Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Aryiroupoli (Αργυρούπολη)

Deep in the heart of Crete lie mountainous regions which divide the northern part with the southern part. These mountains are the main reason why Crete has remained so undeveloped in the greater part. There are little villages nestled in the folds of these ranges which do not form part of the known tourist routes. Located away from the sea, they are little known and hardly accessible to the tourists, as bus routes do not go there.

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The Argiroupoli Springs are located just beyond the Prefecture of Hania, in the Lappa region of Rethimno.

argiroupoli hania-rethimno argiroupoli hania-rethimno
When the signs on the road begin to welcome you into the Prefecture of Rethimno, turn right at the village of Episkopi, and don't stop till you find the sign for the Argiroupoli Springs. This village doesn't give away.
argiroupoli hania-rethimno

As you drive into the area, you will notice that it is quite arid looking; the roadside is filled with tinder dry grasses. This is surprising given the spring waters which the area contains. Lush vegetation is found where these waters spill over man-made waterfalls, but the fields close by all look as though they need to be irrigated. The residential areas lack a canopy of trees, leaving their rooftops exposed to the harsh summer heat.

argiroupoli hania-rethimnoAlign Centre The dry grasses on the roadside do not point to any water source.

Google 'Aryiroupoli Rethimno' (using various spellings of both words) and you'll find lots of information about the significance of the area - something about an ancient site called Lappa, created by Agamemnon, allies with Knossos, and of special significance in Roman and Byzantine times. Some very important archaeological digs have taken place here, but this is not the crowd puller nowadays: Aryiroupoli is popular with locals and tourists (who hire a car or come on coach trips) for its natural springs. The water has been routed to create mini-waterfalls, around which tavernas have been built, bringing in the crowds right throughout the spring, summer and autumn (in the winter, it is too cool to sit so close to the water). This phenomenon makes Aryiroupoli a cool retreat in contrast to baking under the sun on a hot sandy beach (which is only less than a quarter of an hour away from the village).

antikristo upright bbq and pestrofa trout argiroupoli hania-rethimno pestrofa trout argiroupoli hania-rethimno
All the restaurants in the area use the spring waters to raise trout, which can be ordered freshly cooked on the grill. We managed to secure the best position near the waterfall.
ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno
On a hot day, you just want to be near the water. The Aryiroupoli springs are an off-the-beaten-track alternative to the sea and sand culture of a Cretan summer holiday.
argiroupoli hania-rethimno CIMG8075,

The tavernas serve mainly local traditional meals. The Rethimno area - and most of Eastern Crete - is known for its use of an upright barbecue grill, known as 'antikristo' in Greek, used to roast lamb and pork (I much prefer the traditional grill myself - the meat needs longer cooking time on the antikristo and the fire creates excess heat in an excessively hot summer atmosphere). Another specialty of the area is freshly grilled trout (the combined smells of meat and fish can be off-putting); the springs run into catchment tanks where trout is bred exclusively for the tavernas.

antikristo upright bbq argiroupoli hania-rethimno
The antikristo barbecue grill isn't commonly seen in Hania; it's a specialty of most other parts of Crete.
ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno mizithropites kalitsounia ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno
Kokoretsi (offal wrapped round intestines and grilled on the spit) was on the menu of Ellanion Fos Taverna where we chose to sit, perfectly positioned by the waterfalls. Vlita (amaranth) is the summer horta variety. It's a healthier alternative to the common Greek salad. We chose kalitsounia (those Rethimniotes were trying to pass them off for mizithropites) drizzled with honey for dessert.
kokoretsi ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno
We also ordered a serving of antikristo lamb (sorry about the photo) and stuffed bifteki.
antikristo bbq lamb ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno stuffed bifteki ellanion fos argiroupoli hania-rethimno
We were entertained by a Romanian musical troupe who was touring the area, going from one taverna to the other. They must have had insider knowledge of the area (not to mention transport facilities) to know where the crowds were today. They played three songs, then went round the tables collecting donations in the tambourine .

romanian musical troupe argiroupoli hania-rethimno
Take a look at the burly black-shirted chap (the taverna owner) in the foreground. He has the typical Cretan looks: height and bulk, dark facial features with piercing blue eyes, premature grey hair. Compare him with a couple of other typical looking Cretans: my dad and Alex.
argiroupoli hania-rethimno

Be sure to get to the area early for prompt service without too many hassles, as most Greeks like to arrive at the same time just after 1pm, slowing down service considerably after that point. We beat the rush and ate our lunch leisurely over two hours, leaving just after two o'clock, the time when the hordes of Athenian travellers who had just begun their summer holidays were arriving (as well as two double-storeyed coaches), creating a traffic jam in the narrow windy streets of the village. We had parked at the entrance to the village, knowing well what we would find if we tried to park right outside the taverna, a common Greek trait (to secure a parking spot right outside the place you want to go, especially since Greeks have a love affair with their four wheeled possessions). No one could move forward or back at that point, bringing a bit of chaos to the place, but we wouldn't be Greeks if we didn't live up to the meaning of the word; after all, we invented it, didn't we?

For the four of us, we ordered a serving each (for two) of antikristo lamb and kokoretsi, stuffed bifteki, two servings of fried potatoes, vlita salad, fried cheese pies (mizithropites) with honey, 2 tap beers (plus 2 more) and 2 lemonades. Cost - 48 euro (we couldn't eat it all in one go, so we took the leftovers home).

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