The Samaria Gorge, in Crete, has rightly become one of the iconic hiking destinations of Europe. The 16km canyon runs from a plateau beneath the White Mountains all the way to the Libyan Sea. It is the longest gorge in Greece and forms part of the E4 hiking trail that traverses Europe. But that’s just the start of an experience that has become a rite of passage for anyone wanting to explore the extraordinarily diverse region of Chania on foot.
Containing 450 species of plant and animal life (70 endemic to Crete), the Samaria Gorge is a UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve. You will pass through forests of pine, cypress and holly trees, and by no fewer than 22 freshwater springs, as well as abandoned villages and churches you can pop into. The gorge itself is 150m at its widest but narrows to just 3m, with sheer walls of rock soaring skyward.
If tackled from Xyloskalo to the sea, it is downhill all the way. And although you crisscross a river multiple times – sometimes over wooden bridges, sometimes hopping from rock to rock – it’s not a difficult or technical hike. Just don’t expect to pass as effortlessly as the gorge’s real residents – the Cretan ‘kri-kri’ mountain goats.