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The seventh book in the series Discover…on Foot has recently been published. It covers short walks in and around Rethymnon and follows the successful formula of former publications, with good maps, plenty of illustrations and informative text.
I think that I’ll use the Rethymnon edition as an excuse to go visit the town again and brush up on my rather superficial knowledge of this beautiful city.
Because of the mild and very dry winter there has been little damage to the path that runs through the gorge of Samaria and not much water in the river. As the good weather looks set to continue it seems that the park authorities have decided to open the Samaria National Park to the public from the 15th of April.
If it does open on time the KTEL public bus service will also start running buses. Watch their time-table. The ferry company is already running a daily service between Agia Roumeli and Hora Sfakion and Sougia. Tour operators should start offering trips shortly after the opening of the gorge.
A long awaited book finally got published last week: “The Cretan Way – A 28-day walk” is the brainchild of Luca Gianotti, an Italian walking guide. Rather than trying to paraphrase what the book is about here is an excerpt from the introduction:
I have been to Crete to go walking thirty times: twenty-nine times on an itinerant journey with my backpack for about a week and once for over a month. I decided to call this spectacular route the ‘Cretan Way’, although it has previously been called the E4.
‘E4’ is the name given by the European Ramblers’ Association to the long distance footpath which crosses Europe from west to east, from Spain to Cyprus. The path is over 10,000 kilometres long, and not always waymarked or passable.The Cretan section of the E4 is perhaps the most well-known, but these days it is in decline because it represents a style of trekking from many years ago, which was more spartan and adventurous, requiring a tent and sleeping bag, and as such only some sections of it are walked. For this reason it is unlikely that the whole route has ever been walked. In fact, when I walked it in 2010 there was no evidence on the Internet of other people who had walked the entire route in one go.
Here’s the idea: to inject life back into the path, and let it shine in its own right, going beyond the European project. The name, Cretan Way, has a double meaning, in the hope that this walk will also draw attention to the Cretan way of life. Walking for a month to enter into a different world. The world of a population with its own, independent roots. A world of nature which is both Mediterranean, alpine and more. Much more.
This book is the result of the walk I did between October and November in 2010, crossing Crete from east to west. The idea came about that the Cretan Way could become one of the most loved paths in Europe, on par with the GR20 in Corsica, the Camino de Santiago, and the Via Francigena.
This is why I have tried to ensure this route is accessible to everyone by providing GPS tracks and writing a detailed description of the route which I suggest you follow carefully, especially in the sections where the path is not waymarked.
If you only skimmed through the text in italics note this sentence: …the idea: to inject life back into the path, and let it shine in its own right, going beyond the European project (in effect the E4).
This book is not just a guide to walking the E4 but the beginning of a project which will hopefully evolve into something more. That’s why there is also a web site and a Facebook page that are an extension to the book and will keep information up-to-date and give the project momentum.
This is also why the author doesn’t slavishly follow the ‘official’ E4 route (which is something invented anyway, not a traditional path, so there is really no good reason to stick to it) but makes a few common sense variations: for example the section that goes from Chrisoskalitisa to Kissamos and runs almost entirely on roads is omitted. And Crete’s most famous walk, the gorge of Samaria, which is not part of the E4 has been added to the itinerary.
The walks are clearly described with good maps for each of them (the publisher Anavasi is mainly a map publishing company) and plenty of colour photographs as well as personal thoughts and anecdotes related to each of the sections. Each section also suggests accommodation. This is especially useful in some remote sections where accommodation is very limited. the idea is for people not to have to carry a tent and sleeping bag.
Crete has so much to offer for all tastes and so much choice can be confusing to a newcomer.
Here is my personal list of what I consider the five ‘must see’ places of Crete and why I chose them. They are not listed in a specific order.
The palace of Knossos
Often disparaged as an archaeological Disneyland for mass-tourism I still believe that the Minoan Palace of Knossos must be seen in order to get a sense of what the first European civilization might have been like. The heavily reconstructed palace makes it easier for the lay person to visualize than the more “archaeologically correct” palaces of Phaestos or Zakros.
To avoid the crowds go in winter when it is virtually empty. During the tourist season try it in late afternoon when most tour groups will have left and the light is best.
If you can, combine it with a visit of the Heraklion Archaeological Museum but if you must only choose one of the two, go to Knossos and check this amazing online book of the museum instead.
The gorge of Samaria
Crete is justly famous for its many gorges and if you are going to see only one of them (and are fit enough to walk for a few hours on rocky terrain) it’s got to be the gorge of Samaria which is the grandest of them all. True it can be crowded at times but that can be avoided (just see how to in the link above).
Getting back on the ferryboat from Agia Roumeli will also give you an impression of the wild South coast of western Crete, in itself another ‘must see’ place.
The views of Balos Bay as you walk down to it have become iconic and it’s generally even better when you see it for real (provided the sun is shining). Just for that first glimpse I would recommend that you drive to it where you will have the chance to see it from above rather than take a boat to it. Your options are described at Balos beach and Gramvoussa – a visitor’s guide.
The beach is not as nice (or as big) as Elafonisi beach but the views are far superior.
Many regular visitors to Greece rate Chania as the most beautiful city in Greece. Need I say more?
