17 July 2016

Sunday afternoon in the pretty
coastal village of Panormos

The harbour and beach at Panormos, east of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

The beach and sandy coastline east of Rethymnon stretches for at least 10 km as far as Skalata. A local bus links the hotels and the resorts, which become more low-key the further east you go.

This afternoon [17 July 2016], two of us travelled a little further east along the old coast road as far as Panormos, once a small fishing village and now a beach resort 22 km east of Rethymnon.

Panormos is believed to be on the site of the ancient port of Panormus. In Roman times, it was a port known as Axos. This ancient city continued to grow on this site in the Byzantine period, and this was confirmed with the discovery of the sixth century basilica of Aghia Sophia, 500 metres south-west of the present village.

The basilica was one of the great churches in Greece and may have been the largest in Crete. It once had three aisles, each aisle separated from the other by four columns, and fragments of the capitals have been found too.

The basilica was destroyed in the ninth century during the Saracen invasion of Crete. Later, Panormos was knows as the Kastelli of Milopotamos, or the Castle of Milopotamos, after it was fortified by the Genoese when they conquered it in 1206. The fort fell a few years later to the Venetians, and traces of the fort are still visible next to the harbour.

In the more recent times, Panormos was a centre for exporting locally-produced olives and carobs. Panormos was bombed during the German occupation in the 1940s.

In the narrow streets of Panormos, east of Rethymnon, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

The new E75 national road was built next to the village and the building of a marina in 1980 contributed to the development of Panormos, and the small fishing village and port have been transformed in recent years into a tourist resort.

But because Panormos is set a little off the main road, there is no through traffic and few cars in the village and it retains much of its traditional, old village charm. In the streets and along the beaches there is a good choice of tavernas and small caf├ęs.

Two of us wandered for a while through the small, quiet cobbled streets, where the old houses blend in with the new, many decorated with flower pots and hanging baskets or draped in hibiscus and bougainvillea.

The name Panormos implies a natural harbour. We then spent some time at the small sandy beach at the harbour, Limanaki, below steep rocks and over-hanging tavernas. This afternoon it was popular with Greek families, and its shallow waters were safe for the children, protected from winds with the two harbour piers where the boats tie up.

We had lunch on the balcony of Angyra (‘Anchor’), a pretty taverna. Below us, to the east, was a second, smaller beach with a mixture of sand and pebbles.

We missed the third bigger and sandy beach to the west of Panormos. Instead, we visited the Parish Church of Saint George, with its dome decorated with an imposing fresco of Christ the Pantocrator.

It was just half an hour back to Platanes on the ‘Hotels’ bus that continues on into Rethymnon.

The Pantocrator in the dome of Saint George’s Church in Panormos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

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