This is a great article about Loutro from our good friend Clare Thomson posted in her superb travel blog Suitcases & Sandcastles.
Have you ever seen a picture of a place so beautiful that you vowed to go there one day? I first saw photos of Loutro on the southern coast of Crete a few years ago and was entranced by the pretty little harbour with its cluster of whitewashed buildings. Finding out that you could only get there by boat only added to its appeal.
So when we planned a visit to Crete I knew I’d have to make it to Loutro no matter what. We were staying on the north-eastern coast of the island but while my husband and eldest son had to return to the UK, my youngest son and I planned our adventure to the other side of the island.
Crete’s south coast is much more rugged and less visited than the north. We travelled by car and several buses until at last we were crossing the White Mountains, which rise up to over 2,000 metres. You can see snow on their peaks even in June. The remote, mountainous region of Sfakia is crisscrossed with gorges and home to some of the most dramatic scenery in all of Crete.
Some of the villages here have only recently become accessible by road and the whole area has a reputation for being wild and untamed. The people here are renowned for rebelling against foreign occupiers. Hundreds of years ago, this was the centre of resistance against the Venetians and the Turks and during the Second World War, these same mountains were the heartland of Cretan resistance to the German occupation.
Even today, as the bus snakes its way down the mountain road, you notice that all the road signs are covered in bullet holes – the locals use them for target practice.
The bus takes a long time to make its way along the steep, zigzag road down the mountain but you’re rewarded at every turn, with spectacular views of the Imbros Gorge and the Libyan Sea just ahead.
We finally reached the small harbour of Hora Sfakion from where you catch the boat over to Loutro. It’s a typical sleepy Greek village, with a harbour and a couple of tavernas. We stopped to look at the monument to the thousands of British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers who were evacuated from this tiny harbour to Egypt after the Battle of Crete in 1941.
While you’re waiting for the ferry, stop off at one of the cafés overlooking the harbour for the local foodie treat, Sfakian Cheese Pie, a thin circular pie filled with sweet milk’s cheese and flecked with honey.
We clambered onto a small wooden boat with a handful of other passengers for the 25-minute journey to Loutro. The mountains rose up from the coast to our right and the late afternoon sun turned everything blue. Indigo-coloured mountains blended into the sky and the water from the deep blue of the sea sprayed our faces.
And then, we turned a corner and there it was. A couple of rows of whitewashed square buildings with blue shutters clinging to the bottom of the reddish brown mountains rising up behind them. A semi circular harbour with little boats bobbing about on the water. It’s not even until you get closer that you become aware of the extraordinary colour of the sea here – a beautiful bluey green so clear that you can see the rocks at the bottom.
Loutro is the only natural harbour on the south coast and you can still only get there by boat or by hiking across the mountains. It’s believed to be the site of the ancient city of Phoenix and St Paul is said to have sheltered here after a shipwreck.
Life slows right down on Loutro. You leave your watches and phone in your hotel room (the WiFi signal isn’t very good anyway) so that you can just enjoy being in the moment. You’ll measure time instead by the ferries stopping off to take hikers to and from the Samaria Gorge, one of the deepest and longest gorges in Europe, or by the time it takes for you to swim from one side of the bay to the other.
You can spend a couple of hours sitting with a book under one of the blue and white striped beach umbrellas, making piles of pebbles on the beach and swimming in the clearest water you’ve ever seen. You can hire boats to explore hidden coves and beaches along the coast.
We hired kayaks for an hour every day and paddled around the bay until we felt confident enough to explore further along the coast. We were aware of nothing but the massive rocks of the coastline, the vast sea all around us and the rhythm of the sound of our oars splashing in and out of the water.
At night, when the lights from the tavernas began to reflect on the sea, we’d go for a cocktail in one of the bars overlooking the harbour. Our barman would create a different exotic-looking mocktail for Harry every evening. We’d then find a table in a taverna right beside the water and feast on freshly caught seafood, Greek salad, stuffed vine leaves and tomatoes. The meal would end with a carafe and a shot glass of raki. Raki is the clear spirit distilled from the skins and stems left over after the grapes have been pressed. It tastes like fire water so I could only ever manage a couple of sips.
Our waiter most nights was an elderly man with a grey beard and twinkly blue eyes, who’d convince us to try the special dish of the day. We’d see him in the daytime washing down his fishing boat in the harbour or going for a quick dip in the sea.
One day, we followed the path out of the village and climbed the steep mule tracks which zigzag up the mountain to the ruins of the Venetian tower and Byzantine church. After exploring the ruins in the heat of the day we sat in the shade of the olive trees and listened to the sound of the bells hanging around the necks of the grazing goats. The area around here is perfect for hiking whether you just want to go for an hour or for a whole day. There are some wonderful views over the bay from the top of the mountain.
After four days it was time to leave. We got the early morning ferry back to Hora Sfakion and watched Loutro disappear around the corner. It felt as if we were leaving a little piece of paradise behind us.
How to get there
It is easiest to reach Loutro from Chania rather than Heraklion airport. Buses travel from Chania bus station to Hora Sfakion a couple of times a day. The journey is about two hours. Ferries travel from Hora Sfakion to Loutro several times a day.
Where to stay
There are several simple guest houses and hotels on Loutro. We stayed at Hotel Porto Loutro, right on the beach. Rooms are simple, but clean, with balconies looking over the sea. A delicious breakfast (toast, muffins, home-made jams and freshly squeezed orange juice) is served on the patio. Double rooms cost from €75.
For more information We booked our hotel through the excellent Crete Travel. They were really helpful answering all my questions about getting to Loutro from the other side of the island, sending me copies of bus and ferry timetables. I’d really recommend using them if you’re thinking of travelling anywhere in Crete.
Source : Suitcases & Sandcastles Blog