tiny shop marveling at how many things you can create from nature’s bounty.
After stocking up on more than we needed, we set out for our next destination, Anogia. Traveling northwest over hills and around endless curves with breathtaking vistas over the plains, we finally pulled into Anogia, a large village on the north slopes of Mt. Psiloritis. Anogia shares much of the same history as so many little Cretan mountain villages. Occupied by the Turks and then the Germans, it has seen its share of violence and tragedy. But today it’s a peaceful and welcoming village and is the site of many cultural festivals and activities. The upper newer town is largely uninspiring but the lower old town is quintessential Crete.
Walking along the streets you are more than likely to see groups of Greek men gathered outside the kafenios sharing stories and drinking raki, Yia-yias (older women) displaying their handiwork of beautiful Cretan linens, taverna signs inviting patrons to dine on the delicious smells coming from within, and handicraft shops of all sorts. It is one of these shops that is on our radar for the day. Destination – Tarrha Glass shop. (http://www.tarrhaglass.com/artists.html) Marios and Natassa are master crafters of handblown glass art creating beautiful tableware and architectural pieces.
We found this beautiful decanter set, created by hand-blowing glass between stones to give it a very unique look.
On this trip, we were the unsuspecting victims of GPS malfunction or misunderstanding – whatever you want to call it. After dutifully following all instructions by our sweet-voiced lady in a box, we arrived at a dead end on top of a high hill…”You have arrived at your destination”….NOT. But it wasn’t a wasted trip. To our surprise we discovered some old World War II machinery at the end of the road. And of course, boys will be boys….