Our presence in Crete enabled Chris to meet up with a French friend of his, Pascal. When Chris and Pascal met many years ago, it was in tragic circumstances when Pascal was then a policeman. Not long after their meeting, he left the police force and since then has done many interesting things in interesting places. For the past 7 years, after falling in love with this island whilst here on holiday, he has lived and worked in Crete and now runs a travel company, specialising in bespoke A La Carte holidays. He made a few suggestions about places to visit during our stay including a new winery that had award-winning wines. And so, the next day we hired a car to do some exploring.
Once we had negotiated our way out of Rethymnon - not easy especially when your sat nav is totally wrong - we were soon heading up into the surrounding hillsides on our way to Spili, a pretty mountain village with cobbled streets and rustic houses. In the middle of the village is a unique Venetian fountain that spurts pure spring water from 19 lion heads. It made a great stop for coffee and cake and then we browsed the shops and ended up buying a book all about Olive Oil. Well, we use it virtually every day and Crete is famous for it, so it seemed the thing to do.
Our journey to the winery took us over to the south of the island, crossing over mountain tops that are covered in snow in the winter, and through green valley's bursting with agriculture, mostly of which was row after row of neatly lined up olive trees - well, what else would it be! We passed by the special Cretan goats 'kri kri' on the side of the roads with their sleek, shiny golden coats and finally arrived at the impressive Domaine Zachariousdakis, located on the steep slopes of Orthi Petra hill with fabulous views of the Cretan countryside all around.
The family-owned organic vineyard of 20 hectares was started from scratch in 2000. It took them 3 years to hand-dig out small and large terraces on the rocky and calciferous hill slopes at an altitude of 500m and get everything ready for the first plantings of both local and foreign varieties in 2003. They were told that the rule of thumb is that you throw away your first harvest, share your second one with family and friends and then your third harvest might be ok to sell. They won awards with their very first harvest and have continued to do so since. The state-of-the-art winery is a tribute to them, their sheer hard work and their passion to create a great Cretan wine. We left with a couple of cases of their unique and delicious wines and will enjoy recalling our visit to this unique place when we open them.
Car hire - 35/40 euros a day. Lots of car hire companies to choose from.
Domaine Zacharioudakis - location in Plouti. www.zacharioudakis.com Easy access from Rethymnon and Heraklion
Originally an ancient acropolis, the 16th century fortress was built by the Venetians and dominates a rocky outcrop overlooking the city. After the city fell to the Turks in 1646, a mosque was built on the site of the cathedral Church of Ayios Nikolaos within the fort. By the middle of the 19th century, a large settlement had been created inside the fort.
However, by the 60's most of the residential buildings were dilapidated and knocked down but work did begin to restore some of the more important buildings there including the mosque, the Residence of the Rector, the House of the Councillors and the Eastern Gateway Complex.
The views from the ramparts are great and the whole site is being very well restored and developed so that it can be used for exhibitions and musical events.
Our arrival in Rethymno, Crete's third largest town, took us past the impressive Venetian fortress and harbour before we turned left into the marina and found a place to stop for a while. We didn't expect to still be here two weeks later but with things to see and do and weather to deal with, we are and we are not complaining.
The delightful old town, surrounding the old harbour, is a warren of narrow, winding, cobbled streets. The Venetian-Turkish quarter is a mixture of Turkish wood-balconied houses and minarets and ornate Venetian architecture, including the spouting lion heads of the Rimondi Fountain and 16th century loggia which now houses the museum shop. It would be easy to get lost as you explore the old town as lots of the tourist shops look very similar, selling similar things; olive oil and everything to do with olive oil, raki, table cloths, pottery and lots of jewellery. The town's reputation as an artistic centre grew from 1923 when the mandated population exchange between Greece and Turkey brought many refugees from Constantinople. You can certainly feel the artistic influences even today with jewellery workshops dotted around, designer ateliers and even a couple of musical instrument makers.
The old harbour is surrounded by waterfront restaurants offering the largest prawns we have ever seen! The tables are all beautifully laid out and make a very picturesque setting for lunch or dinner. The harbour is also home to the tourist boat, Barbarossa, which takes would-be pirates off on day trips.
About 8 years ago, the town decided that it was going to build a marina to try to attract yachts here and they have been successful, to a certain level. We don't think there has been much maintenance here since it was built, but there is water and electric at every berth, it is in a great location, has a beach right next door, and is well protected. There are about 20-25 boats here right now of which several are planning to spend the winter here and we can understand why. It has made a great base for us to hire a car and do some exploring and has been a safe place for us to sit out some autumnal winds and weather fronts.
