East Crete Villages
Stavrohori, which means village of the cross, has a beautiful village square and many fine examples of typical Cretan architecture. The narrow streets and fountains provide a fine backdrop, with views that extend all the way to the sea. The secluded streets and the colourful architecture provide a contrast for a village that is both traditional and modern. The village square also regularly plays host to many music and religious events that are well worth the effort of making the drive up to this mountainside village. On the central village square are some excellent tavernas, here you can still get a complete meal for less than 8€.
Pefki in Southern Crete, meaning Pine Trees, is only 7 kilometres from Makrigialos and has panoramic views down the valley towards the Southern Mediterranean Sea and other East Crete villages. Given the size of the village, and the number of inhabitants, Pefki has a tremendous amount to offer for the sightseer, and all are well signed. The 90 year old pink peppercorn tree, imported many years ago from Egypt, can be found at the fantastic Piperia restaurant to which it belongs. Pefki is also the start of the stunning Pefki Gorge walk, through the hamlet of Aspros Potamos and on to Makrigialos, about a 2 to 3 hours walk.
Orino is also one of the quiet resorts in East Southern Crete. A small traditional settlement with pine trees, located on the east slope of Stavromenos, about 14 kilometre from Makrigialos. A thrilling drive up into the mountains will get you there (Orino means mountainous), with breathtaking scenery. It has an attractive village square surrounded by beautifully tended gardens. The beautiful natural environment of Orino is one of the best preserved natural landscapes of Crete. Numerous interesting architecture samples are preserved in the area from different historical periods. On August 15th, cultural events are organised in the village square.
Lithines, a beautifully maintained village set off the road to Sitia to Makrigialos, is well known for its churches. Of particular interest is the church of the Virgin of Lithines, which is partially built into the rocks, where some remarkably beautiful icons can be seen. Lithines has a number of traditional tavernas and kafenions where one can always get a warm welcome. It is also home to one of liveliest events in the whole of the area. In early September most of the inhabitants of the region get together in the small streets for an evening of both organised (and energetic) and informal Cretan dancing, together with food and drinks for a more than memorable evening. This event is held in Lithines Park at the top of the village, and all visitors are more than welcome.
Schinokapsala is a good example of one of these extraordinarily and quaint East Crete villages with a beautiful view towards the South Mediterranean sea. It’s a particularly verdant area surrounded by pine trees and fed by spring water. Situated 10 kilometres from Makrigialos, under Mount Thripti, the highest mountain in the region. The village has some tavernas, and is a good stopping off point for the scenic drive over the mountains via Agios Ioannis towards Ierapetra. Built at a point of particular natural beauty, the village attracts nature lovers who wish explore the flora and fauna of the region and enjoy their walk among the pine trees and spring waters in the forest. The Venetians listed it as Schinocapsala with 162 inhabitants in their 1583 census.
Aspros Potamos is located in a beautiful valley just in between Makrigialos and the sea, hidden in a fold of the south coast. Aspros Potamos, meaning white river due to the lime which is washed down into the river bed with the winter rains, is a small hamlet approximately 1 kilometre from the main Makrgialos road, at the base of the lovely Pefki Gorge. The cottages found here were originally owned and used as overnight accommodation by the inhabitants (and their animals) of the mountain village of Pefki when they came down to the coast to pick their olives. Almost all the cottages have been carefully and beautifully renovated, yet they still retain all the wonderful old characteristics found in Cretan rural cottages.
Koutsouras (Κουτσουράς) is a village in South East Crete, Lassithi, 22 kilometres east of Ierapetra and 2 kilometres out of Makrigialos. Its population is around 1000 people and it’s the administrative centre of the region. It is home to the Town Hall, the Police station and the communal Park. Whilst it is a tourist resort with many beaches, hotels and apartments it is also the centre for the greenhouse business that provides much of the fresh local production seen in the local restaurants and shops. Many local events such as open air concerts and plays take place in the communal park during the summer season, well worth a visit. Koutsouras also boasts two large supermarkets, a petrol station and a football ground. It also has a promenade along the sea front, stretching along the main beach area with several excellent tavernas. In Koutsouras you will also find one of the most known gorges of South East Crete, the Butterfly Gorge. Its entrance is at the little forest of Koutsouras, next to the communal park. Read also our news post about Koutsouras at our news blog.
