The Best Tavern in Crete
Over the years, I have started to compile a list of great little places in which to eat and sleep while hiking, trekking and kayaking in some of the best places in the world. Many are far off the beaten path and have something that others just can’t compete with. One in particular stands out and I am not the only one to want to return as often as possible to this piece of paradise. Just six sparsely furnished buildings and a shaded terrace make for the ideal location during the indolent days of summer on the island of Crete, Greece’s largest island and also its southernmost.
Marmara, a small bay with a pebble beach, is only accessible by boat or on foot over the rugged terrain of this part of southwestern Crete. If you are coming from either Hania or Iraklio, take the public bus to Vrisses and get away from the north coast with its all-inclusive hotels and loud discos. From Vrisses you will have to change buses and head to Hora Sfakion or Sfakia. Depending on where you depart, plan between 2 and 3.5 hours to make the journey.
You have several options in order to reach Marmara: taxi boat to Loutros and then to Marmara or ferry to Loutros and then hike to Marmara over the rocky plateau taking the E4 trekking path. You could also hike all the way from Sfakia in about three hours, but if you have luggage, don’t even think about it. Ferry service is reliable and cheap as are taxi boats which ply these relatively calm waters.
Marmara is an integral part of our Coastal Walks of Crete trip, which caters to active travellers. We start with a visit of Knossos and the archaeological museum, move on to the Venetian town of Hania and then to Souda Bay, before heading towards the southwestern coast to hike & swim and finally, we reach one of the gems of this trip: Marmara.
Chrisostomos hails from Anopolis, a proud mountain town with a long history of resistance to the numerous invaders of this strategically located island in the Libyan Sea. Raised just above the Bay of Marmara, (which means marble, but interestingly enough, no marble can be found here), Chrisostomos offers local food, produced the traditional way. He bakes his own bread and his menu includes tsigriasto or goat, in the oven along with traditional Sfakian cheese pies, lamb and a variety of seafood dishes. His Cretan salads and Greek salads are full of organically grown produce straight from the farmer to your dish. Generous portions and reasonable prices make for an excellent culinary experience after a hike or lazy day and swim on the beach. In general, meals in Crete are not complete without a small bottle of Raki similar to Grappa, but served chilled and often accompanied by either fresh fruit in season or Loukomades, Greek donuts dripping with thyme honey.
His younger brother has opted for the traditional way of life and works as a shepherd in the mountains of the Lefka Ori, or White Mountains. Most of the meat will come from his flocks of both goat and sheep and the meat is particularly flavourful as the animals graze on the aromatic herbs and plants of this fragrant island.
From Marmara, there are several options for the active traveller. One of the most challenging hikes is the one up the Aradaina Gorge, which begins just a few metres behind the beach of Marmara. Taking roughly 4 hours to ascend, you will be physically challenged, as this gorge involves some gentle scrambling and the use of a ladder, or, if you opt out, a rather unmaintained trail. Once at the top of the gorge, there is a small taverna, where you can purchase a simple meal and beverage, before hiking to Anopolis, or take a taxi back to Sfakia and then the ferry back to Marmara. The walk is striking with the White Mountains forming the backdrop to the north and the Libyan Sea to the south. Once you get to Annopolis, you can have a hearty meal in the taverna there and then hike down to Loutros, and the back to Marmara.
Animals are milked twice per day; once in the early morning and once mid-afternoon. Mobile milking stations, which can be driven to higher altitudes as the summer progresses saves time and keep milk production higher as cows do not have to move to be milked. Most small farms will make between 2 and 6 wheels of cheese per day, kept in ageing cellars for a few weeks and then moved lower in the valley for ageing which can take nearly a year. The wheels of cheese are placed in cheese cloth, then pressed for several hours in order to remove the moisture. Once this process is completed, the cheese is then placed in a brine solution in order to harden the rind. After that, cheese is rubbed with salt in order to protect the cheese from bacteria and harmful mould. Wheels are turned frequently and rubbed with salt to maintain a hard rind. Imagine rotating 80 pounds several times per day, over and over, month after month. No need to go to the gym after that.
If you enjoy a classic Savoyarde fondue, one of several smooth cheeses you taste will be the Beaufort, probably blended with a Comté and a Reblochon. Alert your taste buds for hints of the hundreds of herbs and flowers these lucky bovines consume to give the cheese its special fruity, delicate flavor. Eaten in hard form, it is often paired with white wine and served with smoked meat.
Cheese in France is highly prized and strict norms and rules are placed on farmers when it comes to traceability of the milk and the cows. Each wheel of cheese is dated with the seal of the manufacturer, herd and area where it was produced for complete transparency. Cheese in the Alps is always made with natural products such as naturally occurring rennet, made from a calf’s stomach. enzymes in rennet enables the milk to curdle and once heated, the whey is filtered out and the curd is kept to make the cheese. In the Alps, whey is used to make a soft, fresh cheese called Sérac, heated over an open fire in a copper cauldron, then poured in wooden molds to harden slightly. Best served on fresh bread with jam or honey. Yum!
A knowledgeable guide from Alpine Interface will enrich your Tour du Mont Blanc hiking trip. The TMB Express introduces you to some of its most characteristic small cheese-making enterprises, as part of the stunning beauty and peaceful way of life still found in the French Alps.
1. Cheese-France.Beaufort. Web.17 Jun. 2014.
2. Savoie-Mont-Blanc. Gastronomy and local produce/Discover our cheeses. Web. 17 Jun. 2014.
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