Route Length: 84 km.
Rethymno, St. Vasilios (South Rethymno), Sfakia (Chania)
Visit the top attractions of Rethymno with a car hire. Rent a 4x4/SUV car and drive through the mountains of Rethymno, Plakias and Frangokastello. Rental Center Crete offers a wide range of 4x4 cars and SUVs to choose from. Quote & reserve online from a 100% Cretan company!
Following the road south, from Rethymnon (1) towards Spili, we can make a stop at Armeni (2) to visit a cemetery of the Late Minoan period , at the location of Prinokefala. Excavations have unearthed more than 200 hewn chamber tombs. We continue our route to Mixorouma (3), where we can admire beautifully made items of basketry art. At the nearby village of Lambini we can visit a chapel with exceptional Byzantine frescoes.
We return to the junction and follow the road which leads to the narrow pass of the Kourtaliotiko gorge in a southerly direction. As soon as we pass it, we gaze upon one of the most beautiful areas of Crete, the valley of the Kourtaliotis river, and the whereabouts of the coastal settlement of Plakias.
Kourtaliotiko is one of the most beautiful gorges of Crete. Spectacular vertical cliffs can be seen on both its sides, reaching up as high as 300 metres at several spots. Because of the fact that many rare raptors nest here, the gorge is considered at an international level an important bird habitat.
The valley of the Kourtaliotis river combines the impressive geomorphology of the gorge with an important ecosystem and a magnificent beach, where the small Preveli lake (4) is located.
On the banks of the lake exists one of the two most significant palm forests of Crete.
Up until the early ‘80s the area was a spot favourite with a large hippy community, who were therefore removed for the protection of the forest and of the estuary ecosystem. In 2010 an uncontrollable fire destroyed a large part of the forest; however, the palm trees soon showed signs of recovery and currently the ecosystem is in a phase of regeneration. Nowadays the area is protected and free camping is prohibited.
In order to reach the monastery and the beach of Prevelis, we turn left at the junction that we come upon after the outlet of the Kourtaliotiko gorge.
Following the road which leads to the lake, we encounter an old Venetian bridge with the abandoned today Kato Monastiri (= lower monastery) and next the Piso Monastίri (= rear monastery), on the western side of Preveli lake.
In the monastery one can visit a small yet quite remarkable Relics Museum. From the courtyard of the monastery one can admire the incredible beauty of the scenery, with the Libyan Sea stretching out towards the south.
On our way back to the monastery we come to a junction on our right-hand side which leads to a spot where we can leave our car and take the footpath which ends up at the famous Préveli beach. After swimming, one can stroll deeper into the lake area with the luxuriant vegetation.
Next, we return to the junction where we had turned earlier and continue towards the area of Plakias. The coastal settlement of Plakias has all necessary facilities, plus a long sandy beach.
Therefore, Plakiàs can be an ideal holiday destination and a starting point for exploring the surrounding area, where some of the most beautiful beaches of the island are to be found, such as Ammoudi, Schinaria, Damnoni and Souda.
These beaches, each with a different level of organization, have their own beauty and particularity. Damnoni is more protected from the local winds. Schinaria features small white pebbles and deep waters. The water at Soúda is rather cold because of a small river that flows into the sea; the beach, on the other hand, is quite green and Phoenix theophrastii palms grow on its western end.
From Plakias (5) we ascend to Selia, where we can enjoy the view to the bay of Plakias from above and then follow the road to the Sfakia area.
The first two of the famous villages of Sfakia that we encounter are Kato Rodakino and Pano Rodakino (6), which are amphitheatrically built on the slope. The Rodakino area has many beaches and beautiful landscapes with crystal-clear waters, such as Korakas, Polirizos, Klimata, Aghia Marina and Peristeres, a spot popular with free campers (5).
After Rodàkino, the route passes by Argoules and Skaloti, as far as the flat plain where Fragkokastelo (7) dominates the scenery, right next to the beach. The ruins of the monastery of Agios Charalambos can be seen very close to the fortress, above the spectacular beach of Orthi Ammos, (= upright sand), which as its name suggests has characteristic, almost vertical sand dunes.
The mysterious atmosphere created inside the deserted castle with the evening light is quite unique.
Frangokastelo, which is well-known because of a beautiful Cretan legend, can serve as a starting point for exploring the whole area from Rodakino to Sfakia.
This legend is about the “Drosoulites”, a mirage phenomenon which occurs very early in the morning on calm days, in the second half of May. Shadows of horsemen have been observed on the horizon, which local people have named Drosoulites, meaning “morning dew silhouettes”.
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