Crete #3 The blue lagoon of Balos

Until only a few years ago it was easier reached by boat from the nearby port of Kissamos. The dirt road leading to the peak was long, difficult and bumpy, accessible only by 4×4 off-road vehicles. I remember once, I had to park my small rental car on the side and walk the last part for more than two hours.

Nowadays it is straightened and paved, and even large buses can reach the top. And there is a 1-euro toll, paid in advance. I’m not sure how legal this is, the money collected by a girl in shorts, no identification, no uniform, no receipt. I read in the local news that it was an initiative by the municipal authority, possibly with an eye to making a profit by exploiting the road traffic, as opposed to other interests who benefit from the boat cruises.

But accessible roads and increased traffic also mean inadequate parking space (the existing one has only slightly been enlarged), cars parked on the side of the already narrow street obstructing the larger buses, in short a general pandemonium that extends all the way down to the beach.

To reach the beach from the car park, you must walk down a path for about 20′ – it takes a bit longer on the way up. To enjoy a few quiet, unspoiled hours go early in the morning to beat the boats and most of the road traffic. Late afternoons are not recommended because it gets dark quickly and the path is not lit.

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02 July 2015, Balos, Kissamos

 

Crete #1 Elafonissi

Stunning. Shallow waters separate the mainland from a tiny islet, so shallow one can walk along. The dunes. Sand with pink highlights, naturally tinted by tiny red organisms and seashell fragments. Elafonissi is a protected Natura 2000 area, although you wouldn’t know it as you walk past the tightly packed sunbeds and canteens catering for the hundreds of beachgoers.

Victim of its beauty. Don’t ever go there during peak times, so awfully packed is it with bus-, boat- and carloads arriving all day. Do go early or late. A breathtaking walk at sunset. And may be a dip in the shallows in the moonlight if it is warm enough.

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Elafonissi, 30 June 2015

Shared image credits (Konstantinos & Lia)

Crete # travel notes

29 June 2015
on board the Tera Jet, Ios to Herakleion

Departure from Ios: on time
Announced sailing time: 2 hours 40 mins
Actual sailing time: 4 hours

Final destination: Kefali, Chania prefecture

In traveling terms, another 3 hours drive on national road from Herakleion to Kissamos, Chania prefecture, plus 1 hour narrow road snaking up the mountains. No GPS, just notes and a general idea of direction.

One of many visits to Crete but first time staying in the mountains. Velanos Villas, a group of self-catered guest houses in a small village at 460m altitude. A few more houses, two tavernas – one doubling up as mini-market – a monastery which we haven’t seen and nature. Lush, wild, beautiful Cretan nature. A touch creepy when the wind blows in the dark.

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Arrived close to midnight. A lady in one of the tavernas was closing up, just in time to give us directions. A last climb on a very steep, very narrow side road and we were there. The villas are built on the side of a hill, each one at different level and with a proper name: Armonia, Nefeli, Areti, Lito.

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Areti would be our nest for three nights. All the way down a lit path and steps, a bit far if carrying suitcases, but we travel light anyway. Key on the door and a welcome cake in the fridge. Our hosts fast asleep at home on the other side of the hill. We didn’t meet them until the second day but the welcoming gifts kept coming: tsikoudia and marmelade (homemade), tomatoes from the garden. A caring couple, coincidentally the wife hails from my hometown, Thessaloniki. It’s a small world.

In the morning we met the ancient guardian, whose name  the house bears: a 2000-year old oak tree (vèlanos – ”βέλανος” or velanidià – ”βελανιδιά” in Greek).

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Kefali, Cretan mountains

Images by Konstantinos Implikian

29 June 2015