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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 14 February 2015
DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 14 FEBRUARY 2015 21 FEATURE from the Amari accommodation, restaurants, and handicrafts), says Papadakis, is key to moving forward. "We don't need huge projects that would distort Amari's unique character. We must remain humble and at the same time, proud of our heritage, paying respect to the glorious environment and our history, that has been delivered to us, intact, by our ancestors". Papadakis' vision is not only about developing tourism in the valley, but encouraging its diaspora to return. "We want people to come back to their homeland, to live and work here. We want Amari to flourish again and tourism could be the best way to move things forward". Another visionary Amariot is cave explorer, environmental campaigner, and tireless Amari advocate Aris Koutakis. After a career in banking, Aris has put his life savings into creating a trekking centre in the village of Opsigias. For Aris, the purpose is philanthropy and education, not profit. "I built this place to enable people to come and stay in the Amari, to sample and understand the precious things we have here, the mountains, nature, and the valley's history," says Koutakis, standing on the balcony of his eight-bedroom complex. Inside the new two-storey construction is perhaps the clearest indication of Aris' mission and motivations. The large multi-purpose room on the ground floor has the title Αίθουσα Μνήμης και Ευθύνης (Room of Memory and Responsibility) inscribed above its entrance - a space for gathering, celebrating and sharing ideas. For Aris, memory is central to understanding not just the Amari's past, but its future, and protecting the valley's delicate natural environment is the priority. The economic crisis in Greece has bled into the valley in disturbing ways. One example is the illegal destruction of some of Crete's oldest olive trees, many dating back to before the birth of Christ. With most of the population elderly, landowners are powerless to prevent gangs decimating entire groves by cutting them down to sell the timber for profit. The latest threat - literally on the horizon - is the potential construction of 750 giant wind turbines, a project, encouraged by the Greek government to shore up its carbon emission credentials, that will do nothing for the Amari communities. If it goes ahead, the impact on the pristine landscape - and the valley's nascent tourism industry - will be immense. Papadakis, Koutakis and others will fight the development tooth and nail, backed by the municipality. The Amari, with its stunning natural environment and historical sites, is an extraordinary place to visit - one of Crete's most inspiring and enchanting landscapes and cultures. Just as the plough churns its rich soil in winter for next year's crop, the valley prepares itself for a new season and regeneration. That's the Amari way. For a glimpse of Crete at its richest, full of natural wonders and history, take the road to the Amari, a place that beckons like no other. * Michael Sweet travelled to Crete from Athens with the assistance of Aegean Airlines. The village of Amari. Heroism and sacrifice Thirteenth century fresco in the church of the abandoned village of Smiles, destroyed by the Germans in August 1944. Places to stay and eat in the Amari Amari Villas The valley's most luxurious accommodation on the eastern slopes of Samitos mountain comprises two interconnecting villas (with pool) that can sleep up to 16. Open all year round, the villas make the perfect summer or winter retreat. www. homeaway.co.uk/p1052828 Tel. 283 1051003 and 697 3557081 Amari Trekking Centre Aris Koutakis' new eight- bedroom property makes an ideal base for trekking on Psiloritis and exploring the valley. Any stay is enriched by Aris' knowledge of local historic sights and the Amari's natural environment. email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel. +30 283 022268 and 6976 536440 Meronas Eco House Manolis Moschonas has transformed his old family home in the village of Meronas into a cosy interpretation of a traditional Amari residence, and one with a jacuzzi. www. meronas.wix.com/meronaseco-house. Tel. 6985 120285 Moschovolies Traditional Taverna Meronas One of the valley's best kept secrets, this delightful taverna run by the Moschonas family offers the freshest local produce and some of the best food in the Amari. Tel. 283 3022526 and 6956 657882 The Kedros villages on the Amari valley's western edge may seem as ancient as those elsewhere in the valley. They are not. All have been rebuilt virtually from scratch after their destruction in WWII. On 22 August 1944, German forces destroyed the villages that line the eastern slopes of the Kedros mountain after murdering 164 civilians, ostensibly as an act of reprisal for the abduction (by British secret agents and partisans) of the island's garrison commander, General Heinrich Kreipe. Most historians today concur that the massacre (carried out three months after the abduction and just weeks before the Germans withdrew their forces to Chania), was ordered largely to deter local partisans from attacking the occupation forces as they retreated, and to punish the communities - who from the start of the occupation had consistently supported the resistance and protected Allied soldiers on the run. Today a line of memorials, one in each village along the road that runs south-east from Gerakari, tells the tale of that terrible day. Those killed included 49 people from Gerakari - nine from the Kokkonas family alone, more than 40 from the tiny hamlets of Vryses and Kardaki, and 40 from Ano Meros. The Ano Meros monument is the most remarkable: a larger than life sculpture of a Cretan woman, stout and strong in traditional costume, wielding a hammer and chisel, carving the names of the dead into the stone monolith she faces. Another memorial has fewer visitors. Tucked into the fields in the valley below is the abandoned village of Smiles (pronounced smee-les). Set ablaze by the Nazis that August day, it was never rebuilt, and what remains of its wrecked, overgrown dwellings stand in silent testament to that awful terror. Smiles is not to be found on any commercially available map, but ask the locals. They know. Part 2 of a 3-part series Mother Crete: Memorial at Ano Meros. The names of those massacred in the village on 22 August 1944 are hewn into stone.
7 February 2015
21 February 2015