One of the main reasons for heading to Chania on Crete was to meet up with Anastasia and Vassily, a Greek couple that we had met last year on the ferry between Bari and Igoumenitsa. They live in a village called Douliana, around 30 minutes by car from our anchorage in Souda Bay, 30 minutes from Chania. We hired a car and enjoyed the drive up through beautiful countryside to reach Douliana, where Anastasia met us. She was really keen to show us the village which is beautifully preserved thanks to a large part to Anastasia’s father who arrived in the 70s and persuaded the villagers to restore the existing buildings rather than build new concrete homes. We all owe a debt of gratitude to this initiative as Douliana today has such a lot of charm without any of the usual tourist trappings. Anastasia guided us on a walk down into a dell to St John’s church, embedded in the rock with a tiny altar and a selection of icons. Anastasia explained that once a year on St John’s Day (26 August), the village process down the path to the little church with all the religious icons from the larger church in the centre of the village to pray and give thanks. It must be quite a sight – the walk is very green even at the end of the summer and you have the feeling of entering a secret grotto.
After a lovely meal in the local taverna, we went to the Kafenion in the centre of the village where a number of villagers had gathered to honour the memory of a fellow villager who had passed away 40 days previously. It is tradition to hold a feast at this time to remember the deceased, and we were invited to attend. Around 20 people sat down in the community hall to a traditional meal of lamb (slaughtered by the local shepherd) and rice. We were still quite satisfied after our taverna meal so we did not eat, but enjoyed witnessing this coming together of the villagers, who welcomed us as one of their own.
Anastasia and Vassily are a wonderfully warm couple who we enjoyed spending time with over the next few days. They showed us a block of land they are in the process of purchasing with a plan to set up a business of eco-lodges and a cookery school. The land commands magnificent views of the mountains, the fertile valley and the sea, so we have no doubt that it will be a stunning location for their business. We wish them well as they embark on this exciting period of their lives.