Trekking on Crete

Christina/ December 1, 2022/ Culture

Crete is a worth-while hiking destination. Even November. In the low season the weather is still fine (20-25 degrees), the most beautiful bathing bays are really abondoned and all mountain villages are peaceful and quiet. To me the perfect time to prolongate summer. The Greek island is a real hiking paradise. But be careful: you need good footwear for the gorges and the steep descents as well as hiking experience and bit of audacity and adventuresomeness. The paths are mostly stoney, partly climbing is necessary and you also have to take trackless terrain into account.

It does not have to be Samaria
Thinking of Crete, most likely the well-known Samaria gorge comes into my mind. The canyon is being closed at the beginning of November. At the reception the lady helps us to find a transfer to the gorge for next monday. However it does not work out as you see later.

For the first day and in order to adapt ourselves to the terrain we decided on the Kallikratis gorge in the south of the island. From Rethymno we drive on the highway to Chania and then into the mountains. We drive through the village of Argiroupoli, not knowing that the place is interesting. However fascinated by the beauty of the village we take some photos.

Just some time later we are being surprised again. We reach the street between Kapsodasos and Kallikratis in the south wests of the island. The winding road is definitely one of the most beautiful and significant ones I have ever seen. The curves are so narrow I can hardly imagine how to drive there much less two cars passing each other.
Reaching the entrance of Kapsodasos we do not believe our eyes. In the middle of the street stands a huge iron sheet vat. Huge pieces of meat are hanging on the ridge. Getting closer to it we realize that the thing is an overdimensional grill on which slowly but surely meat from goats, pigs and poultry are roasting. From the oppositie taverna the owner comes over and explains the whole matter to us.
Finally we are at the entrance of the Kallikratis gorge. Right now we get an idea of the structure of the Cretian hiking paths: rough, sharp stones. After an hour we reach Kallikratis. At the entrance of the village we come across the Little Café, already well attended. We sit down and enjoy the calmness of the place with some good coffee and self-marinated olives – delicious!

I think the Kallikratis gorge is good for a start to get an idea about how challenging a path through it can be. After the break we return via the same way to Kapsodasos. However we choose a different road for our way back to Rethymno. That’s how we discover the small church of Agios Nikolaos, which has been carved into the rocks. It is closely located to the Kotsifou gorge. I like those little greek-orthodox churches. They look cozy to me.

More cloisters are impossible on a day
Next day we intend to slowly increase the effort of our tours. Therefore we decide on a combination of culture and motion. The touring book recommends the „Moni Agias Triados“ to us. More cloisters are impossible on a day a subline tells us. With a length of 12 kilometres and 490 metres difference in altitude this sounds moderate to us. We intend however to make a round tour out of it which means we will not return the same way. The book tells us that there is a variant called no. 3 which is supposed to be a circle tour. The description tells us that we have to pass another gorge and that parts of the way might be trackless. Moreover for some of the rocks we might need our hands to climb over it. We still think we can manage as we have done it before. Unfortunately we underestimate the challenge of the trip.
We start at the most beautiful cloister of Crete, the Agia Triada. First of all we pay a visit to the building and the shop selling olive oil and marmelade. The whole premise is impressive with a wonderful garden. The roses smell heavenly. Actually we do not feel like leaving – but we have to. There is still a hiking tour ahead of us. Our next stop will be the cloister Gourverneto, followed by Katholiko with its corresponding gorge.

The Gouverneto cloister is closed to renovation. But there is a wonderful path taking us down to a cave called Arkoudospilio at first and then to the cloister Katholiko. We enjoy again some beautiful views onto the gorge and the surroundings.

To the pirate’s bay!
The way down to the gorge is very steep, but we make it. The path and the high rocks are simply awesome. From time to time I just stand still and breathe in the calmness and the beauty of it all. And suddenly just like a Fata Morgana there is the pirate’s bay in front of us. It is one of this wonderful bays you can only reach by foot or by boat. Dreamlike! We get into the magic of the place and spoil ourselves with a lunch break. We cannot yet anticipate what’s still ahead of us.

At some rocks we have to us our hands
With some rocks we have to use our hands, the description warned us. Well but it did not tell us how huge these rocks are. Standing in front oft he first rock wall I do not believe that I can make it. At that time I still think it is a kind of joke. But it is not. This is serious. Quite quickly we start to climb and curse at the same time. We also scratch our legs and hands at the thorny bushes we have to go through. I doubt it that somebody has walked this way within the last five years. The walk gets tougher and tougher and the heat becomes hotter and hotter. I get tired and my nerves are on the edge. It is too late to go back. I really pray to god that we are going to make it out of this hell by daylight. Fortunately my partner stays quite calm and tries to encourage me. I am still cursing and I am angry at the same time. Damn it!

Legs like Jesus at the cross
Sometime, it feels like forever, we climb once more through the brushwood back to the „surface“. My partner’s legs look like he has been hanging on Jesus’s cross. Having reached the tar road I think we are through. But we are not. Once again we have to indulge into bushworks and use our hands to continue. Later we have to climb over two rusty ladders and a sheep-run. We are just lucky that there is no livestock guardian dog around there. Simply tired and mentally extracted we return to the first cloister and just want to go home.

