Cross country in Crete

Enjoying hiking is all about weather, planning and flexibility. On Monday when I checked the forecast for my Thursday hiking trip to the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain, I was surprised to find a forecast for minus 5 temperatures and snow. Um, no thanks. I cancelled my flights (got a voucher), cancelled my fully refundable rental car and hostels, and came up with an excellent back up plan to go to the White Mountains in Crete (forecast 20-30 degrees). A few clicks later, some cheap flights sorted and I was en route to Chania on Thursday, and then tootling up to the Omalos plains in an underpowered rental car to get myself organised for a three day round trip around the mountains.

Day 1 – traverse of the Lefka Ori mountains, from Xyloscala to Anapoli – 30km, 1700m ascent, 8 hours

So the guide book reckoned this was a two day effort. I didn’t assiduously look while planning but the night before I headed off, I did tally the ‘hours of walking’ and it did sum to 13.5 hours, might be a long day then (note to self, do the sums properly). Either way I was going to have to finish the full day or sleep on the ground somewhere as there was no intermediate accommodation apart from a shack or a refuge. Oh well.

I wanted breakfast and hadn’t bought food for lunch, so made sandwiches from the copious breakfast put on my table, ate everything else and then headed out at 7am. I left the car at Xyloscala (the top of the Samaria gorge), was baffled by how many tourists there were about to walk down the gorge, and then I headed up the hill to start my day.

The mountains are called the white mountains – largely as they are pretty much white rock. At the lower levels (i started hiking at 1200m) there are some plants but they are tough spiny bushes which are not fun to fall into. The small trees are also pretty robust, I walked into one thinking it would bend and I would get by – mistake!, I bounced right off it.

The first hour was a lovely shady grunt uphill to the Kallergi refuge, then a meander on a shepherds 4wd track to Poria. Then things got serious with a hardcore steep grunt up a rocky track (with good waymarks) to the ridge that leads to Melendaou. That woke me up. The views from the ridge were stunning down into the Samaria gorge

The path then picked its way through some mitato (high shepherds areas) and then over a very rocky pass to the mitato at Katsiveli. the terrain was very slow going – not steep or athletic, but very rocky and hard to place the feet well. I arrived at Katsiveli at 1pm very very thirsty as I had been conserving water. I had drunk 1.5l, and had the same in reserve for the rest of the day . Fortunately there was still water in the cistern so I drank up. (Probably also should have packed a filter but luckily no stomach issues). The walk had taken 5.5 hours of moving, and the guide book had said 8 so I was making good time but was hot and knackered. So far I had seen one solo hiker and three shepherds – busy day

After eating what was in my pack I climbed a lovely path crossing the Roussies pass with stunning views of Pachnes and the multiple white and pink scree slopes. It was a very lunar landscape. Below Pachnes, the rough trail turned back into a 4wd track, but the views were still stunning!

About 5k from Anapolis I was passed by a pick up who offered me a ride. It was really hot, I had been waking for 8 hours (30km) and who doesn’t like a ride in a Ute – so I hopped in the back and enjoyed the breeze.

I arrived at the lovely Platanos rooms in Anapolis and ate amazing food. Cheese pie, chicken, Greek salad and zucchini balls. Delicious. I ordered too much so the boxed the leftovers up and I put them in my room fridge for an early breakfast

Day 2 Across to Aradena, down the gorge to Marmares and along the coast to Agia Roumeli on the E4. 22km, 730m ascent, 6 hours of walking, max temp 37 degrees

Anapolis is a mountain farmers village, which was obvious on my early morning stroll to Aradena past well kept houses, tidy farm buildings and sophisticated well piping. The sun was lovely and it was a nice stroll to the Aradena bridge which crosses the incredible Aradena gorge.

The mule path down into the gorge proper was a feat of engineering. But the walk down the gorge was varied. A huge rock fall was bypassed by a crumbling and eroded path along the side of the gorge with broken handrails – not very confidence inspiring. But I made it – there were decent handholds on the gorge wall. Further down the path varied between flat and easy to paint blobbed (way marking) butt sliding down rocks. My only companions for the gorge were the goats

I was a little overwhelmed when I hit marmares and there were boatloads of people under rented beach umbrellas. But I was delighted for the opportunity to fortify myself with a cheese pie, a Diet Coke, a cappuccino and a litre of sparkling water (though I did have to share some of the pie with a very persistent cat). I was making good time as the guide book had said it would take six hours to get here and I had arrived in three

The slog up hill in the hot thirty degree sun from Marmares was quite unrelenting. For a full 4km there was not an ounce of shade. I was amused to see a nudist on the trail – the nudity didn’t bother me but I was most perplexed that he was carrying his sandals – the trail was rocky and thorny. I almost wept when I finally saw a big rock which I knew would have shade, when I passed it there were two Germans sitting there. I squeezed myself in and cooled down for a few minutes – it was a serious packing error to not realise it would be 32 degrees, I really needed a hat. Blissfully there was another section before Agios Paulos through the coastal forest with lots and lots of shade, I could have kissed the trail gods.

