Recently I have been sharing pretty walks from my time in Vancouver. BUT I keep going through my hard-drive and finding photos from older walks that I’d like to share. So I figured I could join in with a Flashback Friday Post. 🙂 This one is about our exploration of the Aradena gorge, near Loutro in Crete.
What do you do when you plan a holiday? I normally choose a destination, and then try to find out if I have any friends from that area that can give me tips. So, I asked a Greek friend for advice about where I should visit in Crete. She told me that most English people go to the North of the Island, but that Greek people head to the South. If I wanted quiet beaches and less touristy food, I should head to a place called Loutro. This was amaaaazing advice. Especially when I looked at photos of Loutro! It is a small village that is only reachable by boat. So you won’t see a car for all the time you are there. I booked flights to Crete and a room in Loutro and we were ready to go.
Our honeymoon plan was pretty simple. Relax for a week in Crete, and then have an epic week of hiking in the Dolomites. But Marc and I are both rubbish at sitting still on a beach for hours, so the first thing we did when we arrived in Loutro is buy a map, and work out if there were any good places to explore nearby. It turns out there was a stunning hike down the Aradena gorge. We had walking boots with us anyway, so we decided to give it a go!
Now, the problem with hiking in Crete is that it is soooo hot in summer! Seriously! When we arrived at the airport, the hot air seemed to hit us like a sledge hammer! So, we decided to set off crazily early at 5am, as soon as the sun rose. Starting from Loutro, we basically had to climb a small mountain before we could start the walk to Aradena gorge. We managed to stay in the shade for part of the way up, but then we needed to race the sun as it slowly revealed the gorgeous views behind us. You can see Loutro down below.
Crete is not a particularly lush or green landscape. The dry soil makes everything look orange or golden in the sun. But this is the perfect environment for some herbs. The mountains and cliffs are covered in the fragrant purple flowers from thyme. They are full of bees too – so even if you don’t explore the mountains, you can taste their nectar in the local honey.
Not too surprisingly, the sun won our race with the shadows! So we had beautiful views of the golden landscape. This made our walk pretty warm though!
Luckily our early start meant it wasn’t toooo long before we’d made it to the top of the mountain. There is a small church, the Church of St Catherine, at the top, that has stunning views out to the sea.
We then hiked down to a village called Anopli, which has gorgeous views of the local mountains and very friendly doggos! There were also some cool spiky flowers that I have never seen before. How pretty are these!? I also loved the red and yellow bugs that you can see if you look carefully inside the first purple flowers! (You might have to click on the photo to enlarge them to see the bugs!)
We found a pretty foot path between Anopli and the abandoned town of Aradena. One of the dogs from Anopli decided that we were its humans for the day, so it joined us for the walk. We were a little worried as we walked further and further from his village, but in the end, he didn’t want to cross the crazily high bridge at Aradena gorge. It was nice to have doggo company for a while anyway!
Before you can walk along the Aradena gorge, you have to cross the amazing Aradena Bridge. The bridge is 138m (453 feet) high. It also has plenty of holes between the slats so you can peer down into the gorge below. I LOVE looking down from high places. But even I thought this bridge was slightly scary to cross! Apparently you can even bungee jump off it!
Anyway, the steep cliffs either side of the Aradena gorge look spectacular from above. The shade within the gorge also looked pretty inviting, so we started to head down the zig-zag path down to the bottom. We passed through the abandoned village of Aradena on the way. There weren’t many humans around BUT the goats haven’t left! We found so many friendly goats climbing on walls and even a couple in the church. Who knew Cretan goats were religious!?
Once we made it down into the Aradena gorge we were given a bit of a break from the hot sun. The sides of the gorge are so steep that you can hide in the shade for quite a lot of the day. I have not done many hikes like this where you are enclosed by such high walls, for such a long way. It is pretty cool to see the various rock colours and formations as you walk.
After a few twists and turns, we started to see the Aradena Bridge again. This time it looms from above! It is easier to see just how high up it is from below.
The view straight up:
Once we’d passed the bridge, we meandered slowly down the Aradena gorge heading towards the sea. You might expect this kind of hike to be boring with a small slither sky above you and cliff faces in all directions. However I didn’t find it boring at all. There was a lot of variation in the sides of the rock-faces and the plants. Quite a few times we’d need to clamber up the edges pf the gorge to avoid boulder fields. Other times it would open up a little so we’d meet more goats grazing over floors covered in smaller pebbles.
One of the plants that we saw the whole way along the walk was this funky-looking thing, full of colourful seeds. It looks a little bit like corn on the cob, but in impressive colours! I saw green, yellow, orange and red versions, and quite a few with graduations of the colours in a single plant. For a place with so little vegetation, this really brightens up the walk!
We didn’t carry enough water with us (eep!) So we were both starting to wilt a little near the end of the walk. The final section goes through a valley covered in pink flowers! This perked me up again as I loooved the way the decorate the bare edges of the gorge.
The last section also had really pretty markings on the rocks. By now we could hear the sea, so we knew we were getting close to the end.
And how amazing is this for a reward at the end of a long, hot hike!? The Aradena gorge finishes in the gorgeous Marmaras bay. There is a taverna right on the beach, so you can refresh with food and drinks there.
We ordered a couple of tasty dishes and huge glasses of drink! This made our whole world better! We’d started at 5am, and it was 2pm by the time we made it to the taverna so it had been a pretty long walk! The tavern has a shady patio looking out over the beach; It is the perfect place to find yourself when you’re hungry and thirsty. There were also quite a few kittens patrolling the tavern for scraps, so we managed to have some kitty cuddles too!
The brilliant thing about starting our walk so early in the morning, is even after a long walk, we still had the whole afternoon left! The beach at Marmaras bay is rocky, rather than sandy, but that didn’t stop us from going for a swim! The cliffs at the edge of this beach are lined with caves, so we spent several hours swimming around this beautiful blue water and exploring the caves.
So, in the end, we spent 9 hours walking, and then another 3-4 hours swimming. We could have taken a boat back to Loutro, but we fancied a glass of wine instead of rushing back. So we drank some wine, then hiked back for another hour to get back to Loutro for our dinner. I really enjoyed this final wander as the sun started to set. We got to meet plenty more goats who have taken over the cliffs.
Marc had brought a change of clothes, but even after our cooling swim, the hike back to Loutro was enough to totally soak his shirt! This just shows we made the right decision to try our hike early in the morning!
By the time we’d made it back to Loutro and changed out of our hiking clothes, it was night time.
My friend had been right about this being a destination for Greek people! Almost the whole village had been taken over by a famous Greek politician for his daughter’s wedding. The village had been covered in lanterns so we returned just in time to see this gorgeous spectacle. It was the perfect end to a fantastic (if knackering) day!