Saturday, 29 June 2013

Swim, eat, drink, relax at Ligres Beach

OK, OK, I might have said that the Taverna and Rent Rooms Agia Fotini were the most relaxing, peaceful place on Crete... but honestly, I can't decide. I love this place too. http://www.ligres.gr

View from Ligres Beach Taverna 
I haven't stayed at Ligres Beach Rent Rooms, but we came here for breakfast during a camping trip last year, and it was wonderful! They have a great menu. For breakfast, I had a huge plate of mixed seasonal fruit with yogurt, juice and coffee for about 7 or 8 Euros. I didn't get to try lunch/dinner, but  as well as a 'typical Cretan menu' they also serve fish, often caught on their own fishing trips. Most importantly, it has a lovely atmosphere and the most beautiful, never-ending views over the Libyan sea...
Another guest enjoying dog-friendly Ligres Beach
Rent Rooms and Taverna
The rooms have air conditioning, fantastic views, and even in high season are very reasonably priced (35 Euro per night June-August). And the best part? They are dog-friendly. And thoughtful too. They offered us a room on the ground floor, to have easy access to the room and, I guess, not to get in the way of other guests.

Hiding in a small cave for shade


A further consideration is that there is very little shade on the beach (or any of these south coast beaches). I think the best way to spend the day would be a morning swim, a long breakfast, maybe a mid morning swim, then a very long lazy lunch of fish, a siesta, a slow afternoon waking up drinking coffee, and a final hour or so on the beach when it is not too hot...

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Friday, 28 June 2013

Stay and eat at Rooms and Taverna Panorama... with your dog

Rooms and Taverna Panorama should probably be classified as 'dog-tolerant' rather than 'dog-friendly'.
View over Elafonissi Beach from Taverna Panorama 
Last summer, having spent years enjoying the incredible, empty beaches of East Crete, I decided I had to explore the West a little. It was a bad choice to turn up at Elafonissi - one of the busiest beaches on the island - at midday, in late July. We had already been camping the night before. We had a long, sticky drive from the south coast at Rethymnon. We'd had several rows and a long bitter silence. It was just one of those trips.

So when we arrived at the overcrowded car park, hot and tired and annoyed, I just wanted to check in to a room as quickly as possible. 

We went to the nearest Rent Rooms that we found driving back up from the beach. We left Sage in the car when we went to ask if dogs were permitted, which was probably a bit sneaky of us. They said 'yes'. However, there was a look of horror on the faces of the staff when we turned up in the Taverna a few minutes later, with Sage. They told us that they didn't usually allow such BIG dogs to stay in the rooms... they hadn't realised she would be so BIG...etc etc. We stayed, but I was feeling really uncomfortable. Everyone in the taverna was staring at us. Sage barked at a cat and we had looks of disapproval all round and a warning from the waitress.
View from the Taverna Panorama

The food was fine. The views were amazing. The taverna was pretty with lots of plants and interesting decor. We went to have a long sleep in the nice, clean room with air conditioning (55 Euros per night). I was feeling better.
Website for Rooms and Taverna Panorama: http://elafonisi-village.gr/?gtlang=en

Our exploration of the beach was similarly uncomfortable. We turned up quite late in the afternoon, with Sage on the lead. It's true that there were clearly "NO DOGS" signs all over the place, so we were pushing it. But we wanted to pass quickly and quietly through the sun-bed part of the beach, to go and sit over on the rocks far from anyone else. The guys in the cafes along the beach were shouting at us, threatening to call their managers, generally tutting and swearing and telling us to leave. 

Sage enjoying the sunset from the rocks to the west of Elafonissi Beach
This is a very special beach with a brilliant blue lagoon, white sand consisting of perfect tiny shells, sand dunes with lilies and junipers, and is also a nesting place for the endangered species of sea turtle - the careta careta. All of this considered, it's not a good place to bring your dog. Have a look at the description on the Cretan Beaches website:  http://www.cretanbeaches.com/Beaches/Chania/elafonissi/

We walked on a couple of km around the coast from the lagoon, collecting sea salt from the rocks. Here we could relax a little, there was nobody around, and we watched a beautiful sunset. It could have been any patch of rocky coast anywhere on the island however, I hardly got to see the lagoon or the perfect shelly sand at all. 

