To see Crocus sieberi, one of Crete’s most beautiful endemic flowers you will need to go quite high up in the mountains.
This spring crocus flowers right at the edge of melting snow. You might find it as low as 1300m in March or early April and all the way up to the higher summits (2300 or 2400m) at later times like May or June.
Your guide to finding the flower in bloom is to look for areas where snow has recently melted. With a bit of luck (actually, it’s not really luck but the right timing) you can find whole hillsides covered in crocuses.
Crete and the Cretans are known for their hospitality and the warm welcome given to visitors. Unfortunately it’s not always the case and in the recent past the monastery of Gouverneto on the peninsula of Akrotiri seems to have made many steps in the opposite direction.
The monasteries of Agia Triada, Gouverneto and Katholiko are the three best known attractions on Akrotiri.
Whilst Agia Triada is on the circuit of many organized bus tours only the more adventurous will drive the narrow road that winds its way up the hill to the older monastery of Gouverneto. Most people go there to walk to the wonderful ruined monastery of Katholiko and maybe walk down to the sea where a tiny rocky cove also has some interesting ruins.The walk that traverses the hills of Akrotiri from Gouverneto to Stavros via Katholiko is also described in a few walking guide books and attracts the occasional walkers.
A year or two ago the last 100m of road that leads to the monastery was cut off, then entirely fenced off forcing visitors to pass through the monastery grounds to access both the monastery and the path to Katholiko. Shortly afterwards signs appeared telling people what was forbidden (not inside the monastery but in the whole area which is essentially wild nature). This includes things like picnics, bathing at the sea and taking photographs.
And whilst there are several large signs telling people what they can’t do, there is not one single sign showing where the way to Katholiko starts. With all these fences it is really not obvious any more.
After hearing rumours that things had gotten worse I went today to see for myself. About two km from the end of the road there were two new signs saying ‘No buses’. Later, passing through the gate of the monastery I noticed a sign that ‘Access to the sea has been permanently blocked’. And indeed once I got to the ruined monastery of Katholiko I found that several routes into the little river bed below had been walled off. There is no logical reason for doing this except, maybe, that they can: it’s church property after all.
Closing the routes into the river bed also makes it impossible to follow the walk to Stavros and it could be quite a liability for walkers coming the other way and needing to get out of the gorge after a long walk. It is still possible to go in and out of the gorge via other routes (if you know them) but they are quite steep and could be hazardous.
Additionally all the door openings into the old buildings have been closed off with unsightly wire meshing. There is no reason that I can see for wanting to prevent people from going into them. There is nothing to take and nothing to damage.
And perhaps saddest of all: the wonderful, very tall olive tree that grows out of one of the ruined buildings (and that you can already see in a 19th century engraving in Robert Pashley’s Travels in Crete) has been cut right down to a height of a few meters. This is vandalism.
I have no idea who is behind this but the message from the ‘Holy Monastery of Gouverneto’ as it likes to call itself in its warning signs is certainly clear: F… off, we don’t want you here.
I guess the next (easy) step now is to close the gate that you have to pass through and we will have lost access to one of the most special places in the north-west of Crete.
It seems that many people are finding my previous post about Samaria opening (which was written in 2012) and asking me now what the situation is this year. I get the sense that quite a few of the people asking have not read the initial post properly because it describes a situation that doesn’t really change much from year to year. The uncertainty about when will the gorge of Samaria open is partly driven by the fact that it is (at least partly) dependant on the weather in April. And of course nobody know several weeks in advance what the weather will be.
But a little more information about 2015 opening times: the winter has been harsh and very rainy. The rain has done a fair amount of damage to the path (and that needs to be repaired before tourists are allowed on it) and currently (mid-April) water levels in the lower, narrower part of the gorge are very high. There is still a lot of snow on the mountains that will melt and add to this water.
My personal take until now (17th April 2015) that it is very unlikely that the gorge of Samaria will be ready to open by the 1st of May. But I have just talked to someone closely related to what is happening in and around Samaria and he is pretty confident that the work will be done and that the gorge will be ready to open on the 1st of May. Of course he’s not a prophet (weather factors could change the outlook) but he’s got access to more information than I do. So the gorge may well open on time. But we will probably only know for sure on the 30th of April or the 1st of May so there is no point in emailing me or posting comments asking for more information until then.
One thing looks certain though: most years the gorge of Samaria has been opened part of the way from the bottom at Agia Roumeli one, two or even sometimes three weeks earlier than the 1st of May. This is not going to happen this year.
Update on the 30th of April
The gorge of Samaria will open partially tomorrow the 1st of May but only for a short distance from the top and from the bottom.
The work is not finished yet. It may open for the walk through it on Monday the 3rd of May but this is not yet certain.
Update on the 2nd of May
The gorge of Samaria opened today!
Asphodelus ramosus, the White Asphodel or Branched asphodel, is very common in the Cretan landscape from March to June.
This tall flower (it can be well over a meter in height) is found from sea level to about 1000m.
Arisarum vulgare (also called Friar’s Cowl because of its shape resembling…a monk’s cowl) is small flower of the Arum family which can grow in large colonies.
It is not at all a showy flower, preferring to hide in moist, shady places, but if you come across it (easy as it is quite common) it’s well worth kneeling down and having a close look.
Sternbergia sicula (or more precisely Sternbergia lutea subsp. sicula) is not found in the West of Crete but is the most common Sternbergia in the rest of the island.
A large Sternbergia lutea subsp. sicula
It grows in open stony places, olive groves and phrygana and flowers in the autumn.
Autumn is a tough season for a “Flower of the month” feature. After the long dry summer Crete doesn’t have much of a variety of flowers and I already covered the most common ones in 2013 and 2012.
But there is one famous plant still flowering in autumn: Cretan dittany or Diktamos has been famous since antiquity for its almost magical healing properties. It is an endemic of Crete and grows in cliffs at altitudes ranging from sea level to the mountains.
It also grows quite well in pots (as long as goats can’t get to it) which is where the detail of the specimen below was photographed.
There is not much flowering in Crete at the peak of the summer so I needed to go high up in the mountains to find a suitable candidate (thyme and sea daffodils which would be far more common were already mentioned in previous ‘Flower of the month’ so no luck there).
Campanula jacquinii is a rare cliff dwelling endemic of Crete which can look quite spectacular when you find a large population, like below in a cliff at around 1300m, somewhere above Gournes (a high pasture above Kares) in Apokorona.
Campanula jacquinii growing in a cliff
Campanula jacquinii is not as are as Campanula aizoides but you’ll still need some luck and dedication if you want to find it.
Acantholimon androsaceum is another pincushion mountain flower with an impossibly long Latin name. It’s also one of the most beautiful flowering plant that you can see in Crete in summer.
An endemic of Crete, Acantholimon androsaceum is not exactly rare but you won’t find it below 1500m.
The plants remain beautiful after the flowers fall off because they retain diaphanous calyces with dark reddish-brown stripes.
Calyces of Acantholimon androsaceum