Around Agios Nikolaos: Part 2

13 to 16 February 2018

One important and ancient part of Crete’s history that we hadn’t yet explored was its ancient Minoan civilisation. So on our return from our roadtrip Into Crete’s villages we arranged to meet Babs and Steve and Babs, Rene and Rizzo and set about putting that right.

Wiped out entirely by huge tidal waves caused by the eruption of the volcano at Santorini in 1450BC, the palaces of the Minoans remained undiscovered until 1878. The best known, Knossos, is just outside Heraklion but we chose to visit one closer to home at Malia about 30km from Agios Nikolaos.

The first palace was built in 2000BC, was destroyed in 1700, rebuilt and razed again in 1450. Being winter we had the site entirely to ourselves to climb the great staircase, wander in and out of the labyrinth of small rooms

and find giant vases and offering tables. However, an absence of information and signs around the site did not greatly enhance our understanding of the Minoans and their way of life.

On the way back to Agios Nikolaos we stopped for lunch at the village of Fourni. Amongst the tumbledown houses we found a wonderful tavern where we were the only customers and enjoyed a wonderful home cooked feast in the tiny village square.

The drive back to Agios Nikolaos was interesting. Along the mountain road back down to the shore of Spinalonga Lagoon we were stopped by a huge and unaccompanied flock of sheep. Using the horn and nudging closer towards them didn’t budge them. In the end Steve had to jump out and do his best shepherd impression to move them out of the way!

When we woke up on our last day with the car to snow on the Dikti mountains we decided to drive up towards it to the Lasithi Plateau. Accessible to the rest of Crete only by donkey until after WWII the plateau was once a vital part of the island’s agriculture. It has now long been in decline and is a rather desolate place but on a clearer day than we had it would have given spectacular views of the mountains.

Driving around the plateau we followed a sign promising a Minoan cave. Climbing up a steep staircase up the cliff we found the Kronion Cave. Artefacts found inside show the cave was used from Neolithic to Byzantine times. Not having brought a torch with us we were grateful for smartphone technology and quickly downloaded a torch app and headed inside the small cave full of the obligatory stalactites and stalagmites.

There used to be 20,000 windmills around the plateau, used to pump water for the crops. Now those remaining stand redundant. Although at 900 metres above sea level the temperature was distinctly chilly it was good to see signs of Spring on the trees.

Leaving the plateau we returned to the coast through the Avdou gorge with views towards the Aposelemis dam ready to prepare for leaving our winter home….

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