Thursday, 29 May 2014

Crete - May 2014 week two Walking in Crete

Week two   (for week one of my holiday in Crete, see here )

I have recently returned from holiday on the island of Crete, where I stayed at the excellent Mistral hotel, a small boutique hotel which caters exclusively for independent and single travelers.

The Mistral runs several activity weeks across their season (cooking, wine appreciation, photography, art, scuba diving and walking). I planned my trip so that my second week would coincide with the walking week. 

This week the hotel is full. Some guests are regulars, returning again and again, others are newbies, first-timers, with people coming from Austria and Australia, Scotland and Switzerland, and one who has flown from the Bahamas.  The big draw for all is the walking week, which is led by co-owner Vassillis Gialamarakis, a passionate and knowledgeable guide.

Each morning we travel in these small minibuses to the start point of the walk

Walking day 1. The walk today is to the restored hamlet of Milia.  Vassillis led us uphill, through orchards, scrub, flowers, gorse, talking knowledgeably about the area, farming and produce.  After a couple of hours we arrived up in the hills, at the tiny hamlet of Milia, restored from dereliction, where we met the chef and enjoyed a lovely lunch. Read more about Milia here

View from the terrace at Milia

Walking day 2  Ravdoucha to Nopigia. This was a moderate walk, on the Rotherpou Peninsula, lasting about three hours. We started at a high level, overlooking Kissamos Bay, and made a slow gentle descent to sea level, walking through relatively easy terrain.  An excellent lunch, which included snails, was served at Porfira Tavern, Nopigia, run by mother and son.

Our hosts at Porfira Tavern, mother and son

Walking day 3. This was the hardest of the walks, down in the south west corner of the island.  We started on the beach west of Palleochora and walked to Ellafonissi.  We began with quite a stiff ascent, walking generally west, in very hot conditions, on scrub and gorse. Much of this walk follows the E4 footpath. (The E4 European long distance path starts in Spain, continues through France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, visiting Crete and Cyprus and ending in Greece. It runs to more than more than 10,000 km.)

The walk from Palleochora to Ellafonissi

We came across a long procession of goats, perhaps 150, walking down a long track

We paused for water and rest at a small chapel, where I chatted to two Austrian hikers who were walking the length of the island over several weeks, carrying their possessions on their backs: the island is 260 kms east to west.

Our sandwich lunch was eaten on the beach
The walk involved a fair bit of scrambling over rocks, using hands and walking poles. It was hot, tiring, but ultimately very rewarding.  At the end, the swim in the sea at Elafonissi beach was delicious!
The walking group

Mountain goat

Five minutes after taking this photo I was in that beautiful water, cooling off

Walking day 4.  Another day of glorious weather. We drove to the top of Deliana Gorge from where Vassillis took us on a long slow scenic descent, with the benefit of a wide path allowing us to walk abreast and chat much more than on other walks. Once again, we enjoyed a late lunch in a taverna, again run by mother and son.

Another day, another wonderful taverna lunch, with Yannis and his mother looking after us

Three hotel guests asked if I would take them on a bike ride, so we hired more bikes and set out on last week’s route to Nderes. We planned to make a proper lunch stop here, although arrived well after lunch in the middle of the siesta. However, the proprietor was happy to see and serve a lunch of omelettes and salad.  After we had finished and settled the bill these freebies arrived: a bowl of oranges, sponge cake, pastries, and glasses of raki.  He insisted that we take away in foil those things we couldn’t eat. Such generosity was typical of all the places I visited on Crete.

Cycling posse at the Mistral
Rock formation on the road to Nderes
On the road to Nderes
Oranges, cake, pastries, and glasses of raki - all gratis
Adonis Gialamarakis, co-owner of the Mistral hotel, with his wife Aura

Adonis took me into Koylmbari to do some fish shopping, and later invited me to share his fish lunch on the hotel terrace.

Life for guests at the Mistral hotel follows a simple pattern: breakfast has a wide spread of foods, and is eaten indoors or on one of the terraces. The bar (outdoors) seems to be open from mid-morning till well after midnight, for drinks, juices, coffee and snacks.  Whatever people have done during the day, we all seemed to congregate there sometime after seven, before all sitting down to eat together at eight.  The food is fabulous: most is home-grown in the hotel’s garden, simply prepared, always fresh and tasty.

Drinks at the bar before dinner
Drinks at the bar after dinner

And so it is time for a final trip into Chania   I feel I haven't seen enough of this city but that's because there has been so much to do at the Mistral. Perhaps a return visit is called for.....

Time to go home, time to say goodbye to all the guests, and to Donna Southgate-Smith who has been our excellent host at the Mistral

I hope these photographs and my comments convey some of the pleasure I had in this holiday, and in my stay at the excellent  Mistral. If you want to check other opinions, look at Tripadvisor’s page on the Mistral and read the 200 plus 'excellent' reviews. 

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