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Beaches, Monasteries and a Beautiful Hike
A Trip across the Akrotiri Peninsula

A Trip across the Akrotiri Peninsula
'Beaches, Monasteries and a Beautiful Hike'

Georgioupolis - Souda - Agia Triada Monastery (Tzangarolou) - Gouverneto Monastery - Hike - Stavros Beach - Kalathas Beach - The Venizelos Tombs near Chania (approx. 120 km)

Many of you will have already been on the Akrotiri Peninsula: Chania airport is situated here. You can explore it at your leisure by rental car or motorbike for a day full of diversity, and still have enough time for a swim and for a simple hike with sea views through the most unspoiled nature of Crete.

Starting from Georgioupolis, leave the National Road towards Chania at the 'Souda' exit. You will see the large car ferry to Piraeus moored at the quay (it almost only leaves by night due to lorries transporting goods), and then follow the street to the inner end of the bay. A short detour takes you to the 'Souda Bay Allied War Cemetery'. Here you will stand among the graves of over 700 British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers killed in action on Crete during the Second World War. Gaze out across Souda Bay, where NATO war ships are almost always anchored, and perhaps you will ask yourself, will we never learn?

Monasteries of Crete
Agia Triada Monastery

Driving past the western end of the runway at Chania Airport, follow the signs to Agia Triada Monastery, also known as Tzangarolou after its benefactors, a Venetian family. Today it is one of the most economically active monasteries on the whole island: it distils raki, produces its own wine and olive oil, and is even successful in the export market.

The Renaissance façade of the monastic church still dates back to the year of its construction in 1631. The Turks burned the convent to the ground in 1821, but it was rebuilt as early as 1830. Inside the church, many large-scale, beautiful icons await you. To the left beneath the monastery, there's a separate entrance accessible from the car park. Here you can view the wine cellar and buy products made by the monastery. The raki distillery and wine bottling plant are housed in a building right next door.

Founded in 1612, this monastery to the Holy Trinity is particularly lovely and photogenic, situated on the edge of a remarkably fruitful plain, full of vineyards and olive groves. Many interesting icons hang in the church. You can purchase many high-quality, gastronomic souvenirs in the monastery's wine cellar.

Agia Triada Monastery Chania Crete

The access road to the monastery in itself tells visitors that this is something special: a long alleyway lined with cypress trees. The convent emanates a sense of prosperity with its 3-storey façade with an abundance of windows and a bell tower dating back to 1864, erected above the richly ornate Renaissance portal. A freestanding flight of 24 stairs leads up inside. The aristocratic, Venetian-orthodox Tzangarolon family financed the monastery when it was built in 1612 and endowed it with extensive seigneuries in the surrounding area.

Some extraordinary icons with interesting tales to tell hang on the ornately carved iconostasis in the monastic church. One of the icons tells of the prophet Elijah (2nd on the left from the middle door) with small adjacent scenes from his life. For example, on the top right it shows how he is taken up into heaven by a horse of fire. In adjacent scenes, the icon of John the Baptist (2nd on the right from the middle door) shows the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.

There are two particularly large and eye-catching icons on each of the walls of the nave. The one on the left thematises the Nativity of Jesus; the one on the right the Harrowing of Hell. Take a moment to try to analyse these icons:

The birth of Jesus doesn't take place in a stable, but rather in a dark cave. The new-born babe isn't lying in a manger, but on a kind of altar. This expresses two things: through the birth of this infant, the darkness of death is overcome, and whoever receives the body and blood of Christ in faith at the Holy Eucharist will partake of eternal life. Two adjacent scenes are addressed to doubters. The fact that the child is washed after birth, shows that he came into this world as man in a truly natural way - here, God really did become man. The fact that Joseph, in one corner, is sitting in deep contemplation in front of a shepherd in another corner of the picture, shows that he's not really the father - perhaps he is doubting the story that his wife Mary told him.

The Harrowing of Hell is hanging directly opposite the birth icon. In a way, it shows the deliverance of the promise made at Jesus' birth. Between his death and resurrection, Christ immediately descended to the underworld to awaken the dead to eternal life. Hades, the guardian of the underworld, would not let him enter willingly. This is why Christ is standing on the panels of two doors overlapping in the shape of a cross. The nails and hinges lying around prove that he stormed into the underworld by force. To his left and his right he first pulls Adam and Eve from their sarcophagi, who represent the awaiting mankind.

Monasteries of Crete
Gouverneto Monastery

There's only 4 km between Agia Triada Monastery and Gouverneto Monastery, but the narrow street leading you through a low gorge and an overwhelmingly barren landscape already indicates that you are now entering another world entirely.

This monastery sits completely isolated high above the sea. There is no village, no other house in sight. A new wall largely shields the living space of these pious monks from the outside world. A large panel next to the entrance gate alerts you to a whole list of prohibitions: no smoking, no photography, no inappropriate clothing, no picnicking, no noise, no camping! Groups aren't even allowed to enter the monastery!

Continue through the garden to the monastery, which reveals itself in its defensive, medieval garb. The monks here are particularly devout. They fast on Wednesdays and Fridays - and visitors are unwelcome on those days. Otherwise, they are traditionally hospitable, and even explain to you how to hike to the Bear Cave and to the Katholiko Monastery.

