The Samaria Gorge, the longest gorge in Europe, Faragas (the great gorge)….whatever you know it by, it remains the most visited spot on Crete by hikers and nature lovers from all over the world. The gorge of Samaria is in the National Park of Samaria, located in the White Mountains in southwest Crete. It is a beautiful canyon of stunning views and rich ecosystems (450 different plant species and home to the famous wild kri-kri goat.) It is on the list of “musts” when you visit the island but because of that, the crowds are relentless in the summer months – up to 3,000 visitors a day! One of the perks of living here is that we can wait out the tourist season and enjoy the sights at a more leisurely pace of our choosing. Such was the case with our gorge hike. A friend and I decided to take on the gorge in October. It is only open from May through October because of weather, so as the end of October approached we felt the urgency to “get ‘er done.” The weather was less than perfect – overcast and chilly with a slight drizzle – but it didn’t dampened our determination or our fun.
The usual way of hiking the gorge is by descending it from the top of the gorge near Omalos starting at an altitude of 1250 meters and going all the way down to the shores of the Libyan Sea at the fishing village of Agia Romeli. Because of weather and time constraints, we decided to do it the other way around that began with a ferry ride from Hora Sfakia (Agia Romeli is only accessible by boat or hiking.)
The starting point is a road that heads upwards past tavernas, mini markets and tourist shops and ends at the entrance of the gorge where you buy a cheap ticket (that you just save to exit the gorge). Here the path becomes more interesting as it continues up the river bed (usually a trickle this time of year). In just a short distance is the most photographed spot in the gorge, the “Portes” (doors) or sometimes called the “Sideroportes” (Iron Gates) which are the narrowest part of the gorge. Here the sheer rock walls rise to over 300m leaving a passage only 3.5m wide.
Continuing further into the gorge, we passed under the vertical walls of rock and stopped occasionally to rest and drink cold, clear water from the stone-built water fountains that were strategically placed along the path. We observed wild vegetation, pine tree forests, maple groves and wildflowers of the season. The famous wild Kri-Kri goats eluded us but there were many birds and best of all, very few people. Since we were not trying to break any records, we simply ambled along enjoying the scenery and stopping many times for photographs.
As we arrived at the deserted village of Samaria, we made the decision not to go any further so as to give us plenty of time to return to Agia Romeli to catch the last ferry back to our car at Hora Sfakia.
Now that winter has arrived and the gorge is closed, I am imagining the serenity that has fallen over this wild and beautiful part of Crete. Maybe a Springtime hike (down the gorge this time) will be on our ever-growing lists of “musts.”