Aptera village in North Western Crete (until recently known as Megala Chorafia) is just five minutes drive from the quiet sandy beaches at Kalami and ten minutes from Kalives, with its beach side tavernas, shops and cafes, 15 minutes from Almirida beach, while Chania town, with it’s beautiful Venetian Harbour, is 20 minutes away.
The village of Aptera is ideally situated for exploring the surrounding countryside, ancient archaeological sites and the idyllic beaches of western Crete The town of Rethymnon is also within easy reach (40 minutes), as is the spectacular Samaria Gorge. The archaeological sites of Knossos and Phaestos are 1.5 hours drive from the village.
Aptera was for many years called Megala Chorafia, which literally means `Big Field’. Aptera is a scatter of houses and farms with an ornate orthodox church as its centrepiece. The local council has recently (2008) announced that the village name has changed to Aptera and some local signs reflect this change. However the signs on the main road, and the name in maps, remains Megala Chorafia.
The ‘Metoche’ area on the eastern side is on a ridge which extends towards the ancient town of ancient Aptera. ‘Zacharias’ is a cluster of houses on the hilltop to the west. Wild flowers bloom along narrow roads on which shepherds move their flocks between fields. There are three small tavernas, two cafes and a new mini-market in the village. The archaeological remains of ancient Aptera, dating from the Minoan and Roman times, are within walking distance of the village. Beyond these stands a Turkish castle, perched strategically on the headland overlooking the sea.
Attractions and Facilities:-
Catherine Mack is a travel writer with a special interest in responsible tourism, Click here to read the article in the Irish Times about her stay at a Pure Crete property at Aptera.
There are three tavernas in the village:
The Cretan Corner (right).
Serves local Cretan dishes, every Saturday a Cretan night with traditional dancers. Wonderful views across the countryside from the terrace.
Taverna Strata (right).
Also serves local dishes and has a charming roof terrace.
- The Cafeneon, popular with the locals (opposite Taverna Aptera) is open for drinks and delicious local snacks.
- (Free Wi-Fi is now available at the tavernas in the village square)
Pure Crete’s properties at Aptera:
Kyani Akti (Blue Beach)
This is about 4 km. Just beyond Kalami, on the road to Kalives. About 1km after the Vigla Taverna take the small turning left, after the big bend (easily missed!), when this road forks take the right fork, through tall bamboo to the beach. A river runs down to the sea, and there is a good (inexpensive) taverna. The beach is popular on Sundays with local people but uncrowded on other days.
The sandy beaches, just behind the main village street, stretch for some distance divided by a river and headlands. Tavernas and cafeterias can be found dotted along various parts of the beach.
Is reached by a particularly pretty drive along the coast from Kalives, with beautiful views across the bay en-route. As it is a bay, it is a good place to go to on windy days. The first part of the beach has shallow sea and is suitable for small children. There are many tavernas to choose from. Almerida is however a more ’commercial’ than other nearby villages and towns.
Other beaches close to Aptera
Georgopolis -has a long wide expanse of sandy beach.
Marathi on the Akrotiri peninsular is often sheltered when it is very windy. Very popular with local people on Saturdays and Sundays, and at lunchtime can become a bit crowded as it is the lunch stopover for the boat tips around Souda Bay.
Kalathas on the Akrotiri peninsular. Sandy beach and shallow sea. Good for small children.
Elaphonisi on the south west coast. A trip to the beautiful ‘pink’ beaches takes a full day but offers a pretty drive through attractive scenery. (usually very busy in July and August, and at weekends).
Falassarna on the far West coast is particularly recommended.
Limnoupoli. The Water Park near Varepetro, a twenty minute drive from Aptera, (on the way to Omalos) offers a good days entertainment. It usually opens in May.
At Georgiopolis, horse riding and trekking is available daily. Signposted off the National Road a little after the Vrisses turn off. Early morning/late evening rides.
Beginners : nature walk
Medium/Advanced : beach ride
Places of interest
Take a walk up to the edge of Aptera village to see the remains of ancient Aptera, including the well preserved Roman cisterns.
Aptera was one of Crete’s most important cities from the fifth century until early Christian times. There are massive walls nearly 4km long, large L-shaped Roman cisterns and, to the south, a classical Greek temple and theatre.
To the north is the Turkish fort with its beautiful views across Souda and down to Kalives. The fort is still used by the Greek navy in times of military alert.
From the fort you can see the Izzedin fortress, once a prison, at Kalami. In the bay you can see three small islands protecting the entrance to the bay. The legend tells that a musical contest between the Sirens and the Muses led to the defeat of the Sirens who plucked off their wings. Flinging themselves from Aptera down into the bay they fell to form the three islands. ‘Aptera’ translates to ‘featherless’ or ‘wingless’.
New finds in February 2006 at Aptera
Greek archaeologists unearthed the fortifications of a 2,350-year-old city marked by extensive signs of siege. Of particular importance to research on Aptera’s history were signs of battles from the post-Classical era, and the discovery of newborn infants buried near the tower.
Other finds included two well-preserved burial chambers, one of which still retains its subterranean stairs and anteroom. One of the chambers, which had been looted probably during later Christian times, contained clay figures of female forms and Eros, the ancient Greek god of love
There is much to explore in the old Venetian City and the Turkish quarter. The archaeological museum has many interesting Minoan exhibits, and the naval museum has a permanent exhibition of the Battle of Crete. Both museums are situated near the old harbour.
Situated near Almerida on the road to Vamos, Gavalohori Museum is a traditional folk museum which gives the visitor a clear idea of the appearance of a traditional Cretan house. There is a shop next door selling local handicrafts. Open all day during high season.
Drive through Almerida and Plaka to Kokkinohorio where a glass blowing factory offers unusual souvenirs.