Back at the Taverna Panorama that evening. I can't even remember what happened (I think another minor indiscretion with the cat), and more nervous and annoyed glances from the staff, more tuts and warnings to be careful...I felt like I'd walked in with a bear or something. This caused another argument between us as tempers were frayed. I just get tired of feeling like I am committing some terrible crime by being out and about with my dog. 

The following day we walked the other way along the rocks (past the angry swearing cafe guys) and found another quiet spot on the rocks. It wasn't easy to swim here, too many rocks in the water, but I managed to float around a bit and cool off, looking at beautiful Elafonissi in the distance.


I definitely recommend going to see this beach. I don't recommend going with a large dog unless you have found accommodation that is fully dog-friendly in advance. Or maybe with a smaller, 'cuter' dog than Sage. 


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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Eat, drink, swim, sleep at Taverna Agia Fotini, Kerames... with your dog


At the end of summer 2011, I joined the hiking group of Heraklion for a walk along the south coast of Crete from Preveli Beach to Agios Pavlos. I was blown away. It was more or less an endless strip of beautiful beaches, one after the other. All almost empty. All with amazing clean blue seas. We climbed massive sand dunes, saw spectacular rock formations... I couldn’t wait to come back and spend some time in this area.
 
Beach at Agia Fotini
Photo: http://www.cretanbeaches.com

Beach at Katsouni
Photo: http://www.cretanbeaches.com

Sand dunes at Agios Pavlos
Photo: http://www.cretanbeaches.com
Last July I took the first chance I could, and came for a long weekend camping on a beach in the area of Agia Fotini. This is a magical place. There is nothing there, just a couple of houses set back a bit from the coast, and perhaps the best tavern in Crete. This is the Taverna (and rent rooms) Agia Fotini, Kerames, Rethymno, a completely hidden treasure. It is a very simple place, with 4 rooms to rent, a basic menu, access to a small beach. But there is something about the atmosphere, the total relaxation, complete escape from everyday life. There is nothing to do except walk, swim, eat, relax………

Have a look at their website:  http://www.agiafotini.net

Taverna Agia Fotini

At the Taverna with Sage


Vicki Perakis, the owner, tells me they have no problem with allowing animals in the rooms. She very sensibly set out the ‘rules’ – not to let pets up on the beds, and to take care when coming and going due to their own dog, Zara. I must admit, I remember Zara – she got a bit territorial when we turned up with Sage, and they had a bit of a set to. This is probably a particular issue as they are both female and used to being the boss.

We camped on a nearby beach, due to our budget. We still laugh when we look at the photos, and remember that although we had a wonderful, romantic get away together, it was like sleeping through a tornado – the winds can really get up on the south coast. I woke up screaming with the tent pressed down on my face, at least 4 or 5 times through the night, as I dreamt I was being suffocated in my sleep. I was, more or less. In the end I slept outside with Sage.
Our tent, in the shade of the rocks
Sage keeping guard while I was sleeping 
The beach where we camped was nothing special, but it was deserted. There was one house built up overlooking the cove, but we just chose to believe there was nobody there. A huge rock divides this cove from the next patch of coast, and this provides shade for a large part of the day. There were also a few trees at the other end, that we cowered under for an hour or so.

Because of the fairly frequent strong winds, I would recommend the rent rooms. Also because they are lovely. 
As I was warned, dog owners should take care when coming and going through Zara's territory. However, the owners are dog lovers, and are very welcoming to animals.   
This place is really in the middle of nowhere. You will need a car, and buy any provisions that you might need on the way down.
Enjoy

A lovely website showing Cretan beaches in all their glory is called just that: Cretan Beaches                 ( http://www.cretanbeaches.com) It's really worth a look, even if just to daydream on a dull day.




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Monday, 24 June 2013

Hiking, swimming and camping around Koudoumas Monastery... with your dog

                                                  
On the hike from Agios Ioannis beach to the
Koudoumas Monastery
About this time last year (mid-late June 2012) I went for a weekend to southern Crete, to the area of Agios Ioannis Beach. This is a small, pebbly cove east of the larger Lentas Beach, in the Heraklion District.

