Crete is an island with an exquisite 1,000 kilometer-long coastline dotted with numerous coves, bays and peninsulas, which afford a multitude of soft, sandy beaches along the beautifully blue Mediterranean Sea. After all, it’s among the finest in the world and has established Crete as one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. And, of course, the island’s historic importance in today’s world as the home of the Minoan civilization with important archeological finds at Knossos, Phaistos and Gortys, is evidenced by the tens of thousands of visitors to these sites each year.
However, Crete is the largest island in Greece – the fifth largest in the Mediterranean – and, within its diverse area of more than 8,000 square kilometers, there are many other jewels just waiting to be discovered by the more adventurous explorers of holiday treasures.
If you haven’t visited Crete yet, this summer may be the time to come and discover this fascinating Greek island. If it captures your heart, don’t worry. Come back next year and Crete will welcome you once more with its smiling Cretan sun, the sounds of the Cretan lyre, the scents of orange blossom and jasmine, a slice of cool red watermelon and a glass of iced raki.
Why You Should Go to Matala:
Famous since ancient times for its magnificent cave-pocked cliffs, Matala was a prime hippie destination in the 1960′s. Today it attracts beach lovers who enjoy its lively nightlife and low-key atmosphere.
You can’t help seeing the main attraction, the amazing angled cliffs with their caves. Take the half-hour hike to clothing-optional Red Beach, where carved rocks surprise the visitor.
Don’t Miss Seeing
A little further afield by car, north of Matala Bay, the archaeological site of Kommos offers Minoan ruins on a small scale, and the Kommos Beach taverna provides excellent grilled fish and the coldest, smoothest raki in this part of Crete. You’re also close to Phaistos and the Roman city of Gortyn.
You may also want to visit the Monastery of Odigitria, which is conveniently located next to an ancient Minoan cemetery. Can’t get enough Minoans? Seek out the Tomb of Kamilari, an evocative site located on a small rise deep inside an ancient olive grove. Several important artifacts were found at this isolated spot; it is surrounded by a fence but can be easily seen from the outside.
The Samaria National Park has traditionally always opened to the public at the beginning of May. In the last few years it has often been possible to enter the gorge of Samaria in April from the bottom part. This depends of course on the weather and the amount of work needed to restore the path after the winter rains. So this varies: it could open a little before the 1st of May, on the 1st of May or later (if the weather is bad or repair work is late). The gorge of Samaria closes to the public at the end of October.
The gorge of Samaria is not 18 km long (the 18 km refers to the distance between the settlement of Omalos on the northern side of the plateau and the village of Agia Roumeli) but is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1250m and taking you all the way down to the shores of the Libyan sea in Agia Roumeli. The walk through the National Park of Samaria is 13 km but you will have to walk the extra 3 km to Agia Roumeli from the exit of the National Park making it 16 km.
The very narrow passage near the end of the gorge is often called the “Iron Gates”. None of the former inhabitants of Samaria know why the place suddenly got this name. They were always known by the locals as “Portes” which means “doors” or “gates”, but certainly no “Iron” anywhere!
Samaria is said to be the longest gorge in Europe. I am not sure about this. As far as I know the “gorges du Verdon” in South France are a little over 20 km in length. Similarly, the gorge of Tripiti which runs west of the gorge of Samaria is about as long, but almost nobody knows it.
The gorge of Samaria is situated in the National park of Samaria, in the White Mountains in West Crete.
The park is supervised by the Department of Forestry and the gorge is generally open only from the beginning of May to the end of October. In winter, high water makes the gorge dangerous and impassable. It will also be closed on rainy days (too dangerous because of rock falls)
You have to pay an entrance fee of Euro 5.00 to enter the park (free to children under 15, half price to students).
So what do you get for your 5 Euro?
- The path is maintained and is substantially better than “normal” paths in Crete.
- There are wardens along the way (in radio contact with each other) who will help you in case of trouble or injury.
- There is also (in theory) a doctor stationed in the abandoned village of Samaria.
- There are well-maintained springs on the way so that you do not have to carry much water.
- There are toilets in several places and plenty of rubbish bins. You find surprisingly little litter, considering the amount of people passing through every day.
- You also get a set of rules, aimed at protecting the park and making the experience safe and pleasant for everyone.
The gorge is open only during the day time and if you want to start walking in the afternoon you will only be allowed in up to a certain point. The guards want to make sure that everybody who walks in also gets out before nightfall. This is the reason why they ask you to present your ticket on the way out as it (supposedly) enables them to know if there is anyone still in the park at night.
When is the best time to walk through the gorge?
The problem with Samaria is the crowds. It has become one of the” musts” if you go to Crete and there are up to 3000 visitors a day on very busy days. If you have the bad luck to pick one of those days, the atmosphere will be really spoilt. Starting at dawn (before the tourist coaches arrive) will give you a bit of a head start. It is possible to find good (and cheap) accommodation in Omalos.
The first tourist buses arrive at around 7.30 am and from then on it is an uninterrupted stream of buses until about 11.00 am.
You can also start walking after 12.00, there won’t be many people but you will most probably need to spend the night in Agia Roumeli because the last boat out will have left when you get there.
As far as the times of the year are concerned, the best time is in the spring: the weather is still cool and the vegetation is at its best. The worst time is in the middle of the summer during a heat wave. Give it a miss and come again at a better time.