Situated just north west of Hania. Drive up the Theriso gorge to arrive in the small mountain village of Theriso, quiet except on Spring and Autumn Sundays when families of Greeks arrive for lunch. Venezelos’ house can be visited most days up to 2.00pm, enquire at the taverna nearest to the Venezelos memorial. The small museum in the square has photographs from 1941-5.
Argiroupolis and the Ancient Roman City of Lappa
Follow the road to Rethymnon and soon after Georgiopoli you will see the Argiropolis ( and Episkopi) turn off to your right. You can pick up a local map from the Herb and Avocado shop near the church in the village square. Amongst other things to see there is a wonderful Roman floor mosaic from around the 1st Century BC, a 2000 year old plane tree, the ancient Necropolis, and the waterfalls giving a choice of tavernas to eat lunch at.
The Minoan palace near Heraklion, plus the museum in the town centre, are essential viewing. We suggest early morning or late evening in Summer months, as Knossos has very little shade.
A major Minoan palace, in the south of the island.
Samaria National Park
Situated on the White Mountains (Ta Lefka Ori) of Western Crete the Samaria Gorge begins some 1,200 meters above sea level. The gorge ends approximately 16 kms (5 – 6 hours walk) later on the south coast of Crete in Aghia Roumeli where the sandy shore touches the Libyan Sea. It’s the only one of its kind to be found in the Mediterranean.
Founded in 1962, the National Park was originally set up to protect the 12,125 acres of natural beauty and historic heritage of the area.
Over 14 million years ago pressure at the earth’s core caused the formation of the gorge. Rainfall running in a south easterly directiontowards the sea channeled out the lime stone, slate and marble layers thus creating a narrow passage way which at its most impressive is 3m x 600m.
The small waterfalls and natural springs provide the gorge walkers with an abundance of crystal clear, cool, fresh drinking water even in the height of summer. Other characteristics such as caves and summits, some of which exceed 2,000m high indeed enhance an enchanting atmosphere. Over 450 different species of fauna can be found in the gorge, some of which are exclusive to Crete such as the diktamus (amaracus dictamus) and the Cretan Pine tree (pinus brutia cretica). Some species are solely found within the Samaria Gorge, like the well known wild Cretan goat, the Kri & Kri and the Cretan badger. There are also many different types of vole, ferret, lizard, frog and birds of prey, some of which are rarely found elsewhere in Europe.
As far back as pre-historic times, townships were built with names such as Kaino and Tarra, there is also the Holy Oracle of Apollo, ancient Christian burial grounds and Byzantine temples. The now forsaken village situated in the heart of the gorge, Samaria, and indeed the gorge itself , take their names from the small church built in 1379 which was dedicated to The Holy Mary.
Man’s presence therefore has obviously been harmonious with nature over the centuries. Today coaches unload day trip tourists, keen walkers, botanists and nature lovers who make their way up or down the uneven terrain. Unfortunately time restrictions don’t allow you to fully take in the beauty as you walk through, most of the time you have to keep your eyes glued to the ground and hope to make it in time to catch the last ferry boat to Sfakia or Souyia, where the bus or coach picks you up and brings you back to Hania.
The walk must be undertaken using either public transport or an excursion bus. See ‘excursions’ page for info, or ask your representative for information re bus times. The gorge usually opens 1st May until 15th October, depending on weather conditions.
If you have any suggestions to help Pure Crete in its service to its clients and to the local people please talk to your representative before you go. We always appreciate your opinions; they are more useful to us if passed on in Crete.
Birds at Aptera and surrounding areas.
The commoner Cretan birds such as Sardinian and Cetti’s Warblers, CrestedLarks and Kingfishers are year long residents, but during the spring andautumn migrations there are many additional species to be seen.The site at Aptera is worth exploring. One can expect to see Sardinian Warblers, Stonechats and Crested Larks. The Blue Rock Thrush may be more elusive. Positioned atop the Turkish fort, look out for birds of prey which are frequently seen flying along the line of cliffs, often being mobbed by the local Hooded Crows. During the hours of darkness one invariably hears and sometimes sees the Scops Owl, indeed several clients in the past have reported being observed by this bird whilst sitting out on their terraces.
Souda Bay British War Cemetery is well worth a visit. The well kept garden surrounded by trees provides close views of many birds including migrants such as Red-backed Shrike, Wryneck and Wood Warblers. The journey can be continued onto the Akrotiri peninsula and the gardens/orchards of its two monasteries at Aghia Triada and Moni Gourverneto, where the irrigated plots attract lots of Finches (including Hawfinch), Wagtails and Red-backed
Shrike. Crested Larks are everywhere. Kingfishers have been spotted diving into the sea in Almerida harbour, in the harbour at Hania, along the river which flows into the sea at the far western end of the Kalives beach below the fort of Izeddine and at Kalami, Skala.
Venturing further afield, a trip to Omalos combines spectacular scenery with sightings of most of the raptors commonly occuring in Crete. In addition Choughs, Crag Martins and Woodlark have been seen. Somewhat rarer is the elusive Rock Bunting. Heading into Rethymnon province and taking the route through the Kourtalioliko and Kotsiphos gorges, one can expect to see Griffon Vultures, Golden and Bonelli’s Eagles, numerous Buzzards and perhaps a glimpse of a Lammergier. On the return journey visit the Petres River Gorge, a breeding site for Griffon Vultures, Peregrines and Blue Rock Thrush. Recently, on a trip from Therisso to Zourva (which can be driven), a stand of trees in the valley below were covered by a flock of Bee-eaters. The best times to be in Crete are during the migrations, but there is always something interesting to observe. Binoculars are essential and good reference guides.
Mountain view from Aptera (photo by Pure Crete client Chris Jacob)