Before even arriving in Mahairi, to negotiate the small bridge crossing the Ag Nikolas gorge is impressive.
A protected historical monument
Then you come to the village, built beneath a towering rock face, its traditional rural buildings forming a direct link with the late Venetian period. The village thankfully remains relatively unspoiled as it has been designated by the Greek Ministry of Culture as a protected historical monument and there are strict controls over its development.
To help preserve the character of the place Rula and her husband Kostas have renovated a number of houses to a high standard which are available for visitors to rent.
Don't miss a stop at the kafenion on the platea of Ramni, it has staggering views over a valley and into the White Mountains. From the platea follow the road down the hill then straight on to Kares or right to Kiriakorelia.
A huge plane tree that you can actually stand inside
Half way to Kares the road is joined by a stony track from the left which leads to Melidoni. Kares is the end of the road and is marked by a huge plane tree that you can actually stand inside. In the village are many old buildings dating back to Venetian and Turkish times, several churches, the remains of a Venetian fortress and three large caves. From the cool depths of the White Mountains numerous refreshing springs emerge through the very rocks, one even boasts a tap.
A short distance before entering Kares a rough road to the right, sign posted ‘Gournes', leads up the mountain, ‘Madara' and a collection of ‘mitata' (shepherds huts), livestock enclosures, wells, a small church and what can only be described as a ‘stone age' kafeneion.
Kiriakoselia and Hiliomoudou
At the bottom of the hill after leaving the platea in Ramni, straight on leads to Kares so turn right to Kirikoselia and the church of Agia Mama, built into a rock. Further on a sharp left turn leads you on to St Nicolas, one of the most beautiful and atmospheric Byzantine churches on Crete. Built in the 11th century and decorated with a magnificent collection of restored frescos it is generally locked but the key to view can be obtained in the next village Hiliomoudou.
Traditional crafted Cretian musical instruments
In this quiet mountain village lives Leonidas in his own small world.
He is one of the few remaining crafters of traditional Cretian musical instruments, the lyre and the laouto which are essential to any Cretian festival. Leonidas is also the proud owner of a small olive mill, completely traditional without any modern machinery which he inherited from his father.
Step back in time to help Leonidas
Using old mill stones powered by a donkey he produces pure organic olive oil which cannot be bought in shops.
He also produces his own wine and raki while his wife Eleftheria, bakes wonderful bread in an old stone oven. All produce can be bought in his Taverna Lemonia (known locally as the Eagle's Nest). Any visitor wishing to step back in time to help Leonidas and Eleftheria would be welcome. Their taverna is noted not only for it's delicious healthy food, mainly produced by themselves and hospitality but also spectacular views over the surrounding land. Taverna Lemonia is open all the year round although it is wise to book in advance and often has live Cretan music and dancing.
The road from Hiliomoudou to Samonas leads to a small valley divided by a beautiful gorge. The area is surrounded by green mountains and old olive tree plantations. In Samonas old houses have been renovated. Besides that you find the well known "Eagle`s Nest Taverna" with a wonderful view of the valley below and serving traditional Cretan mountain food.
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