The idea for this trip started as a tiny germ buried deep in Steve Lenton’s brain. Over the years Steve had taken me to all of the Plateaus individually at various times, and he got to wondering if it would be possible to organise a trip to traverse them all in one day, with the thought being that we could show the way to others, who might enjoy the same pleasurable exploration of the area that we do.
He followed through on this little germ by visiting each one, and timing them from plateau to plateau, and repeating the journeys many times to decide the best routes to cover them in the time that we had. We did a trial run working out an itinerary including stopping times for food, taking photos, and general rest stops. It was easy for us to travel virtually non stop as by now we were used to the journey, but of course we had to plan for others who were new to the journey.
The planned route we followed was starting at Katharo, driving through Males, Xristos, then the long haul upward onto Lapathos. This then led onto Omalos, down to Erganos, along to Limnakaro, down to Lassithi, across the Lassithi plateau and up to Nisimos, and finally ending back up on Katharo.
We invited several friends to join us, but on the day itself only Yvonne and Alan Payne turned up to join us in our madcap trip to fit all these beautiful plateaus in one long, hopefully enjoyable trip.
The day started off reasonably warm and bright in Aghios as Steve picked me up from home at 8.45, kitted out in jeans and t-shirt, but of course as a seasoned traveller in the mountains I took a fleece and small waterproof jacket with me, together with my packed lunch, flask of coffee, several bottles of water, sun tan cream and a hat, and off we went…..
It was lovely, all the way through Kritsa, but just beyond came the first black clouds of the day, and unfortunately with them came the coldest wind I had encountered for some time, and by the time we reached Katharo I was frozen (of course we had no time to stop for me to add my warm extras, on the way up ….. Steve just kept going! …..) Never mind, coffee time, and now I added my fleece for extra comfort. Yvonne and Alan were already there, and we had a drink and a short chat with Yannis while we pleaded with him to join us, but to no avail,
Finally our trip had started, and I am writing this account from the back of Steve’s quad bike, as we waved a fond farewell to Yannis, with a promise to ‘be back soon’.
Leaving Yannis we made our way down across the Plateau towards Males, then across to Xristos, to start the long slow climb up to Lapathos. The road turns onto a rocky track, and the going is fairly hard, (lots of curses from me as the quad jumps and bumps its merry way upwards) but never mind, I love it really!!!! So we wend our way on and on, ever upwards while Alan and Yvonne followed more stately in their car.
Finally, yes, the top is in sight, we can see the Radio masts, surely we will be there in a few more minutes… ha ha, not so, (ever done a trip where the top of a hill or mountain seems to be so close, and when you think you have arrived …. well guess what! it just goes on and on upwards). Ah now thats more like it, we have crested the final top!!!!! and the view as we start downwards is of a small plain, the earth reddish in colour, interspersed with small rocks, grassy foliage, and tall stately trees disappearing off into the distance. We have arrived on Lapathos……
Unfortunately, by then, the weather had not improved, and was clouded over and chilly – not ideal for hanging around or exploring. However we managed a few photos, a short walk, and decided that was enough.
So – onwards and upwards – The next Plateau we were aiming for was The Omalos Plain, maybe 45 minutes away as the crow flies, not too much longer on the pathway we were travailing!! But again heavy rocks and twisting turns led us on to my favourite plateau. (See my article on this for more details about what I feel is the quietest, most serene place on Crete)
Today though, it was too chilly to spend much time there, so we pulled into an area where the Church, and goat/sheep hut is, and took photos of this beautiful place. Yvonne and Alan shared my appreciation of the plateau, and said that they would be back again one day to further explore.
So off we went once more, ha ha, wait till they see what is over the ridge!!!!! the way dooooooownwards – a narrow track, dozens of sharp hairpin bends, with a loooooong drop on the right hand side. On discussing the trip afterwards, Yvonne was heard to say, that she was totally overawed by the scene in front of and below her (wish I could have got a photo of her awestruck expression) but I did get a photo of them behind us. Alan managed to take it all in his stride and enjoyed the winding path downwards!! But the actual view facing us was amazing, with a mountain to the right of us literally dropping away for what seemed like miles, yellow in colour, which when the sun shone looked to be pure gold!!! Stops for photos were made at strategic places on the way down, and we wended our way across the valley to the road leading to the Lassithi Plateau.
The next Plateau we passed was the Erganon, a small plateau taken up with the growing of grape vines, so not much to stop for except an odd photo or two, just to record that we had seen it, and of course we were back on tarmac. To the rear of the plateau we glimpsed the start of a gorge which apparently is quite walkable, for seasoned hikers, and as we travelled onwards to the right in the distance could be seen the highest Dikti mountains, including a glimpse of Afendis Xristos.
Just before reaching Lassithi, we turned off to the Limnakara Plateau, affectionately known by me as the Walnut Plateau, due to the many walnut trees there. (These get stripped of their nuts when ripe by locals for tavernas and for selling, with a speed that seems almost impossible) I was up there one time, when the trees were full, came back a few days later to gather a few for a friend, and not a single walnut in sight!!!, and the plateau is covered with the trees. Oh great, more rocks and boulders and grassy mounds !!!!!
Oh well, no walnuts around today, but we stopped for a while by the local church, and ate our lunch, while looking around. There is a pathway of rocks leading up through the mountains which leads to Afendis Xristos, where once a year, the locals walk the trail to the Church of Xristos, just below the peak, arriving late at night, for a stopover, for a special ceremony early the next morning.
Ah well, much as I would love to do the hike one day, its probably outside my capability now, as its a long hard climb, and unfortunately, I am not as young as I was when I could traverse mountains and rocks with no difficulty.
So, again onwards, with the Lassithi Plateau below us, we drove down, and around the outskirts of the Plateau until we reached the seventh and final one. ( Mind you, considering the rocky terrain we had traversed today, this was a piece of cake!! all tarmac – what a let down – I love the jumping and bumping over rocks on the quad) (its just like being on a fairground ride – ha ha) This is the Nisimos Plateau, again with its own church, and fantastic views over Lassithi, and I understand there is a path leading to an old Minoan village, and also a hiking path up to the Karfi peak which regally towers above the plateau.
Oh well, thats 7 plateaus covered in one fabulous trip out, and all that is left now, at the end of our journey, is to drive back up to Katharo, (the back way over the mountain from Lassithi), and enjoy a well earned beer with Jannis.
I know that both Yvonne and Alan enjoyed the trip as much as Steve and I did, and they are looking forward to returning to a few of the places we covered, to explore more fully, the wonderful sights they saw today.
For Steve there will be many more trips out around the mountains and plains of Eastern Crete, to photograph the rare wild flowers for his Web Site, and as for me, I feel so thankful for the opportunity to join him, jumping and bumping over rocks and through rivers , on the quad, as I dont have transport, and without his forebearance would never be able to discover the joys of wandering in my beloved mountains.