Crete walking vacations

The people of Chora Sfakion are renowned for their fierce independence. In bygone days this coastal village at the end of Crete’s famous Samaria Gorge was a notorious sanctuary of smugglers, brigands and pirates. Locals tend to think of themselves as Sfakians first and foremost, then Cretans, and then Greeks. Chora Sfakion is a common entry point for trekking in the Idi Mountains, but it’s also a perfect example of how walking in Crete gets you to places that most visitors have never even heard of. This is one of the most popular Greek islands for vacationmakers in search of a ‘fly and flop’, and no stranger to the problem of overtourism, but exploring on foot is a surefire way to escape (almost) all of the crowds.

Anne Robson, a recent participant on one of our Crete walking vacations, summed up the highlights of her trip as “the beautiful scenery, excellent guide and amazing Greek food.” Here you’ll be guided by tour leaders drawn from local communities, as able in translating the menus for you in village tavernas as they are in spotting the sure-footed Cretan ibex (kri kri) among the rocks, or expounding on the history of a Byzantine fortress. The seafood on Crete, it goes without saying, is superb, but your daily walks might also take you to family run wineries, and businesses where you can purchase herbs, cheeses and honey. Your lunch will be better for it, but you’ll also be directly supporting communities in villages such as Loutro that depend on tourism.

What do Crete walking vacations entail?

Typically you’ll begin in Chania, a harbour town that has managed to retain plenty of character despite its popularity with summer visitors. This is western Crete, the greenest part of the island due to the White Mountains which guarantee plenty of rain. Chania, with its bustling port and minaret-topped lighthouse is a very pleasant place to wander for a day before getting going, particularly the back streets where you’ll see Byzantine, Ottoman and Venetian architecture.
Walks could take you across the wild Omalos Plateau enclosed by the towering White Mountains, an area so isolated it was a favoured hideout for Cretan revolutionaries fighting Turkish rule. The plateau leads to the world-renowned Samaria Gorge, Europe’s longest ravine. You might enter through the sidheroportes (iron gates), which at just four metres wide are the narrowest part of the gorge, yet the cliffs above you soar 350m. Hiking along a dry and rocky riverbed, your guide may point out some of the 450 unique plant species that are found here. Even outside the main summer season, when it positively swelters, the Samaria Gorge gets incredibly busy, and you can end up walking in a long line of others. Local guides will be familiar with the best times of day to approach it and avoid the majority of the coach groups, though you’ll never have the area entirely to yourself.
The Preveli monastery, perched on a clifftop overlooking the sea, is a popular stop-off when journeying through the Idi Mountains in central Crete. While we recommend always bringing a reusable bottle on vacation, if you do drink any Cretan bottled spring water the chances are it will have been sourced from this region. The Rouvas Gorge near the village of Zaros makes for another impressive walk, with dramatic mountain views once again. It’s not unknown, but attracts far fewer walkers than the Samaria Gorge.
Coastal paths wend between secluded beaches and coves, fishing villages and quiet tavernas. You might follow one such to Loutro, an isolated village where little whitewashed houses with blue shutters look out over the harbour. Vicky Garnett of our specialist tour operator Explore, is a big fan: “Loutro is a car free village on the south coast, only accessible by foot or boat. It’s the only natural harbour on the south coast. There’s a line of traditional houses perched at the bottom of the craggy cliffs, and a pretty, semi-circle harbour. It’s beautiful and sleepy!” Pausing for a day here you can swim, do some kayaking, take a few short and undemanding walks, or beach-hop with water taxis.

Practicalities

You’ve got several options for walking vacations in Crete, with small group tours offering plenty of opportunities for socialising. Your guide will provide insights into local culture and Cretan nature, and of course there’ll be no need to worry about taking a wrong turn. Self-guided walking tours are also available, letting you alter your travel dates, standard of accommodation and daily itineraries. Comprehensive maps and route notes are supplied for these tours, as well as 24-hour support. Most trips are point-to-point, going, say, from Chania to Zaros to Loutro, with your luggage transferred between accommodations. There is the alternative of a center-based tour too, in Kissamos, during which you might combine your walks with meditation and yoga.
A typical trip is eight days in length, and you’ll be walking for up to eight hours or so on most days, with some steep ascents and descents involved at times, on rugged mountain tracks and old mule paths. For that reason you want to be in decent shape, but if you lead an active lifestyle you should be fine; there are no Olympian feats required and there are regular opportunities to stop for a drink or a dip in the sea. Itineraries may also allow you to take a day off and a taxi or ferry to your next port of call, if your feet are sore one morning. Accommodations are usually locally owned, and as with the monasteries around Zaros that you might pay a small donation to visit, a little tourism income can go a long way.

Our top Greece walking Vacation

Greece hiking vacation, Kythnos

Greece hiking vacation, Kythnos

Hiking vacation on Kythnos, a beautiful Greek island in the Cyclades group

From 395 6 days ex flights
Small group travel:
Departing every Monday from 3rd April until October. Runs with a minimum of two people.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Greece walking or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Best time to go on a Crete walking vacation

Vacations usually operate in May, June, September and October. As Vicky Garnett explains: “We tend to run spring and autumn trips as the winter temperatures are too chilly to swim off the coast and the summer months draw large numbers of tourists, which can crowd some of the trials. Most people tend to be based on the north coast around Heraklion and the more cosmopolitan towns of Elounda and Agios Nikolaos. These are easy access from the airport with more resort style places. The south coast is more rugged and tends to be more tranquil.” Our trips allow you to skip the hottest, busiest months and take full advantage of spring and autumn, which are really gorgeous seasons to be walking in Crete. Early starts and plenty of water will still be necessary though.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Dawid Zawila] [Entail: Lapplaender] [Practicalities: Oropedio Omalos] [Best time: Shadowgate]
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