Crete in the summer is a fresh, luscious olive swimming in the Mediterranean sea. The beaches here are amazing, and a view you could just look at doing nothing. Having a car in Crete is essential, unless you just plan to lay out on the beach by your hotel, basking in the sun and waiting for mealtime and drinking hour, which probably a majority of the tourists who come here do. But for those who don't rent a car or hire a taxi to drive them around, they are missing the things that have inspired travelers who have written about the island for the last few centuries.
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I was driving along in the Amari valley. It is one of my favorite places in Crete; a narrow valley covered with olive groves that lie between Psiloritis and Kouloukonas mountains, seeded with small villages and many unknown monuments. Nice smooth landscapes full of many surprises … Amari Valley is located in the southern prefecture of Rethymno. You get here by car, driving from the town of Rethymnon, following the main road to Spili and Agia Galini villages. At Spili you leave the main road and follow the paved road to Amari and Agia Fotini that leads you to the northern entrance of the valley.
Lassithi Plateau, up on the mountains of Crete, was blurring in the background that noon. I sat in the shade of a holm oak and looked at the hordes of tourists, climbing up – either on foot or by mule – to the legendary Dikteon Andron, the famous cave of the Cretan Mythology. The northern European sandals were slipping on the white stones and flash lights were flashing everywhere. I was thinking once upon a time that I had come here in the early springtime with a friend archaeologist. It was drizzling… We sat at the muddy edge of the cliff to escape the rain, we drank a sip of raki (local spirit from grapes) and she told me the story of the four young fools who came here to steal honey from a God’s birthplace… The four young men were Laios , Cerberus, Aigolos and Keleos. Young and brainless. And they came up here. Lassithi Plateau was a place well known from the ages of Cretan mythology , since here, at this mysterious cave, known today as Dikteon Andron (located above the village of Psihro), came goddess Rea and gave birth to Zeus. And then she hide him inside the thick darkness of the cave, out of the voracious jaws of his father, Saturn (who ate all his children fearing that they will depose him from his kingdom ). Rhea appointed the Cretan demons Curites and the nymphs of Crete to guard the divine infant in this cave. The cave was sacred and it was always inaccessible and closed for all the mortals, except King Minos , who came up here to consult his father Zeus inside the cave, in order to legislate with righteousness . The four young people knew those things. But they came here and they were dressed in bronze clothes for not the bees -that lived in the cave – could sting them. They came to steal honey of course. Something that Zeus did not agree with at all. The cave was sacred and it was his cave! So, as the young men appeared, God Zeus started throwing lightnings in the cave. And the fools would have died young, but even this was not allowed to happen in the cave, it was supposed as a sin. The cave was totally a no access area. Even for the death himself… So goddess Thetis and the deities of Fate (called Mires) came here and transformed the four young men into birds: an eagle, a thrush, a cerberus and a raven. And the four foolish young men – birds flew away from the cave squeaking… The cave was a place of great sanctity for the ancient Minoans who lived around the fertile plateau. Those ancient people of Crete were doing all their religious ceremonies inside the cave since the end of the Middle Minoan period and until almost the end of the Geometric period (from 1700 BC to 700 BC). Excavations at the cave during the years 1899-1900 made by the English archaeologist David Hogarth discovered a bunch of important findings and artifacts of Minoan religion. Today of course the cave is not the no access birthplace of Zeus, since it is the most important historical and archaeological site of the Lassithi Plateau, where thousands of visitors come to see the mythical birthplace of God Zeus. They also visit a stunning monument of nature with underground lakes and impressive stalactites and stalagmites. There is no honey here anymore. But there are crows, thrushes and eagles around. Just to remind us the tragic foolishness of youth…