A destination worth visiting

Last year we moved to Crete, the biggest Greek island. Our first priority was to visit the main beaches and sights of the Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos regions. In the past we explored quite a lot of West Crete, because Kostas used to work there for 7 years. Even afterwards we still kept visiting the island almost every year. Now we can say that we have seen all the famous stuff, so we started  focusing on the less touristic activities over here. This is wild Crete, this is where you can see the other side of a very crowded destination.

Wild Crete: Rouvas Gorge

Almost everybody knows Samaria gorge, but only real Crete-lovers know, that there are many more beautiful gorges, as well as great hiking mountain routes, wild empty beaches, lakes, traditional small villages. Due to the fact that in the center of the island there are several mountain massives, there are also several gorges in each Cretan region.

We have set a goal to walk every known gorge in Crete, and so we decided to start with Rouvas gorge.

Zaros artificial lake is the beginning of a scenic route in Rouvas gorge, about an hour driving from Heraklion. Most locals prefer to spend their time around the small lake, having coffee or lunch in one of the local restaurants. It was us, among mainly foreign visitors, that crossed the gorge that day.

Hiking a gorge with a toddler

Here I need to mention, that before deciding about this trip, Kostas told me: “Hey, do you want to spend a nice weekend in the mountains? There is a nice cyclic route around beautiful artificial lake, it shall take us 5 hours, but it seems to be easy walking”. Ha!

The reality was a little different. There is no cyclic route and it was not even close to easy walking. We started hiking from the lake and it took us 3 hours to reach the finish (5,2 kms). Then 1 hour and 50 minutes to go back. The route is very well marked, but the path is pretty rocky especially after the first 2,5 kilometers. At some point we needed to climb huge stones, there were a lot of stairs and generally almost all the way was uphill. The height difference is around 600m, so it was a good workout.

For us on our own it would be a normal hike, but while hiking with our todder became a challenge. Some parts of the route are really dangerous and impossible to leave young kids walking.

After some photos of the lake, and giving Ektoras his tiny backpack on his shoulders, we started the route to the entrance of the canyon. The monastery of Saint Nikolas is exactly at the entrance of the gorge, about 20 minutes walking from the lake. Then we entered the unique ecosystem, with rich flora and fauna, interesting geological formations and cliffs of rare beauty.

It was our first serious hike with our little adventurer, just after he turned 2 years old. Ektoras walked the first 1,5 km himself, making us proud of him and dreaming of great hikes in future! Then he enjoyed the route in our Deuter backpack on Kostas’ back, and on the way back even slept in the carrier.

Picnic in Crete: Rouvas Gorge and Kermes Oak Forest

Hiking with a toddler means several breaks, of course. Ektoras wanted always to touch something, to throw stones off the cliff, or just to shout loudly once he realized the echo effect! Funny moments and great experiences with our son, despite the difficulties.

We enjoyed a break at the view point under a tree, approximately in the middle of the canyon, made photos and tried some dried wild apples from Lasithi plateau. Then we kept walking over wooden bridges, steep stone stairs and rocks.

Finally, after the beautiful kermes oak forest, we could relax close to Agios Ioannis small church and plateau, on the other side of the gorge. We filled our bottles with fresh water, played with Ektoras and ate well. The way back was faster, but we needed to be very carefull. Especially when goats ran somewhere above our heads and stones would fall off the cliffs.

Impressions of a day in nature

We got back to Zaros lake tired, but full of internal energy at the same time. Our eyes captured unique images, our noses still have the smell of Cretan wild herbs and the most important, our toddler looked so happy!

The whole area is not far from Heraklion, so it’s perfect for a daily excursion. Nevertheless, we are planning to stay overnight in our rooftop tent and explore other routes around.

Several tips:
  • Better hike the way we did, from the lake to Agios Ioannis, and not the opposite. It felt so good, that we did all the difficult uphill part in the beginning.
  • Take enough fresh water with you. You can refill your bottles only at the end of the route (after 5,2km), before going back.
  • Take snacks along with a proper meal with you. After 3 hours of uphill, hunger is burning and at Agios Ioannis there is a nice picnic area with tables and benches where everybody eat something. Not nice to stay there without something to eat 😉
  • Take older kids with your only if they are used to hiking and can stand this strenuous route. Take your little ones if you can carry them uphill for a couple of hours and half way back.
  • Apply sun screen, wear proper shoes and do not forget to cover your head. For your little ones, I would recommend to wear long light trousers rather than shorts. Many thorny plants, stones and rocks to fall on.
  • Try to start early so that to enjoy your picnic without rush in a shadow of the trees.

Soon our next “episode” of wild Crete will be available. Be sure not to miss it!

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