Once you have checked in with the marina offices, you then have to go to the Coast Guard to check in and out (they are located next to the old port). Costs for boats over 10m: 1.50 euros per day towards the maintenance of the marina (obviously, not many boats come in here!), Electric is 4/12/37 euros per day/week/month. Water is 7/20/40 per day/week/month. The Coast Guard then charge a fee for being in the marina which has worked out at about 6.70 euros per day. You have the choice of using either the marina or the old port quay. Both are run by the same people with the same charges.
Town has free wi-fi but it can be a bit hit and miss whether the signal is strong enough.
Laundry - Center Clean is 5 euros for service wash & dry and do a good job. Come out of marina; go straight over the road and up the road opposite, take the first right. Lonely Planet recommended a laundry in the old town which was difficult to find and cost double, but they did a very good job.
Carrefour - same direction as laundry but take the second road on the left. There is also another very good supermarket if you turn left out of the marina, right at the posh hotel and it is up the street on the left. Around the marina area are plenty of mini-markets, butchers and smaller shops.
A trip to Crete would not be complete without visiting its must-see historical attraction - Knossos. Luckily, Audra and Gavin were still with us for a couple of days in Iraklion and we so hired another car for a day trip out.
Discovered in the early 1900s by British archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, who spent 35 years and £250,000 of his own money, he excavated the site and accomplished partial reconstructions. His work proved controversial with some archaeologists claiming that he sacrificed accuracy for his imagination, but we thought that the partial reconstructions were excellent and really helped to bring to life this important palace.
The first palace was destroyed by an earthquake around 1700 BC but rebuilt on a much grander scale. It was partially destroyed again between 1500 - 1450 BC then inhabited for a further 50 years before finally being burned down. It consisted of an immense palace, residences of officials and priests and homes of ordinary people and burial grounds. Evans' reconstruction brings to life the most significant parts such as columns painted deep brown-red and gold-trimmed black capitals. There are also vibrant frescoes, as well as a sophisticated drainage system and light wells. It is one of those places that you wish you could go back in time for just 5 minutes to see it in full swing.
The mid-September temperatures are still high but visiting the site was fine with shade provided by lots of pine trees. However, a stop-off at the beach on the way back was welcomed by all.
For all the photos, CLICK HERE
24 hours after our arrival in Sitia, we were joined by my youngest sister, Audra and her husband Gavin. They had already spent a week relaxing in Elounda but jumped on a bus to join us for the second week of their holiday.
Sitia has a pretty harbour setting and made a great place to leave the boat and hire a car for the day to explore the east coast of Crete together. First stop was Moni Toplou, where we all admired the 18th century icon with 61 ornate miniature scenes inspired by an Orthodox prayer. It really was stunning and caught our eye before we even knew that it was the centre-piece there. Next stop was Vai, Europe's only natural palm-forest beach. After lunch under the palms, the white sand and crystal clear waters beckoned us over for a couple of hours.
The next day we sailed west to the Gulf of Mirabello and the famous Spinalonga Island. I had been given a book called 'The Island' a couple of years ago by my friend Angie. I had kept the book to read just prior to going there and I am glad that I did. It really brought to life the heartache and courage that people who were exiled there experienced. Audra and Gavin had spent the prior week looking at the island from their holiday apartment but waited until we were all together to visit it. On some days, it can get pretty busy with day trippers so we arrived by dinghy just after opening in order to see as much as we could before the crowds arrived, which they did just as we were leaving!
Spinalonga is famous for being Greece's leper colony but its history goes back much further. Due to its strategic location at the entrance to the natural port of Elounda, the island was fortified and served a variety of roles and purposes over the centuries. In antiquity the islet was walled to protect the ancient city of Olous. In the late 16th century, the Venetians (who else) built one of the most important defensive sea fortresses in the Med. In 1715 the islet was surrendered to the Turks following a siege and Muslims settled there, building their houses atop the foundations of Venetian buildings. They used it mainly for smuggling. When Crete joined Greece in 1913, the island became Europe's last leper colony until 1953 when the last inhabitant died. As you walk around, you can easily see the remains of homes and shops, some of which are being restored and it wasn't difficult to imagine how the leper must have felt as they walked through the tunnel upon arrival, relinquishing their freedom and yet being able to see the mainland just across the water, so close that it was simple to pick out people and see what was going on. However, we didn't feel sad there even when we got back to the dinghy to see it dwarfed under the passarelle of a large tripper boat but we got out easily enough.
