Epic Adventures in the Cretan Wilds

If you think Samaria is for wimps, head for the lesser-visited gorges south of Hania. They offer unparallelled opportunities for mountain treks, caving, rock climbing and even skiing in winter – though even seasoned pros will need local information and advice to ensure their safety and get the best from their experience.

The Anavasi hiking maps, marked with GPS coordinates, trails and other key details, are essential; most bookshops recommended in this guide sell them. Another book found mostly in Hania bookshops, The Caves of Hania, is recommended by local cavers.

Manolis Mesarchakis, an alpine ski instructor and avid hiker from Hania, can help arrange hiking tours and cross-country ski tours (ski tours with three weeks’ advance notice; 100 euro) and advise serious outdoors adventurers. Hikers should also consult the EOS in Hania, which provides info, does weekend excursions and arranges stays in mountain refuges.

One of Manolis’ favourite hikes is the 10-hour trek from Omalos to Sougia, via the Trypiti Gorge. This stunning canyon near Mt Gingilos, west of Samaria, sees few visitors – perfect for those seeking unspoilt nature. If you want to break the hike up into two days, there’s a mountain hut along the way.

The sheer rock face of the Klados Gorge, running between and parallel to Trypiti and Samaria, ‘offers exceptional rock climbing and rappelling’, says Manolis. The outdoorsman also notes that ‘Crete is a paradise for caving, with over 10,000 caves, including the deepest in Europe, at 1207m deep’.

Although few would expect sweltering Crete to be a ski destination, there’s heavy snow in the high mountains, even until May. However, there are no resorts and no lifts, meaning you’ll be doing old-school skiing on wild, unroped terrain. If you’re capable of doing this stuff, you’ll probably already know to bring your own equipment.

-Text by Chris Deliso. Published in Lonely Planet Greece and Crete 2010.