“Drink! Live like the Greeks! Eat! Gorge!” Plautus (comic playright at the time of Roman republic)
It was last July when we were in Crete that one day we decided to hike through the Samaria´s gorge. If you’ve never visited Crete before, you definitely should. It’s the largest of the Greek islands and many people, especially Greeks, say it’s also the most diverse and interesting! And if you are looking for more than sand, sea and sun but also for history and wildlife and beautiful scenery, you won’t have far to look in Crete. In South-West lie the stark White Mountains, through which the spectacular Samaria Gorge cuts like a knife through butter. Samariá Gorge (Greek: Φαράγγι Σαμαριάς) is a National Park since 1962 and is a World’s Biosphere Reserve. It was created by a small river running between the White Mountains (Lefká Óri) and Mt. Volakias. With 18 km lenght it´s arguably Europe’s longest gorge, competing for that honor with the Gorges du Verdun in France (that are slightly over 20 km in lenght). It starts at an altitude of 1,250 m at the northern side of the plateau ending at the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli, which is only accessible on foot through the gorge or by boat. This is what it makes this hike a unique experience, exploring so many different kind of landscapes and so much you will appreciate the crystal clear water of sea at the end of a long tiring day in the hot greek sun!
We were based in Chania, one of the oldest cities in Crete, with a rich and tumultuous history. Today it is the second most populated city on the island, a city which has preserved its traditional architecture and most of its monuments from Venetian and Turkish times. The trip to the gorge would have taken us a while having to reach the White Mountains, that is how is called the chain that separes North from South of Crete. Our main worry was the temperature since the hike through the gorge is a very long one and high temperatures can make a bad experience out of it so we left Chania before the sun was rising. The bus made countless switchbacks as it made its way up and through the mountains. Still It was beautiful seeing the early morning sun over the Aegean Sea, casting its rays of red and pink on the blue waters! The drive to the start of the gorge was spectacular as we wound up through the White Mountains and we began the walk at about 8:00. Now we know why they call it White Mountains, the landscape looks likes the same colour of the moon!
Moreover, you can see many flowers growing on the plateau like peonies, dragon arum, anemones and irises. And sure expect to meet wild goats (locals call them kri-kri) and if you are lucky to see eagles flying above the gorge.
We suddenly could hear running water and we crossed a small stream passing over rocks that we were required to hop across. This is one of the things in life that never stops to excite me, crossing a small river or stream on rock steps! And the water is so clean! I want to swim! But I have to wait, we still have a long way in front of us until our final destination!
The abandoned village of Samaria that gives the name to this area marks the halfway point through the gorge and makes an ideal resting point. From there the walls of the canyon gradually close in, forming a section called the ‘ Iron Gates’ (locals call it Portes), the most spectacular part of the hike! In places the trail is only about 0.6 m wide and the red walls rise up 500 m towards the sky, providing us with incredible vertical views and perspective looking back as it enlarged. You feel really a small human being in front of these huge walls and everything, the space, the time is like crystallized, everything is so silent. Suddenly you cannot hear anything but the wind blowing through the Gates. We are somewhere sometimes!
Impossibile to get sick of these incredible views!
We were also pretty fascinated by the trees growing out from the gorge’s walls. Amazing how nature can adapt perfectly to every condition that you would never think about it would be possible!
After about 5-6 hours of hiking, we reached the end of the gorge, only to find that we had not finished the hike. To get to the only nearby town, Agia Roumeli, we had to walk 3 more km. We even celebrated the supposed end of the hike with a picture. So disappointing! Let’s just say that by this point, our feet and knees were a little painful from the downhill trek, and the thought of another 3km under full sun made me somewhat delirious and I ranted and raved as we continued walking down to find the real end of the hike. Thirsty, hot and tired we couldn´t believe to our eyes when we finally could see in between the moutains the fantastic blue of Lybian See waiting for us. It was like a mirage on the horizon, I rubbed my eyes, it was real! It´s blue, it´s blue! That sea was one the bluest things I had ever seen in my life!
After a long hike there is nothing better than being able to take off your hiking shoes, your t-shirt and jump in the beautiful crystal clear water of Lybian See! Splash!!! We are in paradise!!!!
“Wherever you go, go with all your heart”. (Confucio)