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Hania - Samaria


3. HANIA - SAMARIA (see Map )

3.1 Hania to Samaria 3.2 Samaria gorge 3.3 Other gorge

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.

Map  Hania Omalos  Samaria gorge

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.

Samaria gorge

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.

A good time to visit the gorge (in fact, a time before it is officially opened to the public) is the first weekend of April, when a two-day festival is held in Samaria in honour of Osia Maria. The liturgy in the small Byzantine church is chanted by father Giorgis Chiotakis of Sfakia, an amazing priest who likes a good feast as much as anyone else and yet is a truly holy man. This is followed by a feast featuring traditional goodies (such as sardines and cream cheese) and some genuine fun. If you want to spend the night in the gorge, this weekend is your one and only chance. However, you must first contact the Mountain Climbing Club of Hania and let them know of your plans.

As mentioned, there are several signs of human presence in the gorge - shaping of the entrance, fire stations, first-aid stations, waste baskets, explanatory signs, toilets, tables and chairs - and all these take something away from the beauty of it. Yet the gorge still remains a landscape of unique beauty and walking through it will be an experience to remember.

Samaria gorge

Most visitors take the early morning bus from Hania, arrive at Xiloskalo, walk down the gorge, reach Agia Roumeli on the other side, and then take the boat to Chora Sfakion where they catch another bus for Hania.

This procedure has many disadvantages, especially in the high tourist season. In the first place, you must make a very early start; there are three to four bus departures every morning, between the hours of 6:00 and 8:30 a.m. Second, you will get squeezed both at the bus terminal and inside the bus, and this will spoil your fun. Third, you will find yourself walking in the gorge along with another hundred people. There will be someone passing you all the time (or someone that you’ll bump into if you walk too fast), and no matter how discreet their presence you won’t be able to lose yourself in the landscape. Fourth, you will be cold in Xiloskalo and hot in Agia Roumeli, because Xiloskalo is at an altitude of 1200 metres (plus, you’ll be there in the morning), and Agia Roumeli is at sea level (plus, you’ll be there in the early afternoon).

Finally, you will arrive in Agia Roumeli at rush hour, and after a tiresome and crowded journey you will have to give a battle to secure a plate of food. And of course it will not be the cheapest meal you can remember...

Well, guess what! We suggest you walk against the current! Go up the gorge (instead of down), and enjoy the many advantages of a route that’s less difficult than you think. This will save you from many unpleasant things, among which:

Samaria gorge


The crowded bus. In the morning, you will start your journey from Agia Roumeli feeling the cool sea breeze on your skin (so start early!) In the afternoon you will be almost alone in the bus going to Hania.
The crowds in the gorge. By noon you will practically have walked to the other side. The gorge will be all yours, because the crowds from Xiloskalo will not have had the time to get as far as you did.
The early afternoon heat. By that time you will be walking the last few kilometres to Xiloskalo, which is 1200 metres above sea level.


Still, we must warn you that during the last three kilometres you climb 700 metres, so this last part is quite demanding and calls for good physical condition. However, the path is pleasant, and instead of climbing vertically it winds up the mountain in many smooth turns.


If you are two people with two bikes you can completely avoid the bus. The one that gets less exercise (or doesn’t care for much) goes to Xiloskalo and walks down the gorge.

Agia Roumeli

The other one goes to Chora Sfakion, takes the boat to Aghia Roumeli, and then goes up the gorge. Then the one takes the bike of the other and in the evening you meet at Hania. But there is one little thing to pay attention to: When you meet inside the gorge, do not forget to exchange keys...
Finally, if you are alone, or if everyone in the group wants to enjoy the trip up the gorge, the best solution is to take route 5, lock up your bikes in Chora Sfakion, and then take the boat to Agia Roumeli and walk to Xiloskalo on the other side of the gorge. From Xiloskalo you catch the bus to Hania and from Hania you catch another bus to Chora Sfakion.

Here you pick up your bikes and continue your trip to the east.

 

SAMARIA GORGE: INFO AND REGULATIONS


The gorge is open to visitors from May 1 to October 31. These dates are not fixed but can be moved forward (or... backward) depending on weather conditions. The most important criterion is the level of the water in the gorge, which is particularly high in early spring (when the snow melts) and in late

Samaria gorge

fall (when there are many sudden downpours). It is, however, up to the guards to decide whether they will let you in the gorge during the period that it’s closed for the public, depending on your capacity and the prevailing conditions.
The National Park is open daily from 6:00 a. m. to 3:30 p.m. The gorge must be crossed during those hours. It is strictly forbidden to spend the night there.
On entering the gorge you buy a one thousand drachma ticket with the current date on it. This ticket must be shown at the control station on the other side. If you lose it you must pay again, and if the date is not current they will conclude that you have stayed overnight.
The following are strictly forbidden: swimming in the river; cutting flowers; hunting or disturbing the animals; lighting a fire or smoking; creating noise pollution (radios etc); walking outside the marked path; littering the place.
Inside the gorge you will see signs informing you about the designated rest areas, the water sources, and the location of first-aid stations and fire stations. There are staff members that have been trained to deal with health emergencies, and there are mules for the transportation of patients as well as heliports for emergency cases.

THE ROUTES THE ROUTES

Routes starting from Hania

Hania
1. Hania - Akrotiri
2. Hania - Paleochora
3. Hania - Sameria
4. Hania - Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
5. Hania - Kissamos (Kasteli)

Routes starting from Kissamos
Kissamos (Kasteli)
6. Kissamos - Gramvoussa
7. Kissamos - Elafonissos
8. Kissamos - Paleochora (through the Topolian Gorge)
9. Kissamos - Paleochora (through Episkopi)
10. Kissamos - Sirikari

Routes starting from Hora Sfakion (Sfakia)
11. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (travelling inland)
12. Hora Sfakion - Rethimno (Rethymnon) (following the coast)

Routes starting from Rethimno (Rethymnon)
Rethimno (Rethymnon)
13. Rethimno - Ierapetra (following the south coast)
14. Rethimno - Ierapetra (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Ierapetra
Ierapetra
15. Ierapetra - Zakros (coastal road)
16. Ierapetra - Zakros (inland route)

Routes starting from Iraklio (Heraklion)
Iraklio (Heraklion)
17. Heraklion - Rethymnon (coastal road)
18. Heraklion - Rethymnon (travelling inland)
19.Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (coastal road)
20. Heraklioon - Agios Nikolaos (travelling inland)

Routes starting from Agios Nikolaos
Agios Nikolaos
21. Agios Nikolaos - Zakros


Source of the information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”, Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of Greece, click here.

 

 

Tip of the day

In the small but organized city museum you will see findings from excavations in ancient Kissamos and its surrounding areas. The museum’s collection includes floor mosaics of 2nd and 3rd century houses found in Kissamos city, as well as findings from the archeological sites of Polirrinia and Falasarna (mainly statues, reliefs and ceramics dating back to the Hellenistic and Roman times).
The present town is famous for its amazing wine which is produced here and is celebrated with “the Feast of Wine" at the beginning of August. During the feast local wine is offered in great quantities under the sound of lyre and lute and in a very enthusiastic atmosphere.
The beaches surrounding Kastelli that you can visit for swimming in the homonym gulf are Molos beach covered by thick pebbles, Ghipedo beach surrounded by trees and Telonio beach with view of the Venetian walls. It is better though to take the road to the famous Gramvousa peninsula.

 

 

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