Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Crete’s Gorgeous Samaria Gorge

Sometimes our travels take us to the end before the beginning.

Such was the case with Crete’s Samaria Gorge. Our first views of the Gorge were of  its end, at Agia Roumeli, a small village on Crete’s southern coast. 

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Approaching Agia Roumeli, Crete, from the Libyan Sea

Sfakia2Amster2013 162Since our first visit to Crete five years ago, we’ve:
*vowed to hike the Gorge, and
* visit this small town -- with a population of less than 150 people - that welcomes hikers as they emerge from the Gorge's 18 km  (11.8 mile) route.

The gorge, by the way,  is said to be the longest  in Europe.






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Streets are lined with cafes in Agia Roumeli
Last spring, while not accomplishing that hiking goal, we did have an introduction to both. We took a small Greek ferry across a portion of the Libyan Sea, traveling from Loutro, the village to its east where we were staying, to Agia Roumeli. (Part one of our adventure appeared last week, click this link to read it.)

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Much to our surprise, Agia Roumeli, with paved roads and sidewalks that lead visitors to a large selection of restaurants and tourist accommodations, is more spread out than Loutro.

(And until we arrived in Agia Roumeli,we hadn’t seen ads for fish pedicures since we’d left the big city, Heraklion, on Crete’s northern coast a week before.)











And the Gorgeous Gorge. . .

Guidebooks say the Samaria (sah-mah-rih-ah) Gorge is carpeted with spring wild flowers and is home to a number of endangered species, including the Kri-Kri, a wild Cretan goat. 

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Samaria Gorge from Agia Roumeli
It became a national park in 1962.  Overnight camping isn’t allowed though so trekkers need to make the trip in a single day. (an estimated 350,000 from around the world do just that each hiking season).

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The Scout sets out to see the Gorge
Technically the Gorge ends at the 12.5 km marker, just before the now-abandoned village of Old Agia Roumeli.  The new town is at the water’s edge. So, we set out for the old town on an oleander-lined road that took us to the remains of that village and a bit further into the gorge.

The 1.2 km stretch we walked is described as ‘uninteresting’ in Lonely Planet’s guidebook. 

‘Uninteresting’ ?!?!  That must mean the gorge is pretty spectacular or the reviewer was tuckered out by the time he/she got to this leg of the hike.

We heartily disagree with that description! Here are just four reasons why:

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This beautifully maintained church and cemetery we passed along the way


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One of the many buildings that make up the abandoned Old Town

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This minuscule chapel built into the rock wall high above us


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And scenes like this along the way
So taken were we with this area that we are already planning our next visit to include a night or two  in Agia Roumeli and perhaps we’ll not only arrive via the Gorge, but have enough energy to climb the cliff behind the town and explore the remains of its Turkish fortress.

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Remains of the Turkish fortress that towers over Agia Roumeli Crete 

If You Go:



There are excursions to Samaria Gorge from every sizable town in Crete.

* The full one way hikes leave from Omalos to the north (not pictured on the map) and end in Agia Roumeli; shorter round-trip hikes loop from Agia Roumeli taking you the narrowest part of the Gorge, its Iron Gates. 
* Locals have said it is more fun to hike the gorge on your own and not keep pace with an organized group. Note: It also means you are on your own for transportation arrangements to and from the gorge.
* Starting before 8 a.m. will help beat the bus-loads of hikers that have purchased the package hikes.
* The gorge opens late in the spring. It had been open only a couple of days when we visited in early May 2013. So, if hiking the Gorge is in your plans, make sure it is open.

Thanks to Lonely Planet for the map above.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday, but to continue your armchair travels head to Budget Travelers Sandbox.

27 comments:

  1. The miniscule chapel built into the rock really captured my attention. What a great photo too. The hike sounds amazing, and that's an awful lot of people who do it 350,000 - wow it must be good :)

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    1. Thanks for stopping by today Johanna! The popularity of the Gorge is just amazing and we hear so little about it on the West Coast of the US. . .although we've met people from Oregon there who've come to hike that gorge. Next time. . .

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    1. Thanks for stopping by today. . .and taking the time to comment!

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  3. you have taken us again to another place I now want to visit. That little chapel in the rock wall is amazing. And I love the waterfront view with the shops and tables under the shade.
    Happy travels.

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    1. And happy travels back to you, Jill. Look forward to seeing more of your photos soon.

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  4. I'm really surprised with all you know about Crete and my country.I admire the way you describe what you have lived and discovered.
    Well done my friends!

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    1. Thank you, that is such a nice thing to say! Most appreciated. Glad you've returned to the blogosphere - your last post was beautiful!

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  5. I like your 4 reasons. How could this possibly be called "uninteresting." Looks like a wonderful hike.

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    1. That was our thought, Michele. If that portion was 'uninteresting' I can only imagine how great the other portion is!

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  6. I love the photo of the chapel built into the hill and I agree - the part you walked looks very interesting. It also looks like you need to get an early start if you're going to do the whole hike with all that sun beating down.

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    1. Early start would be a must. Even with hats and sunglasses that heat was amazing on the short stretch we walked. Another reason for starting before 8 a.m.

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  7. What a beautiful, beautiful island. And that chapel - wow!

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    1. It was pretty amazing to see that tiny little thing built so high up into the cliff. Had it not been so hot, I'd have walked up and peeked in.

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  8. Beautiful island with so much history, I love the church in the rocks! I would love to visit someday.

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    1. Noel, your camera would be in high gear in Crete - I think you'd love it there.

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  9. All your photos are beautiful. Thanks for sharing tips for travel as well... and the map!

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    1. Karen, I loved your site - just popped over there to visit. I see you are a fan of my favorite shopping site, ebates! Thanks for stopping by today.

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  10. So much beauty!! I love the tiny chapel built into the rock. So incredible. :-)

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    1. I could spend hours pondering and imagining the people and the labor required to build that chapel! Thanks much for visiting today, Krista.

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  11. I kept looking at that chapel built into the rock, Jackie! That is so fascinating! :)

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    1. Mike, it was absolutely amazing to see that tiny speck of white built into the cliff!! Thanks for stopping by today~as always, it is appreciated!

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  12. Hi jackie, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. I can't believe that Lonely Planet had a big miss! That segment of the trail is indeed spectacular. I love all the sights you captured, especially the little chapel on the rock. I definitely love to do this hike when I visit Crete. Thanks for introducing me to it.

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    1. It is definitely a 'must' if you are physically able, to do it. And take your camera! :-)

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  13. Fish pedicures? Now I've heard of everything!

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    1. They introduced those in Washington and our health regulators shut them down. . .I couldn't quite bring myself to try one, but would sure love to see one being done!

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  14. Hi Jackie, The area looks lovely. Sometimes, Lonely Planet makes me shake my head. I laughed at the Fish Spa. I thought they only existed in Asia. I have tried them, but really not that impressed.

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