From Haniá the spectacular SAMARIÁ GORGE, which claims to be Europe’s longest (it’s a 16km hike), can be visited as a day-trip or as part of a longer excursion to the south. It’s strenuous – you’ll know all about it next day – the path is rough and it’s not a walk to be undertaken lightly, particularly in the heat of summer, and walking boots or solid shoes are vital.
The gorge begins at the xylóskalo, or “wooden staircase”, a stepped path plunging steeply down from the southern lip of the Omalós plain. The descent is at first through almost alpine scenery: pine forest, wild flowers and greenery – a verdant shock in the spring, when the stream is at its liveliest. About halfway down you pass the abandoned village of Samariá, now home to a wardens’ station, with picnic facilities and toilets. Further down, the path levels out and the gorge walls close in until, at the narrowest point (the sidherespórtes or “iron gates”), one can practically touch both tortured rock faces at once and, looking up, see them rising sheer for well over 300m.
At an average pace, with regular stops, the walk down takes between five and seven hours (though you can do it quicker); beware of the kilometre markers: these mark only distances within the National Park and it’s a further 2km of hot walking before your reach the sea at Ayía Rouméli. On the way down there is plenty of water from springs and streams, but nothing to eat. The park that surrounds the gorge is a refuge of the Cretan wild ibex, the krí-krí, but don’t expect to see one; there are usually far too many people around.