We went for a live concert in one of the small tavernas. Unfortunately, I can't find the name of the taverna, as it was definitely NOT dog-friendly. It was situated away the beach, 200m into the village. It proved a problem that we had the dogs with us, when we tied them up outside they were barking and disturbing the music, we got in trouble if we had them (sitting quietly) inside. There was no outdoor space to sit with them. In the end we had to leave them in the car. Apparently they had received complaints in the past.

We camped that night on the beach. Sage was there with her friend Mayia, and the two of them ran around all night too excited to sleep. At least the beach is quite contained and they didn't go far.

There are rent rooms in Agios Ioannis but I did not ask whether they allow dogs.
Sage and Mayia with a friend on the beach at Agios Ioannis
The next day 4 of us bravely ignored our hangovers and the lack of sleep, and set off on a hike to the Koudoumas Monastery, together with the two dogs.

In retrospect, we should have left earlier in the morning, as the path is fairly exposed for most of the way and it turned out to be quite far. At our hungover pace, I think it took us almost 2 hours to get there (and 1.5 hours back). There were some spectacular views along the path though, every few metres we went there seemed to be another, more secluded, even more beautiful cove - perfect for free camping.
On the hike to the Monastery
We had a rest in the dramatic church of Agios Antonios - a small chapel constructed within a "/\" shaped cave. There are stalactites and stalagmites in the cave, and endlessly dripping 'holy water' which is collected in troughs. The views from the cave were outstanding.
View from the Chapel of Agios Antonios
The hike was wonderful. Even though we were too hot, and we did have a couple of run-ins with goats along the way (despite her size Mayia is pretty good at herding goats), it was wonderful to be out in the middle of nowhere, nobody else in sight, with the smell of wild mountain plants and herbs, and views of the deserted south coast.
On the hike to Koudoumas Monastery
If I am honest, the monastery was a bit of a disappointment. It is quite modern, it can be reached by road, and as we arrived over the ridge and caught sight of it the first thing I noticed was a big car park. I only had a quick look inside as we had to take it in turns to stay outside with the dogs. So we rested a bit on the beach, although the only shade here was in little caves that were occupied by fishermen, then started back over the way we had come.
Koudoumas Monastery
Resting on the beach below the Monastery
Explore Crete has a useful website with information about the monastery and the surrounding area: http://www.explorecrete.com/crete-east/Koudoumas-monastery.html

Arriving back at the beach at Agios Ioannis, we sat at the taverna nearest to the sea (again, I don't remember the name!!) where they were more than happy to let our dogs stay with us. In fact, they didn't mind that we let them loose to wander about on the terrace.

Sage really enjoyed this trip. As well as sleeping on the beach, being allowed freedom to explore with her friend, and a long hike through the mountains, there was also a huge amount of bones to chew on after we finished our post-hike steaks.

In fact we did this trip twice. The second time was later in the year, sometime in late July. The beach was very crowded with lots of families and it turned out to be a very bad idea to take Sage there. There was no shade and the pebbles were burning her feet. Everyone glared at us if she went near the water so she couldn't cool off. We spent the day huddled under umbrellas, or drinking coffee in the tavernas - she was hot and bothered and bored. I would not recommend this particular beach in July-August, especially as there are many smaller, quieter coves to explore around the coast.

By the way:  while searching for the tavernas online, I noticed this area is popular with climbers. The Climb in Crete website suggests various routes of different levels of difficulty:
http://www.climbincrete.com/en/Climbing/Agios_Ioannis
Also of interest in the area is the church of Agios Ioannis (a short walk west from the village), which is also built inside a cave. This church preserves some beautiful Byzantine wall paintings


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Friday, 21 June 2013

Hiking in the Rouvas gorge, Zaros... with your dog

The gorge above the village of Zaros, on Mount Psiloritis (Heraklion district), is something of a hidden treasure. In the summer, Zaros is a lovely escape from the heat of the coastal areas. There are natural springs in the area - the sources of Zaros and Rouvas bottled water - as well as fish farms selling trout, and the sizeable Lake Votomos. The whole area feels quite 'unCretan', and makes a refreshing change from the dry, rocky landscape found in much of the rest of the island.                                                  
          
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Once you arrive in Zaros, find your way up to the lake. A path ascends from the lake up past the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos, and on into the Rouvas Gorge.