Gouverneto Monastery Chania Crete

Hike to the Bear Cave and to the Katholiko Monastery

On a day no hotter than 25oC, the (approx.) 2-hour hike, offering no shade, from Gouverneto Monastery down to the abandoned monolithic Katholiko Monastery and back is one of the most beautiful experiences in the west of Crete.

The path is roughly paved and hard to miss. The hike is suitable for families with smaller children, but not for prams. You can still undertake it on Wednesdays and Fridays when the monastery itself is closed. There is no water or shelter along the way. At the beginning, a panel explains everything that is prohibited, as the whole area belongs to the monastery, making it a sacred space.

The Bear Cave

You'll reach the Bear Cave about 10 minutes into the hike. The entrance is approximately 2 m high and 10 m wide, and you can see everything of importance even without a torch. A small bell hangs on a short sinter column - a 16th-centuy chapel squeezes itself against the entrance of the cave on the left. The roof of the cave has been blackened with soot from the candles lit down here over the course of the centuries. In the middle of the front chamber, water drips down from the stalactites onto a whitened stone. With a little imagination, you can discern the shape of a bear. Next to him, nine steps lead up to a water basin that collects the dripping water. A brick canal leads outside, where the dilapidated walls of a small homestead stand, where monks once lived.

Archaeologists believe that this bear cave was used as early as Minoan times as a sacred cave. No trace of this remains, however. In the 1st century A.D., the Greeks honoured the goddess of hunting here, Artemis, whose sacred animal is the bear. The Christians also named the small chapel Panagia Arkoudiotissa, Our Lady of the Bear.

The Katholiko Monastery

With plenty of steps and switch-backs, the paved path now takes you down the cliffside towards the sea. After 20 minutes, you will find yourself in front of the abandoned Katholiko Monastery. 24 steps before the portal of the monastery, an unremarkable entranceway lies down to the left, leading to a 150 m long and up to 20 m high dripstone cave. An improvised altar lies to the left, to the right an empty grave has been carved into the rock. This was once the resting place of St John the Hermit, who came here in the 10th century from Azogyre on the south coast near Paleochora and whose reputation as a holy man attracted so many other hermits, that a monastery was founded.

The portal of the monastery is a clear sign that the building dates back to Venetian times. The façade of the rock-hewn church bears the distinct traits of the High Gothic and the Renaissance. The structure serving as a bridge spanning the narrow gorge beneath the monastic terrace is more impressive than the church. You can clearly make out several caves in the rock face opposite, where hermits once lived. Like the entire monastery, today they stand empty.

Those who wish can descend into the gorge via the bridge and continue hiking down to the sea for about 20 minutes. The stony shore hardly entices you to bathe, however, which is prohibited here anyway. Be sure to respect the rules!

The path from Gouverneto Monastery to the Katholiko Monastery in Crete

Katholiko Monastery in Chania Crete

The fine sandy beach of Stavros and the beach of Kalathas

From Gouverneto monastery, return to Agia Triada monastery, and then continue via Chorafakia to the first bathing stop at the 'bath tub' of Stavros. Stavros itself is a scattered settlement, overwhelmingly touristic and without any particularly picturesque sights. The fine sandy beach is its only attraction. You will naturally find tavernas here too.

With a touch of endearment and a touch of irony, the super-fine sandy beach in the bay of Stavros, lying in the north-west of the Akrotiri Peninsula, is also known as the 'bath tub'. The bay is almost circular, its shoreline descends very gradually into the sea and is perfect for small children. What's more, the water often shimmers so wonderfully blue and turquoise as if someone had added coloured bath salts. The rock face opposite invites you to spin stories: many can make out a camel in the rock. The beach has tales of its own to tell: this is where Anthony Quinn danced the famous Zorba's Dance in 1964 for Hollywood and the world.

Perhaps you are interested in another beautiful, very different sandy beach. Then drive to Kalathas Beach on the west coast of the peninsula. On a weekend in high summer it's also very popular with the locals. That's not the time to expect to be alone.

Stavros Chania Crete

Venizelos Graves - The Venizelos Tombs near Chania

If you don't want to drive straight back to Georgioupolis, we recommend you continue towards Chania via Kounoupidiana. You will pass by the extensive grounds of the Technical University of Crete. Shortly afterwards, follow the blue signs to the Venizelos Graves.

The tombs of the two great Cretan statesmen, Eleftherios and Sofoklis Venizelos, are nestled amid a beautiful park with a pine forest. The view stretches far beyond Chania, all the way to the White Mountains and along the coast right up to the Rodopou Peninsula. You can best enjoy it from the terraces of the modern music café Koukouvaya (owl), where there's also delicious cake and ice cream on the menu.

Back to Georgioupolis

Afterwards, return via Chania to the National Road, which takes you back past Souda to your village of Georgioupolis.

The Venizelos Tombs near Chania in Crete

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An island full of surprises

A holiday destination for bathing enthusiasts, nature lovers, hikers, and those interested in history and culture. Today, Crete is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Mediterranean - cosmopolitan and mysterious at the same time.

Popular hotels on the sandy beach

The Corissia Hotels are situated within the tranquil, picturesque village of Georgioupolis right on the sandy beach. An ideal seaside resort both to relax and explore the island, because that is just what holidays on Crete are all about.

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