The wild and untapped Agios Ioannis peninsula.
The triangular peninsula of Aghios Ioannis – north of Aghios Nikolaos and inland from Elounda – is surprisingly wild and not very crowded. Narrow streets are leading along secluded agricultural hamlets and small villages.
If one follows the national main road, one first reach the gorge of Sellinari, where the travelers traditionally stop and pray to Saint George for a safe passage. This impressive road, which has been built across many obstacles, leads past the administrative capital of Neapoli and then reaches Aghios Nikolaos, where spectacularly the Gulf of Mirabello in front will be visible.
From Neapoli directly to Elounda: If one is not in a hurry, one can also use the small streets that lead over the Aghions Ioannis peninsula. They offer a great alternative to the usual routes to Elounda or to the Lasithi Plateau and are even shorter.
At Neapoli leave the highway and follow the signs to the ‘Amazonas Park’, but then turn down right to the archaeological site of Driros (but do not turn right at the next, shortly following diversion, instead follow to the left) towards Kastelli.
Alternatively one could go directly through Neapoli to the next small village Nikithianos, where one turn left and drives through an underpass of the highway across serpentine to Kastelli. From there continue to Elounda, which is signed.
Although there is not much to see next to the magnificent landscape – except for wonderful views of the Gulf of Mirabello and welcoming tavernas and coffees in the larger villages.
Coming from the west of Malia one start at Milatos with a long and steep ascent to the peninsular of Aghios Ioannis.
From Elounda the steep, narrow road winds over Pano Elounda and Pines (picture right) towards Fourni and Kastelli and meets the highway at Neapoli.
Plaka, about 3 miles (5 km) north of Elounda, lies directly opposite the Fortress of Spinalonga and was once the main supply point on the mainland for the leprosy colony.
Boats still carry the short trip today, but they are now transporting tourists.
The previously more or less dilapidated place has become quite chique since the establishment of the not yet to be overlooked luxury hotel. Many new houses and villas have been built, mostly inhabited by foreign owners.
Plaka is still an attractive, quiet place with a few excellent and well-known tavernas in front of the crystal clear sea.
The beach, however, consists of large, little comfortable pebbles and also a strong east wind can blow through the mouth of the bay between the mainland and the Spinalonga peninsula.
Beyond Plaka begins the other, wild and untapped world of the Aghios Ioannis peninsula. The road winds along the coast to Vrouhas.
Here and in the surroundings there are still many of the old, traditional stone windmills, which are mostly decayed.
Its successors are located in the large, new wind farm in the north-east of the peninsula, from where one have a wonderful view over the sea and the Gulf of Mirabello.
To the wind park one drives shortly before Vrouhas on a mostly better dirt road to the right (the wind park is signposted) and one can drive until the north-eastern tip of the Aghios Ioannis peninsula to a small, white chapel near the cliffs above the sea.
There are also some kind of dirt road from Plaka (turn right behind the pebbles beach), which winds up along the coast to the wind farm. This route is also suitable for hikes or tours with mountain bike or quad bikes.
Pictures from the northeast tip of the peninsula:
On the route from Vrouhas to Skinais, a narrow road leads steeply down the coast, where some isolated beaches with pebbles, small pensions and seasonal tavernas are located on a rugged, rocky coastal section.
Further inland and just behind Skinias, a well-paved road leads to the lonely monastery of Moni Aretfou, which is surrounded by cypresses and cedars and looks like a fortress from the 16th century.
Recently restored, it often appears as completely deserted, but some monks have stayed behind and the gate and church Agia Triadha are usually open.
Pictures of the coast and the hinterland:
In addition, an asphalted road, which winds at first over barren mountain peaks, leads to Dories, where the church of Agios Konstantinos houses an icon of the Panayia (Virgin) from the 14th century, the oldest known on Crete.
The church is located near the village center on a small path from the main road (marked by a small monument in the form of a church). The creme-brown-painted house next door belongs to the Papas, which are available to open the church to visitors.
In the direction to Neapoli, one pass the Amazon Park – an animal park (entrance fee: 10 Euros per person, group reductions) as well as the old Doric ruins mountain city of Driros.
Road maps of Crete, which in the best case are not always reliable, do not appear to be particularly helpful on the peninsula. The most obvious, however, is that there is no road which runs completely along the coast from the west to the east, or at least some sort of dirt road, but which is nevertheless recorded on some maps.
It is best to follow the signs and paved roads and one will finally reach the destination.
It is also advisable not to exaggerate with remote explorations, since the police are rarely seen in this area, and local gamekeepers have already reported that parked vehicles of hunters from the city were perforated with shotguns after their return from the hunt trip. Additional, the one or other illegal cannabis field is supposed to be hidden here.
Video from the Aghios Ioannis Peninsula
Duration: 1:56 min with views of Spinalonga and Elounda Bay, wind farm and coast and wilderness.