Traveling in Western Crete will get you to know the tangible and intangible cultural heritage, in traditional settlements, places of culture, and sites of distinctive cultural identity linked to the local community. Often shall the traveller engage in thematic routes, which unite attractions with destinations of natural beauty, so that you can enjoy an authentic experience at your holiday destination.
Starting from Milia Mountain Retreat, we suggest three daily routes that will satisfy any interest in knowing the history, and customs & traditions of the place. Our aim is to introduce you to unique cultural opportunities of our land while maintaining our awareness of protecting natural resources (not overcrowding in environmentally sensitive areas) and promoting authentic points of interest.
So, where to head for a day’s road trip?
1st option_Byzantine Kantanos and Gialiskari beach at Anidroi
Leaving Milia, return to the village of Vlatos and follow the signs to Paleochora. Your route will pass through the villages of Strovles, Aligoi, Drys, and, finally, head to Kantanos.
It is a village located in a mountainous, verdant area that hosts (including neighboring villages) more than 40 Byzantine churches of the 13th – 14th centuries in an extremely limited geographical area, which makes it a special cultural phenomenon in Crete.
We suggest that you explore the area on your own, combining driving and walking, to discover some of these Byzantine masterpieces. Tiny in size, the majority of them are open to the visitor, often bearing valuable frescoes and maintaining the climate of the region’s Byzantine heyday. Where to start from?
At the local tavern in the village square, you can get a free user-friendly map of the churches to discover. Don’t be discouraged if you won’t find them straight away in a particularly prominent position. They are often hidden between olive groves or in narrow streets. Leave the car and explore in and around Kantanos!
• Agia Ekaterini, in Kantanos village
• Archangelon, in Cavalariana spot
• Agia Anna, close to Anisaraki village
• Panagias (Virgin Mary), in Anisaraki village
Tour time is up to you as the area cannot be explored in its entirety in one day. The history of Kantanos starts from the time of Homer and its name means “City of Victory”. During the Byzantine period, the area flourished as an episcopal seat for almost 1000 years, hence the multitude of old churches of the 13th – 14th centuries that were painted by famous hagiographers and invite you to admire them.
Then you head towards the south of the Prefecture of Chania to Gialiskari beach, in the wider area of Paleochora. It is a large sandy beach, located on the E4 hiking trail. It is easily accessible by car but involves an 8-10 minute drive on a dirt road. Arriving in Paleochora, you keep driving to the east, towards the village of Anidroi. Stay driving next to the coast until you enter the dirt road that leads to Gialiskari.
The beach needs no compliments! It is a place of great natural beauty and, even if you visit it in high season, you can look for small gulfs around it for more privacy. On the central beach, there is a canteen and sunbeds for rent, during the summer season
(driving time 3 ½ hours in total from Milia and back)
2nd Option_Cave of Agia Sophia – Ancient Polyrrhinea – Olive oil & honey tasting
The Cave of Agia Sophia in the Topolia area is one of the most important caves to visit in Crete, with a large central hall (20 meters high) with free access. Starting from Milia, you will find a sign in Vlatos showing you the direction to the gorge. Before reaching the tunnel, there is space up the road to leave your car and approach the cave by going up the small path with steps leading to the cave entrance.
On the walls and ceiling of the cave, there are stalagmites and stalactites of large size, while visible are the traces of the religious tradition that gives the name to the cave (Agia Sophia). After all, it is recorded that already from the Neolithic Period, the cave was used by the human element, as evidenced by objects found there.
After your visit, continue to the northwest, and turn towards the village of Kalathenes in the direction of Polyrrhinea.
Ancient Polyrrhinea was a city from the Hellenistic and Roman periods and has a medieval fortification. It is located at a distance of 4 km from Kasteli Kissamos, on a hill 400 meters high with a wonderful view of the entire bay of Kasteli and the northwest side of Crete. The ruins of the Acropolis (Acropolis, meaning “peak of the city”) cover a large area on the slopes of the hill and save part of the walls as well as an aqueduct from the Roman period. Today the archaeological site is open, without fencing and without an entrance ticket.
