Yes, there is such a place. Bunga Bunga sits at the end of, or depending on your perspective, the beginning of one of the world’s most magnificent stretches of aquamarine sea and sun-drenched sand.
The dread coronavirus pandemic has had the indomitable Cretans holed up at home in the last few weeks. And now that the government’s easing of strict lockdown restrictions has freed even us imported Minoans, we’re itching to get out of Heraklion, and back to exploring the far reaches of the island.
So it was, that a Google search for Kommos, a place where the ancient Minoans built mighty ships, somehow came up “Bunga Bunga” … which, believe it or not, is a one-of cafe-bar-restaurant at the tucked underneath the stunning cliffs at the end of Kommos Beach.
Earlier this week Mig (Mihaela) and I set out to see if our Googling eyes had deceived us and to locate a couple of World War 2 bunkers for our friend, world-renowned archaeologist Dr. Jan Driessen. That part of the story I’ll save for another day, but the beach party spot, it deserves its own spot in media. Or rather, the semi-famous sundowner hangout would be in the spotlight, if they’d been open yesterday. Imagine our surprise and our disappointment to have saved giant thirsts and appetites only to find a couple of swimmers swimming, and a few suntan enthusiasts tanning along the pristine Gulf of Mesara!
And so! We were not disappointed for too long because the scenery in this part of Crete is breathtaking. Not too many people who come to the island are familiar with the Gulf in southern Heraklion Prefecture. This crescent-shaped indentation in south-central Crete is where the fertile plain of the same name empties into the Libyan Sea, and where countless legends and untold history combine with everything great about Crete tradition.
Crete’s most prominent agricultural area for olive-oil and vegetables is where Minoan kings built some of the island’s most impressive palace temples, and where gods and demigods were born. Kommos palace is here too, where ships from Keftiu were built to connect a great civilization to the rest of the world. I’ve written before about amazing Paxamadia islets, where Apollo and Artemis were alleged to have been born.
But legends like this are as numerous as the rocks and boulders that dot the landscape. Another myth has it that a rock a couple of hundred meters from the shore is actually the top of the boulder that the blinded Cyclope Polyphemus threw against the ship of Odysseus to prevent the hero’s escape. This was after Odysseus, with his companions, escaped from Polyphemus’ cave.
Kommos Beach actually reaches all the way around the bay to Agia Galini, about 13 kilometers distant. The tiny villages of Kalamaki, somewhat larger Kokkinos Pyrgos lie along the shore here. These places are where you’ll find quaint fish tavernas, villas and apartments, family-owned hotels, and scores of attractions to grab your interest. What makes the area even more breathtaking is the relative remoteness of the place. With the tourist season interrupted as it is these days, we were almost alone the entire day. If not for our new friends in Kalamaki, the who bay might as well have been our personal playground in Eden.
Starved! This was our state of mind by the time we left Bunga Bunga and the overlook above the beach. I suggested we head for Kalamaki since we’d passed through the scenic little village once before. Once we arrived, after the winding road from the Minoan ruins, we were relieved to find Giorgos’ Fish Taverna open. Situated right on the beach, the taverna is one in a row of eateries set in typical Cretan style.
Aristidis (pictured above) and his wife Anna actually named their restaurant after their son Giorgos, but the place conveys the warm character of the people who founded the place. Perfect settings are fairly common here on Crete, but only a few have gastronomy better than Anna’s. With no clients anywhere in sight, not a soul on the beach, we managed to get fresh and tasty Cretan cuisine as if the seaside were packed with tourists from all over the world. But then, this is Crete at its best.
Fava, aubergine salad, saganaki, shrimps on the grill, and raki that should win a Cretan Tsikoudia contest for having the strength of Dionysus, Giorgos’ restaurant leaves nothing to be desired. We even met a Minoan princess named Katerina (pictured above) who works at the tavern next door owned by a nice man named Dimitris. What a delightfully laid back and friendly place is Kalamaki. Given the name, come to think of it, how could it not be?
Oh, I almost forgot. What about Bunga Bunga? Well, we’ll call or drop in next week when we go back to stay on the Gulf for a week or so. It’s high time we explored more of this amazing part of our island paradise. Stay tuned for Bunga Bunga Two!
To learn more about Kalamaki Beach, Kommos, Kokkinos Pyrgos, Matala, and the Gulf of Mesara readers should visit Cretan Beaches here.