This route passes through the most impressive landscapes of the area of Sfakia and offers many alternatives for hiking excursions. It passes by several historical sites and other locations that are worth visiting and ends up at the area of Apokoronas. It is essentially one of the primary routes for those who wish to explore the surrounding areas. In order to make the best of this complex route, which has numerous points of interest and it is characterized by fascinating geomorphology, it is best to split the route into several parts.
Frangokastelo – Chora Sfakion – Anopoli – Aradena
We begin our drive at Frangokastelo, a Venetian fortress of the 14th century which witnessed scenes of bloodshed during a battle in 1828 between the Cretan guerrilla leaders who had taken refuge here and the Turks. During this battle, the towers of the castle were destroyed. Frangokastelo is also known for the local legend of the “Drosoulites”, a mirage phenomenon which occurs under very specific climatic conditions.
Leaving Frangokastelo we continue westwards towards Chora Sfakion, with the characteristic traditional houses that are perched high on the slopes of the Lefka Ori. Chora Sfakion can serve as a starting point for the exploration of the whole area of Sfakia. It is linked by boat with the picturesque harbours of Loutro, Agia Roumeli and Paleochora and the island of Gavdos. Those who enjoy hiking can try the E4 European long-distance path that includes various routes. Some of the most beautiful routes of the E4 are on this coastal region of southern Crete. There are also several beautiful, unspoilt beaches in the surrounding area.
From Chora Sfakion we take the road which snakes up the bare, rugged mountain slope. After a few kilometres, we find ourselves at quite a high altitude, enjoying the view towards Chora Sfakion, the nearby coastline and to Gavdos island. The landscape soon changes, pine and rock prevail, until we reach the Anopoli plateau. We can make a stop at Anopoli, which is built at the site of ancient Anopoli, one of the autonomous ancient towns of Crete with its own currency. Anopoli is also the birthplace of Ioannis Daskalogiannis, who instigated the Revolution of 1770. A bust depicting the Cretan hero can be seen at the village square. A stop to enjoy Sfakian pies as well as the lovely view from the hill of Agia Ekaterini, where part of the Cyclopean walls of the ancient town survive today, is highly recommended. The view stretches all the way down to the bay of Loutro, which was the port of ancient Anopoli.
Continuing to the west, we find ourselves at the entrance of the gorge of Aradena. The walk down the gorge requires 2,5-3 hours and ends up at the secluded beach of Marmara. From this point, there is the possibility to continue the hike to Chora Sfakion (1,5 hour) or to Loutro (approximately 1 hour). Moreover, the picturesque fishing village of Loutro can be a holiday destination in its own right, for those who seek tranquillity and relaxation. Loutro cannot be reached by car; it is only connected by boat with Sfakia, Agia Roumeli, Paleochora and Sougia, while one can get to the nearby unspoilt beaches by boat.
An iron bailey bridge crosses over the imposing gorge and offers the possibility for a bungee jump, from a height of 138 metres. We cross the bridge in order to visit the Byzantine church of Michael the Archangel (Mikhaίl Arkhàngelos), protector of Sfakia, and the deserted village of Aradena. Continuing our drive further, we reach the little settlement of Ai Giannis, which is located on a beautiful wild slope of the Lefka Ori. We then take the road back to Chora Sfakion. From here, we can also follow the second part of the route, which passes through the area of Sfakia and ends up in the Apokoronas region.
Chora Sfakion – Askifou Plateau – Vamos
Leaving Chora Sfakίon we take the road eastwards, moving higher until a junction, the right-hand side branch of which leads to Frangokastelo; we do not go this way, but continue straight on and follow the main road northwards, towards Chania. As we ascend an increasingly precipitous mountain slope, the magnificent view that reaches all the way to Gavdos opens up ahead of us. Gradually, the bare landscape becomes greener, as we drive alongside the imposing gorge of Imbros. This is one of the deepest and narrowest gorges of Crete, with a footpath approximately 5 km long. For those who wish to walk through the gorge, the entrance point is a little south of Imbros village. The hike, which requires approximately 3 hours and is fairly easy, ends up at the village of Komitades. We pass through the village of Imbros, on a small plateau. The uphill route continues, until the Askifou plateau opens up ahead of us, at an altitude of 726 metres. The plateau has been inhabited and cultivated for a very long time. Local products of excellent quality are made here. One can also taste the famous Sfakian pies in the traditional tavernas of Askifou.
During the Turkish Occupation, the area of the plateau was the setting of bloody conflicts that took place between the Cretan revolutionaries and the Turks. It is here that the General Assembly of the Cretans (which proclaimed the union with Greece) was held, during the unsuccessful revolt of 1866. Next, we descend the northern slopes of Lefka Ori, towards Vamos, the historical town of Apokoronas. Before we reach Vamos we make a stop at the village of Vrisses, built among lush vegetation and with ample water springs from the river flowing through the village. This is a great place to stop for a few hours and relax under the plane trees, have a coffee or try a dessert from the patisserie shop in the square of the village. After Vrisses we cross a beautiful, hilly and agricultural landscape until we reach Vamos, which is one of the most important agrotourism centres of Crete. Traditional architecture prevails here.
Setting off at Vamos we can visit the Apokoronas area, where the landscapes are a lot tamer than in Sfakia. The traditional villages of Gavalochori, Fres, Vafes and the valley of Armeni are worth visiting. In this scenic valley, several small traditional settlements are to be found. In Apokoronas one can also visit the only natural lake of Crete, the lake of Kournas, as well as the touristic coastal settlement of Georgioupoli and ancient Aptera, one of the most important city-states of western Crete.
Road trip distance: 81 km
Region: Sfakia, Apokoronas (Chania)