I don't remember how long it took us to walk to the end - around 1.5 hours with a couple of stops I think. Half way along we found a lovely picnic area, with stone seats and table beneath the trees. It had a real 'woodland sprite' kind of feel.
Sage exploring the picnic area for leftovers
The walk through the gorge is quite strenuous, you are slowly climbing up for quite a large section of the hike before you enter the gorge. There are also a few parts where you need to scramble over rocks and old wooden bridges - it needs good walking shoes. It's well worth it though, for the views of Psiloritis and over the mountains to the southern coast of Crete.

We came across quite a few goats, as is typical of Cretan hikes, best to keep your dog close by or on the lead when you hear the sheep bells. You should carry water too - I didn't see anywhere to collect water until we reached the end of the gorge.

At the end of the gorge is another wonderful woodland area, great for picnics (called Agios Ioannis). There we found a couple of groups of people with portable bbqs, who hospitably 'forced' us to drink raki and eat with them. They had driven up to the top via an unmade road that, they say, is only really passable with a 4x4. The road starts from Gergeri village and ends at Agios Ioannis. I haven't tried it. We stumbled back down through the gorge, regretting the raki....

This area, Agios Ioannis, would be a lovely area for camping in the summer - really cool and peaceful. There is drinking water there and plenty of shade. We didn't try it, but I'll try to go back this year if I have the chance.

When we reached the end of the walk, we sat outside The Lake taverna for some cool beers (http://www.zaroslake.gr). As the name suggests, tables are arranged at the edge of the lake, with lovely views over the lake to the woodland and mountains beyond. They didn't have any problem with Sage relaxing after her hike by my chair (on the lead).

We hiked through the gorge in September. However, I have been to the lake with Sage on a previous occasion, but we didn't attempt the hike. This time it was snowing, it was January 2011, and the whole area looked magical. The woods were covered in snow and the lake looked almost 'Alpine'. Instead of hiking, we sat inside The Lake taverna, and ate a very good meal of oven cooked lamb. I also remember some of the best olives I've ever eaten, marinated in oil and sage. The owners were absolutely fine about Sage sitting inside the taverna, even though we were all covered in mud and snow. There were quite a few people eating, and a really warm, inviting atmosphere to escape to from the snow. I think I even remember they had lit the fireplace, but maybe I'm just getting a bit carried away with nostalgia....


Thursday, 20 June 2013

Walking, jogging, or cycling at Koules... with your dog

While I was living in Heraklion, I used to go down to the Venetian Harbour and walk out to the end of the pier at Koules with Sage, whenever I wanted to clear my head and have some time alone.

Venetian fortress, Koules, at Heraklion
Photo: http://www.heraklion-crete.org/koules.html
Koules, as it survives today, was built by the Venetians in the early 16th century. It was built on the site of earlier defences, probably dating back to the Arab period (9-10th century). The name Koules comes from the Turkish name Su Kulesi, or water tower. The Venetian name was Castello a Mare or Rocca a Mare. 

Going inside the fortress with a dog is not possible, so I'll very briefly describe what you're missing... Koules is a two storey building, the ground floor once housed a prison, and storerooms for food and ammunition, while the upper floor supported a lighthouse, and sleeping quarters for the soldiers and officers. A church, a mill, and a bakery were also constructed within the fortress.
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Pass by the fortress and you come to the endless pier that disappears out into the sea. It is said to be about 2km long.  This pier has an almost constant stream of people, walking their dogs, cycling, jogging, young families with pushchairs, courting couples, people exercising, but it rarely feels too busy. It feels safe and bustling along there until about 8 or 9 in the evening in the winter, and much later in the summer.
View back to Heraklion from the end of the pier
(Winter 2012)
It is great to have a long, traffic-free space to walk with your dog, in the middle of the city. I love the views along there too - on the way out you're looking out to sea, at the huge ferries in the new harbour, the small fishing boats in the old harbour, to the lighthouse at the end, then on the way back you focus on the city itself, and the mountains behind, to Juktas and Stroumboulas, and East up towards Lasithi.
Sage with my Dad, with a view of the new harbour and Mount Juktas on the horizon
You are supposed to keep your dog on a leash, and I think it's probably a good idea - several times when I let her run free we nearly caused an accident with some (rightfully) angry cyclists. This is one of the few places in town, however, that sets out clear rules about dogs and dog walking: dogs ARE allowed, but on a leash. This makes a refreshing change from the ambiguity and uncertainty of dog rules elsewhere. There are even bins for dogs' mess, complete with bags!!! There are one or two fountains along the pier for drinking water too.


