It's not just Chania, the centuries-old polis, steeped in Mediterranean history, in the far northeast of Crete that dazzles. Refreshing it and its residents and visitors, Balos, Stavros and Seitan, three of the most exuberant coastlines in Greece.
As if it were still necessary, far from being necessary, Crete once again proves to be the most immense Hellenic island.
What started out as a mere morning escape plan, turns out to be a true road odyssey.
We start by going up towards the almost E65 motorway that runs along the top of Crete, on one of the rare lines where the dramatic orography of the island allows it.
We traveled it between the Gulf of Chania and the green slopes to the south.
For a few kilometers, at the base of a first peninsula that extends into the Aegean Sea. Then, along the edge of a new pronounced gulf, that of Kissamou.
The Hard Way to the Extreme Northwest of Crete
It encloses it and mainland Crete, another peninsula, not so long, but sharper than the previous one and which had as an insular extension a certain Gramvousa archipelago, blessed by an old orthodox church.
Without going that far, faced with the base of that cape, we left the main road. To another one that is worn out, dusty and that, soon, the earthy road, full of ruts, holes and craters that keep us in constant trepidation and agitation.
Compensate for the discomfort, the panoramas of the rounded sea of the Kissamou Gulf. Gradually, we climbed the cape that enclosed it, at the base of the Platiskinos crest, which barred our access and a view to the west.
A few more meanders, and both the road and the crest stop there.
The Trail to the Platiskinos Foothills
We come to a makeshift parking lot, patrolled by a herd of goats who, at this hour, preferred shade to pasture.
Two of them rest against a liquor store, subjected to the edge that, for now, the sun spared. Others kept leaning against taller cars or vying for their oily bottoms.
We abandoned ours in search of the trail that led to the west side of the cape and the expedition's final destination, Balos.
We walk through it in the company of eager bathers.
Others surpass them, riding an uncharacteristic assortment of equidae, donkeys of different sizes, mules and tiny horses.
Balos Beach and a Turquoise-Emerald Dazzle
The trail ends in a kind of advanced terrace. Finally, beyond the bottom of the slope, we see a marine lagoon of a cyan color that the high sun accentuated and that only the distant depth turned into turquoise.
It was bounded to the west and northwest by arid islets, dotted with low-lying Mediterranean vegetation.
An unexpected beach connected the islet closest to the slope from which we were contemplating the scenery. Its capricious lines unite different beaches.
One, longer, along the foothills of Platiskinos. Another, rounded, perpendicular to it, already in the middle of the lagoon. And a third, installed against the base of the islet.
In all of them, bathers divided their time between summer conversations and costly cooling down, in a shallow sea with a well-white bed where the water warmed to the rhythm at which the sun rose to its zenith.
In certain stretches, the sand assumed an enigmatic pinkish dominant generated by the natural grinding of abundant shells there.
Balos: a protected marine lagoon but not enough
Outside the lagoon, where the sea deepens and darkens to the tone of the oil, on the back side, more inaccessible from the islets, resists a fauna protected by the status of an integral reserve of the Natura 2000 program and its restrictions.
Between Balos and the islands of Gramvousa, loggerhead sea turtles, monk seals, cormorants, queen's falcons and square-tailed woodpeckers live together.
Despite its diversified fauna, for better or for worse, Balos' notoriety came from its shapes and, above all, its colors.
The people and, in particular, the guides from Chania and other parts of Crete are keen to remember that, in their time as a working couple, Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited, aboard a royal yacht.
They also say that Balos is the most photographed beach in Greece.
In a nation with more than five thousand islands and islets, so many of them full of privileged coastlines and famous beaches, we hesitate to share this certainty.
We walked into the afternoon. Small excursion boats from Kissamos gather.
And to reduce them and the supposed rules Natura 2000, a ship with greater draft with music in loud bellows that anchors beyond the lagoon and makes the passengers disembark to the sand at the base of the central islet of Balos.
With the heat reaching its peak in the afternoon, the boat appeared as the demobilizer we needed. We started the ascent back to the top of Platiskinos and to the car.
We return to Chania.
Around the Akrotiri peninsula, which the city serves on foot, other unlikely beaches awaited us.
