a mountain walk along the spine of Crete
by Richard Ellis
This was another delightful start to a day’s walking. Rather than tramping round the perimeter which is more or less where the E4 is supposed to go, it is quite possible to take a diagonal line from the south east corner to the north west corner by taking a right, then a left, then a right etc so you end up close to Kato Metochi. This way, you get to see close up the extent of the agricultural activity going on around the plateau in the morning sunshine. You also get to see the newly formed baby frogs – fresh from tadpole status – hopping happily in the sunshine in front of my big boots.

Lasithi Plateau in the early morning light.

The left turn in the top left hand corner heading west towards Kastamonitsa and past the famous Chonos (“drain hole” for the Lasithi) is pretty obvious. What is much less obvious is where the E4 path goes once the tarmac road has done a 90 degree turn to the left after about a kilometer. A small dirt road heads off in the right general direction but confusingly starts to swing right towards a small work station.

The monument
The GPS immediately told me I was deviating, so back I went and followed the GPS blindly through some very long grass and straight into a stock fence. I was able to get over it (without doing any damage) and once through, it was an “open sesame” moment as I immediately stumbled onto the kalderimi which leads up to the rim of the plateau.

At the rim there is a 2008 monument which celebrates two things: the “Minoan path” between Lyttos and Dikteo Andro cave (also described at the bottom as a Roman Aqueduct and by most as a Venetian mule track) and the Grave of Tsoulis – an evil Turk who was murdered by locals in revenge for his atrocities against Christians. All that needs to be said is that this mule track is beautifully engineered as it sweeps backwards and forwards dropping 1500 feet down the north west face away from Lasithi. This is perhaps the most impressive man made construction at this end of the island – and the views across the north coast are stunning (luckily you can’t see the reality of Hersonisos and Malia from this height).

The view

At the bottom, it is a bit of a dirt road tramp along to Kastamonitsa with a welcome water tap at the road junction to Tichos and Litos. A little further on, as you come into Kastamonitsa, the road splits. Stay left here to get directly to the centre. In Kastamonitsa itself (a pretty village with lots of flowers), there is a very friendly kafeneion where I was well refreshed and entertained.

The road tramp from here to Kasteli is unremarkable apart from the fact that there is an airstrip laid out in front of you as you descend into the town. I wondered if the new Heraklion airport was already under construction, but no, it is a military airfield and as far as the locals are concerned plans for the new airport are very much on hold (to their relief).

Kalliopi Hotel
Hotel Kalliopi, as promised by other writers, does have a pool – which turned out to be full of very excited and very noisy Greek kids relaxing after a hard morning at school. However, it was a pool and it was wet and cool and blissful, even if I did feel like a fish out of water in amongst these sadly obese youngsters. I was the only paying guest (25 euros a night).

Kasteli itself has a prosperous feel which has nothing to do with tourism and everything to do with these rich agricultural hinterlands to the south of Heraklion - and it also has a brilliant Pharmacy which is well equipped to provide the wherewithal for blister relief.

©Richard Ellis 2011 (rhellis10@gmail.com )
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