Information about opening times and ticket costs for Koules can be found on the website of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism: http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/2/eh255.jsp?obj_id=7228


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

About us

Sage when I first adopted her (about 6 months old)

I found Sage outside the post office in Heraklion, one Saturday morning. I still don't know why I stopped to play with her, but she had me under her spell right from the start. I had set out that morning to buy groceries, and came home with a young, excited, slightly scared, little black dog.

We have been inseparable ever since. I bought an old car so that I could take her with me when I went to work in other parts of the island (and for fun trips of course). While I was living in Crete I was lucky enough to work in a dog-friendly environment, and would take her with me every day. My boss and colleagues loved playing with her!

I made lots of friends among the dog walkers of Heraklion. We would go out walking and talking along the walls, and sitting and drinking in the parks of Heraklion, with our dogs. We'd take the dogs on hikes, days out, for camping. Sage has been to live concerts and festivals in the park, to archaeological excavations, to deserted beaches, and to snowy mountains.

Playing in the snow on Mount Psiloritis, Crete (January 2012)
Sleeping on the beach near Agia Fotini, South Crete
After two and a half great years we left Crete and moved to Cyprus. On the one hand, this was really difficult, as we had to leave people and places behind that we love.
Sage and her best friend Mayia

On the other hand, we have a whole new island to discover. Almost every weekend we have been exploring, a new hiking trail, a new coastal area, going for lunch at a new taverna, stopping for drinks in a new village...






And, we get to spend more time with people we love here too.

So I'm going to write up the experiences we had during our time in Crete, in the city of Heraklion where we lived, and the many amazing places we visited all over the island. At the same time, I'm reporting on the new places we're finding here in Cyprus. I'll be describing our typical walks and 'entertainment' in Larnaca where we are living, as well as the trips out to the Troodos mountains, to the beautiful coastal landscape of the Famagusta District, to the mountain villages and hiking trails of the Akamas Heights, and many more.

This blog is intended as a travel guide based on personal experience. Traveling with Sage provides an excellent test. She is big (+30kg), black, and scary (to those who don't know her). However, she is very well behaved and calm, I really trust her, and she rarely barks. So I know that if we are welcomed in somewhere  A) most other dogs, whatever their size, will also be welcome there, and  B) the owners won't regret it. 

I hope it helps others to enjoy traveling and exploring these beautiful places, together with their 'best friends' .....

Monday, 17 June 2013

Visit the island of Spinalonga... with your dog

I'm a bit wary of recommending this as a dog-friendly day out for two reasons:
Firstly, being an island, you can only reach Spinalonga by means of a small fishing boat. Even if your dog has sea legs, during the height of the summer there are really huge numbers of visitors to the island, and I'm not sure how everyone would react to a dog on board.
Secondly, the island of Spinalonga is a protected heritage site. I have tried to search for legislation on dogs and heritage in Greece, I haven't found anything so far, and will continue to search.

We did go, however...
Waiting at the harbour in Plaka
I took my Mum, Dad and Sage down to the village of Plaka, just round the coast from Agios Nikolaos, sometime in October last year. It was a bit of a wild, windy day, with ominous grey skies and seas. We asked in the local tavernas, and they said there was only one boat operating at that time of year, but that he would take us across.

Everyone was very sweet and helpful - from the people in the taverna who were trying to contact the boatman for us, to the staff over on the island. The boatman was very patient, and seemed to think it was perfectly normal to go sightseeing with your dog.

Spinalonga now receives thousands of visitors a year, partly thanks to the best-selling novel (and Greek tv series) The Island by Victoria Hislop.




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During the 16th century, the Venetians constructed fortifications around the island, walls and blockhouses to protect the trade route from the harbour on the mainland. Salt panning carried out in the area also contributed to the Venetian economy, and thereby increased the need for protection.

Spinalonga was one of the last 3 fortresses in Crete to be taken by the Ottomans. In fact, the capture of Spinalonga by the Turks in 1715 marked the end of Venetian military presence in Crete.

