Monday, 24 June 2013

Hiking, swimming and camping around Koudoumas Monastery... with your dog

On the hike from Agios Ioannis beach to the
Koudoumas Monastery
About this time last year (mid-late June 2012) I went for a weekend to southern Crete, to the area of Agios Ioannis Beach. This is a small, pebbly cove east of the larger Lentas Beach, in the Heraklion District.

We went for a live concert in one of the small tavernas. Unfortunately, I can't find the name of the taverna, as it was definitely NOT dog-friendly. It was situated away the beach, 200m into the village. It proved a problem that we had the dogs with us, when we tied them up outside they were barking and disturbing the music, we got in trouble if we had them (sitting quietly) inside. There was no outdoor space to sit with them. In the end we had to leave them in the car. Apparently they had received complaints in the past.

We camped that night on the beach. Sage was there with her friend Mayia, and the two of them ran around all night too excited to sleep. At least the beach is quite contained and they didn't go far.

There are rent rooms in Agios Ioannis but I did not ask whether they allow dogs.
Sage and Mayia with a friend on the beach at Agios Ioannis
The next day 4 of us bravely ignored our hangovers and the lack of sleep, and set off on a hike to the Koudoumas Monastery, together with the two dogs.

In retrospect, we should have left earlier in the morning, as the path is fairly exposed for most of the way and it turned out to be quite far. At our hungover pace, I think it took us almost 2 hours to get there (and 1.5 hours back). There were some spectacular views along the path though, every few metres we went there seemed to be another, more secluded, even more beautiful cove - perfect for free camping.
On the hike to the Monastery
We had a rest in the dramatic church of Agios Antonios - a small chapel constructed within a "/\" shaped cave. There are stalactites and stalagmites in the cave, and endlessly dripping 'holy water' which is collected in troughs. The views from the cave were outstanding.
View from the Chapel of Agios Antonios
The hike was wonderful. Even though we were too hot, and we did have a couple of run-ins with goats along the way (despite her size Mayia is pretty good at herding goats), it was wonderful to be out in the middle of nowhere, nobody else in sight, with the smell of wild mountain plants and herbs, and views of the deserted south coast.
On the hike to Koudoumas Monastery
If I am honest, the monastery was a bit of a disappointment. It is quite modern, it can be reached by road, and as we arrived over the ridge and caught sight of it the first thing I noticed was a big car park. I only had a quick look inside as we had to take it in turns to stay outside with the dogs. So we rested a bit on the beach, although the only shade here was in little caves that were occupied by fishermen, then started back over the way we had come.
Koudoumas Monastery
Resting on the beach below the Monastery
Explore Crete has a useful website with information about the monastery and the surrounding area:

Arriving back at the beach at Agios Ioannis, we sat at the taverna nearest to the sea (again, I don't remember the name!!) where they were more than happy to let our dogs stay with us. In fact, they didn't mind that we let them loose to wander about on the terrace.

Sage really enjoyed this trip. As well as sleeping on the beach, being allowed freedom to explore with her friend, and a long hike through the mountains, there was also a huge amount of bones to chew on after we finished our post-hike steaks.

In fact we did this trip twice. The second time was later in the year, sometime in late July. The beach was very crowded with lots of families and it turned out to be a very bad idea to take Sage there. There was no shade and the pebbles were burning her feet. Everyone glared at us if she went near the water so she couldn't cool off. We spent the day huddled under umbrellas, or drinking coffee in the tavernas - she was hot and bothered and bored. I would not recommend this particular beach in July-August, especially as there are many smaller, quieter coves to explore around the coast.

By the way:  while searching for the tavernas online, I noticed this area is popular with climbers. The Climb in Crete website suggests various routes of different levels of difficulty:
Also of interest in the area is the church of Agios Ioannis (a short walk west from the village), which is also built inside a cave. This church preserves some beautiful Byzantine wall paintings

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1 comment:

  1. We dipped water just at the log bridge and filtered it for dinner and breakfast. Ate freeze dried and played trivia until Norm started to get chilled and we all climbed into our sleeping bags.