kalyves, apokoronou, chania, kriti, greece


...where the lefka ori mountains overlook her gentle harbour...



Kalyves is an old settlement, a working village, busy and friendly, with an easy familiarity that you'd find in an old friend; it's the sort of place that makes you feel at home. And wandering in Kalyves, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards and roses, bound by the all-knowing sea on one side and protected by the magnificent Lefka Ori on the other, you almost feel embraced.



And Kalyves is easy to find, being just a bus ride from Chania in the west or Rethymnon in the east, but make sure you tell the driver where you want to get off because there's no bus stop on this stretch. The Iraklion bus dropped me about 1k from the village, on the flyover where the National Highway crosses the road to the coast, and I was me, in that market day morning of blue sky, orange sun and clouds scudding overhead - travelling on foot again, and in Greece and enjoying the quiet excitement of not knowing what was round the corner.


The road was whizzy but I was having fun raggling along smiling at passing faces and filling my gaze with their world. The sun was doing it too. Streaming in through a dense sea of leaves, the twisted oleander and the mulberry trees. And birds and butterflies dancing round amongst the poppies and daisies and long dry grasses that border the road. I think I'd lost my mind and gained my senses. Over the wall just after the garden centre came all the odours of the countryside: the smell of rich deep resin, the sounds of crackling undergrowth and once again that friendly smell of chickens and goats. Their romantic flavours were everywhere and I knew where I was the moment a lady returned my smile with, "Kalimera" - I knew I was home.

I'd been there before, some years earlier with my Sandy, but this time I went alone with just a knapsack of stuff for the week I was to stay.

I was there in Kalyves to join 50-odd fellow members of the Greekofile website in celebrating the tenth anniversary of its launch by Sylvia and Terry Cooke. There, strangers from all over Britain gathered to make a handful of days a happy, unforgettable, event of easy, getting-to-know-you fun. And it was a great success. We warmed to each other and surprised ourselves in how well we all got on; sharing our feelings and being light and breezy.

And even though there were easy walks on dusty trails and shallow creeks in easy warmth with no change in temperature, well, for once in my life I had no real desire to explore - just to be, because Kalyves invites you to mingle with Greek life; to stroll its alleyways and lanes behind the Kentriki Othos, the weaving middle road, to hear the voices and sounds of a bygone era - to turn a corner and see the smiling sea at the end of a narrow space and know at once this village is exciting just because it lives as it does and is satisfied. By listening to the shopkeepers and locals as I wandered through their shops, I learned more and more about the real Kalyves.


One day I was lying on the floor in the cool darkness of the church staring up at the 'mother-ship' of a chandelier when one of the priests appeared beside me. He smiled, I stood up and we began chatting.
As we stepped into the sunshine, he took out a small bag of almonds and raisins and offered me some whilst drawing my attention to the Platanos tree stretching its limbs and shading the square in front of us. It was mighty and gnarled with a kind of immortal look to it and when I asked him how old it was, I was taken aback to learn it had been in the square for over 400 years. Quite some time to stand against so many grim regimes, to strain against so many cruel parades; while at the same time elsewhere, Artemisia Gentileschi was being ignored in Rome - much as she is in most of the world today; and Galileo wondered how far the sky went; whilst in Britain, Shakespeare wished that the dramatist, Robert Greene, would just belt up.

And all the while, this tree was patiently growing and witnessing it all.

And then in the shop,'Authentic-Crete', Ariadne told me Kalyves has two rivers and not just the one as most visitors think. There is the gentle river Xidas which crosses beneath the Kentriki Othos flanked by wonderful willows and banks of lillies and stately wooden boats. Already I'd spent many a quiet moment on that bridge sharing the scenes of trout and ducks searching for tasty morsels in the reeds and waters beneath our feet with sympathetic strangers. And the other, the Kiliaris, at the opposite end of town out towards the highway. This too runs from the Lefka Ori and is home to a rare species of dragonfly but, although I tried, unfortunately we never came eye to eye.

But looking back, I think most of my learning came from the gentlemen of the H Pembe Ouzeri and our host, Kostas, who lightened up every visit I made there with tid-bits of information revealed as if for me alone as I sipped my tsikoudia. I was told of the fascinating 7th century BC archaeological site of Aptera just along the highway after the turn-off for Kalami. How, in its day it had been recognised as the centre for art and commerce - a place of great influence and importance. And also, from a different era, the Turkish Fortress of Idjedin, its baths, its theatre, a temple and fabulous banks of wild flowers and old stone footpaths. In the many years that I've been visiting this island, I have often wondered as to the significance of the headscarf worn by so many Cretan men.

"Crete has been occupied and oppressed for much of its history and by many different people. We wear the Sariki scarf to honour and remember all those who suffered."

And the name, Kalyves? "It's from the farmers who lived in the ancient mountains. Every day they would come down to the generous plains alongside the sea to sell their wares. But eventually, instead of making the long daily trek back to their villages, they built huts where they could make a camp and old Cretan word for 'huts' is Kalyves...

... or so they say..."

Wandering back to my rooms along the little road that runs parallel to the quiet sandy beaches, I'd often take a swim in the early evening sea and yes, at first it would be cold but after two minutes it became soft and smooth and never had I felt more at one with everything than in those silent moments -
...splashing about in the Kritiko Pelagos...

...except perhaps...


in the bright warm mornings when I'd lost all sense of time and date, and I'd sit outside my front door

after a light breakfast of, say, sweet cakes and lime tea,

my gaze wandering aimlessly through the olive grove,

...or in just warming my feet in the sun after the cold of the marble floor

whilst watching a tiny cream and brown striped spider wheeling from right to left then from left to right on my tabletop.

He was there every morning...his name was... ...er...Frank...

...or listen to the accents of some fishermen bounce across the water from their boat out in the bay...

...or the night times I'd get back to the Villa Georgia, take my keys from the amphora, then sit on my balcony chair under the singing, peaceful stars, eyes closed, listening to the softness of the olive grove creaking as the heat left the wood and the creatures of the night danced about.

I sincerely hope Kalyves never becomes a famous attraction because visiting there is all about softness, about rural living, local fishing, gentle architecture and village traditions. It's about democracy where freedom of speech gives life to truth and how it is wrong to distort an impression in order to create a more popular image.

Kalyves is now as it always has been - unpretentious and everyday - my reliable friend.



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