Walking Aradena gorge

The new school year was about to start. Should we have a little late summer trip before the start? Of course we should!

We had also been planning for a while to test out the van as a campervan of sorts.

So we spent some time on Sunday getting out some camping stuff. Then on Monday morning we loaded the van with everything, including the kayak and one e-bike.

We set off for Chora Sfakion and got there around lunchtime. We stopped at the bakery for sandwiches and pastries, and after that some ice-cream! We decided to go and walk Aradena gorge in the afternoon.

Aradena is a pretty wild place, some distance from Chora Sfakion which is itself a good distance from most other places in Crete.

There is an impressive metal and wood bridge that crosses over the gorge. It shakes and rumbles every time a vehicle goes over, with the sound carrying a considerable distance.

Today Aradena is not a very populated village. There is a canteen on the other side of the crossing, for the hikers who come here all the way to walk the wild gorge. There are many abandoned houses falling apart. We also met a good number of wasps, both outside and inside the gorge.

Before the walk, however, we drove down the long, winding downhill road to Livaniana, towards the exit of the gorge. We parked the e-bike there, locked to a fence, to use at the end of the walk to go back and retrieve the car.

After all the preparation, we drove over the bridge to find the beginning of the path. At this point it was 4pm, and we knew we only had a few hours before sunset.

To descend into the gorge, we walked a path that from the side looks carved in stone on the gorge wall, but it is really well kept. Then we walked on the riverbed, passing under the famous bridge, hearing all the cars rumbling.

We walked on the stony riverbed, over big boulders. We took a detour up the side on some stone steps, with an impressive view from the top. Then back down. We met other walkers during the first half of the excursion. Then it was just us. Still more boulders, and more walking. Goats and ravens. Some falling stones. A big cave. Signs for old paths to other villages, Livaniana and Agios Ioannis.

It was mostly shady and cool in the gorge, but pretty still. Some dips were pretty hot though, especially getting close to the sea.

After about 3 hours, feeling tired, we saw the sea! And in another 5 minutes we were on Marmara beach. The sun had just set. Giulia and I jumped in the sea for a quick swim, as people were leaving the tiny beach on taxi boats. We saw big groups of lionfish, 6 here, 3 there. They are really invading the Cretan sea. We saw them for the first time in Falasarna about a month ago, and we have seen them since many more times in Falasarna, in Sougia and now here.

I rushed up the path from Marmara to Livaniana to get the bike. I almost run and it took a good 20 minutes. In the twilight, I jumped on the e-bike and gave it all up the steep hill. It was a beautiful ride, with the soft dusk light below me as I ascended the hairpin bends. I was sweating exhilaration and effort. Towards the top it was dark enough and I was fast enough that I almost lost control on a bend, going up what must have been 15% slope.

I rode over the bridge in semi-darkness, invisible, announced by the rumble. I loaded the bike on the car and drove again back down the same road, to meet the girls. They had walked up the path to Livaniana, then made it another km or so up the road. We finished the day with a glorious dinner at a taverna in Anopoli, with super tasty vegetables and the best appetite after walking (and cycling) for hours!

 
Total distance: 6.42 km
Max elevation: 573 m
Min elevation: 3 m
Total climbing: 132 m
Total descent: -701 m
Total time: 03:05:16
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E-bike ride on the South coast: Paleochora – Sougia

The South coast has been beckoning for some time, I have been wanting to do some cycling there for a while. The road between Paleochora and Sougia promised to be spectacular.

Studying the map, I wasn’t sure it was paved all the way through. Not a big deal either case, as we loaded the trusty Hillmaster electric mountain bike on the van.

We also planned to do some of the cycling together, and loaded bikes for all the family. Sofia is still too short to ride one of our electric bikes, she rides a plain mountain bike that was originally Giulia’s. This limits our range together a bit, and we decided to pedal the first flat part together until the road becomes too steep.

We drove from home in the morning, on the mostly quiet mountain roads from Kissamos. In about an hour, we were buying lunch from the bakery in Paleochora.

We cycled through town, then along the coast going East. After a couple of km, we hit the hill that goes up to Anidri village. We tackled it for a good while, until the girls had had enough and turned back. I switched on the motor, and set off.

The road climbed regularly, up and up and up. I kept the assistance always on the lowest level, Eco, I wanted to make an effort! I cycled through Anidri village, I zig-zagged on. Low Mediterranean scrub everywhere, sea views in the distance. I passed the village of Prodromi, the road was still paved all the way. Some trees in the small valleys, plane and carob trees.