I stopped for lunch at the Agios Paulos tavern – which was largely populated by inebriated brits in rented motor boats – but it was good to eat and hydrate. The last hour to Agia Roumeli was tough – most of it on the sand or beach, no shade, and the breeze had dropped. It was 37 degrees. I stopped to give myself a talking to in the shade, and then stopped again for a well deserved dunk in the clear salty water. I finally rolled into Agia Roumeli, which was heaving with day hikers at around 3. Hot and deserving of an icecream.

I chose to stay at the low key Sweetrooms – a km out of town – to avoid the hustle of the ferry and the day hikers. For £30 I have an apartment with a balcony and a spectacular sea view. Dinner was fresh red mullet and greens.

Day 3 Up the Samaria gorge – 1300m climb, 18.5km, 4.5 hours of walking

So most people hike down the Samaria gorge, apparently up to 2000 a day.  They walk down and catch a ferry from Agia Roumeli and a bus back to Chania.  And yup – it felt like there were several hundred the second half of the hike.  And they were all sorts of people.  Some in hiking gear but a lot in Birkenstocks, some carrying handbags, some with heavy picnic baskets, and a lot of them struggling on the rocky trail.  But more on them later

I had decided to walk UP the gorge from Agia Roumeli.  The most spectacular part of the gorge is at the bottom – before and after the Iron Gates.   I left the hotel at 7, was at the ticket office by 7.30.  Apart from one runner, I didn’t see a soul until I passed Old Samara Village which was about 10km into the 18km trail.   It was a blissful morning.   The narrowest part of the gorge is 3metres wide and the rock faces are lovely.   Agia Roumeli gets its drinking water from the stream that runs through the gorge so I had to resist the urge to swim.   The trail was well graded and although it was 25 degrees at 8am it wasn’t too hot.  There were plentiful springs (so I needn’t have carried 4 litres of water – all of which I drank), but I did use them liberally with my headband to soak my head 

Then I started seeing tourists after the village and then even more.  I was genuinely perplexed by some of the outfits, and worried about the tourists I saw later on who had a long way to go to get to the last ferry at 5.30pm. The tourists eventually thinned out for the past hour, and I focussed on getting up the hill – which got steeper every 1km. I exited the ticket booth just after 12 to the surprise of the ticket lady who checked my entry ticket….. apparently it should have taken longer.

I found my rental car – still where I had left it three days ago. Off to Moni – a tiny village with a lux hotel. I stopped for more delicious food – greek salad and fried cheese in pastry. And then checked into the lovely Monastery Estate hotel (pics in the gallery) – very nice with a private plunge pool. I had a shower and then meandered down to Sougia to swim and sunbathe – amusingly didn’t realise I was on the nudist beach, so was somewhat overdressed. And then had souvlaki for dinner – very tough life here.

Day 4 – Lazy mooch up and back down Agia Irini Gorge – 13.4km, 550m of ascent, 3.3 hours of walking

On my final day, I headed up to another gorge.  The typical approach is to drive to the top, hike down and then cab back to your car.  But the gorge was only 7km long, so I decided it was easier to hike up and down rather than deal with logistics and 30 mins in a cab.   

It was an easy stroll compared to Samaria and relatively unpeopled, though a few of the other hikers were a little miffed that I passed them on the way up and then the way back down.   While the least spectacular of the three gorges I saw, it was still a lovely stroll.

After that, I felt i deserved calamari and salad on the beach and an afternoon sunbathing.  Lovely.   


Day 5 – the old town of Chania 

I drove back to Chania avoiding the multiple rockfalls on the road.  There weren’t many drivers on the country roads but those there were seemed unaccustomed with the indicator lever.  

Chania was apparently supposed to be a lovely town.  After battling traffic and parking, I was amazed at how many tourists there were and at how slowly they were walking.  All the streets were rammed at noon on an October weekday.  Lots of the tourists had the kind of head sets you see in Museums as they wandered around the old town gawping at the buildings.  The port area did look lovely but it was very busy.  I suspect I had gotten unlucky and there were cruise ships in town.    I strolled around and then had an excellent falafel for lunch and headed to the airport.  I will certainly be coming back.

Chania, October 4, 2022

Additional Information

The Cicerone guide for the high mountains of Crete was pretty confusing, lacked good map outlines and had inconsistent timings. But it was the only guide I could find. I was happy with the routes I took, but if I had had more time I would have consulted more detail on the E4 trail online

I should have taken my water filter – as it was very hot, and there was often water for cattle. As it turned out, I more or less carried enough but it is always good to have spare. Same goes for a hat and sunscreen. Oh and I forgot my poles – not critical but one would have been helpful

2 thoughts on “Cross country in Crete”

  1. Awesome read as usual Mel.
    Hope you are all well….I didn’t put the usual ‘fit’ and well having just read yet another hike!
    Take care and be safe. Xx🌸

  2. The photos are stunning and they made it easier to experience your journey, vicariously and I chuckled at the ticket lady’s surprise at the speed of your walk. Every phase seemed to be about half of the “normal” time. You are more “racehorse” than “trail mule” Melanie, for sure. 🤣

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