Driving Tour: Amari Valley

  • Start Rethymno
  • Finish Rethymno
  • Length 150km; one day

The Amari Valley is a quilt of unspoilt villages punctuated by Byzantine churches and framed by olive groves and orchards. Mt Psiloritis looms grandly above the landscape. You will need a good map.

Begin with a visit to the ever-impressive Moni Arkadiou. To reach it, head east from Rethymno, take the turning for Adele and follow the signs. Continue south to Thronos, whose Agia Panagia has extraordinary, if faded, 14th-century frescoes (key at next-door cafe). From here, head downhill and turn left for Fourfouras.

Follow the signs to Amari, an enchanting medley of Venetian buildings and a square filled with cafes and overflowing flowerpots. Climb the 19th-century bell tower to share beautiful views with the pigeons. Continue on to Monastiraki, home to a (badly signposted) Minoan site. Carry on through Lamiotes, turning east after Petrochori. Pass through olives groves, stopping at the remains of the 7th-century Bizari Basilica, destroyed in 824 by the Arabs.

In Vizari, visit olive woodworking shops, then head east to pretty Fourfouras, where trails climb up Mt Psiloritis and you can refuel at the gas station and bakery. Head south to Apodoulou, with the manor of Kalitsa Psaraki, named for a girl abducted by Turks and rescued (and married) by an English traveller. Follow a dirt track west of town to Agios Georgios, with its still-colourful 17th-century frescoes.

Return north, taking the turning for Agios Ioannis, through the western valley. Turn north for Anomeros and on to modern, colourful Gerakari, a market town famous for its cherries, wild tulips and its nicely frescoed 13th-century Church of Agios Ioannis.

Complete the loop in Meronas, where the 14th-century Church of Maria and its frescoes are a highlight of the trip. Carry on to Agia Fontini, from where you can continue north to Rethymno.