Approximately 6 kilometres out of Makrigialos, Agios Stephanos stands on a small plateau, 420 metres above sea level. The beautiful church of Agios Stephanos, which has been recently renovated, is well worth a visit. There are a few small tavernas, and the narrow winding streets make it an interesting place to stroll around. The views from the village are particularly beautiful, with Thripti, eastern Crete’s highest mountain (1450m) to the West and the southern Mediterranean Sea to the South. Above Agios Stephanos, on the hill and overlooking the village, are the ruins of a Venetian castle, believed to have been built in the 13th-14th century AD for the defence of the area. Local people today call the hill Castellos and also Fortetsa. There are many paths and untreated roads to wander and explore. These range from a stroll around the nearby orchards and allotments of the local inhabitants, to long hikes for the more adventurous, through the imposing valley to the west of Agios Stephanos which eventually brings you down to Kalomokania beach.
Kalo Nero (Good Water) is found on the road to Goudouras, approximately 4 kilometres out of Makrigialos and close to Moni Kapsa. The village consists of some houses nestling underneath the mountains and a very good traditional taverna on the main road. The taverna is called “OASIS” and it operates since 1958. Oasis is a small paradise with trees, flowers and a small fountain with goldfishes. Daily you can enjoy tasty homemade food baked in the traditional wood oven. Kalo Nero is named after the “Good Water” that was to be found here in springs from the base of the mountains to the North, when the shepherds of Pervolakia brought their flocks down to the coast. It is also a small harbour, where one or two fishing boats harbour during the year. There are two beaches near the village that are good for clear water and snorkelling. Close to these beaches there are rocks on the seabed where sea salt is traditionally harvested from the evaporation of seawater by several locals. See our blog post about Kalo Nero sea salt.
A beautiful, almost deserted village high in the mountains above Agios Stephanos with spectacular views of Mount Thripti. Being so high, at 700m, Aori affords quite a different climate to that of the lower villages and many grapevines are successfully grown here.
KATO (lower) PERVOLAKIA
An old still-thriving, village built in a natural bowl above and behind the Kapsa Monastery. Kato Pervolakia is split into two distinct areas - one part of the village straddles a river and is inhabited, whilst the older, now deserted part sits on an outcrop of rock overlooking the steep ravine as the river falls down to the sea. Kato Pervolakia is accessible on mostly unpaved roads, and 4-wheel drives are advisable, but not necessary, so care is recommended. It's also the start of the magnificent Pervolakia Gorge. This is a walk that takes you down through stunning scenery with imposing cliffs. It is also a source of many of the aromatic herbs to be found in this area, especially towards the lower end of the gorge. Care is recommended on this walk as a lot of the pathways are loose rock and scree, and liable to erosion from time to time.
A remote, almost deserted village high on the road from Kato Pervolakia to Armeni. Although few people live here, the village has a small taverna offering refreshments from time to time. Ideal for walkers as the views from the unpaved road on the Armeni side are impressive (4 wheel drive necessary). Look out for the 'bridge to nowhere' for which many explanations are offered by locals - what's yours?
Pezoulas is the old and now largely abandoned town that preceded Kato Pervolakia and can be found on an outcrop less than 500 meter to the south of the current village. This is well worth a stroll to see the construction of the historical villages of the region as each building is in a different state of disrepair, due to neglect over the years.
Pilalimata is situated just outside Makrigialos on the Sitia road. It is a small village surrounded by olive groves with a view down to Lagada beach. It also marks the start of road leading to Kalo Nero and Moni Kapsa. In the middle of Pilalimata is the beautifully maintained church of Agios Dimitris. Pilalimata, along with Diaskari, Analipsi, and Lagada belonged to the community of Pefki. At the lovely Diaskari beach with it’s excellent beach tavern, there is the remains of a large late Minoan community (1400-1050 B.C), although systematic excavations have not yet been carried out.
Agios Antonios is a settlement of approximately ten houses and can be found left on the road to Agios Stephanos, about one kilometre from the start of the road in Makrigialos. A tarmac road leads you to a parking place above the small church of Agios Antonios from where you can find lovely views of the headland at Makrigialos and the bay of Kalomokania.
Neapoli is a charming and beautiful town which was once the capital of the Lasithi area before this role was taken over by Aghios Nikolaos in 1904. Neapoli is still the seat of the local administration and the provincial court. It is located in a green valley with dense olive groves, from which the main road that connects Heraklion to Agios Nikolaos passes. It is a quiet, friendly and peaceful town with many beautiful buildings, nice gardens, old churches and several attractions. From Neapoli it is only about 35 kilometer to the Lasithi Plateau, as well as a short distance to Aghios Nikolaos and Elounda on the Gulf of Mirabello. Comprehensive information about Neapoli can be found on neapoli-crete.com which is a community based website aiming to provide information about Neapoli.