Samaria gorge. Crete, Greece
Having a total length of sixteen kilometres, this gorge is the largest in Europe and certainly the most famous and visited among the many gorges of Crete.
Until about the middle of the century it was a wild landscape with a totally undisturbed ecosystem and home to a great number of wild birds and mammals as well as to a small population of woodcutters and shepherds who lived in Agia Roumeli or in the village of Samaria inside the gorge.
Today this village has been abandoned, but the steep slopes of the gorge and the thick forests in the surrounding area are still populated with many rare species. These include over fifty species of wild birds - among them, the extremely rare harrier eagle (Gypaetus barbatus) and golden eagle (Aquila Chrysaetos), both threatened with extinction - and about ten species of mammals among which the famous Cretan wild goat otherwise known as kri kri and the Cretan polecat known as zourìdha. As for the flora of the area, it is abundantly rich and includes many wild flowers native to this land.
In 1962, the gorge, together with a small area to the west and east of it, was officially declared a National Park, so that its delicate ecosystem could be protected.
The park extends over an area of 5100 hectares and, unlikeits quiet days in the past, today it is visited by some 300,000 people a year, all of them determined to walk the gorge. Visits are allowed between May and October, but in July and August the tourists are so many that it is impossible to be alone even for a minute. On the other hand, if you can come between May and early June, or between the middle of September and the end of October, you will certainly enjoy it a lot more.