Sfakia (Greek Σφακιά) is a beautiful, traditional, mountainous area to the South West of the island of Crete, in the Chania prefecture. It is one of the few places in Greece to never have been fully occupied by foreign powers (Mani and Souli being the others).
The road from Chania to Sfakia crosses the island from North to South, through the village of Vrisses. From this village the route crosses the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) to Hora Sfakion by the Libyan Sea. Half way from Vrisses to Hora Sfakion is the fertile plateau of Askifou, surrounded by high mountain peaks. From here to Hóra Sfakíon the road is particularly spectacular. The road hugs the western slope of the Imbros Gorge with breathtaking views.
There are many beaches in Sfakia which do not see the numbers of tourists of the north coast. More adventurous visitors can follow the European hiking footpath E4 which crosses Crete through Sfakia's mountains. The coastal villages are not connected by a coastal road, and can be reached by ferry boats.
The local speciality, "Sfakian Pies", are thin pancakes filled with cream cheese and served drizzled with honey.
Hóra Sfakíon is famous as one of the centers of the resistance against the occupying forces of both the Venetians and the Turks. The impenetrable White Mountains to the north combined with the rocky beaches on the south helped the locals fight off all invaders. Anopolis, a village near Hóra Sfakíon, is the birthplace of one of the most celebrated Cretan revolutionaries, Daskalogiannis.
Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote about the tall proud Sfakians and their resistance to occupation. Many tales of revolts and uprisings in Crete start in the mountains of western Crete - mountain guerillas, "pallikari" fighters and rebel assemblies.
After the Battle of Crete during World War II, the locals helped many New Zealand and Australian soldiers escape from here on the night of May 31 1941, suffering great reprisals. King George II of Greece had already escaped this way when the Germans invaded. Near the village of Komitades is the Church of Panagia Thymiani where the revolution of 1821 began in Crete. At the village of Loutro is the ruined "chancellery" where the first revolutionary government of 1821 met.
Sfakiá is notorious for the harshness of the environment and the warlike people. Sfakians themselves are still considered somewhat beyond the reach of the lawmakers and tax collectors of Athens, with vendettas over stolen sheep and women's honour still being fought late into the 20th century.
Stealing and banditry had been considered a way of life in the mountains, even appearing in a Creation story, which made God Himself a Sfakiot, as recounted by Adam Hopkins:
- ...with an account of all the gifts God had given to other parts of Crete - olives to Ierapetra, Ayios Vasilios and Selinou; wine to Malevisi and Kissamou; cherries to Mylapotamos and Amari. But when God got to Sfakia only rocks were left. So the Sfakiots appeared before Him armed to the teeth. "And us Lord, how are we going to live on these rocks?" and the Almighty, looking at them with sympathy, replied in their own dialect (naturally): "Haven't you got a scrap of brains in your head? Don't you see that the lowlanders are cultivating all these riches for you?"
The Sfakians are also famous for their hospitality and generosity towards guests, resulting in a shift from traditional labour towards tourism, with now many families running their own small hotel or restaurant.
- University of Lausanne history of Sfakiá (French)
- Portal site about the region of Sfakiá
- Live webcam from the village of Hóra Sfakíon, Sfakiá
- Local guide to Sfakiá