Our (shared) terrace
Our room was one of four “Coral Rooms,” part of a hospitality establishment based on the Akrogiáli taverna that comprised four sets of rooms or apartments on varying levels of luxury—and altitude, as they were stacked on the steep hillside above the taverna. (The Coral Rooms were the humblest in both respects.) Outside our door was a shaded terrace that Americans might call a patio, but that word conveys a more rustic picture. This space was elegantly paved with flagstones and connected with the taverna by a flight of stairs. Two big, comfortable chairs that were great to read or relax in stood in front of each of the four Coral rooms. The patio had a view out over the water and another down the stairs, over the taverna, and along the beach.

Here and there on the terrace were potted plants, and above it spread a large tree with tiny needle-like leaves that we learned was a tamarisk, a tree welcomed on the coast for its ability to grow near salt water. (There was another growing among the tables in the taverna’s dining area.) Tamarisk is also called salt cedar, and its Greek name, almíra, means ‘saltiness.’ Bu it’s less than welcome in the American West, where one of its many varieties has become invasive on the banks of rivers that have turned salty from being dammed for irrigation.

Whenever the sun—still hot though we were now a week into October—invaded my reading space, I would scoot my chair a little farther across the marble tiles of the terrace to stay in the tree’s friendly shade. Its flowers sometimes dropped tiny beige petals, no more than a quarter-inch long, onto me and my iPad, but they were no bother.
Room with a view
The room was the most Spartan that we occupied on the trip, containing two simple beds with firm mattresses, a small refrigerator, a cabinet with extra blankets that we didn’t need, and little else besides a sheet, towel, and pillow for each of us. The bathroom was tiny, with the wall-free shower you find in all except posh accommodations. It was impossible to shower without getting everything in the bathroom wet. But it was built for that, letting no water escape over the threshold, and it was “en suite,” as the Brits (and I presume the French) say—no need to walk down a hallway to get to it.

Good thing, since there was no hallway. The Coral Rooms sit side by side facing the terrace, each with its own Dutch door. (That’s what Americans call them anyway—the kind of door that’s divided horizontally in half, so that the top and bottom parts can be opened separately.)

Our neighbors to the right were a Swiss couple more or less our age. They left on Friday, and the room was taken by another couple in the same age bracket, natives of New Zealand who now reside in Sitía. To our left were a somewhat younger couple from the Netherlands, who did a lot of swimming, but also quite a lot of reading—Dorothea thought the terrace sometimes looked like an outdoor library. (It never occurred to us to ask our left-side neighbors what name Dutch people use for Dutch doors.)

After moving in, which amounted to putting the water we’d bought into the wee fridge and displacing the blankets in the cabinet with some of our own stuff, we sat outside reading for half an hour or so and then went for a walk.

First we headed up the road toward the ruins of the Minoan palace, hoping we might see the end of the local ravine called the “Gorge of the Dead.” This runs downward from a point a little way below Áno Zákros and ends near the coast, not far above the palace site. Its name comes from Minoan burials in caves high on the ravine’s walls, not from any intent to warn would-be hikers of mortal danger. In fact, the guide books describe the whole descent, starting from Áno Zákros, as a two-hour walk, and we naively thought we might be able to manage it.

To walk the gorge, of course, we’d need to have a taxi take us up to the top, and although the distance down would be shorter—the gorge lacking the road’s many bends and loops—the change in altitude that was obvious from down below suggested that the “two-hour walk” would involve more climbing (albeit downward) than strolling, and would take the likes of us a at least twice as long. However, we’d planned our visit to Káto Zákros as down time, which we expected to need after the ambitious sightseeing we did during our stay in Iráklio. This didn’t seem altogether consistent with the strenuous experience of climbing down rocks for half a day.

We didn’t get close to the gorge on our walk, as it was a good deal farther past the palace than we’d expected, but we could see enough of the mountains it came through to recognize the wisdom of our hesitance.

Having followed the road up a slight hill from which we could see all the archaeology spread out in front of us, we retraced our steps to the seashore and, when we reached the Akrogiáli, turned right to walk along the short main street of the tiny village. As I mentioned before, Káto Zákros is a seasonal village, depopulated as soon as the season ends (as it would soon be doing), and no goods or services were offered on its single street other than refreshment—a small snackery with a few unoccupied chairs in front, and a taverna operated by Níkos’ competitor, who also happens to be named Níkos. (Since we were practically living in the Akrogiáli, we loyally ate all our meals there.)
Dorothea comparing pebbles
Not far past these attractions we found some steps down to the beach, so we went out there for a look and a short walk. Near the Akrogiáli, Káto Zákros’ beach is nearly all shingle, but up here it was broader, and the shingle alternated with bands of sand. Looked at closely, the smooth, round little stones had a certain charm of their own, and we put a few in our pocket as keepsakes (though I was glad not to be walking over them barefoot).

We recovered from all this activity by sitting and reading on the terrace as the other two couples were also doing. “It was delightfully quiet,” Dorothea wrote—one of those library-like interludes she described.

We went down the stairs to have dinner at about 7:00, and sat at a table no more than 20 feet from the water. The sound of its soft lapping was relaxing. Most of the dining area was under a roof, but the tables outside, like ours, were shaded by umbrellas made from palm leaves (or some kind of leaves, at any rate).

We shared a dákos salad, identified on the menu not as dákos but as koupoukópsamo—perhaps this impressive polysyllabic alternative for what is already a Cretan word is native to the eastern end of the island, but we didn’t remember to ask.

As a main dish, I ordered barboúni—red mullet—the most expensive fish recommended by Matt Barrett. I figured that, if I were going to splurge, this would be a good place to do it, since Níkos buys fish daily right off the boat. And it was good—but my plate held three small fish rather than one large one, so a good deal of deboning was required, and what I got to eat was a rather modest quantity considering the price. I decided to order some French fries to bulk the meal up a little, and they arrived as a welcome and tasty third course. (Dorothea had eaten pork souvláki while I was operating on the mullet.) We got through not one but two half-liter bottles of retsína as we enjoyed the food and the seaside ambience, and I had a potiráki (Greek for ‘wee dram’) of oúzo afterwards.