In more recent history, the island functioned as a leper colony from 1903-1957. This is the period of history on which Hislop's novel is based, and for which the island is most well known. Eery abandoned buildings line the narrow streets in the central part of the island, including former shops, school, kafeneio, hospital, and contribute to the sense that Spinalonga is almost a replica of 'normal' Cretan villages of this period.
Abandoned houses in the centre of the former leper colony
You can nose around inside some of the more ruined buildings, and see how the different phases of occupation of the island were built into and around one another, later phases re-using earlier architecture in their construction. The houses and shops of the main street, however, are very well preserved, and give the impression that they were left very recently.

In this central part of the island, I kept Sage on a very short lead, and made sure she stayed outside of the buildings. As you leave the centre, and follow the fortifications around by the edge of the island, there is a lot more space. From there you can see the Cretan coastline, dramatic cliffs descending into deep seas on the northern side of the island, and thick, high Venetian walls.
At the Venetian fortifications of Spinalonga



Back at Plaka, we returned to the Spinalonga Fish Tavern that had been so helpful organising the boat, for a fish lunch. It was good, and reasonably priced. The taverna was a bit dimly lit and without atmosphere (empty and no music or anything), but then if you turn up on a cold, autumn day you probably shouldn't expect anything different. They were fine about Sage sitting inside the taverna too.

I would definitely recommend this as a great off-season day out, but possibly not for July-August period.

The website of the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism provides information on opening times, ticket prices etc: http://odysseus.culture.gr/h/3/eh355.jsp?obj_id=2607

     

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Explore the village of Mochlos... with your dog

Being a non-beachy seaside village, Mochlos is quite a dog-friendly place. Not to mention that it is outstandingly beautiful and I can't write about places to visit in Crete without raving about Mochlos.
View of islet opposite the village of Mochlos,
from a fish tavern

Mochlos is reached by way of a long drive down to the coast, round endless hairpin bends, from the road that runs from Agios Nikolaos to Sitia. It is growing a tourist destination, slowly, but still keeps a lot of its sleepy fishing village charm.

One of the main 'attractions' of Mochlos is not so suitable for dogs...
During the summer months, the place is slightly taken over by archaeologists, excavating the Minoan settlement on the islet opposite. These excavations are led by Jeff Soles of the University of North Carolina and Costis Davaras of the University of Athens (website: http://www.uncg.edu/arc/Mochlos/first.html). This current project has been running since 1989 and has yielded some extremely rich finds, including bronze ingots, ivory 'jewellery boxes', and gold jewellery (to name but a few examples). 
View of the excavations at Mochlos

The site is permanently open to the public, if you can swim across the narrow straits. A warning however - there can be unexpectedly strong currents, particularly close by the island. Alternatively, during the summer months, it is easy to get a small boat across and back (about 5 E per person), just ask in one of the 3 or 4 tavernas along by the sea.

Apart from this, however, there are paths that run along by a particularly lovely stretch of coast. Leaving Mochlos from one end of the village (from the car park), you get to a small marina and beach. In the other direction the path continues past the Minoan farmhouse at Chalinomouri. There are lots of small coves and places to explore.

Sage and I on our way to the small harbour 
Excavations in the area of the car park, within the village of Mochlos itself, revealed the so-called artisans quarter of the Minoan settlement, and were still exposed when I last visited a couple of years ago, although there were plans to extend the car park in this direction.

For a longer walk, you can head up into the mountains behind Mochlos, via any of the numerous paths that cross the landscape. We walked up the asphalt road to the (not so charming) village of Sfaka. In retrospect, that was probably a bit dangerous, due to the lack of pavement and the crazy Cretan driving.

There are several small churches providing shade and rest along the way, and the views are quite spectacular - the coast at Mochlos and the island to the north, mountains leading all the way to Sitia in the east.





View from road leading to Sfaka from Mochlos

All the tavernas were very accommodating, and nobody made us feel unwelcome. Due to my work for the archaeologists, we spent most of our time in the archaeologists' hangout - 'Ta Kochylia' (more often called 'Frangiadakis' after the owner). The space at the back of the taverna is perfectly separated from the main part of the harbour, so that you can comfortably drink a glass of wine and not feel anxious about your dog barking or sniffing the food of the person sitting at the next table.  This space has Wi-Fi too. More importantly, however, I have seen some of the best sunsets of my life from the back bar of Frangiadakis' fish tavern.
Sunset from rocks outside Frangiadakis' taverna
It might have been 'perks of the job', working with the archaeologists, but we managed to stay in a very reasonable apartment, also belonging to Giorgos Frangiadakis (go to the taverna and ask). The apartment was inside the village. It didn't have much of a view, but was new, very clean, with a small balcony and kitchenette. They were very kind about letting Sage stay there too. 

