Go up the mountain, down the mountain and then walk as much as you can!
1st stop: Kapetaniana
If you want to reach the mountain village of Kapetaniana you first have to cross the valley of Messara and then drive up the naked mountain through continuous turns and steep hills that unravel breathtaking views to the fertile valley from the one side and the Libyan sea to the other. Goats on the side of the road ‘fight’ for a little shade, the wind whistles and the narrow road will eventually lead you to the natural balcony where the village of Kapetaniana is built. Framed by the lower mountain tops, overlooking the Libyan sea and the distinctive summit of Kofinas, Kapetaniana was founded by fighters from the village of Sfakia who arrived there after the revolution led by Daskalogiannis in 1770 against the Turks. The name of the village then (Kapetanios = captain in Greek) refers to the captains of the revolution and not to the captains of the sea!
Rocks prevail in the landscape as well as in the architecture of old houses. Pay a visit to the temple of Panagia (Mary) built in1402 and see its characteristic frescoes. Then, walk through the narrow lanes of the village to warm up before climbing up the summit of Kofinas.
2nd stop: Kofinas
The altitude is not that impressive (1.231 m.) but the view is like no other. The ascent to the summit of Kofinas is relatively easy as you can cover most of the distance by car. Take the dirt road from Kapetaniana until you reach the church of Panagia Kera and from there you must only hike for 200m, following the trail. The ‘energy’ of the landscape is unique and as this didn’t go unnoticed by the different religions in the course of time. The Minoans had established an important sanctuary on the top of Kofinas and an ancient worship practice still survives to our days. On the 14th of September every year, when the Holy Cross (Timios Stavros) is celebrated, you have the chance to witness an extraordinary ritual that only happens here. This ritual is a typical example how elements of ancient religions are ‘accommodated’ and readjusted to fit modern ones, Christianity in this case: the priest ‘blesses’ the fruit of three trees growing on the hills of Kofinas and then distributes them to worshippers as communion. Tree worship in the 21st century, why not!
3rd stop: Ai Giannis
Now it’s time to go down the mountain you 'climbed' with so much effort! The good news is that you are not far from the sea. The bad news is that the spiral dirt road is quite difficult to drive on at some parts and is not recommended for low cars, poor suspensions, sensitive tires and stomachs!
The coastal settlement of Ai Giannis is small, isolated, peaceful and wind-bitten. Before you rush into the sea to wash the dust off your skin, look for the ancient Monastery of Ai Giannis. The monk cells are carved into the natural rock and the frescoes maintain their vividness, despite the many centuries that touched them. Human vanity is also carved on the frescoes and walls of the monastery, in the form of personal messages and requests to God, left for the future generations to read. If you carefully look at these short messages you will realize that some were carved some centuries ago (vandalism is also an old tradition!).
The priest 'blesses' the fruit of three trees growing on the hills of Kofinas and then distributes them to worshippers as communion. Tree worship in the 21st century, why not!
4th stop: Elygia beach
The beach of Elygia is situated east of the settlement of Ai Giannis, right at the exit of the gorge of Volahas. It is a matter of luck to find the long, beautiful beach with the sparkling waters peaceful or roamed by merciless winds that are responsible for many destroyed tents. To reach it you have to walk down a trail that gives you the opportunity to admire it from above. Your day will end in this idyllic landscape, under the protection of the rocks, with the company of the goat bells ringing over your head.
If, however, the wind is unbearable you can always ask for a room in the settlement of Ai Giannis (just ask in one of the taverns).
Walking to the cave of Agios Antonios & the Monastery of Koudouma
You wake up early, tie your shoe laces, put on some sunscreen and continue the trail right about where you left it the day before. The trail that starts from the opposite wall of the gorge over the beach of Elygia will lead you to the spectacular cave of Agios Antonios and a bit further to the Monastery of Koudoumas. Your route will be accompanied by the persistent song of cicadas, pine trees, scattered caves that host summer hermits, small gulfs and ‘hidden’ beaches (some only accessible by boat), dramatic rocks and goats. After about 40 minutes walking you will arrive at a crossroad with two signs, one showing you the direction of the Monastery and one to Agios Antonios. Take the trail to Agios Antonios first (it is not far from there) and when you arrive at the cave take a rest enjoying the magnificent view. Behind the little chapel in the cave you will find tanks filled with cold water, where you can wash your sweat off! You might also find climbers hanging from the steep vertical rock over the sea. When you feel ready, go back to the crossroad and continue towards the Monastery of Koudoumas. The route lasts about an hour and a half more and will take you through an ancient forest. The lovely beach of Koudoumas with fine pebbles and the summit of Kofinas as a background will be your award for walking this long. If you want to complete your ‘ascetic’ trip in a proper way, you can ask the Monastery if they have a room available for you. Otherwise, you will have to walk back to Ai Giannis with the colors and sounds of the sunset as you company. And you can always meditate in one of the numerous caves on the way!