Crete. June 2017
Helen Rose Outdoor Diary.
I visited Crete a very long time ago but spent most of the time visiting the famous Archaeological sites such as Knossos and Phaestos and the beaches at Malia and Vai. I saw that Scot-trek http://www.scot-trek.co.uk/ had a walking holiday to Crete which would give me the opportunity to visit the villages, walk in the countryside and walk the Samarian Gorge. It was a marvellous week in beautiful sunny weather with the best of the Spring flowers. The walking season is very short and only really in May and June as it is too hot from July onwards. Crete is the largest Greek island and is about four and a half hours by plane from Glasgow. It is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea.
We were based in Rethymnon on the north of the Island to the west of the capital Heraklion at a hotel in the old part of the town and not far from the beach. The town still maintains its old aristocratic appearance, with its buildings dating from the 16th century, arched doorways, stone staircases, Byzantine and Hellenic-Roman remains, the small Venetian harbour and narrow streets. The city’s Venetian-era citadel, the Fortezza of Rethmynon, is one of the best-preserved castles in Crete. Within the Fortezza, other monuments include the Neratze Mosque (the Municipal Odeon arts centre), the Great Gate (“Porta Guora”), the Piazza Rimondi and the Loggia. It is an interesting walk around with good views out to sea.
The Minoan Civilisation was an Aegean Bronze Age on the island of Crete which flourished from about 2600 to 1100 BC. It preceded the Mycean Civilisation of ancient Greece. The civilization was rediscovered at the beginning of the 20th century through the work of British archaeologist Arthur Evans. It has been described as the earliest of its kind in Europe. On our walks we came across Minoan ruins which were off the beaten track. My own memories of visiting Knossos was that it was over restored although there was an excellent Archaelogical Museum. Phaestos in the south of the island is much less visited and to my mind had more atmosphere. We saw examples of Minoan terraces for agriculture.
In 66 BC Rome commissioned Quintus Caecilius Metellus and following a ferocious three-year campaign Crete was conquered for Rome in 69 BC. Once pacified, the Cretans settled into Roman rule with little resistance and the island became a mostly uneventful backwater province. Other than Gothic raids in 269 AD, Crete remained a peaceful and prosperous province for the great bulk of Roman rule. It remained a part of the Roman and Byzantine empires through to the 13th century, with some interruption by Arab conquest in the 9th century AD. Crete offered standard imports from the region such as olive oil and wine which was supplemented by grain. To this day the main produce of the island are olives and wine.
We walked on four days for five hours but they were easy rambles although involved a lot of ups and downs as it is a hilly and mountainous island. On the walks, the guides from The Happy Walker www.happywalker.com stopped frequently to explain the culture, the wild flowers and information on the historical past of the islands. There is too much information to detail here but the walks were the Margarites Region, Natural Countryside and Picturesque Village with Amnatos, Ancient Inland Crete with Kare and A Cool Well with Agios Konstantinos. The walks took about five hours in total per day. We stopped after three hours in a village for coffee and snacks with raki, an unsweetened alcoholic drink in a small glass. Suitably fortified we walked for another two hours and had lunch in another village outside under a canopy where the wine flowed and lots of dishes appeared.
The highlights for me of these walks was walking through fields of beautiful Spring flowers and olive groves, visiting little old Greek Orthodox churches and seeing Mount Ida with snow still on a slope. Mount Ida is over 8,000 feet high and the highest mountain in Crete. We passed the oldest bridge in Crete and also saw lots of coral fossils from when the island was below the sea. We saw swallows and Griffon Vultures along the way. We saw the Arum Lily in the photograph on many of the walks.
Although I enjoyed all the walks immensely with an insight into the beauty and culture of Crete, the highlight for me was walking the Samarian Gorge. It is 16 km long, starting at an altitude of 1230m and taking you all the way down to the shores of the Libyan Sea in Agia Roumeli. The descent was on a good zig zag path but very rocky underfoot. There are frequent watering places. The Gorge is 13 km in length and we had to cross and recross the river on wooden bridges. It is like walking on a rocky riverbed. The entire walk took us a leisurely seven hours and fortunately it was overcast with a breeze making it ideal walking conditions as the gorge can build up heat. We took the minibus after we checked out of the gorge exit point for the last 3km to Agia Roumeli to catch the boat after a well-deserved refreshment.
Coming attractions; Portpatrick, Pentlands
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This section: Helen Rose Hillwalking Diary
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