The Gorge of Samaria
To the south of Chania, in the heart of the prefecture, is the
Omalos plateau which is a circular plain surrounded by verdant
mountains. It is a wild and tranquil place and in springtime the
fertile soil is carpeted with wild grasses and flowers.
The plateau, for centuries, served as a strategic base for Cretan revolutionaries fighting enemy invasions. The road from Lakki that leads to the plateau and onwards to the Gorge of Samaria needs careful manoeuvring. It rises very steeply and there are many hairpin bends and, in the tourist season from May to October, many tourist buses travelling to and from the gorge.
The road crosses the plateau passing through the small village of Omalos and after a few kilometres comes to the Xyloskalo pass, where the entrance to the Samaria gorge is at a height of 1227 metres above sea level. Xyloskalo means wooden stairs and relates to the wooden staircase that was built by local people to ascend the steep entrance into the gorge.
This access has now been replaced by a stone path with a handrail. In Xyloskalo there is an information centre, parking and two tourist lodges with viewing posts and refreshments available to purchase. If you are intending to walk the gorge it will take an estimated time of around 5 hours and there is nowhere to purchase food or drink until you come out the other side at Agia Roumeli. There is a charge to enter the gorge of around 5 Euros (no concessions).
The gorge of Samaria was declared a National Park in 1962 to protect its rare flora and fauna, such as the wild ibex, the Cretan polecat, the rare Harrier Eagle and the Golden Eagle. It has received a Council of Europe prize for being one of the most virgin and beautiful natural regions on the continent of Europe.
The park covers an area of 5100 hectares and the gorge has a total length of 16 km. Visitors may walk the gorge from the beginning of May until the end of October. However, to really enjoy the tranquillity of nature, it is advisable to do this either early or late in the season as the months of July and August find the gorge teeming with visitors. Approximately 1.5 km. from the gorge s exit is the beautiful little coastal village of Agia Roumeli, sheltering between the imposing, rugged mountains and its superb long beach of smooth pebbles and the deep blue, clear Libyan sea.
This remote village is cut off from the mainland and can only be reached by boat or on foot through the mountain paths or gorge. This is a beautifully relaxing place to restore yourself after walking through the gorge, before taking the small ferry to Chora Sfakion to the east or Paleo Chora to the west. For those not able to walk the gorge, it is possible to do this trip in reverse order by taking a ferry from Chora Sfakion to Ayia Roumeli and then walk into the gorge from there, returning to the village when ready to catch the ferry back.