Greece Part 2. Crete: Hikes around the south-west part of the island.

I’m sorry if that my five months old Greece trip has taken too long that it lost its freshness. I’m sure that I lost details of the trip but with several souvenirs that I keep: bus tickets, museum cards, and city maps; it should be alright.

I would say that this walking trip in Crete was one of the best trips I have ever done until now. The richness of the nature and the culture of Crete is truly amazing and worth experiencing.

So after visiting some nice spots in the north-east of the island I continued my journey to the south-west part of the island. I was joined by a friend in Heraklion. From there we took a bus to Rethymno – in the middle between Heraklion and Chania.

Rethymno

I felt it immediately that Rethymno is different from Hersonissos.

Small and calm.

Indeed the town was not big. We had booked a room not too far from the center. Well to be honest whichever accommodation you booked it wouldn’t be far from the center. We stayed in Rethymno house that was close to the port. I put the hostel name because they provided us with their own version of the town map. The accommodation itself was standard. The town map provided us with the recommendations from the owner such as live music places, a must see list and a must taste list.

Like most of other towns in Crete, the Venezian fortress – and port –  was one of the icons and landmarks of the town. In addition to that, I also enjoyed the edifice of the mosque of Kara Mousha Pasha that was built in the 17th century that was later transformed into a monastery.

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Venezian Port in Rethymno

In the heart of the town, an ancien essentiel structure of the 1626 Rimondi fountain, used to be one of the water sources of the town can be found.

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Rimondi fountain

Following the advise of the hostel owner we tried the galaktobureko from Mona Lisa. He recommended to eat it with ice cream but we were kinda full and so we tried it without. It was delightful. It looks heavy but it was actually not as heavy as I thought. It reminded me of similar dessert Eleni once cooked. Greek food is marvelous!

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Galaktobureko from Mona Lisa

All in all, Rethymno was a perfect transition from the hectic time I had before in Hersonissos to more nature and chill out ambiance.

Loutro, Aradena gorge, and Marmara bay

Crete had mainly coastal roads that connect one coastal village to another. These roads can be found on the periphery of the island spanning from the west to the east. Few roads connected the towns and villages in north-south direction. That was one other reason why we had to pass Rethymno since to go south there was no direct bus trip from Heraklion.

The public transportation in Crete provided us with a dense network and a responsible service. Basically we could go anywhere in the island with their service.

In between the coastal villages, in the center of the island, it was more mountainous with several hidden villages to discover.

We took a bus to Hora Sfakion from Rethymno for 8.6€. We didn’t stay in Hora Sfakion and continued taking the ferry (6€) directly to Loutro. Of course staying in Hora Sfakion could be an option if you would explore the center-east part of the island.

Loutro was a small coastal village that consisted of several hotels and restaurants. I believed that it could be annoying in peak season. There were two small groceries to buy necessary stuff. Of course they were more expensive due to transport fees and the fact that they were in touristic place. All hotel proposed more or less the same price and the same kind of services. Most of the rooms have sea view.

What funny was when we did any transaction (buying food, eating at the restaurant, or paying your hotel) and when we paid by cash they would not give any receipt. At first we didn’t pay any attention until later..  We did our groceries.. Then the guy had finished count everything.. And when we wanted to pay by card, he literally recounted everything before recorded it in the machine.. then we understood that it was because they didn’t want to file their tax report properly.

I don’t know how bad was the crisis, of cours stuffs were cheaper compared to other places in west Europe, but, everyone seemed to save a bit of money – which is understandable.  I just don’t know how this kind of behaviour would affect the whole country.

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Loutro – taken from the ferry

First hiking day in Loutro we decided to do a small loop. The start of the hike was a bit hidden behind all the hotels and tourists services but it could be found after looking a bit. There were two different starts, first was the one to go to the east and the other one was to go to the west. From Loutro we took the path to the west, to Livaniana. There was the official E4 path but there was also another small path to go there. The day was perfect. Summer hot. It’s a bit weird to write summer story during winter.

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Not sure what was this but it had lemon smell in sage form. Anyone can identify?

From Liviniana we continued towards the Aradena gorge, not the top but at half of the top of the gorge. The Aradena gorge was beautiful. Walking down, I witnessed the rich flora of Crete and these huge fault-like rock split into two. In fact after later exploring the well-known Samaria gorge, I would say that I have my preference for Aradena than Samaria. It was less touristy and gave me more wild and savage feeling.

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Aradena gorge

From Aradena gorge we walked down to Marmara bay.

A hidden gem.

Most of the people arrived there by taking the taxi boat from nearby villages. There was one small resto/bar/café that was actually nice. I thought since they were the only one, the price would be expensive but it wasn’t the case. Having finished my water and been thirsty for the last quarter of the walk I gobbled the water bottle that I bought there. This greek blue sea gave us too much temptation. We put down our stuffs at the beach, put our swimming trunk, and just went directly inside the cold refreshing water. Heaven.

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Marmara bay

From Marmara Bay we walked back to Loutro by taking the E4 path that also through Livaniana. The view was different since E4 was a coastal path. We got to see the coastal shape of the island, passed by the beaches and also passed inside some of the houses there (Yes, the E4 actually passed through some houses close to the beach).

Second day in Loutro we started from the same path but went further. It was the longest (distance-wise) hike I think I had ever done in one day (or maybe not?). Instead of following the direct path to Livaniana we continued north to Anapolis, a small mountainous village.