From Nopigia to Ravdoucha
On the next day we let it grow easy by-and-by. We decide on a half day tour at the coast, from Nopigia to Ravdoucha. The track is about 10 kilometres and has 375 metres difference in altitude. The path passing by rock formations, small churches, goats and sheeps is not effortless but compared to yesterday it is an easy walk. The way back from the coast to the main road is quite steep. But there are simply no tracks without climbing on Crete.
We spent the afternoon at the harbour city of Chania, which is very nice. I recommend this place especially for sunset. You will love it.

The fascination of the Aradena gorge
The Samaria gorge closed earlier than expected. Looking for a substitute we come across the Aradena gorge. It is a long and challenging track. More than 750 metres difference in altitude have to be managed. We drive by car from Rethymno to the mountain village of Aradena. Aradena is an abandoned village within the so called „white mountains“. The drive to the starting point is already spectacular. We traverse the village of Chora Sfakion and drive from there over a winding road, sheeps on the one side and the turquoise sea on the other side, to Aradena. From the bridge onto the rambler’s car park we can already take a look into the deep gorge.

From the bridge we walk about five kilometres through a lunarlike landscape until we reach the entrance to the main path high above Loutro. It is a narrow and steep path that takes us down to Lykos Bay. Once again it feels like we have just entered paradise. Bright sunshine and turquoise gleaming water lies before us. We enter the Taverna Akrogiali for something to drink. It is very hot this day. The owner of the place with his female dog called „Shakira“ is a very friendly guy. I order some freshly squeezed orange juice and water. The place with its fantastic view is magic. We’d like to stay but the Aradena gorge is still in front of us. From Lykos Bay we walk towards Mamara beach, another hidden place. We hike along the coast and have to do some moderate climbing. After half an hour we reach Marmara beach. The water is still warm and invites us for a swim. However, time is short and we have to move on. We are right at the start of the Aradena gorge and it is huge! The further we move on the more fascinated we are.

The path through the gorge is marked with white and red stripes is quite easy to follow. The true challenge are the iron stairways. There are suddenly in front of us. From the bottom the ladders look very small and the rocks really big. We have to swollow. However the alternative to the stairs is not very attractive either. The hand rails look rocky and partly broken. We summoned up all our courage and take the stairs. Just up on the top we realize how steep this part of the track really is. At the end of the gorge we have to climb again some steep stairs up to the church of the archangel Michael. Five minutes later we are back at the car. The hike is true adventure and a good alternative to the Samaria gorge, I think.

Pure culture
We devote the next day to a cultural trip. In the morning I walk through the old town of Rethymno. The city slowly wakes up. I like the atmosphere – no rush. I take my time to visit the sights of the city, the former mosque, the archeological museum and the Venetian harbour. Around noon we drive to Elefthena which is a archeological excavation site. The Dorians used to live her – today it is kind of a graveyard. We do not consider this place very intersting as there is not much to see.

We move on to the cloister Arkadia. It is the most important national building of the island. The cloister played an outstanding role during the Creterian fight against the Osman Empire. Maybe that is why the place is packed upon our arrival. Busses with school kids are waiting in front of the cloister. After a while it gets more quiet and we start our fact-finding tour. Once again I am impressed with the garden, where the yellow roses smell like lemons.
Afterwards we drive to Chania again. We want to explore the city centre. Unfortunately some sights are closed due to renovation, such as the market hall and the café inside the city park. We therefore return to the Venetian harbour and enjoy another sundowner.

Circle trip from Chora Sfakion via Anopoli and Loutro
On the last day which is my birthday we undertake our most wonderful tour. It is the round trip from Chora Sfakion via the Anopoli gorge to Loutro and back. It is a fantastic hike. It is also effortful as weh ave to get over 900 metres difference in height plus the tour has about 18 kilometres. But it is worth the effort. The highlight is the descent from the highland to sea at Loutro. And also the coastal hike from Loutro passing by the Sweet Water Beach back to Chora Sfakion is magnificent. Altogether a top-class experience.

The tour starts at Chora Sfakion. Right after the village it gets down to business. We travers the Anopoli gorge and have to get over some metres difference in altitude. After this struggle we are very thirsty. Looking for a place to grab some drinks we come across a bakery at Anopoli. We take some cold drinks out of the fridge and enter the shop. The Greek lady does not speak much English but points at some cookies, „please help yourself“. And we do, because we are hungry too. The cookies are delicious. We take a seat outside and enjoy the break. Suddenly the Greek Lady follows us with more cookies. Just two minutes later the owner of the backery approaches us with some Ouzo – also for free. That’s Greek hospitality at its best. We leave with a tip and move on happily. What a great place.

It’s dreamlike
Light-footed we move towards the point where the descent to Loutro begins. The view into the deep is bombastic. I can hardly describe the feeling. I cannot tell how many times I took a picture of the scenery. I just realize that after every single curve the view gets even better. What a birthday present to me.
At Loutro we turn into the coastal path back to Chora Sfakion. This section again is very spectacular and surprises us with the Sweet Water beach and the white chapel of Agios Pavlos. It is simply dreamlike. I want to keep this picture in my heart in order to remember it when the days in Germany are dark and cold in winter.

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