Samaria, Crete - the longest gorge in europe
During the fight for independence against the Turks a never taken hideaway and base of the rebels, now several thousand guests conquer the probably biggest ravine of Europe in the high season every day. The distance to be mastered with its unique flora and fauna amounts to 18 km and offers the unique experience to walk from 1200 m above sea level down to the Libyan Sea in four to six hours.
The Samaria National Park is 43 km from the city of Chania. The park’s core covers an area of 5,100 hectares that lies east of the peaks of Psilafi (1,983 m), Gingilos (2,083 m) and Volikas (2,116 m), just south of Xyloskalo and the edge of the Omalos plateau and west of the peaks of Melidaou (2,133 m) and Psiristra (1,766 m).
To the south, the heart of the park reaches down to the mouth of the gorge, where it debouches into the Libyan Sea.
It is the longest gorge in Europe, measuring some 18 km and renowned for its awesome beauty.
At some points the passage is just 3 meters wide and at times the steep sides rise to a height of 600 meters.
The gorge is cut by a stream which flows between the highest peak of the White Mountains and Mt. Volikas.
Also impressive are the layered and tectonic rock formations of limestone which are discernible on its slopes.
At the entrance of the gorge, at Xyloskalo there is a tourist pavilion with a view of majestic Mt. Gingilos.
The descent starts at the Xyloskalo ("wooden ladder"), a stony way with wood railings, approx. 800 m with innumerable turns down to the ground of the gorge.
The name Xyloskalo goes back to the Cretan freedom fighters who used big wooden ladders to get from the ravine up to the Omalos plateau.
The current path was laid at the beginning of the 20th century. You will pass several fountains on this descent before reaching the small chapel of Agios Nikolaos (approximately 90 minute walk).
There also is a resting place with benches, which invites to a first short break. The hike continues through the now expanding valley and the, even in summer, water leading brook has to be crossed several times.
After approximately two to three hours you reach the abandoned village of Samaria.
Crossing a bridge you get to the 380 m above sea level main resting place of the ravine which was renovated and fitted out with sanitary arrangements.
In 1962 the area of the Samaria Gorge was declared a National Park. In 1980 the gorge was decorated as an extremely well protected nature reserve of highest importance.
Best period for a visit:
Hiking down the gorge is permitted from May to the end of October, depending on the weather. The best time for a visit is in May, when the weather is not particularly hot and most wildflowers in the gorge are in blossom.
The ravine's entrance in the Omalos plateau is to be reached of almost every place on Crete by organized day trips.
However, the journey is more reasonable on your own initiative.
To do so you will have to take the public KTEL bus to Omalos from the Chania-bus terminal at 6:15 am (departure time without guaranty).