Ziros and Xerokampos (Eastern Crete)
PhotoMan and I continue to explore Crete our island (yes it’s ours!) and when we had a free weekend in August, we decided to visit the beaches at Xerokampos (or Xerokambos) which is in the south east corner of Crete. We stayed at a village called Ziros which is about half an hour’s drive from Xerokampos.
We were very lucky to have found Arismari Apartments through Airbnb. The apartment we stayed at was brand new, tastefully decorated, and the kitchen was fully equipped. I couldn’t believe our luck! Natassa, our host, and her sister-law, Evi, prepared a lot of goodies like fresh eggs from their own hens for us to enjoy during our stay. I was delighted that Natassa spoke fluent English and was not shy to use it. Most of the time when we are traveling around Greece, people would prefer to talk to PhotoMan in Greek and I get left out. Natassa and Evi were both very generous with the local knowledge and their time and gave us a lot of useful information. They know their area inside out and were way better than Google.
We looked forward to this trip and thought we would have gone to the beaches at Xerokampos as soon as we arrived. Instead, we relaxed at the apartment because we were tired from the 2.5 hours drive from Heraklion. We went for a stroll in the village and to buy ingredients for our BBQ the next evening.
Ziros – the village of peace and kindness
The village of Ziros was very quiet with only a few cars driving through now and then. Some locals sat outside a tavern and as usual, they stared at us when we walked past. We call them the ‘Greek Security’. Greek people love being outdoor especially during the summer months. Whenever there are strangers, they observe to see what these people are doing in their village. We had been asked straight out by locals before. They aren’t scary sort of security though. They just want to know if you are lost and need some help. This kind of practice also keeps everyone in the village safe because if someone dodgy stops by, people could alert each other.
People in Crete are renowned for their hospitality and kindness. We are still surprised sometimes how helpful and honest people here are. We asked the grocery store old lady where the bakery was. She informed us that the bakery was closed as it was Saturday afternoon but if it was bread that we wanted, the tavern owner might help us get some. And so we went across the street and asked. The owner said of course! And told us to go back later to get it. He also generously gave us some wine for us to marinate the BBQ meat.
PhotoMan asked a man who was having coffee outside where the butcher was. The man was the butcher! He took us across the street to his shop and about 10 cats followed us. The butcher told PhotoMan that the lamb cutlets would be a bit chewy but we already set our minds and bought some anyway. Only 10 Euro for just over a kilo and the lamb was a local too! The cutlets turned out to be chewy like the butcher said but was delicious and we liked how the butcher was honest about it and not lied to us, thinking that we were just tourists and would never come back.
Early the next morning we went to Agios Georgios (St. George), the local church to attend the Sunday Liturgy in order to complete my baptism. We could have gone to any Orthodox church to do this and we were glad fate brought us to this old beautiful church. PhotoMan and I had no idea what we had to do, especially regarding the huge candle that I brought with me to return to the church. Fortunately, a kind lady came and told me what to do.
I was in the front with my now lit candle, waiting for the holy communion. I often become emotional in churches and this time, I felt lonely and helpless as I was standing there by myself not entirely sure what to do. The priest was very old and I didn’t know what he was trying to say to me. Luckily several people were there and told me the priest asked for my name. So I told him my name, received the holy communion and gave the candle to the kind lady. I thought that was it but no! As we were exiting the church, people came to give me their well wishes! PhotoMan said while I was standing in front, he noticed many people were smiling and happy to see a foreigner taking up their faith. I have heard stories about people being discriminated when they emigrate to other countries. This has never happened to me in Greece and I’ve always been welcome and showered with kindness.
We were tempted by the relaxing atmosphere in Ziros to continue lazing around all day long but we finally got ourselves together after brunch and headed towards Xerokampos. The drive was about 30 minutes. We thought Google was being conservative in the estimation but no, the road zig-zag-ed almost all the way and there was no way that we could have driven any faster without being irresponsible. There was nothing at all most of the way – no houses, trees or people – it was mostly dry land that looked eerie. Perhaps because it was high land and it was super windy there.
Natassa and Evi told us that we could find any kind of beach we could think of at Xerokampos and they weren’t lying! Imagine the long coastline being separated naturally into different sections. There were beaches with fine sand, coarse sand, pebbles and rocks. You can choose by the colour of the sea too. There are also beaches that had a few umbrellas and sunchairs for hire if you like that sort of things. All the beaches were on the calm side and I was very happy because I got tired of rough sea after our visit to the Sandhill Beaches. PhotoMan wanted to walk down to this empty section of pebble beach but there was only one beach that interested me – the white clay beach!
It’s easy to know when you are on the white clay beach because you would see people covered in clay. When I first read about this beach I really wanted to go there and hope that it was pretty enough for PhotoMan to agree to stay. Turned out it was one of the most gorgeous coves we have been to. The little cliff that people take the clay from was accessible from two adjacent beaches. The beach we were at that was totally where the white clay cliff was is called Argilos. I don’t know where the other side is called.
I asked a man who covered himself in clay where he got the clay from. He reached to the cliff and showed me how easy it was to break a small chunk of dry clay from the cliff. PhotoMan and I took some each. We soften the clay by dipping it into the sea and applied it all over our body, waited for it to dry and then washed it off in the sea. We both were happy with how soft our skin became!
PhotoMan disappeared for about an hour with his snorkel and fins. Upon his return he reported that he saw many big fish and it was the most amount of fish he had seen in Crete so far and was gutted that he had yet to purchase a fish gun. Well, next time.
When we had enough of the sea, we took a drive along the coast to see what else was there. We then drove to Kato Zakros for some petrol. This village looked interesting too especially for the red soil we saw everywhere.
The only complaint I have about Ziros and Xerokampos is that we couldn’t see the sunset. The sky did change colour for us when we headed back to Ziros. If we were to return to this region, we will definitely get up early to watch the sunrise.
Kakkos Bay, Ierapetra
We didn’t look forward to the long drive home and we didn’t have to. The day we departed Ziros, some friends were at the beach in front of Kakkos Bay Hotel at Ierapetra, which is on the way home from Ziros, and invited us to drop by. The beach looks like it’s part of Kakkos Bay Hotel but it’s not and everyone is welcome there.
I love love love Kakkos Bay beach which looks black from afar but is actually made of tiny colourful pebbles, so tiny that they are more like sands than pebbles. The water is so beautifully clear and is ideal for snorkeling. Normally I don’t like organized beaches but this was an exception. The umbrellas were spaced farther apart from each other than other organized beaches. The sunchair was 5 euros each and we could use the receipt as 5 euro when we order a main-course at Kakkos Bay restaurant. We did end up eating there and the grilled prawns I had there was the best grilled prawns I’ve had in a Greek restaurant.
And that concluded our peaceful weekend away. If you enjoy peaceful kind of holidays, this region is totally for you. Check out my other posts on Eastern Crete – Sitia; Lukewarm Heaven! and Richtis Gorge – Easy???
*When I come across good restaurants or services, I like to give them a mention. I do not get any material reward from writing this or any other articles in my blog.
**All photos by my PhotoMan, my favourite travel companion and lifeguard.
Example of colourful pebbles at Kakkos Bay beach