Stavros and the North Beaches of Akrotiri
We didn't get to re-enter the capital of the west of Cretan. Instead, we went up the west side to an almost summit of Akrotiri and the retreat village of Stavros.
With less than five hundred permanent inhabitants, Stavros developed on the edge of a jagged cove and beach of the same name, also on this side of an arid hill, a hill in the shape of camel humps, called Vardies.
The development of Stavros must, however, be relativized.
The magnetism and mobile of this disputed surroundings rested on two main attributes. The calm and appealing marine lagoon to the east of the houses.
And the mere 15km away from Chania's urban domain, even less from the city's international airport.
When we entered, we realized that, instead of staying in its observation tower, the lifeguard used to hang out in the bars, terraces and other bathing businesses around.
As we took to the cornered sea of the local Golden Beach, we realized how difficult it would be to criticize it. We have to walk many tens of meters for the water to reach our waist. With the tide starting to rise, the only current that could be seen came from the open sea to the rounded interior of the lagoon.
Sea and tides aside, Stavros and Golden Beach already had their unforgettable times, of world irradiation of Cretan culture.
Stavros and the Golden Beach Eternalized in “Zorba or Grego"
Let's go back to 1964. The village was little more than a fishing village. Greek-Cypriot director Michel Cacoyannis found it charming. He chose her for one of the most memorable scenes in the classic Hellenic cinema.”Zorba or Grego".
The one in which, precisely against the edge of Mount Vardies and to the sound of bouzoukis, Anthony Quinn dances a custom-choreographed sirtaki dance for the film, the melody, soaring and infectious, by the no less famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis.
The feature film was based on the novel of the same name by the Cretan writer Nikos Kazantzakis, from 1946.
In addition to traditional Greek music and dance, the scene combined different slow and fast rhythms of a type of traditional Hellenic music called hasapiko. The name Sirtaki, this one, was adapted from the communal and traditional dance syrtos, in which the dancers hold hands, in a circle.
But let's go back to the seaside that welcomed Michel Cacoyannis and Anthony Quinn.
The one now known as both Golden and Zorba Beach is not the only beach in Stavros. About two hundred meters above, we find another one more exposed to the sea, agitated to match.
It is Pachia Ammos, translatable as “coarse sand”.
They are separated by a top of a peninsula with traces of a quarry used during the Venetian Era of Chania (XNUMXth to XNUMXth centuries), when the settlers from the Italian Peninsula extracted hundreds of tons of limestone, most of them still piled up at form the walls of Chania.
In Search of the Stealthy Seitan Limiani
At the end of the day, we would have to take refuge there. In the meantime, we had one last and, we hoped, stunning beach of Chania and Akrotiri to unravel.
We crossed the rounded peninsula from west to east, at a certain height, between the Orthodox Monastery of Agia Triada and the fenced area of the airport.
On the way, we cross the villages of Chordaki and Akropoli. When we left Akropoli behind, the new final destination was not far away.
We find it at the top of a kind of triple geological rift on the eastern coast of Akrotiri, a sequence of sea arms carved into the abrupt and rocky slope of the peninsula. We passed a new quarry. let's go down.
And even more.
Despite having descended so far, it is down there, still far away, that we can see the meander, in a turquoise tone, so intense that it looks more like backlit, by Seitan Limania, contrasting with the ferrous and ocher soil at the top of the cliff.
As we descend, we realize the delight in which some bathers float in that natural pool, like gods on vacation, recovering from earthly tribulations and complications.
Once again, the beach proves to be divine. And yet it became popular as demonic.
The Ottoman Genesis of Bathing Baptism
The Greek term “limani” translates the conventional “harbour” or “shelter”. “Seitan” has a Turkish origin, from the time when the Ottomans kept these parts in their vast empire.
It is said that they named it that way because, especially during winter, its appealing look covered a treacherous current, which would have caused victims, tragedies attributed to a sea devil.
The most demonic thing we noticed was the sun having fallen to the west of Akrotiri.
To have taken with him the glow of turquoise blue. And left us in a decaying shadow of the bathing glory with which the day and the northwest corner of Crete had trapped us.
In the southwest corner there was still the famous Elafonisi. And so many other less notorious ones.