It was touch and go as to whether it was going to be possible to get Audra and Gavin to Iraklion for their flight home but we managed it - or rather they did! We had a couple of pretty heavy trips going into the wind, which wasn't nice for any of us but they didn't complain once and have promised to come and visit us again, even though we docked against big black tyres outside the Coastguard building in Iraklion because the old Venetian port was full and getting on and off the boat was pretty hairy at times! They are proper sailors!
For all the photos, CLICK HERE
Sitia town quay - lots of boats tied side-on and left there. We went stern-to and the Coastguard came around and asked us to check in. No electric but water in places. Free wi-fi in port. Good Spar supermarket in town and all other provisions. There was a charge to be on quay, about 12 euros per night.
Iraklion - marina was completely full. Anchored off Venetian fort but Coastguard told us to move. Stern-to outside Coastguard office - awful with any wind. There was a constant surge and getting on and off the boat at times proved dangerous due to surge and high quay. Felt a bit ripped off having to pay 12 euros a night to be here. Very busy town but we liked it. Good provisions and based to visit Knossos.
An overnight sail took us from the Dodecanese over to the largest and most important island in the Aegean - Crete. Although part of Greece, the inhabitants consider themselves Cretans first and Greeks second.
Dominated by high mountains and deep gorges throughout its length, a favourable climate and a world famous olive oil, its history has often been turbulent. Crete is recognised as the centre of the Minoan civilisation, a gentle, artistic folk who built graceful palaces. The Minoan civilisation disappeared almost overnight though around 1450 BC, probably as a result of an eruption on nearby Santorini when it is thought that a tsunami, earthquake and ash obliterated the palaces, inhabitants and land. The Romans left behind beautiful frescoes, the Genoese took over and then sold it to the Venetians who built lots of castles and forts but then the Turks wanted the island because its north coast was an important trade route between Asia Minor and the Peloponnese. They held it for just over 200 years until only 1898 when, with Russian and French consent, it became a British protectorate. Crete finally became part of Greece in 1913. During WWII, the island suffered tremendously. Hitler wanted the island as a strategic airbase and after a battle between German and Allied troops, the harsh German occupation began. Throughout WWII however, the Cretans waged an important resistance campaign which constantly enraged the Germans but the Cretans never backed down despite having whole villages burned down and bombed.
We will be exploring the north coast, going from east to west. There are no nooks and cranny anchorages along this coast but we will visit the famous island of Spinalonga, check out the reconstructed Minoan palace at Knossos, meet up with family visitors and do some inland exploring by car.
Lots of fellow cruisers had highly rated the island of Symi (20km north of Rhodes) and that's where we headed next, ticking off another one of the 12 Dodecanese islands.
We chose to anchor in the southwest bay of Ormos Panormittis, which was a gem. The pilot books description is 'the bay is attractive in a sparse sort of way and the monastery on the SE side complements it, being a sparse sort of place itself' so we didn't have high hopes. How wrong that pilot book is! It was beautiful.
We entered the horseshoe bay to be greeted by turquoise water, wooded hillsides and the islands main attraction, St. Michael's Monastery, which was first built in the 5th or 6th century, though the building today dates from the 18th century. Inside the church is an icon of St. Michael, patron saint of Symi and protector of sailors (so we definitely had to visit), that supposedly appeared miraculously where the monastery now stands. Pilgrims come from all around on the feast day to worship here and leave an offering in the hope that St. Michael will grant their wishes. As well as the monastery, there is a Folklore museum and a Byzantine museum which has a display of 'messages in a bottle' that people have dropped into the sea from far away only for them to find their way into the bay and the monastery. A small shop, café and bakery catered for all our needs during our stay.
A visit to Symi wouldn't be complete without a trip into Symi town but rather than take the boat there, we jumped on the bus and headed across the island to the other side. We were joined by our bay neighbours, George and Fran, from Australia which was just as well as there were no buses back and we shared the cost of a taxi between us!
