Crete - Gods, Myths and Minotaurs
Pasiphae, wife of Minos, fell in love with the bull that Zeus, Minos' father, had sent to Minos. Pasiphae then had Daedalus make a hollow wooden cow and climbed into it in order to mate with the bull and that gave rise to the "Minotaur", part man and part bull. The Minotaur had to be jailed in a colossal labyrinth, constructed for that purpose, in the ancient palace city of Knossos.
This is all very complicated, but you will have plenty of time to think about this story, and more, as you take on the challenge of riding the mountainous Greek island of Crete.
Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, Sardinia, Cypress and Corsica. Crete, even though part of Greece, retains it's own unique cultural heritage and, in many ways, is a land all unto itself. It was the center of the Minoan Civilization from 2700BC to 1420BC, the earliest recorded civilization in Europe. It's rich history, as well as the pride and hospitality of it's people, is evident everywhere where you go.
Our tour takes in as much as possible over 8 nights. We start in Heraklion and then ride counter clockwise around almost the entire island. Crete, like Corsica, rides very "BIG".
Day 1 - Heraklion, Crete
We meet in the coastal city of Heraklion. Heraklion is the largest city and the administrative capital of Crete. Nearby Knossos Palace, dates to the Bronze Age as determined by the Roman coins found scattered around the site. Who is featured on those coins? None other than our friend, the beast, the Minotaur. Heraklion is good place for us to start as it is well connected by ferries and nearby Kazantsakis International Airport.
Day 2 - Elounda, Crete
We bike East along the coast before turning inland near Annisaris and then climb up onto the Lasithi Plateau. The plateau actually has a few bumps on it, but a little more than midway through the ride we start snaking our way back down past small towns towards the Eastern end of the island. It will be fairly quiet in Elounda in early May. We stay at the Elounda Bay Palace which is located in a great spot.
Day 3- Lerapetra, Crete
We head South and ride through Agios Nikolaos and then around Mirabelo Bay before starting a loopy and challenging ride that takes us up 2000 feet before descending to the Southern coast of Crete at Koutsouras. From there, we still have a few humpty dumps along the coast for another 20k, but the hard work is mainly over. Lerapetra is also known as "the bride of the Libyan Sea" as it is the only major town on the Southern Coast of Crete.
There also is a significantly shorter option today. It is the same route as the longer option, but at mile 18 you head directly South to Lerapetra rather than doing the loopy circumnavigation of the Eastern end of the island.
Day 4 - Tsoutsouros, Crete
We ride out of Lerepetra to the West along the Libyan Sea for about 10 miles. After that, the party is over. The road continues to parallel the coast, but it immediately climbs up to 2400 feet as it remains 5 to 10k away from the coast. We don't get below 500 feet again until the very end of our ride. There are some great views. The Southern side of Crete is beautiful, rugged and much less developed than the North side. Our overnight is the small and charming village of Tsoutsouros. Tsoutsouros is a good place to chill. Don't even think about a visit to the Disco. There isn't any. Maybe we can have our own little disco party.
Our ride to Agia Galini is 48 miles and it starts with a bang as we have a climb out of town. From there, is is generally down, but there is a 500 foot ass kicker at about the 42 mile mark. Agia Galini had its beginnings as a small fishing village. There are now seaside restaurants and bars along the beach. It is a good place to sample the fish catch of the day, not to mention the homemade raki. Across the small bay there is a business district with lots of shopping and restaurants. There is even a bike shop.
Today we depart from Agia Galini and head to Hora Sfakia. At about the 28 mile mark, we pass the small mountain town of Sellia. There are 3 good restaurants here. By the time you arrive in Sellia, you will probably be hungry. After Sellia, we mainly descending for the following 7 miles, but once again there is a 500 foot kicker of a climb before arriving in Sfakia. Sfakia is a main ferry terminal for those exploring the rugged Southern Coast of Crete. There are no roads that run along the Southern Coast past Sfakia. If you want to go farther, you either get on the ferry or hoof it or kayak it.
Day 7 - Sfakia, Crete (rest day)
Today is nominally a "rest day", but it is really intended to give you a choice of exploring more or just relaxing or both. As far a exploring, there are a number of options. You can hike along coast to spectacular Marmara Beach where there are marble caves carved by the Lybian Sea (and a restaurant). You could also take the ferry to the town of Loutros, hike to Marmara Beach and up into the Aradena Gorge and either walk back to Loutros for the ferry or all the way back to Sfakia. Or you could head the opposite direction and see the classic fort at Frangostelli. Or you could bike towards Agios Ioannis and visit what remains of the of Aradena, the town that was destroyed by "vendetta". For those interested in the famous Samaria Gorge, you could also hike it, weather permitting. For hiking Samaria Gorge, we'd recommend taking the ferry to Agia Roumeli and spending the night of Day 7 in Agia Roumeli; the following morning you can hike up and down the bottom half of the gorge (the spectacular half), when it is not crowded, and then return via ferry to Sfakia in the late afternoon in order to rejoin our group on Day 8.
On our final day we ride from Sfakia on the Southern coast across the island to Chania on the Northern Coast. As you might imagine, crossing the island is pretty challenging. The ride is 54 miles and there are 3 pretty big climbs. Your reward is that you will arrive in a fantastic place. Here is what the Lonely Planet says about Chania:"Hania is Crete’s most evocative city, with its pretty Venetian quarter, criss-crossed by narrow lanes, culminating at a magnificent harbour. Remnants of Venetian and Turkish architecture abound, with old townhouses now restored, transformed into atmospheric restaurants and boutique hotels."
After our last night in Chania, it is easy enough to book a flight from Ioannis Daskalogiannis (CHQ) airport to Athens and beyond. If you can swing it, Chania is a great place to spend some extra time.
8 nites accommodations.
Dinners (except two nights in Sfakia)
Transport of baggage
Stocked Sag Vehicle
Visas (not needed for US Citizens).
Beer, wine, booze
Lunches are excluded. There are many places to stop and eat along the way and food is relatively inexpensive.
Immunizations from your doctor or travel clinic
Airport transfers- easy to arrange - we will give you instructions.
Costs of what you elect to do on your free day in Sfakia.