Walking to the highest summit of the White Mountains is not something that many people do, not so much because it is a difficult walk (it’s not, at least not once the snow has melted and if take the short route) but it’s really out of the way. Still, if you want to see the High Desert of the White Mountains, one of the more unusual places on the planet, it’s definitely worth the effort and you’ll be well away from any crowds.
What are your 5 favourites? I’d be very interested to see what you think (in the Comments section)
A new book about the history of the district of Sfakia has just been included in this website’s list of books about Crete. This book offers much more than the history of Sfakia, as it gives an account of Crete from the prehistoric period up to the civil war following WWII, and sets the district’s rich history within the context of events that occurred in the broader area, both in Crete but also in the eastern Mediterranean. The book focuses on Sfakia during periods when the region was at the centre of dramatic events on the island, such as some of the bigger uprisings against the Ottoman Empire, as well as on other eras that have made Sfakia such a unique place in Crete.
The book is intended for two main audiences. First, we wrote this for the regular visitors to Crete and the district who want to learn more about Sfakia’s past. Second, we had in mind the many Cretans and Sfakians of the diaspora, and especially those of the second and third generation, who do not have access to the source materials that we used or who have difficulty reading Greek. We have been aware of this dual need, since we have been frequent visitors to Sfakia for many years and have often been asked questions about the history of the area by tourists and Cretans who live abroad.
Ten years ago Peter Trudgill and I decided to research and write a book that would address this need, without realising how big the task was going to be. After eight years of research and writing, one year seeking a publisher, and another in production with Mystis Editions, we finally have in our hands a hard copy of the book that we dreamed about some ten years ago. The book was officially launched in Sfakia on the 3rd of October and in Chania on the 5th of October.
Although this is a long book, some 300 pages plus an extensive bibliography and index, we believe that it is easy to read and not a dry academic text. We believe that this book will make a serious contribution towards the better understanding by regular visitors to Sfakia of its people, their past and their traditions, which have all been influenced by the region’s extraordinary past, and will thus encourage them to visit the district more frequently and with a deeper appreciation of the area. Similarly, we hope that the more recent generations of Sfakians of the diaspora will be inspired by the achievements of their ancestors against great adversity, as outlined in this book, to visit the land of their ancestors.
The National Park of Samaria has just closed for the season 2015 and visitors statistics are out. It seems that the recovery in the number of visitors to the gorge of Samaria suffered a small setback this year. The visitors statistics covering the last 35 years make for some interesting reading:
The main thing that you notice is that there are even less visitors today as there were in 1981, even though there were far fewer people visiting Crete (there are 5 to 6 times more tourists visiting Crete now than there were in 1981)
Note the steady increase over a period of 10 years to reach the peaks of the early 1990s: that’s easily explained because visitors to Crete also increased substantially. But then follows a long drop of over 50% even though numbers of tourists keep increasing (maybe not every single year but over the period it definitely increases).
Essentially it means that walking in the gorge of Samaria has become FAR less attractive to today’s average tourist than it was 20 or 30 years ago. Why is that? Here are a few thoughts that may explain why a walk through the gorge of Samaria has lost so much in popularity.
- High cost: the entrance fee of the national park has remained at 5 Euro for over 10 years but if you add it to the cost of ferry tickets needed to get back to the road head (which have gone up a lot recently) and the cost of the bus journeys involved, a trip to the gorge of Samaria can easily cost 30 to 50 Euro per person depending on where you are starting from. Tourists possibly have less disposable income than they did 10 or 20 years ago.
- Too busy: despite visitors numbers having dropped so much Samaria has maintained its old reputation for being very overcrowded which is off putting for many people.
- Less interest in organized tours: far more people rent cars than they did 20 years ago. If you have a car you might lose interest in organized tours – and ‘doing’ Samaria with a rented car can present logistical problems.
- Less interest in walking: could tourists coming to Crete have less interest in walking than before? I don’t think so but maybe a lot more people who come to Crete are not at all interested in visiting Crete but instead just want to go to some resort in the sun where they can spend their holiday by the beach.
- Been there done it: many people who keep returning to Crete have done the walk through the gorge and are not interested in doing it again.
If you can think of some other reasons please note them in the comments.
Amid the continuing talk of Greek crisis and all the foreign press hype about the country falling apart it is refreshing to see that local entrepreneurs are not afraid to embark on new and ambitious business ideas.
Based in Chania, Creti.co is a brand new platform offering a wide collection of holiday villas in Crete directly from owners. Their concept is similar to Airbnb but concentrates on holiday villas with pools located in Crete only.
Because Creti.co is run and owned by Cretans they are also able to visit all the properties, take their own photos and assess the accuracy of what is being offered.
The site design and functionality are excellent and highly professional. It’s a pleasure to see that very capable people are still working here and willing to go head on (albeit on a local and more specialized level) with huge businesses such as Booking.com.
I hope that they do well. And let’s not forget, the more we encourage people to not use All-inclusive holidays (in this case by offering a great, easy platform to chose villas from) the more we help the local economy.
If you drive on country roads in Crete in June you are bound to notice the spectacular Verbascum macrorum growing along the roadsides.
The plant can reach heights of up to 1.5m and is widespread in Crete and the southern Mediterranean.
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.