Monday, 28 October 2013

Explore the spectacular coastline beyond Hiona Beach... with your dog

On the coastal road behind Hiona Beach, with Mount Petsofas in the background
I spend a lot of time at Palaikastro, working for the excavations of the Bronze Age settlement which lies at the foot of Mount Petsofas, just beyond Hiona Beach. This area is breathtakingly beautiful. Due to the so-called 'Alpha Zone' which surrounds archaeological sites, building is restricted in this area. It is also fairly inaccessible, except by 4x4, again restricting development of this stark coastal strip. With the exception of a couple of shepherd huts and some abandoned lime kilns, there is nothing man-made as far as the eye can see. 

I love exploring this coastline, finding small coves for swimming, looking for evidence of Minoan civilisation (walls and pot sherds can be seen all over as the coast slowly erodes), and just sitting enjoying being absolutely in the middle of nowhere...with my dog. 

However, I am going to have to be a bit careful with this post for several reasons. For a start, there are signs forbidding dogs on both Hiona Beach, and the smaller coves to the South-east. I have been there, often, for an evening swim with Sage, but I feel I can't exactly recommend a beach that specifically states that dogs are not allowed. A dirt road runs behind Xiona Beach, passed the small coves, and continues up and around the coast to Skinias Beach. Along this path you can access the sea at various points, including some smooth limestone plaques that slope gently to the water, with overhanging rock for shade, and tiny deserted beaches. 

"No Dogs" sign at small coves at Hiona Beach
Secondly, I absolutely recommend stopping to visit the wonderful archaeological site of Palaikastro, although this is not a dog-friendly activity - please leave dogs outside the site as the remains are fragile and in need of preservation. 

This site is free of charge and always open to visitors. Information boards provide basic descriptions of the various buildings that have been excavated and you can see some of the wealth of finds, including the unique gold and ivory statuette of a (presumed) worshipper, in the museum at Siteia. However, I believe that the best thing about this site is its location. It is a very romantic area, especially in the early evening when the hills behind the site turn yellow and pink. I think it is fairly easy to see why the Minoans would have chosen this place to live, with access to the sea, a nearby river, coastal plains for crops. 

The Minaon site at Palaikastro
My final hesitation with this post is due to a rumour I heard this year about planned development of this coastline. There is talk of a deluxe golf resort somewhere along the path between Hiona and Skinias. I feel a bit divided on this one. 
On the one hand, it is a long stretch of coast, and a well planned, discreetly constructed resort that brings the economic benefits of tourism to the area has to be a good thing.  
On the other hand, this stretch of coast is fantastic for its stark emptiness. It's this sense of complete isolation and being in the middle of nowhere that makes it so special. With the construction of a resort, and new roads to access a new resort, I worry that this special place would lose something.
The road beyond Hiona Beach 
As well as wandering along this coastal path, you can climb the steep but relatively easy path up to the Minoan peak sanctuary at Petsofas (to be described in a later post). From here you have truly spectacular views of the coast, almost as far as Zakros, and the fertile plains between Palaikastro village and Kastri down by the sea.

You can also follow small tracks (mostly signposted) to the small Karoumes Beach, and even further on to Kato Zakros. These paths take you winding through mountains and olive groves, and really give a sense of escape from the well-trodden tourist routes. They do require a bit of care however - carry water with you, wear suitable shoes, and time your hike to avoid excessive heat.

This area is best explored with a picnic, plenty of time, and, of course, your dog!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Dinner at Finistrini Taverna, Palaikastro... with your dog

Dinner at Finistrini Taverna with Garbi and Sage
My poor friends didn't realise I had ulterior motives when I suggested dinner at the lovely Finistrini Taverna, just off the square in the village of Palaikastro. The waiters had barely brought out the bread and cutlery when I started embarrassing them by wandering about the taverna, trying to take photos of our two dogs from different angles. Their dog, Garbi, is not so used to modelling as Sage, and kept hiding under our table, which just meant I had to take even more shots to try to get them both in the frame...
We went to Finistrini in mid September. There taverna was busy, but not so full that we couldn't find a table to sit out of the way of other customers with our dogs. Everybody was fine about the dogs being there, both staff and the other customers, and the couple next to us quite fell in love with Sage.

Finistrini serves traditional Cretan cuisine, but sets itself apart from the others through presentation. We ordered a lot of food -fava, cheese pie, aubergine with cheese and tomato, salad, grilled meat - and each came out beautifully prepared (and tasty) on long narrow, or small square dishes.

The decor is interesting too. They have used shells and netting for decoration, and managed not to look like a seaside tourist shop.

This taverna is usually a bit quieter than those on the square itself, which means it's maybe not quite so good for people watching, but is a lovely place to have a quiet meal and good conversation, with or without your dog.

Have a look here at the description on Sitia Life:
They also have a Facebook page:

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Sunday, 13 October 2013

Free-camping at Tertsa Beach... with your dog

On the beach at Tertsa 
For a break from writing about the easternmost tip of Crete, I thought I'd write about this small haven on the south coast, near Ierapetra. I first visited the area of Myrtos and Tertsa five or six years ago. Since then, I've gone back almost every year. Despite basically consisting of small tavernas and mini-markets, Myrtos has stayed small, quiet and isolated, and I love the 'sleepy' village feel. There are several good places to eat and drink there, and the beach is long and sandy. There are a few small hotels and apartments to rent, but I haven't stayed here with my dog. I'll update this post if I find dog-friendly accommodation at Myrtos.

If you continue on down the unmade, but manageable road to the west of Myrtos, next to the beach, you come to Tertsa, which is even quieter and sleepier than Myrtos. We have found this to be an easy place to spend time at the beach with our 4-legged friends.

