Guest Post by Will at The Luxe Travel.
The Mythological Gods of Greece are in my opinion one of the most intriguing pieces of history this world has ever seen. They capture the imagination of people of all ages and for many era’s they have been idolized, from the famous State of Zeus sculpture by Phidias to the motion picture Wrath of the Titans by John Leibesman.
We want to take you on an adventure through the ages back to the lands of the Olympians. Instead of just imagining the scenery we want to show you how you can enjoy the landscapes, which inspired the stories. From the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite in the turbulent seas of Cyprus to the birthplace of Zeus, high in the Cretian mountains, here are some tips on where to go, how to get there and the fun things you can experience along the way.
It makes sense to start with the founder of the Olympian era, Zeus. Legend has it he was born on the plateau in the Lassithi Prefecture on the island of Crete. Locals have exploited two possible mountains with a cave which resemble the stories of old, however Mt Dikti is the most likely place of his birth and very accessible from the popular tourist destinations of Heraklion, Agios Nikalaos and Ierapetra.
The drive up to the plateau can be very jaw dropping and nerve wrecking, there is a main road in from the East via Neapoli, the road from the North is far more tame. It’s compulsory to revel high cliffs, extremely narrow roads and the odd adrenaline rush as a falling rock flies past the car, if these do not excite you then take the main road from Malia. The eastern passage as I call it bears a fabulous view all the way down to Ierapetra, with a slight possibility of catching a glimpse of the island of Chrissi. You climb from sea level to well over 3000ft. There are lots of small villages along the way, with the whole drive from Agios Nikalaos taking around an hour if putting your foot down, to 1 hour 20 for the more leisurely drivers. Once you venture over the ridge of the plateau you will experience a mesmerizing view. Green plains, hundreds of white windmills both old and new with one mountainous ridge overlooking the pastures. Bone fragments found within it have been dated back almost 4000 years.
Without a doubt the first place you should visit is the psychro cave, the birthplace of Zeus. There are sign posts all over to the cave, it’s impossible to miss and head up from the car park and you can’t miss the start of a trail to the entrance. The mountain is green and luscious, and the path winds up the valley and then traverses the mountain. If you’re not the most athletic of people then you can hitch a ride on the back of a donkey, demeaning may it be the climb in total is around 150m vertically. Once you’ve made it to the top you have a slightly treacherous trek down into the cave, which is a huge temperature contrast averaging 25 degrees. You’ll be put into a cold sweat as you look up at the array of stalagmites on the ceiling, hoping one doesn’t fall while you pass under it. Upon making it to the bottom you will reach Zeus’ birthing pool, which you can imagine is pretty grand. Here is your opportunity to pray to the gods and give a token, in return for prosperity and health, at least that’s what I did.
While travelling around Crete if you’re looking for luxury accommodation you really only have two options, Agios Nikalos or Ierapetra. These are sea side towns on the north and south of the island but only 20 minutes from each other.
The best time to visit Crete is in the spring, when the average temperature is around 30 degree Celsius, the tourist season is in its infancy and you can see many of the sights un-spoilt by crowd and noise pollution.
Venturing across the sea on this herculean adventure brings us to Cyprus. Cyprus has recently been in the news for a banking collapse and general financial turmoil. It’s always however been home to some of the most magnificent coastline in the Mediterranean and, of course it is home to the Goddess, Aphrodite. Due to it’s constant changing of inhabitants over the millennia there are a vast plethora of cultural artifacts to experience. This has come at a cost and this turbulence still holds a slight north/south divide with many tourist destinations in the south, which we recommend you visit.
Getting to the island is very easy from anywhere in the world. There are flights daily from major European cities and once you’re on the island you really have only one main form of travel and that is via car either hiring or taking a taxi. Public transport isn’t magnificent and can be very unreliable. A word of caution, always ask for a quote before traveling in a taxi as they quite often extort tourists.
If we’re going to follow in the Olympians footsteps the mythical destination you need to head to is Petra tou Romiou. It’s nothing more than a rock to the naked eye, but this rock is believed to be the birthplace of Aphrodite as she was the maiden that rose from the white water. Legend has it that swimming around the rock will bless you with eternal beauty, this is forbidden as the sea in the area is commonly quite rough, or has it been forbidden for other reasons? I will let you decide.
While roaming Cyprus you may notice the abundance of mint growing in the hedges and fields. Cypriot food almost always contains mint in some form or other and this is one key differing aspect from the otherwise identical Greek cuisine. We recommend trying some calamari with mint stuffing, it’s to die for.
The Aegean is a fascinating part of the world and should be added to every travellers bucket list.