Showing posts with label Samaria Gorge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Samaria Gorge. Show all posts

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.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Crete: A Tiny ‘Ferry” Tale About A Sunday Sail

The Place: The Libyan Sea. . .
The Backdrop: . . .blue sky . . .blue sea. . .
The Time: . . .a laid-back Sunday afternoon. . .

That’s the setting for this week’s Greek ‘ferry’ tale - the tale of a trip from one of the tiniest villages on the southern coast of Crete to another tiniest of villages . . .

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Both of the villages we traveled between in this ‘ferry’ tale are accessible by boat or on foot. We opted for the easier option and traveled on the sea.

The Libyan Sea, as a matter of fact, is the sea on which we sailed. It is the rather exotic sounding  portion of the Mediterranean Sea, that lies north of the African coast (eastern Libya and western Egypt) and the southern coast of Crete.

It is the same sea that St. Paul is believed to have sailed (landing somewhere in between the two villages – a place still marked by a small chapel and spring.)

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Our trip between two tiny villages was aboard one of the tiniest of Greek ferries, the Neptune.

We left Loutro on a warm spring Sunday afternoon. It was that time just after mid-day when the intensity of the heat has slowed the pace to near standstill. The only things stirring are the ferries that serve the villages and those who, like us, were waiting to board them.

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On this small ferry we shared deck space with the supplies and every seat guaranteed a non-obstructed view.

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Our journey of an hour and a half took us along a section of Crete’s rugged, uninhabited southern coast.

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It also allowed us to look back on a route we’ve walked so many times that links Loutro to Phoenix, an even smaller hamlet on the coast. How interesting it was to see our pathway from the sea and the little chapel where we’ve so often stopped to rest – a quiet place disturbed only by the sound of distant goat bells.

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For miles the coastline entertained us with its peaks and valleys and then off in the distance we caught a glimpse of our destination:

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We docked next to the larger ferry that alternates with our small boat, serving the small towns on this route and we set out to explore.  Where had we landed?

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Well, you’ll just have to come back next Thursday and we’ll give you a walking tour of Agia Roumeli and part of Crete’s famous Samaria Gorge.

If You Go: 

Loutro and Agia Roumeli are on Crete's southwestern coast.  We traveled by car to Hora Sfakia, parking there and catching the ferry to explore these villages.

Map picture

That’s it for Travel Photo Thursday, so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for a bit more armchair travel! If you’ve not signed up to receive our posts regularly or haven’t added your photo to the Google friend section (both on the right hand column) we hope you’ll do so today. Happy Travels ~


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