Tertsa Beach
A couple of years ago, we came here with a small group of friends, and quietly pitched tents to the east of the beach, under some tamarisk trees. I don't remember exactly what time of year it was, late summer I think. Nobody caused any problems about either the camping, or the two dogs (Mayia was camping too).
A younger looking Mayia on the beach at Tertsa (still a pup)
Sage and Mayia had been playing all evening on the beach, always returning to sit close by, before running off again to chase shadows and chew on sticks - doing their thing.

This was back in the early days of camping with Sage, and, I don't know, I suppose I was braver then. After a lovely evening star gazing and chatting with friends, we climbed into our tents, and I left Sage free to roam the beach. I can't believe I did that now.

I woke up early with the morning sun, and crawled out of my tent, to find an empty beach. No Sage. It's not a particularly long beach, but as we were camped at one end, I had a view of the whole bay... with no signs of a big, young, black dog anywhere.

I didn't want to start shouting and wake up my friends, so I began running up and down the beach, doing a kind of half whisper-half shout. I don't know how many of you readers have had the experience of losing, or temporarily not finding your dog, but it is a truly awful feeling. I don't know how many times I ran up and down the beach, before I found her, sheepishly licking her lips, in one of the small (empty) beach bars at the far end of the beach.
The rest of the day was spent sitting in the shade of the tents and the trees, swimming and playing with the dogs. We had lunch on the terrace of Lambros Taverna, which is in the centre of the village, overlooking the beach. The 'decking' area of the taverna, right above the beach, is a great place to sit and eat, while keeping your dog out of the way of other customers. They serve a good range of traditional Cretan cuisine - fava, salads, grilled meat and fish, fasolakia (green beans in a tomato sauce) etc.
Have a look at their Facebook page:

We also made a stop at Tertsa last summer, while on our way back to central Crete from the east. Driving west from Siteia along the south road takes longer than the national 'highway' in the north, but it's nice to see some different sites and change the route if you have time. A lot of the south coast in this part of Crete is a bit busy, such as the tourist resort of Makrigialos, so I would definitely recommend pushing on to Myrtos or Tertsa if you are travelling with your dog.

There are two very important Minoan sites in the area of Myrtos: one from the beach road towards Tertsa, called Myrtos Fournou Korifi, provides significant information on the early phases of the Bronze Age in Crete; the second near the entrance to the village of Myrtos, by the bridge, Myrtos Pyrgos, has yielded some exquisite finds (mostly in display in the museum at Agios Nikolaos), and provides an insight into life in a wealthy Middle-Late Minoan settlement.

Both these sites are open to the public, without tickets. As both sites are in need of site conservation and information, they can be a bit underwhelming and confusing if visited without a guide or, at least, a good informative guidebook. It goes without saying that these important sites should be treated with respect to the remaining archaeology, and that dogs should be left outside.

By the excavators:
Peter Warren: Myrtos: An Early Bronze Age Settlement in Crete. (B.S.A. Supplementary Volume 7.)  London: Thames and Hudson, 1972
Cadogan, Gerald. 1977-78. “Pyrgos, Crete, 1970-7” in Archaeological Reports ( Archaeology in Greece): 70-84. 2007

Useful on-line info about the sites:

Mayia using Sage as a pillow, on the journey home from Tertsa

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Monday, 7 October 2013

Enjoy the view from Xiona Seafood Restaurant... with your dog

"Hello, I'd like to sit and just have some wine with my..."
I hesitated. I wasn't sure if I was asking if it was ok to just have a drink rather than a meal, or whether it was ok for me to bring my dog Sage in to the taverna.
"With your friend", said the waiter, finishing my sentence "Of course, have a seat!"

On the terrace of Xiona Seafood Restaurant
I've always loved this place. I've been coming to the Seafood Restaurant at the end of Xiona Beach since my first season working at the archaeological site at Palaikastro, ten years ago. I love the views from the terrace that is so close to the sea it is practically floating. I love it at the end of the day, when the light changes and the entire bay from Kastri round almost as far as Zakros, glows bright yellow, changes into pink, and finally darkens. I love it that, for the moment, there is no development on this coastline, just rock and sea and the occasional goat.

In the last three years, I have been there several times with Sage. The owners and staff are always very welcoming. They didn't even complain when our girls (on a visit with Sage's friend Mayia) were sitting right in the middle of the steps, blocking the way and sniffing at staff carrying trays of food.

Prices at the Seafood Restaurant Xiona are quite reasonable, especially considering that a lot of the menu is freshly caught fish, and that it has about the most fantastic location in the whole of the Itanos District. You can get a plate of small fried fish for 7 or 8 Euros, as well as various mezedes such as stuffed vine leaves and fresh salads. Prices go to about 15-20 Euros for a portion of grilled fresh fish.       
                                                                                               It is mostly the atmosphere that draws me back there, year after year. I often feel a bit awkward going to sit in a taverna or cafe with Sage. I feel like everyone is looking at me, thinking I am crazy. I worry that we are in the way, that people will complain. That's why I loved it when the waiter described Sage as my "friend" rather than my "dog". They made me feel like it was quite acceptable to sit with Sage, enjoying the view and a glass of wine, after a walk around the coast. 
This is just chance, of course, but all the customers on this particular evening, this summer, were so friendly to Sage. There were children who couldn't stop coming over to stroke and play with her. They told me their family was just in the process of choosing a dog. There was a group of foreign tourists who came over and helped me take photos, and petted Sage. And there was an Athenian woman who, while stroking Sage, told me about her difficult journey from Athens via ferry... to holiday with her cat! 

For more information:

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