From Anapolis, continued towards west we arrived at a steel bridge that connected the two sides of Aradena gorge. The bridge offered a view from the top of Aradena gorge and gave us the real scale of the gorge; enormous.

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The bridge over Aradena gorge

From the bridge, we continued walking. The path was mixed with vehicles road and was going up and down. It was not the most interesting part of the walk and was a long walk before we arrived at a small church Agios Ioannis (it had the same name with me!!).

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Agios Ioannis

After taking some pictures the path went down to the south. We went down and down towards the sea. The height difference was about 800m, not that much really. But after 5 hours of walking and a very steep descend, it was painful for my knee. The view was amazing though.

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Path to go down

There were two options from this point. We could either go west towards Agia Roumeli or back to Loutro by the coastal path. Unfortunately we had our stuffs back in Loutro so we were forced to take the long trip back to Loutro. The view was helpful. Hadn’t I go for work just before doing this trip, I would had my backpack and moved around more freely.

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We found a lot of this lamb skin kind, drying out in the nature

Anywas we made it back to Loutro, completely exhausted.

Last day in Loutro we did a small walk towards east. The coastal path brought us to a small beach that appeared to be a naturist beach. Sweet water beach if I’m not mistaken. There were some people but not many since the day just began. At first it was scary since I had never been to one before, but after a while it was alright. I understood how liberating it was being open in the nature. Feeling the water touching your body and soul. Really open my mind.

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Sweet water beach

With that Loutro chapter finished and we took the ferry to Agia Roumeli.

Agia Roumeli and Samaria gorge

Probably the most famous spot in the south part of Crete was Samaria gorge. This 18km long gorge had been welcoming tourists from around the world for a while. The normal way to visit the gorge was from Omalos (about 1250 m) to Agia Roumeli (at shore) then take a ferry to another place.

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Agia Roumeli and Samaria gorge from the ferry

Due to too many connections we needed to make if we wanted to start from Omalos we decided to stay in Agia Roumeli. The walk from Omalos to Agia Roumeli was about 18km of distance with 16km long of the gorge (13km inside national park and 3km from national park to Agia Roumeli).

Since people didn’t usually spend the night in Agia Roumeli, the hotel price was quite low. We got a whole two-story apartment for ourselves with view towards the sea. Fantastic! The downside was since few people stayed at night the food price was more expensive and tasted worst than in crowded place. Nevertheless it does mean that the village was more calm at the evening.

We walked the Samaria gorge the day after spending the night at Agia Roumeli. From Agia Roumeli we walked for about 3km to the entrance of the national. The entrance fee in summer 2016 was 5€ per person.

The national park was clear indicated with several break spots and several belvederes to admire the nature. We walked in the morning at around 7am. The sun already shone bright and warmed us immediately. Since we walked from the other end of the park there were few people that we crossed. We walked through the famous iron gates that has 4m width between sides and almost 300m height of the fault. After walking for about 9km, we arrived the Samaria village. The walk until there was quite plain because the steep part was at the end part (or at the beginning from Omalos).

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Samaria national park map.

From Samaria village it started to go up but not very steep, up to Vrysi. I don’t remember whether it was from Vrysi or Ag. Nikalos that the path started to climb steeply. After hiking up to Kalyvaki we started to cross some people who walked down from Omalos. Therefore to avoid the train of people coming from the other side of the park we decided to return back down.

We quickly double-crossed the people and walked back towards Agia Roumeli. By then the sun was painful. It was hot. Luckily we walked pretty fast. We did several breaks in between places but still managed to overpass other walkers. By the time we back to the iron gates we found ourselves again alone with this huge amazing nature. We got nice pictures of it without the crowd mass that we normally stumble upon. Though the sun was a bit harsh, it was still okay. They told us that in the end of July – the real high season – the sun would be less friendly. So we were grateful for the weather.

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The Iron gates

We were back to Agia Roumeli just about lunch time.

We supposed to continue to Sougia from Agia Roumeli by ferry but the sea waves were too turbulent and so there was no boat connecting us to Sougia. Problem was everyone needed to take the ferry to go to other places. In addition to that I spent the whole afternoon dealing/trying to cancel my hotel booking in Sougia without any results. So that’s unfortunate.

They finally opened a trip from Agia Roumeli to Loutro and Hora Sfakia. It was not our initial plan but we had to adapt. So we changed our plan and we decided to directly go to Chania; initially planned after Sougia.

With everyone trying to go to Chania and with uncertainty shadowing us, we raced from the port in Hora Sfakia to the bus station. We were afraid that we would not get seats. But I have to applaud the public transportation network in Crete because upon arrival there were more than 15 bus waiting for us. They were informed about the situation in Agia Roumeli and they anticipated the crowd by providing enough bus for everyone.

Arriving in Chania we were tired and hungry but grateful.

Sources:
– Public bus website:  http://www.e-ktel.com/en/
– Rother walking guide: Crete west; Gert Hirner and Jakob Murböck.

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2 thoughts on “Greece Part 2. Crete: Hikes around the south-west part of the island.

  1. Pingback: Greece Part 1. Crete: Hersonissos, Lassithi Plateau, and Knossos Palace | johanes.chandra

  2. Pingback: Greece Part 3. Crete: Chania and Elafonissi | johanes.chandra

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