To watch the video about this holiday click here
One of the best things about a small group walking tour is getting to know your fellow walkers. You start off as a bunch of strangers, different ages, different backgrounds but, gradually through quiet and unforced conversation as you progress up and down hills, you learn so much about each other. On this trip, one couple in particular proved inspirational – 80 years young Wendy and her lovely 83 year old husband Henry. They were the oldest in our small group of 11 but witnessing them both striding along like mountain goats you would never have have believed it. Their secret? Staying active and walking…a lot! It helps that they happen to live right by the beautiful South West coastal path but Wendy told me that their routine includes a 2 to 3 mile walk every day after breakfast, whatever the weather.
I think if Iived somewhere like Crete, I might be inspired to walk every day too – the possibilities for hikes are endless with varied but not overly challenging terrain. During our 7 night stay, our itinerary included five very different guided walks. We explored the coastal paths on either side of Kissamos Bay, walked up and around the ancient city walls of Polyrinnia, through olive groves and sleepy little villages and last but not least down through the stunning Sirikari Gorge.
Travelling in late April (even though the island had endured one of the worst winters in living memory and the temperatures were still below the seasonal norm) the spring flowers were out in force, enhancing our views with vivid swathes of colour.
Our guide, Iris, led the way with considerable patience, pointing out the tiniest of wild orchids and giving us occasional insights into nuggets of history and culture. Like so many other ‘locals’ we met, Iris (from Germany), had visited Crete back in the 90s, fallen in love with island, and never left. The island does seem to have that effect. 30 years later, she has come to know the terrain well – just as well, as trail markings (usually fading blobs of red paint) are hard to spot or often, non existent. It really does make a big difference having a guide.
Setting off each day between 9 and 10am, our walks generally took 3 to 4 hours, covering between 6 and 12 kms and ending with a relaxed lunch at a local taverna. Some people complain that Greek food is quite ‘samey’ but my experience on Crete was anything but. The ‘Cretan Diet’ which is famed the world over is super healthy, largely vegetable based, very seasonal and tasty and always liberally doused with plenty of extra virgin olive oil. Meals are served ‘family style’ with platters of salad, dips, stuffed vegetables, sometimes oven baked meat and fish dishes and always, always a few shots of Raki to toast the end of the meal. Apart from the ubiquitous (and delicious) Cretan salad, I honestly don’t think we had the same dish twice and all of it was delicious.
The tour is based in Kissamos, a small, and in low season at least unprepossessing town but nevertheless a convenient base to minimise the driving time to the start of the walks (usually no more than 20 minutes). Aside from the walking, the highlight of the week for me was a trip into Chania, 45 minutes away. A late afternoon/evening trip was included but I also re visited by public bus (5 euros) on our free day. Chania is home to the island’s second airport but, way more importantly, is just a beautiful town to explore, especially in low season when it is less crowded. The highlight is the wide Venetian harbour which you can stroll, almost in a complete circuit, to reach the lighthouse along the harbour wall. From that vantage point, you get to see the dramatic White Mountains behind – so named because of their distinctive white stone but, when we were there, looking even whiter covered in a thick blanket of snow.
The town is a delightful and colourful mix of Venetian and Turkish influenced buildings. Lining the harbour is a mix of outdoor cafes, bars and (mainly fish) restaurants. Venture behind the harbour and you are into a maze of cobbled back streets, less touristy small restaurants, boutique hotels and some very classy looking shops. The main market hall as well as the twice weekly outdoor market are also well worth a visit. Definitely somewhere to consider for a shoulder season long weekend.
Back at our hotel in Kissamos, Wendy’s influence in the group was growing – after breakfast one morning she was appalled to see us using the lift instead of taking the two flights of stairs. ‘Small changes, big rewards’ were her words and I still have them ringing in my ears. I enjoyed Crete and would highly recommend it for a walking holiday but my main takeaway from the week is… ‘be more Wendy’. I’m trying Wendy, I’m trying!
Cathy travelled as a guest of Travel Editions. 2019 prices for their 7 night Walking in Western Crete guided tour start from £1295 pp. Departures in April, May, September and October. Click here for more details