The depths and hights of Rethymno
The new and old Rethymno create the dual nature of the prefecture’s capital, with the imposing Fortezza walls protecting the Venetian port. The young people of Rethymno and its intense nightlife give the town its vibrant atmosphere. The mountain of Psiloreitis covers the largest part of the prefecture: on its northern slopes you will find historic, rebellious villages (Anogeia), and on its southern and western side settlements forgotten in the past (Amariou Valley). In the South you will find great beaches.
You should always approach Rethymno from the sea – only then will it reveal its true identity all at once: a city confidently lying open to the sea. To the right, the imposing Fortezza, with its walls and look-out points reflecting the brilliant light. To the left, the huge beach with its colourful umbrellas, cafés and hotels, the showcase of the new city. In the Venetian habour the picturesque fishing boats rock gently, moored in front of the old buildings.
The fortress, which was erected between 1573 and 1580 on the small, rocky hill of Palaiokastro, henceforth to be known as the Fortezza, has retained all its basic original features. The compact walls take us back to the 16th century, the time when a new ‘weapon’ the terrifying gunpowder, had changed defensive warfare once and for all. The medieval forts with their steep and lofty walls and square towers proved useless against the new artillery.
The Museums of Rethymno town
The museum is housed in the pentagonal building erected by the Turks at the entrance of the Fortezza, to defend it more effectively. The exhibits displayed illuminate the history of the prefecture, from late Neolithic times (3500-2900 BC) up to the Roman period.
Fortezza, tel. +30 28310/54668. Open daily except Mondays, 8.30am – 3pm.
Historical and Folk Art Museum
The upper floor houses the Folk Art section, which is well laid out in contemporary style but offers few surprises.
30, M. Vernardou st., tel. +30 28310/23398. Open daily except Sundays, 9.30am – 2pm.
South of Rethymno: Plakias
You get to Plakias by the main Rethymno – Agia Galini road. Make an early start because you will want to make numerous stops to see or admire things along the way. At Pale (about 19 km from Rethymno) turn right towards Chora Sfakion, Rodakino and Sellia, taking the road through the villages of the old province of Agios Vasileios (now the district of Foinikas) to Kanevos. Here you find the beginning of the Kotsyfou Gorge (at its entrance stands the fine taverna of Iliomanolis). It’s just a short drive through the gorge (parallel to the river bed) but the view is superb. The road rapidly narrows and you feel as if the rocks are pressing down on you. In spring there is still water in the river and at the beginning of the route there are two small waterfalls. As the gorge widens you will see in the distance the enticing Gialia beaches. To the right a sign points the way to Myrthios and Plakias (5 km). At Myrthios you should stop to admire the view and to drink a coffee or eat at the Panorama taverna or the Plateia restaurant. You can also shop woodcarvings of olive wood, jewellery and fabrics.
A second route (more popular) to Plakias also starts out along the Rethymno – Agia Galini road. Turn right just after the village of Koxare and continue south parallel to the Kourtaliotis River and the imposing and beautiful Kourtaliotiko Gorge. Before you descend to Lefkogeia and Plakias, stop at Asomantos to visit the remarkable Folklore Museum created by the local priest Michalis Georgoulakis (open Monday-Saturday 10am – 3pm).
There are many picturesque villages in the mountainous prefecture of Rethymno and certainly worthwhile visiting. For this month, though, I will give some information about the southern part of Rethymno prefecture on Crete’s south coast. Here you’ll find the village of Plakias and the Monastery of Preveli.
Plakias is a busy and highly delveloped tourist resort full of hotels, rented rooms, bars, tavernas and travel agencies. During the summer season it is buzzing with life, mostly younger people, Greeks and a lot of foreigners. The Germans discovered Plakias firs and they are still the majority visiting the area, but there are plenty of people from elsewhere in Europe.
There are plenty of beaches to choose between, but you could also arrange for an excursion, boarding the Alianthos Express (+30 28320 31851), Plakias own little train. It goes west to Souda of Plakias and Rodakino, or to Lampini and the Agios Antonios Gorge. It also visits the monastery of Preveli and the village of Gianniou. You could also go on a photo-safari, with trips to the Kourtaliotiko Gorge or the mountain villages around.
Plakias owes its name to the large underwater shelf of rock (“plaka” in Greek). Most visitors here are interested in escaping back to nature, mountain walking trips, diving in the magical depths, practising their surfing (when the wind blows here you really feel it) and collecting herbs. And they will visit the famous Preveli monastery. Most of your time you’ll probably spend on the beach.
Your first discovery at Plakias will be its Souda: a tranquil, small and beautiful beach with fine shingle, just 3 kilometres to the west.
14 kilometres west of Souda of Plakias, having passed through Sellia, you will come to the village of Radakino. From here you can carry on towards Fragokastelo and Sfakia or enjoy the nearby beaches: Korakas, Polyrizos, Peristeres, Agia Marina.
Beautiful beaches to the east of Plakias include Damnoni, Ammoudi, Schoinaria, Lake Preveli, and further east Agia Eirini, Ligres, Triopetra and Agios Pavlos.