Saturday, April 14, 2007

Places of natural beauty in Chania

If the prefecture of Chania were to be characterized, perhaps the most appropriate appellation would be the "Prefecture of the Gorges" since dozens of gorges traverse the mountainous regions of Chania. Indisputably, Samaria gorge is of unparalleled beauty as well as the most renowned.
It is 16 km in length and its width ranges from 3.5 to 150 metres, with vertical cliffs which may reach a sheer 500 metres in height. In order to traverse it one needs approximately 5 to 6 hours and the gorge is open from May to October. It is a national park inside which one will find rare types of Cretan flora from the cypress and the pine tree to the dittany and the wildflower, while it is also the natural habitat of the wild goat or the Kri Kri.
Also impressive are the layered and tectonic rock formations of limestone which are discernible on its slopes.
The gorge of Agia Irene in Selino is 7.5km in length, at its most narrow points it reaches 10 metres while the height of its perpendicular walls is 500 metres. Its most distinguishable feature is its lush vegetation.
The gorge of Imbrou in Sfakia is one of the most imposing, narrow and deep gorges of Crete. Its length is 7km and its width is 2 metres in some places with the height of some perpendicular walls reaching 300 metres.
Its sides, which are 30 - 40 metres in height in some places, converge to leave a narrow opening of 2 - 3 metres giving the impression of a tunnel. The gorge of Topolia is magnificent and wild, unique due to its fantastic echo. It is 1500 metres in length with perpendicular walls that reach up to 300 metres and they boast many cave - like concavities, while its width fluctuates from 5 - 50 metres. There exist many other smaller but less well-known gorges whose beauty is comparable to that of the larger ones such as the gorge of Tripiti, Klados, Eligia around Samaria, Aradena, Katre, Asfendou, Agios Nektarios and Kallikrati in Sfakia, Theriso, which is close to Chania (the only one which can be crossed by car), Rokka and Polyrhenia in Kisamos, Boriana in Karanou and Dyctamos in Keramia, the only one which goes from west to east.
If the appellation "Prefecture of the Gorges" is not considered justifiable then perhaps the "Prefecture of the Caves" is more appropriate as it has more than 1500 land and sea caves. A very prominent one is the cave of the Elefantos, close to Plaka in Apokoronas, which has an underwater entrance and has only partially been explored up to date.
Apart from the white and red stalactites, it has become renowned worldwide for its 4 specimens of unique elephant (Elephas Chaniensis) and many of dwarf deer that lived tens of thousands of years ago. The cave of Sfakia, close to the village Asfendou, is of great historical interest since it hides rock paintings from ancient times.
Then there is the cave -precipice of "Tzani" in Omalos with a length of 2,500 metres and the group of precipices in the White mountains with the most important being the 1208 - meter deep precipice of Gorgouthakas, the largest of the Balkans, with springs, waterfalls and rivers inside.
The cave of the Bear or of The Virgin Mary Arkoudiotissa, close to the monastery of Gouverneto in Akrotiri, with the stalagmite which resembles a bear, the reservoir with the "holy water" - a result of a drip - and the small church which is dedicated to the Ypapanti are also worth a visit. So is that of Agios Ioannis the Hermit in the monastery of Gouverneto. One should also not miss out on: that of Agia Sophia in Topolia, with the church of the same name, with its 20 - metre high dome and its 70 - metre diameter whose surface is primarily covered by stalagmites, that of Agios Ioannis the Hermit in the Cave of Kisamos with the church of the same name which has large dimensions and a miracle - working stalactite and stalagmite, the Demonospilios in the slope of the gorge of Samaria in Gigilos, and many other smaller ones like that of Skourachlada in Keremia, of Samonas, of Kournas, and of Melidoni.
These karstic shapes are only one side of the coin however. The prefecture of Chania which overlooks the sea has endless beaches to offer in its 350 km of shores to satiate even the most demanding palate: from the isolated, pristine beaches to the organized cosmopolitan ones.
The beaches of Nea Chora, Chrysi Akti, Agioi Apostoloi, Agia Marina, Platanias, Gerani, Maleme, Kolympari, Kisamos, Paleochora, Fragokastalo, Kalives, Almirida, Georgioupolis and Kavros are organized and capable of offering visitors a wide variety of services, facilities and conveniences. Less crowded and more unspoilt beaches, with clean sand and crystal clear blue waters can be found by nature lovers if they distance themselves from the touristic centers.
In Phalasarna, the sandy beach which was voted the best in Europe in 2002, stretches for 3km and it can be combined with a hike to the ancient port.
Elafonisi, the small, low island (altitude 20 metres) is connected to the shore through a shallow isthmus with a depth of 0.60- 0.90 metres and a length of about 800 metres, the so called Perasma. That is where the common grave of the Austrian crew of "Imperetrice" which sunk in 1907 stands. In the neighbouring Kedrodasos one can enjoy the combination of sandy beaches and lush cedar forests.
In Sougia, its magnificent pebbly shore, its coastal caves and its pristine waters will hold you spellbound. Balo has an exotic lagoon, a sandy white beach and shallow waters to offer. A dip in Tigani, the small island- akrotiri, can be combined with a visit to the Venetian fortress of the island Imeri Gramvousa. The small, pebbly beach in Menies, next to the archaeological site of the ancient temple of Diktynna, is ideal for hiking and a haven of peace.
Finally, a place of singular beauty is considered to be that of Madara, or the infertile and barren peaks of the White Mountains. At an altitude of more than 1000 metres, it presents an absolute challenge for the hiker. It has rocky landscapes, with very little, low, bushy vegetation, quite a few wildflowers and a view that will leave you speechless.
Also unique for the island is the lake of Kournas, next to the village of the same name, close to the border of the prefecture of Rethymno.
It is at an altitude of 20 metres above the surface of the sea and has a circumference of 3.5 km with its deepest point being 23 metres. Osiers and Myrtle trees envelope the lake and the precipitous mountains that surround it are mirrored in its calm waters creating the illusion that it is deeper than it actually is. It is this phenomenon that is responsible for the legend that it is "bottomless".