I imagine it might get quite busy at Mochlos during the height of summer. But in June-July, or September-onwards, I don't think it would be difficult to find accommodation with your dog in one of the many small rent rooms available in the village or along the route to the small harbour. 

Friday, 14 June 2013

Hiking around Stroumboulas Mountain... with your dog


Last Christmas we were dog-sitting for a friend of mine. Sage and Mayia happen to be best friends, and we needed a place to stay, so this arrangement suited us all. After eating and drinking too much for several days, we decided we all needed a good long walk up a mountain. We went to Stroumboulas Mountain, near Tylissos, a short drive west from Heraklion.


We drove around to the village of Marathos, and found a dirt road leading to a closed taverna, where we left the car. Then we followed a clear track between a couple of fields of olive trees, at the base of the mountain. The path leading up was fairly visible, even from below, although I don't think it was marked.

 
Taking a rest in a small man made enclosure with both dogs
The climb up was pretty steep. It seemed like really hard work after our lazy days of indulgence over Christmas. There was quite a bit of scrambling, and it was a fairly incessant incline.

Needless to say, the girls loved it. Mayia was off the second we hit the mountain slopes, and we'd see glimpses of the white of her tail way up ahead of us, or small ears popping up to check we were still in range.





Mayia during the hike

Sage was particularly interested in whatever the goats had left behind. Mayia was just enjoying exploring.

The views from the top are really special. From one side you can see Heraklion, the sea, fields of olive trees. From all other directions you see mountains, stretching off into the distance. As it was winter there was snow on some of the higher peaks - this usually lasts until sometime in May.

We passed a couple of hikers on our way back down, but for the 2 or so hours it took us to climb up, to explore and enjoy the views, we didn't see another person. We had the whole panorama to ourselves. It is really a beautiful place.


Views from near the top of Stroumboulas

Sage was exhausted once we reached the top, Mayia seemed fine and didn't stop moving around the whole time we were up there. I think this is a perfect walk for a sunny day in winter. During the summer months, this is probably better attempted in the morning or evening, as there was no shade on the way up or at the top. As this is not an organised route, don't expect to find water sources or bins.

On the way home, we stopped at the nearest taverna - "Doxa".  This was on the road just out of Marathos heading for Heraklion, by the Doxa cave. Here the food was good, and we were seriously hungry after the hike. We ordered pork chops, lamb ribs, plus chips and salad and a beer, and this all came to around 25E, which isn't bad.  On the downside, we had to sit outside with the two dogs as inside was full of families and day-trippers. It was freezing outside, and I got the feeling the guy serving us would have preferred to stay inside. Another group turned up with a dog and had to leave as they didn't feel like eating outside in the cold mountain wind. So probably not the best spot in the area for dining with dogs.

The girls when we got home from our hike up Stroumboulas

Some friends of mine also climbed Stroumboulas, but from the other side. If you follow the old road towards Rethymnon from Heraklion, pass the Voulismeno Aloni (a crater with diameter of 100m), after about 1km there is an unmarked dirt road off to the left, leading up to the peak.


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Thursday, 13 June 2013

Walking, jogging and cycling along Venetian Walls, Heraklion... with your dog

At Saint Andrew Bastion (winter time)
It might not seem it at first glance, but Heraklion is actually a pretty good city for dog walking. Circling the old city are roughly 4.5km of fortifications, including a strip of coast to the north. These fortifications were built by the Venetians in the 15th century, and
extended and restored in the 16th. They were proven to be strong enough to withstand a 21 year siege by the Turks. 

The municipality of Heraklion has a great website, with some wonderful photos of historic Heraklion and detailed information on the city's monuments:  http://www.heraklion.gr/en 

Diagram of the Walls showing Bastions and Gates.  Map: http://www.explorecrete.com

While the Venetian fortifications are better preserved in the west Cretan towns of Rethymnon and Chania, the walls of Heraklion provide a really lovely escape from the bustle and traffic of the city centre. The wall widens at the Bastions, and these areas have become like small parks. In the mornings and evenings people use the spaces for jogging, for cycling, for walking and looking at the view. During the day you often see families having picnics there. And throughout the day you find people out and about with their dogs.

