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 Samaria gorge
River in the Samaria gorge

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.   

Twisted strata and caves in the rocks on the gorge walls
From the Imbros gorge

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. 

The arc of tectonic plates underneath Crete
Crete, perched above the junction of tectonic plates

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 - a long hike down the gorge

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.

Imbros gorge
Imbros Gorge

Imbros Gorge

The Imbros gorge is the easiest – a 2-3 hour walk over a relatively easy gravel base to Komitades. 

Exiting the Imbros gorge, with the sea in the distance
View of the sea from the exit from the Imbros

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.    

Riding up in the back of a pickup truck
With the wind in your hair…

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!

Panokosmos packed lunch keeps you going!
Nothing like eating outside!

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. 

Back on the Askifou enjoying the delights of To Panorama, a family restuarant run by the Lentaris
From the terrace of To Panorama on 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.

Mr and Mrs Lentari preparing stamnagathi at To Panorama
Andreas’ parents preparing Stamnagathi

Kalikratis Gorge

The way to the Kalikratis gorge

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.

Getting a taxi for the Kalikratis from Vigles Taverna - ask for Kristos
Vigles – great barbecued lamb on Tuesday nights!

From the plain it looks as if the villages are spilling out of the cleft in the mountain caused by the gorge. 

Patsianos village and the Kalikratis gorge
Patsianos village and the Kalikratis 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!

Spectacular hairpins on the road from Kalikratis gorge to the Libyan Sea
From Kalikratis to the Libyan Sea

This should be where the E4 path leads off the tarmac road, look out for the little sign! 

E4 path leaving the Kalikratis road
The E4 Path

You could go on a bit for a coffee and snack at Janine’s, in the village. 

Janine with her herbs and jams
Relaxing with a herbal tea
Relaxing herbal teas at Janine’s

She has a wonderful shop with a great selection of dried herbs, essential oils (which they prepare themselves), and an eclectic collection of souvenirs. 

Herbs drying in Janine's shop
Herbs drying in the shop

The shop is built around a massive natural rock which forms a centrepiece!

The rock in the middle of the shop
The rock in the middle of the shop

Aradhena Gorge

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!). 

Aradhena Gorge
The bridge casts a wiggly shadow down the side of the gorge

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. 

Looking up at the bailey bridge over the gorge
Its a long way up when you’re in it!

It’s maybe a 4-5 h trek, with some difficult sections involving a metal ladder bolted to huge fallen rocks. 

The iron ladders to descend the Aradhena
The Aradhena ladders – they can get so hot in the sun – its hard to hold them!

The alternative is a series of hairy sets of steps cut into loose rock around them. 

Or the path around, rickety handrails, loose stone steps
The hand rail is rickety and the stairs are steep and loose
A long trek in the gorge
The path winds along the gorge, but the views are fabulous

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. 

Some tough sections, negotiating the boulders...
Some tough sections, negotiating the boulders…
Flowers towards the end of the trek as the ground levels out
…and some delightful flowers en route
Cool sea for a swim or a drink in the shady taverna at Marmara
Marmara Beach – great shady taverna to the left

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. 

Its love in a pick up truck!
Love in a pickup truck!

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.

A great meal to be had at the Anopoli Taverna
The mural was painted by a friend of Manoussos

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.

And a comfy bed and great views back at Panokosmos
Roof terrace View

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.

Cretan yoghurt and honey with fresh fruit

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.