Symi has a long tradition of both sponge diving and boat building, which brought prosperity to the town. Mansions were built and education flourished. But, and there is always a but, the Italian occupation, the introduction of steamships and then the rise of Kalymnos as the Aegean's major sponge producer all had a negative effect on Symi's prosperity though tourism is the main industry today. Pastel-coloured houses with tumbling bougainvillea surround the port with lots of cafes, restaurants and shops hugging the waterfront. Ferries bring day-trippers back and forth from nearby Rhodes and inter-island ferries off-load the commercial trucks and visitors. It sounds chaotic but it all works out fine. We were very pleased not to have taken Deep Blue to the port; by the end of the day, the quay was full up will boats squeezed in everywhere. Whenever a motor boat came into the bay, the wash it created caused havoc with boats swaying from side to side and bouncing up and down. Fenders were jumping high and passarelles were hitting the quay. All too stressful for us but it kept the Port Police busy with cruisers reporting damage to them and complaining about the speeding boats.
It was lovely to be part of it all but then return to the peace and tranquillity of Panormittis Bay at the end of the day, or so we thought. The forecasted wind arrived and lots of boats had ducked into the anchorage for shelter. On two nights running, we had to ask boats to move as they got so close to us. That doesn't make for a good night's sleep for anyone but once the wind had passed, peace and tranquillity returned again.
For photos of Panormittis, CLICK HERE
For photos of Symi Town, CLICK HERE
With a return journey to Sicily to think about, now that we are into September and the exciting news that my sister Audra and her husband Gavin are going to join us for a week in Crete in about 10 days time, we need to start winding up our time in Turkey.
With very strong winds forecast again, we returned to Datca to check-out of the country. On the way there, we took the route that took us between lots of small islands between Selimye and Dirsek. By the time we had come to the end of our island route, the wind had increased and we had a fast but wet journey into Datca.
A couple of days on the town quay, squeezed in like sardines between huge gulets and local boats to sit out the wind, should have been stress-free but it didn't feel like it to me. It seemed as though everyone had decided to decend on Datca for shelter from the wind and the boats just kept on coming, reversing into spaces that did not seem to exist. There were boats two deep in places!
However, it gave us the opportunity to take in a bit more of the Turkish culture and cuisine. On our last night, we really wanted to try some local food and found a tiny, family-run kitchen just off the beach. There wasn't much English spoken but the young daughter was pushed forwards to deal with us. It was obviously going to help with her English homework - she told us that they had stuffed courgette flowers, ravioli and pide bread with various fillings. OK, that'll do then. To drink, there was no alcohol but instead their homemade fruit juices. Chris chose grape juice (I suppose it was the nearest he was going to get to drinking wine) and I chose something that I can't remember the name of now but I can certainly remember the taste! Our drinks arrived and Chris's grape juice looked delicious, my yoghurt concoction didn't and wasn't. It was like a salty, watered down yoghurt drink but we drank it between us thinking that it would do our digestive systems the world of good. The courgette flowers were delicious, served with a helping of yoghurt and my meat pide was good too. We watched one of the daughters roll out a wafer-thin circle of dough that she scattered meat and tomatoes over before folding it in half and then cooking it over a large, heated circular dome. Chris's meat ravioli would have been delicious if only they hadn't spooned over a large dollop of yoghurt before serving it to us. As is the norm, we ate half of our order and swapped over. Chris assured me that his ravioli was nice. Um....an acquired taste in my book and one that I could taste for the whole of the following day!
The wind finally died down, we checked-out of Turkey and set off for the next adventure......
Check-out of Turkey via agent was 100TL and he then allowed us to stay in anchorage overnight
Town quay 60TL per night incl water. We didn't use electric not sure if there was an additional charge.
Our friends Katherine and Craig (now exploring the Cyclades islands)had told us how much they had enjoyed this area, especially Keci Buku and so we followed in their footsteps, or rather their wake, and made our way right to the end of the bay, passing an islet with a fort on top of it and a very long sand bar that people were walking out into the bay on!
We decided to moor-up at the delightful Iskele Restaurant pontoon, as we were expecting some strong winds, and couldn't have made a better choice. The family run restaurant also has a small motel next door with a lovely swimming pool, sunloungers and colourful flowering plants everywhere . What better place to be to sit out the wind. We felt as though we were on holiday!
Saturday morning was market day here too and a small market set up in a nearby square. Though a lot smaller than the one in Datca, it still had lots of lovely things on offer for a re-stocking of the fridge.
Iskele Restaurant - free mooring with lazy lines, water, electric, wifi, swimming pool & showers in exchange for using the restaurant. They also offer laundry - 20TL for big load, wash & dry. Excellent service.
Mini-market next door to Iskele with fresh bread.
ATM inside the Palmiye Restaurant - really! Short walk away, on way to Marti Marina.
Dolmus to Marmaris, about 40 mins away and other towns.