Mountain, Coast, and Gorge Hiking
The Cretan Way is the premier long-distance hiking route on the island of Crete. Although our walks were limited to segments of the route in the White Mountains in the western part of Crete, it is possible to cross the entire island (west to east or vice versa). The Cretan Way is a part of the European long-distance path E4 which covers more than 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) between Tarifa in Spain and Cyprus. The E4 passes through eleven countries in all. The segment in Crete, the Cretan Way is 320 kilometers (about 200 miles) in length and there are a number of variants that can be taken along the route.
We encountered three kinds of hikes during our days on the trail – those that generally followed along the coast; hikes in steep gorges that cut into the mountains from the coast; and hikes up on high mountain routes. Our nights would be spent in guesthouses in villages along the route. We would stay for a couple of nights in each and would spend time either on the beach or doing day hikes. Our luggage would be moved by our hosts freeing us to hike with just day packs carrying water and a snack. Importantly (for beer hikers like me) there were enough snack bars, cafes, and villages along the way that I never lacked for a cold beer to reward myself along the way.
Pathways along the coast connect a series of pretty seaside villages along with some beaches and archeological sites between. When next to the sea you might be walking on a beach or rocky shore. At other times the path will move up the side of the hills and mountains adjacent to the sea and be carved into the terrain. Occasionally the terrain makes the shoreline impassible and the route will climb up over mountain features that jut out into the sea. Given the distances and terrain involved, we advise not underestimating the difficulty of these hikes.
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We rode a bus up into the mountains for two nights on the Omalos Plateau. From our accommodation, we hiked into the highlands of the White Mountains. Gigilos is an imposing mountain also known as “Zeus’ Throne”. The refuge at Kallergi is a 40 bunk mountain hut that is owned and operated by the Greek Mountaineering Club of Chania. The attendant told us that volunteers from the club play the major role in running the place. Sometimes they will have Lafkas White Mountains Ale on the menu but they were out on they day we went there so I settled for an ESA Pilsener with my bowl of tasty squash soup.
Crete features hikes in a number of spectacular gorges that plunge from high up in the mountains down to the sea. The Samaria gorge is the longest in Europe covering more than 11 miles (18 km) and dropping more than 5000 feet – it is the most famous hiking route on Crete so it is very busy. The Agia Irini gorge is also spectacular but we ran into few others on the route. Both gorges had nicely-placed cafes at the bottom with much appreciated cold beer. Both gorges can be traveled to by public bus.
Stopovers along the Cretan Way
Hanging out on the beaches at our overnight stops was a terrifically calm and relaxing time. We spent time in the villages of Paleochora, Sougia, Agia Roumeli, Loutro, and Chora Sfakia. Each of these places has its unique charms and all feature whitewashed structures set against the deep blue sea. Every accommodation turned out to be at comfortable places with welcoming, friendly hosts. Although the villages are small, there are plenty of services and dining options in each to nicely support a couple of days stay.
Since the trip, I’ve been told that this kind of spa service is either politically incorrect or hygienically incorrect or both, so I apologize for not knowing this ahead of time. It felt pretty damn good though at the time, and luckily nothing was catching.