Cretan Spring and New Sailing Season

Cretan Spring and New Sailing Season

Grey stone windmills on a rugged mountain.

Winter 2021-2022 was unusually cold and stormy in Crete. Our boat Aina seemed to think it was the most uncomfortable winter along our journey so far, with frequent rain showers, hail storms and constant swell. The writer of this story, Inka, spent the winter back in the snowy homeland while the boat and the rest of the crew stayed in the marina at Agios Nikolaos.

In April it was time to sail Aina back to the anchorage in Spinalonga bay where we had spent a few weeks in the autumn. It was also time for me to return, but just before I made it back to Crete there was a violent storm – the worst Aina has ever weathered, and that includes the Medicane back in 2020. Vicious gusts came down the Cretan mountains, wreaking havoc with the anchor snubbers, the anchor roller, and finally, our old and patched storm jib that blew into smithereens. But the worst damage was probably of the mental sort. A storm is always scary but it’s terrible to have to go through it all alone.

Springtime roadtrip in Crete

Finally, the crew was complete again, but spring storms seemed to be over. It was warm and pleasant, so we felt brave enough to leave the boat by herself and head out on day trips with a rental car. After all, half the crew had hardly seen anything in Crete yet! On the first day we simply headed “somewhere” – we’ve learned that it’s pretty and picturesque just about everywhere in the Greek countryside. We meandered along small country roads and saw Spinalonga bay and its famous fortress from above. It looked so serene and blue that it almost hurt the eyes.

Spinalonga fortress in the middle of a very blue sea, with the Cretan mainland looming in the distance. Very sunny day with small boats out in the sea.
Spinalongan bay with the fortress island in the middle.

Next, we stumbled upon a few pretty windmills – restored by an Austrian couple.

Small rounded windmill made of stone, a gravel road and the blue sea in the background.
Frauheim windmills

There were some big waves on the northern shore and an interesting old cave church.

Areti Monastery

Crete, as well as all Greek islands, is full of monasteries. We drove past the Areti monastery and decided to have a closer look. The gates were open and we walked into the courtyard before realising this was not some museum but a fully operational monastery.

A lone monk was busy in the rose garden but gave us a warm welcome and showed us around the beautiful garden, church and a little shop full of the monastery’s produce: honey, jam, olive oil, icons and other religious objects. We took home a couple of cans of heavenly orange marmalade.

Kritsa

Town of white buildings along a hillside, with a lot of green gardens and vineyards around it. A handsome white church and the rugged mountains as a backdrop.
Kritsan kaupunki

Our first tour ended in Kritsa, a pretty mountain village I had already visited in November. It’s one of the oldest villages in Crete and famous for local handiwork, particularly weaving, laces and embroidery.

Artisan girl statue in Kritsa

Ancient Lato

Nearby are ruins of an ancient city-state of Lato. I visited Lato in November, and the following photos are from that visit. The city ruins are mostly from the 4th and 5th centuries BCE. Lato was destroyed around 200 BCE. Its most famous resident was Nearchus, admiral of Alexander the Great.

Kritsa Gorge

Close to Kritsa, there’s a hiking trail that follows a great river gorge. There’s some climbing along the way but not too difficult for an average hiker with a good pair of boots (I survived). These photos are also from last November.

Knossos Palace

Knossos palace with its colourful fake ruins and crowds of tourists taking photos.
Turisteja Knossoksen palatsissa

On the second day, it was time to acquaint ourselves with Crete’s most popular tourist attraction (1 million yearly visitors), the Knossos Palace. We didn’t linger very long and left with mixed feelings. The fragments found in excavations inspired the archaeologist, Sir Arthur Evans, to build imaginative recreations of what the structures might have looked like. He used entirely modern building techniques, mostly concrete. The famous murals depicting leaping bulls, dolphins and gryphons are also likely based on the restorers’ artistic visions. So, it’s hard to believe anything definite about the palace’s bronze age Minoan history. Rather, the site is an interesting peephole into the early 20th-century restoration philosophy.

Winegrowing region

A little disappointed, we continued south from Knossos and Heraklion. The vineyards stretched over the hills and valleys as far as the eye could see. Deeper inland, the vines turned to olive groves, and we drove through endless small villages. The southern shoreline was dotted with acres upon acres of greenhouses. We drove briefly through the town of Ierapetra, but it was getting late and we were anxious to get back to our floating home in Elounda.

Lasithi Plateau

Our third and last road trip took us to the Lasithi Plateau. This fertile farming area is situated about 900 m above sea level. The entrance is guarded by a long row of stone windmills, originally 27 of them.

Stone windmills up on the mountainside.

In the fields, you can see iron windmills used for irrigation, many of them still in use. The plateau has been farmed for at least 8000 years, and it still produces a lot of fruit and vegetables, and some flocks of sheep. We stopped for a wonderful lunch of local produce – the freshest Greek salad and the best moussaka in Crete.

We felt like we had just scratched the surface of Crete on our travels so far, but we were also getting anxious to begin the sailing season. Aina was finally back in travel mode after the long winter. In early May, we weighed anchor in the now very familiar Spinalonga bay and headed northwest. We were planning for a swift, straight passage back to the Ionian sea. It was time for some maintenance, such as cleaning and painting the bottom, replacing some consumable parts and finishing a couple of projects we had begun two years ago during our previous boatyard visit. As seasoned sailors, we knew there’s no such thing as a swift and straight passage. Still, it was a surprise just how slow and winding the way back turned out to be! But there’s always more than one side to a story – we would have missed so much without the bends in the road. Next time, you see, I’ll tell you about our new favourite island!

A blue fish shaped ceramic tile from a house facade.

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