Telluride Inside... And Out On Crete: Finding Aptera And Getting Lost

IMGP2140 On the road in Greece, Telluride Inside… and Out has found the good far outweighs the bad. And even the bad tends to be not so bad in the end.

It wasn't easy, but we finally managed to extricate ourselves from the womb of Casa Delfino and head for the next big town on the north central coast of Crete, Rhethymnon. En route, Jenny, our ever helpful concierge, suggested a stop at Aptera, an ancient site not even mentioned in any of our guide books.

Aptera lies at the top of the Palaiokastro hill overlooking Souda Bay, the site of a major military base, which Clint visited in his Marine Corps days.

According to one tradition , the name Aptera derives from Apteron, king of Crete, who lived in the time of Moses (around 1800 BC), which would suggest the site was once a colonial settlement governed by Dorian Apteros who took part in the occupation of Crete towards the end of the Minoan era around 1400 B.C. I prefer the next explanation:

Perhaps it was a musical competition between the Muses and the Sirens at the time Aptera was renowned as a centre of music. The Muses purportedly emerged as victors, a defeat which stressed out the Sirens big time, so much so their feathers fell out into the sea. The feathers were then transformed into the small white islands that comprise Souda Bay. Aptera means wingless.

IMGP2134 Again, according to the rap sheet on the place – and now, thanks to the wisdom of Nikos Stavroulakis and a new friend, a guide named Joanna Kalypso Glyptis whom we just met in Rethymnon, we actively question everything we read –  Aptera came into existence in the 14th century B.C. (right after the Minoan civilization tanked) and died as a community some time in the 7th century A.D., though a church built in the Middle Ages in the middle of the town had an active Christian congregation until 1962.

The day we visited the sky was gray, not Cretan yellow, and the winds were blowing strong from the north. The unusually cold weather complemented the rawness of the place. Aptera, like Festos, has not been prettified.

IMGP2147 It was lunchtime at 3 p.m. when Aptera closed, and so we headed down the hill into the town, where our internal compass pointed us in the direction of a rustic taverna. At Ta Aperta, we enjoyed one of simplest and best meals of our entire trip: a fish caught that morning (we think it was bream) served up with a side of steamed mountain greens and garlic mashed potatoes. We washed the whole thing down with a local white wine, before our hostess presented us with a dessert of fresh chocolate brownies infused with orange. (Dessert of some sort and raki, a digestif made from grape skins. is served automatically after every meal on Crete except perhaps breakfast.) The taverna owner showed up as we were paying the bill. He turned out to be the guard at the archaeological site. Small world.

IMGP2154 Hungry for history (not food), our plan was one more stop before heading for Rethymnon, Argiroupolis, with its upper town, ancient Lappa,  Bad move. First we got hustled by a man who invited us into his home under the guise of showing us where to find the church with the mosaic, but who really wanted us to buy his wife's handiwork. Next, we never found the church after circling the town three times.

The exercise in futility, (well, near futility, because ancient Lappa was indeed picturesque) cost us time: we would be heading to Rethymnon in the dark. After a number of failed attempts, Clint finally managed to extricate us from the spaghetti of roads that finally did lead to our destination. (Note to self: If you are going to venture off the big roads take along Michelin maps in appropriate scales.)

IMGP2157 The Hotel Avli in Rethymnon's old town, like Casa Delfino, is another understated chic boutique hotel built on the skeleton of a 15th-century Venetian structure. Our spacious room, one of several executive suites, is as comfortable as it is elegant. The dinner created from local bounty and orchestrated by the urbane hotel manager, Thanassis Frangidis, was one for the books.

Avli trumped the hustler and the headache of navigating back roads in the dark. We were no longer in the twilight zone. We were back in heaven. 

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