81 km | 2.385 vertical meters | Category 1
»And sailing down the side of Crete, as well as we were able, we came to a certain place named Fair Havens, near which was the town of Lasea. And as a long time had gone by, and the journey was now full of danger, because it was late in the year, Paul put the position before them, Saying, Friends, I see that this journey will be one of great damage and loss, not only to the goods and the ship, but to ourselves. But the captain gave more attention to the master and the owner of the ship than to what Paul said.« [Acts of the Apostles 27; 8- 11 / Paul on his journey to Rome]
Only audible to those in the know, there is a soft humming above the waves that turns into a deep buzzing sound as the coastal ferry glides around the small cape near Sougia. The flaps of the bow ramp bang onto the pier and a short time later, you can step onto the vibrating deck of the «Daskalogiannis” or the »Samaria«.
The ferry: Accompanied by the soothing sound of its 1.500 hp engines, the ferry begins to sway gently in the deep blue sea. The rocky coast rises steeply broken up by canyons, lifted up over thousands of years like the breaker zone at the shore. Little white beaches lined up like rare pearls on a string above the gleaming malachite and turquoise water.
But something is different today. There is no humming, no buzzing, just a little ship sitting there. It looks almost shy and bashful because it is so much smaller than its big loud sisters that usually attract all the attention here. As the Lord of the Sea has protected the little ship so far, its owners named it »Neptune« in gratitude.
The travelers look puzzled, but the friendly captain waves and invites them to board »Come aboard! Yes, this is the ferry to Chora Sfakion – it’s a good ship!« The smile fades from his face for a longer moment as he sees the bike, and his skeptical look reveals the hardship of a seaman’s life. But we soon find a space for the bike between crates of tomatoes, onions and bottles of toilet cleaner. No problem at all.
»But after a little time, a very violent wind, named Euraquilo, came down from it with great force. And when the ship got into the grip of it, and was not able to make headway into the wind, we gave way, and went before it.« [Acts of the Apostles 27; 14- 15]
And so it happened that the journey came to an untimely end in Agia Roumeli, where the majestic Daskalogiannis took the stranded voyagers on board and escorted them safely to Chora Sfakion.
From here a challenging climb starts, following the winding road uphill, into the mountains of the Sfakia region and to the villages of Asfendou, Kallikratis, Asi Gonia and the magical fountains of ancient Lappa and Spili.
For the next 15 km, the road cuts in steep curves into the barren slopes of the crystalline limestone, and then ascends to a pine forest whose scent and the sunbeams peeping through the branches give the rough landscape an enchanting feel. It is a pleasure to master this varied ascent and to climb turn after turn parallel to the mountain slopes.
Just outside the village of Imbros there is a right turn to Asfendou in the east that takes you even further up to an altitude of 1130m. At 21 kilometers along the route, a little detour on an asphalt road is definitely worthwhile. It takes you to the peak of Mount Akones (1.243m) where you can see a weatherbeaten radio antenna framework from an abandoned listening post and enjoy a terrific view across Crete, ranging from the silvery sea along the southern coastline to the barren peaks of the mountain range at Sfakia.
In spring, this mountain region can be rather cold and foggy until May. Temperatures may be as low as 0°, so make sure to bring warm clothes and rain jacket.
But when the sun comes out, you can see the houses of Asfendou peeping through the green down in the valley and the road winds gently downward along the slopes of the little plateau – all the way to Kallikratis.
Once you leave Kallikratis behind you, there is a shortcut that saves you 11km. Turn right if you want to try this alternative route in the direction of Vilandredo and Spili.
But come on; let’s get some rhythm on this – let’s go for the adventure. Things will speed up considerably if you choose to proceed in the direction of Argiroupoli! Leaning into the road bends, getting out of the curve with speed, hit the brakes, set the rhythm and dive down steeply in the scary hairpin bends of the Giparis gorge for about 400 vertical meters.
Proceed through authentic Asi Gonia, the local centre of sheep farming and cheese processing, until you reach the green valley.
Oak, chestnut and sycamore trees line the road, and there is a sweet smell of violets. Rest for a while, enjoy the calmness, and listen to the dripping and gurgling sound of the brooks that are abundantly covered with vegetation. This watery valley is surrounded by the up to 1.500m high Sfakia Mountains. It’s a truly unique experience.
If you need a break and some food, there is a tavern under the sycamore trees near the car park in Asi Gonia that I can recommend. Argiroupoli also offers a great range of places to stop for a bite to eat.
When you cross the bridge near Argiroupoli and go past the roaring springs and the upper part of Lappa’s old town, which used to be an important town in Mycenaean and Roman times, you’ll face another ascent. The route means a 400m altitude difference and will take you through a fertile hilly landscape with corn, olive and sheep farms until you reach Velonado and Kali Syktia.
After 60 km of endurance riding and a 1.600m altitude difference, you can enjoy the last 20km to the full. From now on, you’ll continually go downhill on a varied road and experience the typical landscape features of Crete.
Olives, grapes, oats, fig and almond trees, and blooming gorse by the roadside accompany you on your way through Agios Ioannis, Paleoloutra, and Agios Vasilios until you reach the turnoff to the main road to Spili. And, sure enough, Spili shortly comes into view from the south western side of Mount Kedros.
Spili is a typical, lively Cretan mountain town and has a community administration centre, health centre and, as it is the domicile of the metropolitan bishop of Lambi, also has a bishop’s see with a seminary.
After a final 100m ascent, you ride into town past the seminary, and reach the centre with a famous Venetian lion fountain dating from the 16th century. Its cool and fresh water is simply delicious.
Argiroupoli – Agnaterma, at the southern outskirts of Argiroupoli, offering en-suite balcony rooms, marvelous view of the valley and to the coast. Tavern with delicious food, situated at the large terrace in front of the house. Clean rooms, central kitchen, excellent living and eating.
Spili – Pension and Tavern Costas Inn, on the main road shortly before the center. Clean rooms, some with fridge and a quite garden (with a choir of singing birds) at the rear of the house in direction to the Kedros Mountains. Breakfast in the morning and delicious food is been served at the tavern and on the terrace in front of the house. Storage and service of the bikes is possible in the basement at the left side of the house.