30 August 2013

A week in Rethymnon as Crete
celebrates 100 years of enosis

Coffee for two? Or three? A table on the corner of Ethn. Anistasseos and Tsouderon streets in Rethymnon this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

I arrived back in Rethymnon this afternoon [30 August 2013], and for the next week I am staying once again on Tsouderon Street in Pepi Studios – a small hotel in this charming old-world town on the north coast of Crete.

Tsouderon Street is the heart of a small coastal city that many regard as one of the best-preserved Venetian Renaissance cities in Greece.

I first stayed in this town a quarter of a century ago in 1988, and I was back in Rethymnon for a week last summer.

The entrance to Pepi Studios ... I am staying here for the next week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Pepi Studios is a small, quiet hotel at No 22 Tsouderon Street, housed in a charming old Venetian building in a side street off Arkadiou Street.

The entrance to the hotel is squeezed between an ATM for the local branch of the National Bank of Greece, which is housed in an impressive neoclassical villa, and Bistro 22, which is both a café and a bar, and in the morning it becomes the breakfast room for Pepi’s guests.

The charming gardens and the pool at Pepi Studios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Pepi has 14 studios and four maisonettes, arranged around a charming garden and a small outdoor swimming pool. Each studio has a kitchen, free Wi-Fi internet and a flat screen TV with satellite channels.

We are staying Studio 7, with a balcony looking straight down onto Tsouderon Street. Behind the white walls and gardens around the pool, I can see the library behind Aghia Barbara Church, and the minaret of the former Valide Sulana Mosque juts up above the roofs of the shops and houses to the south.

The long stretch of sandy white beach in Rethymnon is only a few hundred metres walk from Pepi Studios on Tsouderon Street (Photograph Patrick Comerford)

This afternoon, we walked down to the corner with Arkadiou Street, and then took a lazy ramble through the streets of the old town. I am only a few hundred metres walking distance from both the old harbour and the town’s lengthy, sandy beach, which stretches for miles to the east as far as one can see.

The fortezza and the old Venetian harbour are nearby, and there are museums, galleries and old Venetian and Ottoman buildings around every corner, with tavernas, restaurants, cafés and bars on every street, corner and square.

A poster for tonight’s play in the Fortezza as part of the centenary celebrations

This year in Crete, people are celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of ένωσις (enosis) or Crete’s incorporation into the modern Greek state after two and half centuries of Ottoman rule. As part of the centenary celebrations and this year’s programme for Rethymnon’s Renaissance Festival, an adaptation of Patouchas by Ioannis Kondylakis is being staged in the Erofili Theatre in the Fortezza tonight. It tells the story of a young Cretan shepherd’s efforts to understand and conform to the social values of his parents’ village, recording the ways and mores of the Greek countryside.

Or, perhaps, this evening I’ll see if I can find some traditional Cretan music. The Renaissance Festival continues in Rethymnon until Sunday [1 September], and I hope to catch some of the remaining items on the programme, including an icon exhibition which opened in the Artillery Hall in the Fortezza the weekend before last [17 August 2013] and continues until Sunday.

Last year, I spent some time photographing and cataloguing the fountains, mosques and doorways of Rethymnon. But the town also has numerous Byzantine churches and monasteries, enchanting Venetian monuments and palazzos, Ottoman balconies, and narrow alleyways, quiet squares and side streets that are oozing with charm and curiosity.

Akri, one of my favourite restaurants, is a charming taverna in a quiet corner off Kornaru Street (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

During our stroll this afternoon, we had a late lunch in Akri, which has been one of my favourite restaurants since the 1980s. It is a charming taverna in a quiet corner off Kornaru Street, offering traditional, home-made Cretan dishes. The courtyard has patches of green everywhere with a refreshing scent of jasmine and with small tables under a wooden trellis with dripping, overhanging vines.

And during the coming week I plan to find time for long, lingering meals with friends, walks on the beach, time to visit the olive groves and the monasteries in the mountains above Rethymnon, and time to photograph the unique Ottoman hanging wooden balconies in this town.

Bistro 22 on Tsouderon Street ... Pepi Studios are just behind and above the bar (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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