Sage with my Mum, at Saint Andrew Bastion
You can access the wall from various points around the city. I like to start a good long walk from the Tomb of Kazantzakis at the Martinengo Bastion. This smaller Bastion is greener than the others, and full of bougainvillea and geraniums. Sage really enjoys cooling off by rolling in the grass there during the summer. 

Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957) is probably the most internationally well-known modern Greek writer. His works include Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ.
His grave is very simple, and his epitaph reads: I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free (Δεν ελπίζω τίποτα. Δε φοβάμαι τίποτα. Είμαι λέφτερος.)   

Grave of Kazantzakis
Photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikos_Kazantzakis
From there you walk down a slightly narrower stretch of the wall to the next Bastion - Bethlehem. Below the wall to the left you'll see Eucalyptus Cafe, recently opened up in the small eucalyptus wood that grows in the 'moat' around the wall. This is also a nice park for dog walking, especially in the summer, thanks to the shade of these beautiful trees. 

A lot of dog walkers congregate at Bethlehem and the next - Pantocrator - Bastions. I found that the demographic changes every few months. At times it is a small, welcoming group with well-behaved, socialised dogs. Other times Sage and/or myself found we didn't fit in so well there, and we would continue down to the sea. 

(Not For Dogs:  Also at Bethlehem Bastion there is a summer cinema, open from (roughly) July-September and playing a selection of classic and foreign films.  Check this useful website for the programme: http://www.nowheraklion.com/cinema.html )

At St Andrew Bastion you can stop to admire the view of the sea, the uninhabited island of Dia off the coast, or, in the other direction, to Mount Juktas in the distance. I don't know how many hours I spent there, with take-out coffees from a nearby shop, chatting to dog owner friends and telling Sage off for eating rubbish....

Heraklion walled city. Map: http://www.mykonos-accommodation.com/crete-heraklion.htm 

This section of the wall ends here. You can continue on round by the sea, for a few hundred metres, until you reach the Venetian Harbour.  If you climb the steps at the side of the Megaron Hotel (by the bus station), and follow the road uphill for a couple of minutes, you'll reach Eleftherios Square, the archaeological Museum, and the next section of the wall. From here, we used to climb the wall again next to the Parko Georgiadis, through the car park at Pediados Viglas (the Vitouri Bastion). This was closed off recently, for some building works, and I'm not sure if it will re-open as a throughway for the public. Alternatively, follow the outside of the wall from Georgiadis Park until you find steps up, somewhere around Kainouria Porta (Evans Street). From here along the wall to your 'starting point', the Tomb of Kazantzakis, is a couple of minutes walk. 

Bermuda buttercup (Oxalis pes-caprae)
Photo: http://www.flowersofcrete.info/index.html



Marguerite daisies
Photo: http://www.theflowerexpert.com

















I love this walk. I would walk parts of it twice a day while I was living in Heraklion. I love the way the wild flowers (Marguerite daisies and Bermuda buttercups) change the wall to bright yellow in the Spring. I love seeing the snow on the mountains south of Heraklion, and the sea to the north, from high above the city. I love it that during the summer various sections of the wall are opened up to become open air cinemas, theatres, spaces for tango lessons, all sorts of activities. 






However, I do have to point out two rather negative, but important issues about the walls. 
Firstly, I had huge problems with Sage when she was a puppy, disappearing into the undergrowth and finding a nice, fresh, stinking pile of excrement to eat. She certainly wasn't the only one -  most dogs enjoyed eating it, some liked to roll around in it. If you can keep your dog close and in your sight, good, if not maybe you want to keep them on a lead. 
Secondly, I never had a bad experience up on the walls during the evening, but sometimes I felt like it had got a bit dark, and there weren't many people around, and then I would scamper fairly quickly back to the civilisation of the streets. The lights are constantly being vandalised, and it can be quite dark and lonely up there in the evening. However big and tough you and/or your dog may be, I'd recommend you just enjoy the daytime and early evening hours there on the Venetian Walls of Heraklion.