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On the roads of Crete – part IV

Local residents claim that East Crete is something special. What makes it so? This can be found out by traveling on the route №4 as proposed by the company

Agios Nikolaos – Istron – Mochlos – Sitia – Toplou – Vai. Sunbathe on Golden Sands

We already wrote about Agios Nikolaos, a magical town born from the foam of the sea, and we are sure that our readers fell in love with it, just like us. The village Istron or Istro, as locals call it, is 6 miles away. Most famous attraction of it is the Voulisma beach or Chrissi Ammos (Golden Sands), the visiting card of this part of Crete. Such blue sea and golden sand you will not find anywhere else. And if you settle here in one of the hotels, make sure: Istro’s main wealth is its inhabitants. You will be greeted here as a native in any cafe or shop and somewhere among the gardens or on a mountain path while wandering. You will be invited into house if a rare rain hits you on the way.

We responsibly declare that Istro is a paradise for a curious pedestrian. If you turn off the main road to the right, for example, you will find yourself in the cozy village of Kalo Chorio where, behind every turn of the street, there is a small miracle, whether it is the «Roman» wall or a temple washed with light, an ancient olive tree or a gaggle of cats. The goats will also meet you if you go to a high mountain monastery. Its cross glows in the night if one is coming from Kalo Chorio. Further along the road from the village there are archaeological excavations… They say that the ancient Minoan city Istron once stood on the site of Istro.

You can relax your tired legs in any cafe or tavern-the choice is rich here. Well, at least in the tavern “Zigos”, which is famous for its lamb, baked on a spit and renowned for its musical evenings, where a polyglot guitarist sings «Black Eyes» for you in Russian. If you have the courage to sing along, they certainly will bring you a decanter of raki on the house.

Fishing in Mochlos

The road from Agios Nikolaos to Sitia goes around Mirabello Bay. The fishing village of Mochlos lies on the east coast of the bay, not far from the village of Istro. Right opposite it, there is an (uninhabited!) island of the same name reachable by swimming or hiring a fishing boat. Once, namely 3.5-4 thousand years ago, this island was connected to the mainland by a small isthmus and was inhabited. Judging by the results of excavations, its western part was even a kind of a prestigious residential area. It was found out in 1908 by the American archeologist Richard Seаger. His discoveries called into question the death of the Minoan civilization from a volcanic eruption, because many of the Minoans’ houses were built on volcanic ash, that is, after the ill-fated eruption. They say that volunteers can also take part in the excavations that are still going on… Well, if archeology is not your thing, come to the music festival that takes place every summer in the village of Mochlos and collects the most famous Greek singers for a few days…

By the way, you’re in the fishing village, and therefore, seafood of the local cuisine is fresh and tasty, and in any tavern, travelers say. A custom here is to take white wine from Sitia with octopus, squid and any fish.

To take a walk like a Venetian

The most eastern city of Crete is Sitia, and the most frequently encountered characteristics of it from tourists are «homely», «calm» and «peaceful». Apparently, having suffered so much for its centuries-old historyafter the earthquake of 1508, pirate raids, capture by the Turks-the city just enjoys today peace and stability. If you are interested in facts, the Archaeological Museum and numerous excavations in the vicinity welcome you; and if you just want to feel the local lifestyle, stroll along the wonderful promenade with wellgroomed palm trees all over, admire the cozy bays with colorful fishing boats, and take a walk along the streets, running down to the sea. They say, in addition to the fortress of the Barracks (Καζάρμα, at the highest point of the city), the citizens got also from the Venetians a custom to wear the best clothes every evening going to the embankment. Join now! By the way, Sitia is not too spoiled by the attention of tourists, so prices are lower here than in other cities of Crete.

To pray in Toplou

On a rocky hill at 10 miles from Sitia, stands the fortress-monastery Toplou (devoted to Our Lady of Peninsula). In Greece, small chapels have always been centers of unification against enemies, and Toplou is really a bastion with its 10-meterwide wall around and a 33-meter-high bell tower. Venetians built the monastery, and the buildings (preserved to the present day) were strengthened against enemy attacks. In the history of the monastery, there were pirates, Turkish invaders, and earthquakes. In 1821, during the struggle of the Greeks for independence, the Turkish authorities massacred all the brethrens of Toplou; during the Second World War the Germans executed the prior and monks for participating in the Resistance. But no matter how many tragic situations were in the monastery, it is alive, thriving and still keeps treasures, including material treasures. A curious tourist will find here a collection of artifacts and manuscripts dated to the 2nd century BC, and a rich collection of frescoes and icons.

Today, only four monks live in the monastery. In addition to the church service, the brethrens engage in earthly affairs: they take care of grape and olive plantings, produce excellent oil and wine sold throughout Greece.

The tales about pirates

They say that once Arab pirates landed on the easternmost part of Crete: maybe to take a break from their criminal labors or to replenish supplies of water and food. Of all their provisions, they had only dates, the stones of which they spat out onto the ground, wandering along the coast, and a whole grove of date palms grew on the shore… Now this grove covers an area of 250 hectares, and a long sandy strip lies along it. This is the beach of Vai-the largest palm beach in Europe, and of course, tourists from all over the world fly here to rest in the shadow of its palm branches, and to listen to the whispering waves.

In the 70s, hippies chose this place for themselves; they were not as accurate as pirates, so Vai began to lose its wellgroomed appearance. But in the 1980s, the Greek authorities declared here a protected area: the beach was cleared and subsequently received the Blue Flag award. It is forbidden here to put up tents and make fires: some species of birds make a stop here, migrating to Africa and back. But to sunbathe on the golden sand under palm trees and dive with a mask is permitted! The beach is equipped, so that there are there the benefits of civilization such as a toilet, a shower, sun beds and umbrellas. Taverns are ready to feed the guests and souvenir shops to bestow trinkets. It should be borne in mind that from about 11 o’clock in the morning buses with tourists arrive, and the beach becomes crowded. It is also worth it to leave early because the road from Sitia is narrow, and it will be not possible to go fast. Another argument in favor of early travel to Vai is a small market on the road from Sitia. Grapes, honey, olives, watermelons, figs, various jams: here you can buy everything you want and from the nearest farm. They say that the local small and very sweet bananas and a special sort of fragrant melon are exceptionally good.

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