Before reaching the Acropolis, you already have parked your car and crossed through the modern settlement of Polyrrhinea, a wonderful village with narrow streets and few inhabitants. However, even if the destination still doesn’t seem attractive enough to you -perhaps because the idea of visiting an archaeological site or the adventure of crossing the olive groves between Kalathenes and Polyrrhinea doesn’t impress you- trust us! This is the most beautiful spot overlooking the sea in the entire Western Crete. Walking into an ancient citadel almost unknown to many today, and being able to gaze at the northwest landscape from such a privileged position is unrepeatable.
After leaving Polyrrhinea, drive east for a taste tour of olive oil and honey culture. Visit the family businesses of Idiosmos or Biolea to find out more about olive oil production. You will have an opportunity of indulging in an introduction tour and olive oil tasting, as well as recognize the traits of their quality.
Check out their guided tours:
Idiosmos_Olive oil and Honey culture
Biolea_Organic Olive Oil Estate
(driving time 3-4 hours in total from Milia and back)
3rd Option_14th-century Mid-Byzantine Church of Sotiras Christos
and Agia Irene Gorge, Sougia
The village of Agia Irene Selinou is located east of Milia, in a mountainous area at an altitude of 700 meters, and approximately 1 ½ hours away. From this village begins a path that leads to the gorge of the same name, the gorge of Agia Irene, which we recommend you to cross. The most convenient way to cross and return to your car is to drive to the seaside village of Sougia, park and from there take the transport to the entrance or alternatively drive to the exit of the gorge and have arranged your transport at the entrance, so you can find your car at the exit (and avoid the 5 km walk on the tarmac to get back to Sougia).
At the starting point, on the western side of the White Mountains, in the village of Agia Irene before you start, visit the Byzantine church of Sotiras Christos (built in 1357), which is open to access and contains rare frescoes. It is located in the green area with plane trees which is the entrance to the gorge (coming down from the main road, on your left). The Milia team has contributed to the protection of the Byzantine monument, under the guidance of the Byzantine Antiquities Tax Office, using a private initiative to finance the project.
You continue to the Agia Irene Gorge, which is 7.5 km long, is part of the European path E4 and its crossing takes 2 ½ hours. It is the second most important gorge of Crete, and just as impressive as that of Samaria (without the steep descents and the corresponding…catch the next day), while you travel a large part of the route in the shade, which makes it suitable for crossing even in summer months.
At the end of the gorge, you either pick up your car or continue on foot for the next 5km to Sougia. Sougia is a coastal settlement in southwestern Crete, with a 1.5 km long pebbly beach, while large rocks jut out from the sea. After your course, you can enjoy a relaxing swim on the beach of Sougia and your meal at the seaside restaurants-taverns. The current settlement is recent, however, the area has been known since antiquity mainly thanks to the ancient city of Lissos, a cult center and healing center of Asclepius.
(driving time 3 hours in total from Milia and back and your transfer from Sougia to the entrance of the gorge is approximately 30 minutes)
In these 30 years of operation of Milia, our visitors -increasingly informed and aware of the cultural resources of the region- contribute to the sustainable development of the destination by choosing to diversify their routes from areas of mass attendance that appear in lists of “5 or 10 must-sees”. In this way, they not only contribute to the protection of the environment -at risk from overcrowding- but also support points of local interest with special color and identity, strengthening local communities throughout the year.
Disclaimer: The above proposals are simple recommendations of the Milia team. Please be properly informed before following the above routes, especially regarding accessibility. Do not rely exclusively on GPS Navigators. Always follow the guidelines and restrictions placed by the local authorities. Use the appropriate equipment and clothes for your outdoor activities in Crete. Do not leave rubbish behind you, and do not remove elements of Nature or of cultural importance.
We thank our friend and guest Anastasia N. for the generous provision of the photographic material that she created, after visiting the above destinations during her vacation in Milia.
Enjoy your stay at and around Milia Mountain Retreat!