Rich in natural splendour, and in countless reminders of its ancient and turbulent past, Crete affords an inexhaustible source of vivid impressions. Our introduction to western Crete is Chania, with its busy and colourful market and lively waterfront. Inland, where the Levka Ori (White Mountains) rise to over 2400m/8000ft, the high ground is riven by a series of deep gorges leading down to the south coast. The Samaria gorge is now a National Forest Park, while the Imbros Gorge was at one time a main route for pack animals across the island. As you hike through this largest of all Greek islands, there are orange and olive groves, forests of cypress, pine and evergreen oak - and a profusion of wild flowers, some of them found only in Crete, for the island is host to more plant species than are found in the whole of the British Isles. This wealth of flowers and herbs sustains a large insect and butterfly population, which, in part, explains the popularity of Crete with migrant birds. Some 250 different species of migrant birds have been identified in Crete. In the high mountains griffon vultures and even lammergeiers may be observed as well as other birds of prey. You also pass the scattered ruins of former civilisations and occupations, including Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, and Turkish. However to see remains of the earlier Minoan civilisation you will need to spend longer on Crete.Cretan life reflects its natural surroundings. In the foothill villages, where life is simple and very close to nature, you will meet a proud people, devoted to their customs and traditions, and genuinely generous in their hospitality.
This trek is designed for those who enjoy good rough country walking. The tour is graded 'moderate' (grade 3) but is on the challenging side of moderate. The paths are very rough and stony; there are long descents (up to 1200m/4000 feet) and ascents (up to 750m/2500 feet) with numerous 'zigzags' ('switchbacks' in American) so that the gradients are generally moderate. Afternoon temperatures may be up to 30 degrees C/ 86 degrees F, or higher in summer. However the tour should present no difficulty to anyone in good general health who is accustomed to hill walking/day hiking in mountainous terrain. The most common problem experienced by those new to walking in Crete is blistering on feet and ankles, which develops faster in the warm conditions. On one day (day 3) there is a possibility of some easy scrambling above the Linoselli pass on the way to Gingilos summit, but as the way back on that day is the same as the way out there is no need to attempt the scrambling section and we do not describe or recommend it. Day stages range up to 18km/11 miles/about 7 hours walking. You only need to carry a daypack but on days 4 and 6 you will need to carry overnight things for the two nights at Agia Roumeli. NB : Because of the rugged terrain this self-guided tour is not available to solo walkers.
From the airport make your own way by bus or taxi to our centrally located hotel. Enjoy the afternoon and evening exploring the town, with its old quarter, two harbours, museum, market, and waterfront. It is possible to swim off the town beach to the west of the promenade. There is a wide choice of places to dine on the waterfront and elsewhere in the old town.
Accommodation: Your modern hotel is within a short walk of the Venetian harbour, 50m. from the bus station and famous covered market. The bright rooms are equipped with a private bathroom, balcony, telephone and T.V. For your first evening meal there are plenty of places to choose from by the old harbour with its Venetian lighthouse.
Morning in Chania before late morning taxi transfer (included in the tour price) with your baggage to the beautiful Omalos Plateau (1050m) in the heart of the White Mountains. After lunch at your hotel you can either explore the plateau or, with the help of a lift from the hotel to Xiloscalo (1200m/4000 feet) (you may have to pay a small charge for this transport) at the head of the Samaria Gorge you can walk up to the Austrian-run Kallergi Mountain Hut (1689m/5540 feet) to enjoy a cool drink and admire the magnificent view before walking back down the track to Omalos in the early evening.
Accommodation: Your accommodation for two nights is in a friendly and well-designed lodge-style hotel with spacious balconies and stone flag hallways. Dinner is included: the cuisine is local and traditional. Vegetarian dishes are available, including an excellent bean soup as a starter. Breakfast includes yoghurt with honey – both are local produce.
After early breakfast a short transfer to Xiloscalo at the head of the Samaria Gorge. (Transfer supplied by the hotel - there may be a small charge.) From here your way climbs among scattered cypress and thorny maple trees to the refreshing Linoselli Spring. The last part of the ascent to the summit of Mt. Gingilos, a rugged peak of 1975m/6480ft involves some scrambling and is above the grade of this tour, but the Linoselli saddle at about 1750m, half-way between the spring and the summit provides an enjoyable, if more leisurely walk with spectacular views in all directions. You return by the same route back down to the plateau, crossing it on farmers' tracks to return to the hotel.
