Greece’s largest island has something for everyone: ramblers and epicureans, history buffs and beach bums. From jaw-dropping gorges to ravishing beaches, Crete is so much more than world-famous Knossos.
Travel bucket list idea:
Hike Samaria Gorge
Crete, Greek Islands, Greece|
Running from a plateau in the White Mountains all the way down to the Libyan Sea, Samaria Gorge is one of the longest and most spectacular canyons in Europe.
Well-trodden and well-maintained, the 16-kilometre trail goes through incredibly diverse scenery. You might spot some of the 450 species of flora and fauna, alongside freshwater springs, abandoned villages, and isolated chapels. Look out for the increasingly rare kri-kri goats, an endangered breed endemic to Crete.
It’s possible to hike a much shorter route, if you start at the end point: the coastal village of Agia Roumeli, where you can cool off with a plunge into the Libyan Sea.
A selfie at the Sideroportes (Iron Gates) – the narrowest point of the Samaria gorge. Here the canyon tapers to an aperture of just 3m wide, but over 100m high.
Getting there & doing it
Allow a whole day (and a very early start) to hike the Samaria gorge. The hike itself will take 6-7 hours end to end; but getting to and from the gorge also requires time and effort. (The finishing line, Agia Roumeli, is only accessible by boat from Sfakia, Loutro, Paleochora, or Sougia.)
It is highly advisable to book through a local travel agency (such as the excellent Diktynna Travel), who will arrange all the logistics, as well as a local guide.
Although not technically too challenging, the hike is steep and rocky in places, so a fairly high level of fitness is required. There are natural springs along the way, so bring a refillable water bottle, snacks, a hat, first aid kit, and sunscreen.
Right at the start of the walk, 1,200 metres above sea level, the Xyloskalo taverna has a terrace jutting out over the gaping mouth of the gorge with giddying views. The food is average, so go for a drink rather than a meal.
When to do it
The trail is open from mid-May to mid-October (depending on weather conditions). It opens at dawn and closes at 4pm.
Set off at daybreak for optimum conditions and fewer crowds. The coolest, quietest months are May and June, or September and October.
Destination guides including or relevant to this experience
Sparkling seas, sugar-cube villages, cliff-hanging hamlets, ancient temples, delicious Mediterranean food and mesmerising sunsets – the Greek Islands offer so much. Just ask Shirley Valentine.
Round-ups that include this experience
From traversing sand dunes, to walking on glaciers, through canyons, up mountains and along ancient city walls, here’s our round-up of the world’s best walks. Each walk can be tackled in a day or less with a moderate level of fitness and no technical ability.