Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Getting into the mountains
and away from a heatwave

Picture postcard Greece can be seen in the backstreets of Piskopiano (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

The present heatwave in Crete is said to be the hottest since about 2007. It was a long hot afternoon at the beach in Platanes yesterday [3 July 2017], and the high waves and strong tides made it impossible to go swimming.

As things began to cool down in the evening, two of us went for dinner in Tsesmes, the small village behind Platanes that leads into the mountains behind Rethymnon.

This is the road to the Venetian village of Maroulas and to the Monastery of Arkadi, which played a shocking role in the struggle for Crete’s unification with Greece in the 1860s.

At times, the signposting can be a bit challenging if not chaotic, but in previous years I have visited some pretty villages in these foothills, including Adele, Pigi and Loutra, and monasteries such as Aghias Anastasias tis Romaias.

Tsesmes is often seen as a starting point, and so is often overlooked by visitors to Rethymnon. But this is an interesting village, with a deeply saddening story of how many of the families arrived here when they were expelled from Çeşme and in the surrounding areas in western Anatolia in the 1920s.

There is still a hint of the cuisine of that region in the food we were offered last night in Pagona’s, with its spices herbs and pomegranate seeds – a reminder of A Touch of Spice (Πολίτικη Κουζίνα, Politiki Kouzina), the 2003 Greek film by Tassos Boulmetis about Fanis Iakovides, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics, and his grandfather Vassilis who was a culinary philosopher in Constantinople.

A Bohemian Salad in Pagona’s in Tsesmes last night (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

This evening I am back in the mountains of Crete in the small village of Koutouloufári, above the popular resort of Hersónisos, east of Iraklion. Two of us caught a bus late in the morning from Rethymnon to Iraklion, and made our way in the mid-day heat up to Koutouloufári, where I am staying at Ariadni Villas for the night.

I first got to know this part of Crete over 20 years ago in the mid-1990s, and last stayed here in 2010. I was so charmed by it once again during a one-day visit last year [2016] that two of us decided it would be worth returning again this year and spending a little more time here once again.

The three villages of Old Hersónisos, Piskopiano and Koutouloufári are strung together in a line from west to east and despite their popularity with holidaymakers in recent decades, this is picture postcard Crete, with many unspoilt corners and delightful tavernas and restaurants.

Late this afternoon I strolled down to Piskopiano to meet friends I have known for over 20 years, to visit the old and the new churches in the villages, where I received a warm welcome, and to have coffee in the shade away from the sunshine.

The temperatures have not fallen much this evening as I head out to dinner, despite the talk of the heatwave coming to an end the possibility of rain tomorrow.

The Church of Saint Nektarios in the village square in Tsesmes (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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