METEORA

METEORA

The iron-gray pinnacles of the Meteora rock formations are stunning, offering astonishing views of fields, mountains, and monolithic stone. These wonders of nature are bedecked with 24 gravity-defying, frescoed Byzantine monasteries. (Dress modestly. Open Apr.-Sept. Sa-Su and W 10am-12:30pm and 3:30-5pm; hours vary during the rest of the week. ‚2 per monastery.) The Grand Meteoron Monastery is the oldest, largest, and most touristed of the monasteries. It houses a folk museum and the 16th-century Church of the Transfiguration, whose dome features a Pantokrator (a central image of Christ). To escape the hordes of tourists, venture to Roussanou, to the right after the fork in the road. Visible from most of the valley, it is one of the most spectacularly situated monasteries in the area.

Buses leave for Meteora from the fountain in Kalambaka, the most popular base for exploring the sight (2 per day, ‚0.80). Trains leave Kalambaka for Athens (4hr. 3 per day, ‚19.10) and Thessaloniki (5hr. 3 per day, ‚10.50). Buses depart for Athens (5hr. 8 per day, ‚20) and Patras (6hr. Tu and Th 9:45am and 3pm, ‚19.40). The large rooms at Koka Roka offer views of Meteora; from the central plateia, follow Vlachara to its end, bear left, and follow the signs, (s 24230 24 554. Singles ‚15; doubles ‚27, with bath ‚32; triples with bath ‚42.) Postal Code: 42200.

HANIA (Xavia)

The Venetian lighthouse marks the entrance to Hania’s (pop. 70,000) stunning architectural relic, the Venetian Inner Harbor. The inlet has retained its original breakwater and arsenal; the lighthouse was restored by the Egyptians during their occupation of Crete in the late 1830s. A day is best spent meandering among the narrow Venetian buildings and Ottoman domes on the lively waterfront.

Ferries arrive in the nearby port of Souda; buses connect from the port to Hania’s supermarket on Zymvrakakidon (15min. ‚1). Buses (s 28210 93 306) leave from the station on the comer of Kydonias and Kelaidi for Rethymno (17 per day, ‚5.60). The tourist office, Korkidi 16, is just off P. 1866. (s28210 36 155. Open M-F 8am-2pm.) To get to DlHotel Fidias 0, Sarpaki 6, walk toward the harbor on Halidon and turn right onto Athinagora, which then becomes Sarpaki. ( 28210 52 494. Dorms ‚7-13; singles ‚13-20; doubles ‚15-23.) ilAna- plous , near the harbor on Sifaka, is an open-air bistro that serves pilino, a pork and lamb creation. (Pilino ‚25; serves three. Entrees ‚6-8. Open daily 6pm-lam.) Postal Code: 73100.

HIKING NEAR HANIA: SAMARIA GORGE. The most popular excursion from Hania and Iraklion is the 5-6hr. hike down USamaria Gorge (4apayyi TT03 Xauapiaft!), a spectacular 16km ravine extending through the White Mountains. Sculpted by rainwater over 14 million years, the gorge the longest in Europe retains its allure despite having been trampled by thousands of visitors. Rare native plants peek out from sheer rock walls, wild agrimi goats clamber about the hills, and golden eagles and endangered griffin vultures circle overhead. (Open May to mid-Oct. daily 6am-6pm. ‚3, children under-15 and organized student groups free.) For more info, call Hania Forest Service (-ss- 28210 92 287). The trail starts at Xyloskalo; take the 6:15am or 8:30am bus from Hania to Xyloskalo (lMihr. ‚5.20) for a day’s worth of hiking. The 1:45pm bus from Hania will put you in Omalos, ready for the next morning. The trail ends in Agia Roumeii, on the southern coast, where you can hop on a boat to Hora Sfakion (lihr. 3-4 per day, ‚4.40) or take a return bus to Hania (4 per day, ‚5.20).

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