Kamilari: Village on 3 Hills

The traditional Cretan hilltop village of Kamilari, (pop. 340) is about 3 km inland from Kalamaki on the southern coast of Crete and 50 km southwest of Heraklion. It's about 4 km south of E97, the Heraklion-Phaistos national highway, which in most places is sort of a 3-lane affair- not wide enough for 4 lanes, and too wide for 2 lanes, it provides a safer opportunity for passing if the driver of the car ahead of you is taking it easy and staying as far to the right as he can. Greeks are impatient drivers; if you get tailgated by someone, just drift over to the right and let the guy get on with it.

Kamilari about 10 km from the annual Rock festival held every June at Matala, which attracts tens of thousands. It's also only 4 km from Phaistos, a principal Minoan (2600-1600 BC), city, and Crete's number one archeological site. And Kamilari itself has its attractions, including its topography, built as it is on 3 hilltops. (Perhaps it should seek sister city status with Three Hills, Alberta, Canada, pop. 3,200.)

It's a traditional village on the kind of elevation that allows it to have a commanding 360-degree view of the Plain of Messara to the north and east, the mountains to the south, and the sea to the west. The sea is to the west because this portion of Crete's southern coastline runs north and south for 20 km.

The village is full of restored old stone buildings, draped with flaming red bougainvilleas in the early summer. The restoration movement was started by foreigners and returning emigrants who renovated their old family homes and either use it themselves during the summers or rent them out. The presence of many foreigners and emigrants gives the village a surprisingly cosmopolitan flair, and the village has hosted environmentally-themed events in the past.

 But it is also very much a traditional village with its annual Easter bonfire on the central square, and its cafenia with mustachioed Cretans playing backgammon and sipping their ouzo and eating their mezedes, or drinking coffee as the solve Greece's political problems once and for all.

Kamilari is a very short 5-minute drive from Kalamaki, a fast-growing resort that didn't exist as a village before 1970 and is smack in the center point of Crete's longest, best, sandiest beach. Other scenic villages dot the landscape of the Messara Plain, along with some monasteries.

Kalmilari is a great place to get away from life's stresses, meet a few people who may surprise you when they tell you where they're from, and observe a pace of life that hasn't changed in 2,000 years.