This is a wonderful season for hikers. The famously balmy temperatures of Crete are tempered with invigorating crispness. And the crowds of the high season have thinned out. This is the time to really get to know the Cretans, and the delights of their landscape.
When people think of the Greek Islands, including Crete, it is the beaches that first come to mind. And truly, Crete has some fabulous ones. But it is also filled with dramatic gorges – some of which are world famous.
A combination of hiking, visiting historic sites, and exploring the beautiful port cities of Chania and Rethymnon is the perfect combination of nature, health, culture, and a dose of luxury and sophistication.
A Hiking Holiday in Chania
Crete’s westernmost city is thought by many to be the loveliest, with its Venetian Harbor, accented with an Egyptian lighthouse, and the gorgeous Venetian shipyards, it truly is picture postcard perfection in any season. The old town is a romantic ramble of alleys and traditional architecture. You can stay in authentic luxury in a restored Venetian mansion with plenty of local character. There is plenty of fine dining with stunning views. The museums, churches, and famous sights of Chania town are joined by traditional squares, a covered marketplace, and romantic neighborhoods.
The Gorges of the Chania Region
The Aradaina Gorge is perfect for those seeking an adrenaline rush. The longest of the gorges, at 15 km, it is also unusually deep – a bridge spans the two sides at a stunning 138 m height- making this Greece’s highest bridge for bungee jumping, and Europe’s second highest. Of course, it’s also wonderful for a hike, and for those who don’t want to commit to the full length, it is popularly entered at the middle.
Imbros Gorge offers maximum impact for a minimal physical investment. Although its narrow passages and steep sides offer plenty of dramatic scenery, the gorge is not too challenging – a 600 m descent over 8 km. The gorge also has sentimental and historical meaning – many visitors – especially from Australia and New Zealand – visit the gorge in memory of their ancestors who fought with the Allies during WWII, and crossed through the gorge when leaving the island for Egypt.
Agia Irini Gorge leads from the village of Agia Irini to the splendid beach of Sougia on the south coast. Like the Imbros gorge, it offers a lot of experience but is not too strenuous of a hike. It is also a lesser known trail than the neighboring Samaria gorge, so you will share the experience with fewer hikers.
The Samaria Gorge is a more serious investment of your effort and time – but it is truly a life experience. This 16 km gorge is legendary, starting in the White Mountains and ending at the Libyan sea in Agia Roumeli. The gorge covers a descent of 1230 meters, and the decent can be steep at the beginning of the hike. The scenery is astonishing! After a much deserved rest and maybe even a chilly dip in the sea at Agia Roumeli, you’ll leave by boat to meet your pre-arranged transportation, adding to the sense of adventure.
The Regional unit of Rethymnon is fascinating, a mix of fascinating sites, enchanting villages, and a lovely port city as capital. For some elegance and ambiance, a boutique hotel in Rethymnon ensures a stay that has character and charm. Rethymnon town, crowned with the 16th-century Venetian Fortezza Fortress, has a wonderful snug harbor and charming harbor. The old town is filled with narrow streets lined with shops of traditional craftsmen and lots of local color. Other Venetian landmarks include the much-photographed and very lovely Rimondi Fountain, which is close to the Venetian Loggia. There is also a fine archaeological museum, displaying findings from the region around Rethymnon.
The region is wonderful for cultural excursions. Close to Rethymnon is the Arkadi Monastery. In addition to being a prime example of the glorious architecture of the Cretan Renaissance, it is also a site of historical significance- the monastery played a grand and heroic role in the Cretan uprising against the Ottomans. Another magnificent monastery in the Rethymnon regional unit is on the south coast, on the Libyan sea- the Preveli monastery. Like the Arkadi monastery, this was also an important site in the Cretan uprising. It was also key in the Cretan resistance of WWII. The Preveli monastery has an unforgettable setting, high on a cliff. Descending stairs takes you down the steep slope to the sea, and a beach lush and shady with palm trees.
The Gorges of Rethymnon
Near the Arkadi Monastery is the Agios Antonios gorge – also known as the Patsos gorge. The gorge has a church of the same name – the cavernous church of Agios Antonios built right into the walls of the gorge. This is one of the most gentle hikes, just 2 kilometers and a change in elevation of 240 m. The path is shady and lush, and runs by a river. There are places to rest, and a birdwatching post.
The Kourtaliotis gorge is magnificently deep- the sides of the canyon can reach up to 500 meters. This dramatic gorge is filled with the sounds of water, as a river flows through it. It’s also – when a strong wind blows and resonates through the caves in the cliffs – filled with the sound of castanets – in fact, the gorge is named “castanets” (Kourtaliotes). The second largest palm forest of the island is in the gorge, making for an exotic landscape, which leads to the beach of Preveli.
The Myli gorge makes for a very novel hike. Myli means “mills”, named for the abandoned town in the gorge. Myli – divided into upper (“ano”) and lower (“kato”) – was filled with watermills. Processing the grain for the whole area. The ruins of the mills and the stone houses make for a very picturesque hike. One of the mills has been restored and is an interesting sight. There are also two cave churches along the gorge – the church of Agios Antonios and of Agios Ioannis.
Springs flow through the gorge, forming pools where you can take a bracing dip amis the plane trees.
A hiking holiday on western Crete combines glorious nature with cultural experiences and sophisticated pleasures. Have you ever enjoyed a hiking holiday in Crete? Or visited one of the Greek islands in the autumn?