I woke up this morning thinking, What kind of travel reporter would I be if I didn’t share with readers the best experiences of Crete? Well, if I did not date to share stories of friends here on Crete you’d never hear a word about this wonderful island’s most valuable treasure. With this in mind, I present you with an Instagram introduction to Maria Papoutsaki and her family’s famous Aravanes taverna. Situated in ancient Thronos, Aravanes has been a subject for Argophilia several times before. What makes this story different is the fact we stayed over in Thronos during this visit, in order to get a travelers point of view of Aravanes and the surrounds.
Thronos is a village of perhaps 20 full-time inhabitants, it’s a postcard gem hanging off the side off of one of the Amari Valley’s steep mountainsides. The village was an important Minoan city called Sivritos (GR: Σίβρυτος) and later a Roman site in antiquity. And these days you still get a sense of the sacred nature of this spot high up (600 meters) in Crete’s Rethymno Prefecture.
The Instagram share below is of a house gate off to the left of the narrow alley leading up to Aravanes Tavern.
As you walk up to the front of Aravanes a dramatic sense of aloneness may strike you, as it always does me. The site of the tavern is part of the village, and yet something quite apart. Indescribable is the best word to use, I guess. The Instagram below is looking back from the front of the tavern toward the main village. Below the pavement, to the left, there’s a sheer drop from which you can still see the foundations of the ancient town in the layers of strata supporting the high retaining wall of the site. But it’s the head of the magnificent valley and the quaint village surrounds that captures the eye.
We were late arriving at Aravanes and I friend Maria was hurried to show us to our room overlooking the back terrace, majestic Mt. and the valley of Zeus below. The image of Mihaela here, while not perfect photographically, captures the sense of amazement guests of Aravanes get on arrival. I can’t adequately describe this view, but I’ll show you several more views just to convey the uniqueness at different times of day.
You cannot visit Aravanes and avoid being hungry. It’s impossible. The aroma of nature and the scent of traditional Cretan fare permeate all around Aravanes. Maria had to leave us to unpack in order to get back to her other stayover guests dining on the terrace. This Instagram is of Mihaela mulling over the extensive menu at a table indoors. Her father Pavel and his wife Aurelia were with us, and they preferred sitting inside in rustic comfort. The cool of these mountains kind of “gets you” even if it is May.
Aravanes is famous for the traditional Cretan cuisine Maria and her tight-knit crew offers guests. I can make a simple recommendation for future diners here – just point to something on the menu. As for me, I have a test I always perform at Greek restaurants in particular. No matter where you dine from Thessaloniki to Ierapetra in the south of Crete, traditional mousaka is served. But the test is in finding this cliche dish prepared by a restauranteur whose staff loves cooking the famous dish. Even the best taverns in Heraklion or Chania seem to cook the dish as an afterthought. The end result is a real “Meh” experience for somebody like me. I’ll not bore the reader with what I like this dish so much, I’ll just give you an Instagram recommendation here.
What do you do on Crete after a scrumptious and filling meal? The same thing you do anyplace else, if you can, you go to your room and take a nap. Only here, overlooking the valley where Zeus is supposed to have grown up, you take one more disbelieving look outside your room. We so enjoyed Samitos family room at Aravanes, but every room as this amazing view too.
If you venture this far afield you’ll be faced with some touch choices. One will be whether or not to visit Patsos Gorge before or after your nap. We chose after. The image below is from the unbelievable chapel of Agios Antonios looking out and upward over the high walls of the gorge. This is “eden”- or as my son calls it “the land of Tarzan.”
Amari has a kind of magic akin to something you may have seen at the movies. A place of indescribable beauty, there’s this ancient spirit that lives in everything. I think, like my son Paul, of a primieval time when this could have been Eden. Other aspects transport visitors to a sort of “home place” within themselves. Another feeling tough to put into words. Coincidence happens a lot here, like meeting Americans you were too shy to introduce yourself to at Aravanes. Much to our surprise, the great people you see in this Instagram were staying with Maria too. I’d seen them at lunch but did not want to interrupt their enjoyment of the tavern and surrounds. As it turned out we met them again in Patsos, and we learned they were from Reno, Nevada. “Small world” stuff comes at you in waves on Crete, trust me.
And after you walk down and back through Patros Gorge, your new home away awaits with – what else but fabulous Aravanes cuisine. The Instagram below is from Mihaela’s account, it is goat meat in the best tomato sauce we ever tasted. The spread, of course, was much bigger.
There’s a lot to see and do in the Amari Valley, but sleep comes as a pleasant gift in this quiet place. We’re usually fairly nocturnal in our habits, as is the case for most Cretans. But on this day the final quest was for any pillow, ancient or new. The stylish rooms designed by Maria’s sister Eleftheria are better described elsewhere. In this story, I want to try and convey morning and sunrise over Mount Psiloritis (AKA Mount Ida). Day two of our latest Amari adventure began for me at 5:30 AM. Maybe you can hear or sense the peace of this place on planet Earth. What a thought provoking and harmonious place.
At 6 AM in Thronos a car passes by on the lonely road through the village like “NEVER” – I highly recommend being an early bird when you stay at Aravanes, if only for shedding every inkling of stress. Day two of our Amari adventure started slow and turned wholesome and fun when Maria conducted a breadmaking class after breakfast. Our son Paul made his little handmade loaf for cooking in the wood fired oven, as did a slew of tourists from France. Activities at Aravanes cover the gambit of traditional Cretan life. More on this later. For now check out Maria helping guests make some delicious bread we were to eat later. You can learn to make raki, harvest and stomp grapes for wine, learn about the local flora and fauna, how to make soap and wash clothes the traditional way, and much more.
Everybody is looking for a unique experience these days. Well, Mihaela and I created one nobody else has ever offered. We asked Maria about promoting an “Adopt a Goat” program for city slickers who’ve never enjoyed playing with one of these delightful animals. Our son Paul spent hours feeding and playing with the little billy we named “Mickey” – here you see us feeding him from a Mythos Beer bottle filled with his mommy’s milk. Details on how you can sponsor “Mickey” in order to help preserve local history in my news post.
After the breadmaking and another fabulous lunch at Aravanes we had to scoot back to Heraklion. We’ve schedule to go back at the end of May for the Creta Festival Aravanes holds on every full moon. To punctuate this visit though, let me share a secret with you. God greets you every morning at the place they say Zeus romped during his childhood. Maybe you’ll make the connection like I did at 6 AM the other day.