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Spili is a not-so-small miracle lurking in the central part of Crete, approximately half-way between Rethymnon and the island’s spectacular south coast. It is roughly an 80 minute drive from Chania. You can drive through it in a minute or two and think, “Oh, that’s cute,” then forget about it as you go on your way. Or you can stop and begin to explore and realize that this is surely one of the most unique villages/towns in all of Crete. Spili is nestled up against a rocky mountain called Vorizis. As happens in some fairy tales, this rock gives vent to an underground mountain spring that the townspeople have harnessed beautifully by building a multi-spigoted urban fountain, each spigot being an open-mouthed lion’s head. The water here (at a constant temperature of 13C/55F) is so clean and rich in iron that the waiters from the neighboring cafes and restaurants come here to fill glasses or decanters for their customers. The underground river continues running beneath the town sidewalks (there is even a window in one place to give you a glimpse of the flow) until it reaches an aboveground river bed just outside the city center. The great Cretan Beaches site informs us that trout are abundant in the river and that walks along the riverbanks to a nearby gorge are spectacular. I haven’t made it that far yet, myself. Spili, which means “cave” in Greek, appears to have been settled originally by people who inhabited the many caves in the mountain. There are 21 churches in the town, some of which have frescoes dating back to the 14th century AD. According to my wife, a true connoisseur of coffee, especially Greek coffee, the finest coffee on the island can be had here at a wonderfully homey coffeehouse right off the L-shaped turn in the road in the center of town. It’s the one that has blue windows frames on one half and green on the other. It is called O Raftis Coffeshop, or The Tailor. It’s a great place to watch the world go by, but don’t forget to walk up into the hilly alleys leading to many of the town’s residences. The steep, winding slopes have surprises for the eye at every turn. [Photos restored Dec. 10, 2019]

Text and photos © John Freedman, 2019.