I was getting higher, the air was cooler. Gavdos island was there, in the hazy distance. Pine trees on the roadside now! I met 4 cars in 15km, about one hour of cycling. The col was marked by a blue and white church, stereotypical of Greece but not a common sight in Crete. Shortly after, I rejoined the ‘main’ road going from Paleochora.

On my right, the valley side facing North was now covered by a proper tree forest, an interesting change! I took a break for some water and banana in Rodovani, wondering how far behind the girls driving to Sougia I would be.

Then I launched myself into a full speed descent towards Sougia. Corner after corner, I tried to slow down as little as possible, touching a maximum speed of 60 km/h. Pines on both sides of the road, until I reached the valley bottom with the river bed on my left, marking the arrival in Sougia. I must have done the 15km in half an hour.

Sougia was hot and sticky. The sun was not shining very strong, but the air was not really moving. I found the girls already cooling down in the sea.

Fiona came to meet me. We had a picnic all together in the shade of a tamerisk behind the beach. After food, we moved back to the shore for a refreshing swim.

Even the sea was hazy! We swam along the beach, going East, towards the big rocks just a few metres off shore. There were continuous changes in temperature in the sea. Cool, hazy surface, a warmer layer of water below, then cool again at some depth. We spotted some small groupers and some lionfish hiding between some rocks on the bottom.

We found some waves between the rocks. We swam around them, the water was clearer here. We saw plenty of fish, damselfish and many very big and bright saddled seabreams. Cretan parrotfish, of course. We passed some submerged rocks, circled the big rock sticking out and swam back. A beautiful swim.

We walked into town for an ice-cream, then drove home.

 

Total distance: 33.61 km
Max elevation: 759 m
Min elevation: -9 m
Total climbing: 871 m
Total descent: -852 m
Total time: 02:16:25
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Krios – Elafonissi Crete South Coast Hike

On a warm, late June day, we embarked on a family trip, with David and Sophie, to walk part of the path between Paleochora and Elafonissi.

The E4 pathway, that crosses all Crete from East to West, runs along this wonderful stretch of coast. I have been eyeing to walk it for a while, and the time felt right. The weather forecast was promising, with temperatures in the high 20s, a good breeze and low humidity.

The proper path starts from Krios, by a small pebbly beach a few km West of Paleochora.

The views are awesome. There’s a first climb with views to Elafonissi, followed by a quick descent to Viena. Around the well sheltered bay lies an ancient temple with stone columns, and a small beach for a refreshing dip. We also meet other hikers with very heavy-looking backpacks, equipped for multi-day hikes. We wonder how well they cope. We are only carrying small day rucksack with a few kilos, and we sweat easily every time we hit some ascending slope, which is often.

After Viena, the path is even more spectacular. It climbs up again towards a small church. Views of the junipers around Kedrodassos, Elafonissi in the distance, tropical beach settings with turquoise waters. Small break at the church, we see more heavy-loaded hikers. The path gets narrow, we walk around parts exposed to a wind that comes in strong gusts.

We get back down to sea level, longing for another dip in the sea, but looking for a good spot to have our lunch break. In the heat of the moment, we miss a turn and walk a bit further. We walk back and understand that the passage is through a small gorge, which brings us right down to the coast. We find a perfect cove and have our picnic.

The sea and the snorkelling are beautiful here. The water is amazingly clear and feels really cold, especially compared to the outside air temperature.

After lunch, we need to pick up our pace. The only bus to take us back to Paleochora leaves in about one hour, and we still have a few km to go. We walk through the surprisingly busy beaches around Kedrodassos. Clearly Kedrodassos is no secret anymore. Most people drive the bad dirt road from Elafonissi and park just above the beach. Understandably, we meet few people walking now, it’s 3pm.

The juniper trees put up a display of interestingly curved shapes and dark wood, in contrast to the clear sands. They offer little shade though, they are too low.

After the last rocks, we reach the mooring for the boat going to Paleochora, but it’s not running today, too windy. We walk through the car park which now feels really hot and find the bus. It takes a while for our bodies to cool down. The bus takes the winding roads back to Paleochora, then I will take another bus to pick up the car from Krios.

The walk is well worth it. Next time in cooler conditions!