It doesn’t matter how well you think you know Crete, if you haven’t visited the Apokoronas villages in northern Chania, you haven’t experienced it at its traditional best.
You’ll immediately know you’ve looked into the soul of Chania when you visit its villages. And nowhere more so than in the Apokoronas, a collection of 34 settlements built in the shadow or valleys of Crete’s legendary White Mountains or by the coastline.
So close to the city of Chania that you’ll be astonished how completely they’ve kept their traditional ways, the villages radiate all the authenticity of this proud region of Crete.
You’ll experience it in all the crafts that surround you, and in the timelessness of the olive press you’ll visit, with a stone still being turned by a watermill. It is in the melt-in-the-mouth food and, above all, in the wide-eyed smile of locals who greet you as if they’ve known you forever.
The changing scenery of each season still determines the flow of daily life here. You’ll see it in the orchards and olive groves – from the serenity of the springtime bloom to the collective energy of harvest-time in the olive groves and vineyards. And you’ll find it in the makeshift distilleries that create the local firewater (raki) that fuels the endless banter of the locals. It’s this love of life they so much want to share with you.
With 34 Apokoronas villages, you could spend an entire holiday village-hopping in Chania, but here are some highlights not to be missed:
The area’s principal village is the liveliest and deserves most time. Beyond the shops and tavernas of the main square, you can visit a winery nearby and there’s also an excellent cheese factory. The 13th century chapel of the Virgin Mary and the Karydi Monastery, with its arched olive oil press, are also well worth a visit. Every July, Vamos organises the largest Jazz Festival in Crete.
With 40 houses and a total population of 200, there’s a wonderfully cosy feel to this village, which is 100m above sea level. You could spend your time just soaking up the atmosphere of the central square but you should also try one of the short walks from the village. There’s one that passes through a forest to Gavalohori.
You’ll enjoy the stone houses, paved streets and churches, and especially the super-traditional Cretan coffee shops of Gavalohori. There’s an interesting Folk Museum – with local costumes, old coins, weapons and traditional items of daily use – and a local Women’s Cooperative has a shop that keeps old crafts alive, such as kopaneli, a form of lace needling with Byzantine roots.
If you’re looking for a village by the sea, Kalyves is a great choice. There’s an old and new section to the village, but that hasn’t stopped it retaining all its traditional feel. There are plenty of eating options, and accommodation too. Best of all, there’s a beach just before the entrance, so your village-hopping doesn’t interrupt your daily dose of beach-time.
Built on the foothills of the White Mountains, at an altitude of 220m, Fres is surrounded by olives groves and vineyards. Its large main square is the centre of village life and just outside the village is the intriguingly named church of Panagia of the Two Rocks (it was built on a rock that tumbled down the mountain and another boulder lies nearby).
Set within a green valley and characterised by running water (its name means springs), bridges and waterside tavernas and cafes, Vrises is a village dominated by nature. Just east (on the road to Rethymno), there’s a bridge dating to Greco-Roman times – the so-called Greek Kamara. And close by is Crete’s only natural lake, Lake Kourna. If you’re lucky enough to order antikristo (lamb cooked next to, not over, the flames) in a taverna that has traditional Cretan music, you’ll want to stay here forever.
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