Steeped in history and enveloped in mythology, the rough and rugged Greek island of Crete is a Mediterranean marvel. To sample what the island has to offer, visit Crete’s western region and experience a taste of its natural beauty and diversity. Whether trekking through the panoramic wonder of the Samaria Gorge or dining under the stars at Hania’s Venetian harbor, discover some of the treasures that make Crete so appealing.
Hiking the Samaria Gorge
Standing at the threshold of the National Park of Samaria at 4,101 feet, the play of morning light and shadow casts a smokey blue tinge on the distant faces of the White Mountains. A vista of soaring peaks and a vastness of greenery will beckon nature-lovers to explore this embodiment of flawless creation. Over the course of millennia, the river, which flows through the park, has sculpted this ecological pocket of Crete into Greece’s celebrated Samaria Gorge.
Considered one of the longest gorges in Europe, the journey begins by descending the 500 steps of the winding trail known as the Xyloskalo, or “wooden staircase,” which segways into the depths of the Gorge. While traversing this breathtaking terrain amidst towering pine trees, jagged cliffs and imposing mountains, hikers will find themselves in awe among these exemplary whims of Mother Nature. In 1962, the Greek government established the National Park of Samaria in order to save the local wild goat, the kri-kri, from extinction. Yet, it is the small church of Saint Maria of Egypt, located in the formerly inhabited village of Samaria, from which the park received its name. One of most pronounced features of sheer grandeur to admire are Samaria’s Iron Gates; for this is the Gorge’s narrowest point. Once passing through this striking portal of vertical stone walls, which are 11.5 feet apart, the landscape opens up once more until the finale of this illustration of natural beauty meets the sea. It is here, at the rendezvous point in the costal village of Agia Roumeli, where hikers have a chance to have a proper meal at a restaurant, or head directly to the black sand beach and plunge into the inviting, warm waters of the Libyan Sea. To embark on this impressive expedition, nature-enthusiasts can organize transportation arrangements while staying in the delightful port city of Hania.
Charming Hania (Chania)
Located on Crete’s northwestern coast, the seafaring city of Hania boasts a who’s-who in ancient rulers from its chronicals, which extend as far back as the Minoan era. While exploring Hania, visitors will revel in the architectural and cultural imprints from centuries past. The reflection of 400 years of Venetian influence is prominent throughout the old city. The Siavo Bastion, Firkas Fortress and the western fortification wall are reminders of the Venetian’s defensive efforts against outlaws of the high seas and would-be invaders; however, these stockades were no match for the Ottomans, who took over the island in the mid 17th century. The 16th century lighthouse is the beacon at the entrance to the bustling Venetian harbour, which hosts a string of soft-hued buildings that support restaurants bars and small hotels. Catch the complimentary ferry from Katehaki Square to the outer sea wall, where a romantic view of the waterfront at sunset is on the menu at Fortezza restaurant. Meander through the streets of the Turkish Quarter, known as the Splantzia, and discover traditional Greek tavernas that serve up tasty Cretan cuisine. Along with the excavation site of the Minoan settlement of Kydonia, whose many unearthed treasures are on display in the city’s Archeological Museum, another notable landmark is the Mosque of Kioutsouk Hasan, which stands on the eastern side of the harbour and houses various exhibitions today. Looking for a day of sunshine and sandcastles? Then, head to the beach at Elafonisi on the southwest coast of Crete.
The Waters of Elafonisi
Nestled between rolling hills and a seemingly endless expanse of blue sea, Elafonisi offers an ideal location to while away the day at the beach. After soaking up the warm rays of the sun, cool off by wading 50 meters out into the crystaline waters of the Mediterranean and float effortlessly on gentle waves back to shore. Just 2 ½ hours from Hania, Elafonisi’s uniqueness makes for a popular day-trip destination. Turquoise waters, delightful port cities and a landscape that is breathtaking from one end of the island to the other, Crete’s attractions captivate its visitors and entice them to return for more.