Nothing happens by chance alone. This is an abundant truth here on the incredible island of Crete. Since moving here some years ago, my family has been immersed in what’s turned out to be an epic quest. We’re seeking the soul of an island and her people, a secret as mysterious as the dark recesses of the King Minos’ maze, and a visible as the blisteringly evident Cretan sun above. Here’s another amazing Cretan’s story.
Somebody told me some years ago, that the village of Agios Mironas is a marvelous place. But Crete has so many magic villages and natural wonders, we missed one right next door to our home in Heraklion, the island’s capital. This winter, I made up for some lost time when I took the backroads to look at a small house for sale there. Rural Heraklion describes the picture-perfect village as:
“A town with rich history and tradition is built on the ancient two hills Rafkos (one out of 100 cities of Homeric Cretan Ekatompolis) with panoramic views from all points of. It is 18 km from Heraklion and has an altitude of 440 meters.”
Since no words can aptly describe this epic Cretan village, I’ll just skip to the part where I am walking alone with my camera through the charming maze of narrow village streets. Lost in my thoughts as I strolled by the patchwork of houses, markets, and shops, a pretty lady in a doorway caught my eye. “Where are you from?” she said with a brilliant smile. I remembered thinking to myself, “It’s that obvious, I guess.” Standing, holding a broom in the open doorway of a traditional stone house, Kallia Ierapetriti (Popi) cut a familiar pose. The scene was right out of a Kazantzakis story.
Popi (in the photo at left from High School) invited me into what I thought was surely her home, which it was, but not in the way you think. Once inside, I could not help but be amazed once again and the kindness and positivity all the Cretans exude. Popi asked if I wanted a tour of a startlingly charming one bedroom stone house. Her pride in the place was later explained when she told me about her dream of restoring these Crete masterpieces of stonework, and when she showed me three more connected houses she’d transformed into a hotel. Again, I thought, “What are the chances a travel expert ends up meeting the exact person alternative travel enthusiasts need to know?
Popi, whose husband passed away way back in 1999, supported herself and her children selling real estate and running other businesses these many years since. Her passion though is preserving the unique architectural wonders of Crete, the traditional stone houses.
“A billion to one. These are the odds for the right things happening when you move to Crete for the right reasons.”
Her efforts at Agias Mironas involved her brother, Ioannis Ierapetritakis, who’s an architect, close relatives who are interior designers, friends who are stonemasons, and so on. Popi invited me for a coffee eventually, after we’d toured the rest of her properties. At a wonderful coffee shop with an extraordinary view and clientele, Popi explained to me her dream this way (loosely translated):
“If I had the financial resources to do it, I would renovate, or help renovate, as many of these traditional stone houses as possible. With the support of certain developmental programs and communities, we could preserve and re-build a traditional Crete for her people and the world.”
Popi’s “Traditional Houses Agia Myron” is an ideal vacation getaway or retreat for anyone hoping to experience the Cretan way of life. The location is perfect for dividing a staycation in between the shops and attractions of Heraklion’s center, the beaches at Amoudara or even Agia Pelagia, and the pristine and original mountains of central Crete. If you are out for pure paradise and peace, Agias Mironas is as easy as it gets.
The newest part of Agia Mironas was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1856. Since the village sits on the crest of a mountainous ridge overlooking more than 20 Cretan villages below, such a catastrophe wiped out countless fantastic buildings. This is particularly true in the upper part of the village, which sits on a high peak overlooking the wonderful three aisle Church of Agios Mironas.
Popi’s houses reflect the traditions of Crete perfectly with carefully restored ovens, fireplaces, wells, cisterns, and rustic Cretan furnishings and antiques. One gets the feeling of being cradled by the warm, homey charm, and place the residences wrap you in. This is a fairly common feeling for visitors to Crete, but the fall of the villages means it’s also a disappearing value. For every developer or visionary who strives to preserve Crete’s unique culture, there are twenty developers ready to stick up a modern seaside hotel. It’s a real shame.
The ruins in Agias Mironas given new life by Kallia Ierapetriti should be part of a larger template for Crete touristic foundations and developments of the future. I’ve been working with others on Crete who share Popi’s vision. For my part, I am approaching some of the island’s most influential and progressive thinkers, to try and boost these kinds of ideas into reality. Crete is a unique place in the world. But the village life that Kazantzakis wrote of, it’s fast disappearing.
The “modern” world encroaches as a blistering pace. An island famous for hospitality and as the birthplace of gods is part of a lunatic plan for turning all of Greece into “Europe’s Florida,” or in on uncertain terms – the ruination of paradise.
The world is gripped in uncertainty as a pandemic threatens our very civilization. Everyone on the street can feel the friction of a paradigm shift coming, but not too many want to discuss this. A crossroads has been reached. This is clear. In the middle of this intersection of ideas, dreams, business, and choices we find the traditions and values of places like Crete intersected by what we thought was progress.
On the one hand, we have leaders who want to take the easy road, to continue as we did before the pandemic. On the other hand, there are people like Popi Ierapetriti, visionaries with a singular path to excellence in mind. We can build the touristic foundations of the future on economic hot air, or out of stone from the precious mountains of Crete.
Kallia “Popi” Ierapetriti is also the owner of the Platon Real Estate Agency, a member of the Union of Hoteliers of Heraklion, and works in studying the ancient “Linear B texts, for the promotion of Minoan civilization as a facet of international travel value. A member of the Association of Real Estate Owners of Heraklion, of the Panhellenic Association of Owners of Preserved Buildings and Monuments, Popi is also a key participant in conferences like the International Conference on Hellenism, the 2nd International Symposium on Hellenism, and many, many more.