South-West Crete

Crete

Each area of Crete has its own special charm and character but in our opinion the South West coast has some of the most dramatic and haunting history and scenery. Approaching the south from Rethymnon, the gentle fertile hillsides make way to an altogether more rugged terrain. Passing through the short but stunning Kourtalioti gorge, you emerge to an amazing vista of mountain, sea and coastal plain. Here most visitors head down to the established, but still low-key, little coastal resort of Plakias, with its beaches, tavernas and shops.

Westwards from here the serpentine road skirts the coast, each bend seeming to reveal an even better view, and passes through villages where shepherds mind their sheep between visits to the coffee shop, whilst black clad women gossip on doorsteps. From Rothakino, one of the prettiest villages, a track leads down, past a small house where fresh cheeses are usually drying on the roof, to a large beach with a few scattered tavernas. What is now a delightful lunch stop was where a British submarine once crept in to smuggle away General Kreipe who was dramatically kidnapped by the partisans during the German occupation.

Continuing further along the coast the road dips toward Frangokastello where, in addition to splendid beaches backed by impressive sand dunes, the shell of a medieval castle, built to deter raiding pirates, stands squarely on the shoreline. Legend has it that on the 17th of May each year the 'drossilites', ghosts of massacred nineteenth century warriors, emerge from the castle and disappear into the sea. Still further along the coast, past the foot of the scenic Imbros Gorge, is Hora Sfakion, famous for the fiercest fighters in all of Crete, where moustachioed locals still proudly wear their traditional black shirts and high leather boots. Today Hora Sfakion springs to life in the late afternoon as the ferryboats arrive returning weary walkers from their trek down the Samaria Gorge, before taking the new arrivals to the picture-postcard village of Loutro.

Accessible only by boat, or an extremely long walk, Loutro is a waterside retreat, perfect for anyone wishing to disappear into a time warp and enjoy a truly carefree seaside holiday. The jumble of white buildings that make up the village all face towards the sea and make a very appealing sight when glimpsed from the approaching boat for the first, or even the hundredth, time and after stepping down the gangplank Loutro's summer visitors are never disappointed, unless of course they are seeking the tacky trappings of a commercialised resort. Just a handful of small hotels and apartments, a few tavernas and cafés and a few small shops is the sum total of Loutro's man-made attractions but its natural assets are apparent everywhere. The sea is clear and full of different varieties of fish, whilst the hillsides are covered in pathways shared with the local goats and exposing more stunning views at each turn. Many guests choose to spend their days in indolent splendour reclining on a sunbed by the pebbly shoreline. The more energetic can walk to the neighbouring bays of Sweetwater or Marmara or up to the old village of Aradena. Alternatively, small canoes can be hired to paddle in the bay or a water taxi taken to the neighbouring beaches, to Agia Roumeli or to Hora Sfakia. A longer excursion to the island of Gavdos, the most southerly outpost of Europe, can also be undertaken by the more adventurous. In the evenings, the tavernas gradually fill and many new friendships are forged over a sociable meal and a jug or two of wine. Laughter and good conversation seem to be the most popular shared pursuits of Loutro's holidaymakers and the waterside setting, not to mention only the shortest of strolls, or staggers, home to bed, certainly enhance these pleasures.

Venturing eastwards from Plakias is no less rewarding for the explorer. A short drive brings you to Moni Preveli, still a working monastery, perched evocatively above the coastline and made famous as a refuge for stranded allied soldiers during the Second World War. Below this, where the ravine meets the sea, is another hidden sandy beach. The road then turns inland for a while and emerges back at the coast at Agia Galini, a laid-back fishing port and small resort, and more good beaches. Further west along the fertile Messara plain is the important Minoan Palace of Phaestos and the ancient site of Gortys, both a must for those with even a passing interest in archaeology. After this it's not far to the low key beach resort of Kalimaki and, just beyond that, the beach at Matala, famous for its caves colonised by international hippies in the 1960s. An inland diversion through the timeless villages of the idyllic Amari valley is equally rewarding and makes a wonderful contrast for the return journey.

Plakias

Plakias

Plakias Frangokastello Ferry approaching Loutro The Castle of the Drossolites in Frangokastello The ruined fortress in the hills above Loutro Plakias Rugged countryside near Plakias Loutro village Preveli Monastery Preveli Beach The serpentine road leading to Frangokastello Kalamaki Beach Kalamaki Beach Frangokastello's steep montain backdrop Amoudi beach Loutro Bay The ferry linking Loutro with the outside world Coast near Frangokastello Loutro Beach Loutro Plakias bay Seafront dining in Loutro Loutro by night

Accommodation in South-West Crete:

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