Crete is not the most famous Greek Island but if you like walking, put this gem on your ‘must do’ list. One of the largest Greek Islands, Crete has it all – beautiful scenery, traditional towns, great swimming and fantastic food. What’s more, it is easy to reach, with frequent and affordable flights in and out of Chania from Athens. Jaclyn put together this post for us about her walking holiday in Crete, full of travel tips, walking highlights, food recommendations and plenty of evocative material to aid your daydreams.
Something feels a bit secret about Crete, like the rest of the world hasn’t yet recognised how beautiful and authentic it is. Santorini is famed for its stunning blue and white domed buildings set deep in the side of the volcanic cliffs, but it’s one of the world’s worst kept secrets, and visitors will likely find themselves shuffling through crowds with their selfie sticks – not so in Crete. Aside from the very famous Samaria Gorge, we rarely saw others while walking in Crete.
The great delight for me was the variety of the walks. On our self guided Crete: Mountains and Coast walk, we explored the western side of Crete through two coastal walks, a mountain ascent and three different gorge walks – my favourite leading us to the ancient ruins of Lissos and on to a tiny hidden bay accessible only on foot or by boat. All of the walks were well sign-posted and the route notes were informative and easy to follow, however there is little shade so long sleeve shirts, wide brim hats and plenty of water are essential if you’re walking in summer.
Staying in small family-owned and run accommodations gave the trip a really authentic feel. My favourite was the Blue House in Loutro run by two very funny and warm-hearted brothers. After only a two night stay we exchanged hugs goodbye and from us, a promise to return. The Blue House is right on the curve of the prettiest blue sea beach you can imagine; the water laps at your feet as you dine at the hotel’s restaurant and sailing boats bob in front of you. The simple, comfortable rooms have large balconies – I couldn’t wait to get out of bed each morning and step out onto the balcony to take in the spectacular view. The salty water is so clear that you can see the pebbled seabed below. I could happily have stayed another day or two, maybe to hire a kayak, take a water taxi to a surrounding beach or just bar hop at sunset along the small waterfront dining area. A helpful tip is to always have some cash with you as there is no ATM in Omolos, Agia Roumeli or Loutro, although the hotels and bars are happy to take payment by credit card.
The most challenging day for me was the ascent of Mount Gingilos. It started off simply enough, a slow zig zag up towards the saddle – lots of rock and gravel underfoot meant we really had to watch our footing. From the saddle there are two summits. Using hands from time to time to get up to the first summit I then saw the large boulders I had to climb over to get to the true second summit and had a moment of panic. I am certainly no rock climber but my travelling companion assured me it would be worth it and he was right.
Reaching the summit felt exhilarating and I was so happy I’d pushed myself out of my comfort zone and summitted one of the highest peaks on Crete (1980m). For those not keen to continue to the summit you can just enjoy the walk as far as the saddle, which still boasts its excellent views. We celebrated with an ice cold beer back at the trail head, looking up in amazement at where we’d been to that day. The feeling of elation stayed with me for several days; it was a true highlight of my short time walking in Crete.
Another highlight was the food: lots of fresh fish, grilled meats, salads with juicy red tomatoes and locally made feta cheese, and tasty vegetable dishes stuffed with rice and herbs. There are 130 wild herbs and flowers found only in Crete, with the most common varieties being mint, thyme and oregano. While all the food was wonderful, I would recommend dinner at a restaurant called ‘Rebetiko Taverno’ in Sougia – we loved it so much we went there two nights in a row.
To find out more about our range of walking and cycling holidays in Greece, click here.