Stand in the base of a gorge, and look up over 100m of vertical cliff, sometimes only a couple of metres apart. Its an awesome experience. As a result it brings home the sort of unthinkable forces which must have shaped them.
The folding of the rocks, like crumpled paper, similarly the vast overhanging rock faces with cave like holes, their surfaces coated with marble, like stalactites and stalagmites – its all an experience of getting closer to nature and these forces.
It’s a “not to be missed” experience when you come to Crete. So which one to pick?
Gorges: how did they come about?
Gorges are one of the really special things about Crete. There are over 50 in total, a greater concentration than anywhere else on earth! Its fascinating to try to imagine the sort of forces which led to their formation – the movement of the giant tectonic plates. As a result the African plate forced its way under the Aegean microplate. You can see the arc running from just south of the Pelopponese beneath Crete towards Lindos.
Currently geologists believe – as recent as 2013 – that this pressure along the fault line wasn’t even, as a result the plate fractured at right angles to its edge, forming a series of “teeth”. The gorges formed between the teeth. Water, landslides and further quakes subsequently carved them out.
Samaria: the longest gorge in Europe
The longest and most complex gorge is the Samaria, at 11 km, the longest in Europe. To traverse it is a great experience but there are some downsides: its popularity. It is big but you will share it with at least 11 coachloads of tourists. This often seems to degenerate into a “who can do it most quickly race” therefore the opportunity to stop and feel, admire and take in the extraordinary features is lost.
Then it’s a massive undertaking for a single day. For example, from here at the villa in the north west of the island you’d need to drive to Kalyves for 7am, then get on a coach to the Omalos. The walk takes you to Ag. Roumeli where you’ve barely time to have a drink and a sit down before you need to catch the ferry to Hora Sfakion and reboard the bus for the return trip – home again by 10pm.
What we recommend
We recommend three gorges which differ in their degree of challenge, but all of which are much less crowded, give you the full “gorge experience”, and can be done comfortably in a day.
The Imbros gorge is the easiest – a 2-3 hour walk over a relatively easy gravel base to Komitades.
We suggest that you take your car to the village so that you can take it to the beach after the walk. We point out where to organise a lift back to the top – in the back of a pick up truck is the favourite – and also where to get off to start the gorge walk.
Every taverna within miles of the entrance claims to be at the start of the gorge, but you can save yourself a long walk on the flat by starting at the right point! Its good to take a packed lunch too, for half way down!
Then, at the end, its simple to drive to Frangokastello for a swim in the wonderful sheltered lagoon before driving back, stopping off at our favorite taverna, To Panorama, in the Askifou.
Here Andreas provides such a gentle friendly service, whist his mother, who has won several gourmet awards, does probably the best genuine Cretan cooking you will come across on the island.
A longer and more challenging gorge, but one where you will struggle to find another soul, is the Kalikratis Gorge. Again its best to drive to the coastal plain, and pick up a lift from a taverna in Kapsothassos village.
From the plain it looks as if the villages are spilling out of the cleft in the mountain caused by the gorge.
Christos will take you up the new road, an exciting ride with an endless series of hairpins over 1000m up to your starting point!
This should be where the E4 path leads off the tarmac road, look out for the little sign!
You could go on a bit for a coffee and snack at Janine’s, in the village.
She has a wonderful shop with a great selection of dried herbs, essential oils (which they prepare themselves), and an eclectic collection of souvenirs.
The shop is built around a massive natural rock which forms a centrepiece!
The Aradhena Gorge Is a spectacular day out. The route there is thru Anopolis to the head of the gorge, where you cross a bailey bridge (the noise of the wooden sleepers when you cross in your car makes your hair stand on end!). Here they organise bungy jumping for the brave (or stupid!).
If you’ve got time you can stop at the kiosk there for a wonderful mountain yoghurt and Sfakian honey to fortify you for the journey.
It’s maybe a 4-5 h trek, with some difficult sections involving a metal ladder bolted to huge fallen rocks.
The alternative is a series of hairy sets of steps cut into loose rock around them.
It’s a long walk at sea level out to the coast but Marmara beach is a blessing, and there is a lovely shady taverna perched in the rocks above for a drink.
Its possible to get someone to bring you back, and Manoussos or Antonis from the Anopolis Taverna will come down with a pickup to meet you a couple of hundred metres up from the beach.
After the trek…
Back to your car, you can drive to this taverna in Anopolis village. Its our recommendation, as the one serving a really genuine Sfakian meal whilst you are looked after by the family, before the drive back to the north.
Whichever of these gorges you fancy doing, its easy from the villa – the shortcut to the best of the west of the island! And when you get back sit out on the roof terrace to watch the landscape in the setting sun.
More about living in Crete
There is much more in our blogs. These show things to do in Crete, whether it be walking a gorge, hiking in the foothills of the White Mountains, or taking a drive to see the sites. Chania is a great town to visit, particularly to go to the street markets, and of course you’ll want to get the benefits of the Cretan diet – be it the yoghurt and cheese, or the olive oil.
This Dream Villa
And if you would like to live in a place where you can see these, here is just the place. This is a dream villa which we designed and built 10 years ago and now reluctantly are ready to sell and move on. Its in the Apokoronas, in the west of the island, 35min drive from Chania, 50min from the international airport.