The first day of our road trip to South Crete was amazing; we got to see some very interesting places like the archaeological site of Phaistos, the hippies’ town Matala and the seafront village of Agios Pavlos with the relaxed atmosphere and incredible beaches.
On our second day we headed towards Plakias a seaside town in South Rethymnon. Plakias is more tourism – oriented with a big variety of restaurants, shops and bars but not overdeveloped.
We had chosen a very special activity for the day, horseback riding in Alianthos Crete horse riding center. It was my second time riding a horse, my first time was in the Bahamas and so I thought I would try it again. For my boyfriend, on the other hand was the first time.
We arrived at the stables on time for our lesson. After meeting with our trainers and our horses, we were shown some basic riding and safety techniques. We then did some riding inside the stables in order to get the hang of it and afterwards we headed for our 1 hour walk towards the beach through a path full of olive groves. For both of us it was an amazing experience, especially after the first couple of minutes when we felt more comfortable with the horses.
Our next stop for the day was the famous Preveli monastery. The monastery has a remarkable history due to its leading role during the ottoman occupation and World War II. It was there that a lot of soldiers from the allied troops found shelter from the German soldiers. In the monastery you can see marble plaques that soldiers from New Zealand and Australia sent to the monastery thanking them for saving their lives.
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Just before my visit I read a wonderful book of Leah Fleming called “The girl under the olive tree” which is the story of an English girl who arrives in Athens and when the war breaks out she becomes a nurse of the Red Cross. She then finds herself on the island of Crete helping the wounded. This book tells wonderfully the history of Crete in World War II and the Battle of Crete.
The monastery consists of two main building complexes; the Lower (Kato) monastery of Saint John the Baptist which is abandoned but has a small museum and the rear (Piso) monastery of Saint John the Theologian which is in operation. At the rear monastery there is a museum with a great collection of icons and ecclesiastical garments and vessels.
As you approach the area you will see an old stone bridge over a small river. Next to it there is a beautiful taverna. Following the road the first monastery on site is the Lower (kato) monastery. A few kilometers uphill you will meet the Rear (Piso) monastery.
Apart from the monasteries the area is famous for its beach. Preveli beach is one of the most popular ones in South Crete. The Kourtaliotiko gorge and Megas Potamos (river) end in this beautiful beach with the white sand and crystal clear waters. If you want to access the beach there are two ways to do it. Just before the second monastery you will see a sign that leads to a big parking (there is a small fee 2, 50 €) for leaving your car. From there starts a downhill path that leads to the beach. It should take you 15 to 20 minutes to get there but the view of the beach will compensate you. Ii is easy to go down but it’s more difficult to climb up.
The easy way is by taking a small boat from Agia Galini and Plakias but you will miss the incredible view.
The beach is not particularly organized but it has a small beach bar for lunch and refreshments. Behind the beach, by the river, there is a palm tree forest that you can walk by; you can also swim in the river. The water is a bit chilly though.
It was my first bath for the summer but it was so cold at the end of May that I completely froze. In the meantime many people were enjoying the sea. Before heading back to the car we walked by the river and through the palm tree forest.
Our last stop for the day was the mountain village of Spili; a traditional village with incredible view to the sea and the valley. The square of the village is very beautiful with a tone fountain with lion heads. There is a very nice taverna at the main road of the village called Kostas – Maria that serves traditional Greek food on a porch full of flowers. Alternatively if you don’t want to eat, a coffee at the square is highly recommended.
The sun has already set by the time we arrived at our hotel in Agios Pavlos. It was a wonderful day but we had to rest because on the 3rd day of our trip we would go to the village of Argiroupoli, famous for its springs and to the town of Rethymnon.