You pack minimum requirements (including a towel for the beach) for two nights and leave your main luggage at Omalos to be sent round to Anopolis where you will pick up day 6. After catching the bus to Xiloscalo you start your walk down the full length of the Samaria Gorge. This is a popular walk and you are unlikely to be the only ones on the trail, but by starting a little later or a little earlier you can miss the crowds. The gorge, one of the finest in Europe, is designated a National Forest Park. The forest trees are mostly evergreens: pine, cypress and holly oak, with massive plane trees close to watercourses. 17 km long, the gorge walls rise in places to 600m. The flora of the gorge is particularly abundant in the spring. On the way down you pass the chapel of Ay. Nikolaos, surrounded by some of the largest and most ancient cypress trees in Crete, and later the old deserted village of Samaria, a nice spot for a picnic with tables, shade and water. Next, the gorge narrows towards the famous Iron Gates, which are at one point a mere two metres wide. You emerge finally at the village of Agia Roumeli where you can swim in the Libyan sea and enjoy well-earned drinks and dinner at "Tara", our recommended taverna at the water's edge. They offer a wide choice with freshly cooked traditional dishes and fresh fish available.
Accommodation: Staying for two nights, our small modern hotel is just behind the long beach of pebbly sand, rooms have balconies and private facilities.
Today is a favourite for many people: a magnificent coastal walk, at first along the pebbly beach, then above low cliffs through fragrant woodland of Calabrian pine, dropping down at one point to the beach to visit the little church of Aghios Pavlos, where St Paul is said to have landed on his voyage to Rome; then across a bare and rocky hillside before descending to the oasis-like Marble Beach; after a break you continue along the cliffs to Loutro, from where you catch the afternoon boat back to Agia Roumeli. Remember to pack your towel and swimming costumes.
After an early start to catch the cool of the morning, you walk along the shore eastwards for an hour or so before turning inland to climb the 600m/2000 ft coastal escarpment, via the dramatic Sellouda mule track, which winds up through the cliffs. Hopefully you will reach the top just before the shade leaves the path to rest and refresh yourselves while admiring the panorama from this eerie-like spot high above the coast. After a break you continue on across a barren stony plateau and through pine forest to the almost deserted village of Aradaina perched on the edge of the awesomely deep Aradaina gorge. The village church is a scheduled ancient monument. You have the choice of crossing the bridge for memorable views down the gorge, or following the village mule track down to the bottom and up the other side, and you reach Anopolis by mid afternoon. 18km/11 miles/7 hours. If you have enough energy we recommend (either in the early evening or before breakfast) a walk up to the Agia Ekaterini (St Catherine) chapel on a hilltop with an incredible all-round view. This takes about 1 hour. Close to the chapel are the as yet unexcavated remains of the sizable Roman town of Anopolis.
Accommodation: Anopolis - At the mountain village of Anopolis, where you are likely to see local men in traditional dress of baggy trousers and crocheted headgear, you get a feel of the old Crete of 40 years ago. We are using a new English-speaking guesthouse well located overlooking the village square of Anopolis. All rooms have en-suite facilities. The village church is just across the square, but after your long walk today you should sleep soundly despite the church bells. Dinner is included - menu of limited range, although vegetarian dishes are available.
There are two alternative walks for today.
Option 1: Our recommended walk is the traverse of the Imbros Gorge; perhaps the next-best known gorge in Crete after Samaria. You travel with the baggage (included) down the long winding road to Chora Sfakion, then after dropping the baggage off continue by bus (11am) or taxi (fares not included) to the village of Komitadhes at the lower end of the gorge. The traverse of the gorge up to Imbros village, moderate grade takes about 3 hours. At Imbros there is a fairly basic taverna where you can get lunch before catching the afternoon bus back to Chora Sfakion which passes at around 3.30pm. 3 to 3.5 hours walking.
Option 2: For those who would like another visit to the coast at Loutro you can return to the coast by walking down the remarkable zigzagging muletrack from Ay. Katerini chapel, with extremely fine views along the way, to arrive at Loutro. Here you can linger to enjoy the small pebbly beach and pleasant restaurants of this former fishing village now protected as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can then take the afternoon boat, or walk (2.5 hours, challenging grade, head for heights needed) along the coast to Chora Sfakion (the principal port of this rugged area of Crete, also known as Sfakia). Walking time 2.5 to 5 hours according to whether you walk from Loutro or catch the boat.
Accommodation: Return to the coast where your room is close enough to the sea front to hear the waves on the harbour wall. Your hotel has its own taverna/restaurant alongside the harbour with a wide choice. It is also close to the bus station.
Arrangements end after breakfast. Catch the morning bus to Chania for your onward journey. Depart from Chora Sfakion. Direct buses to Chania; or via Vrisses for Heraklion, depart daily at approx. 7am and 11am. Journey time is 2/3 hours. For those spending longer in Crete there is also a bus service along the south coast of Crete from Sfakia to the resort of Plakias and (with one change en route at Spili) to Agia Galini.
The variety of terrain and scenery and the different options options available on most days were a good feature on this trip, while the accommodation and transport arrangement were very satisfactory.
M. Durand., Rukenvale, NSW, Australia
Per Person, Twin Share