It was only a short hop on the ferry from Agia Roumeli to Loutro, after completing the hike down Samaria Gorge. I didn’t know much about Loutro, other than it somewhat isolated, and it was only accessible via ferry, with no way to access the town in a car.
I think I fell in love with this small town as soon as the ferry entered the port, and the small cluster of white buildings came into view.
The majority of the other passengers remained on the boat, where they would meet a coach service at Hora Sfakion to take them back to Chania (or elsewhere on the island). I was so happy that we were departing here.
There were small restaurants/bars/cafes that lined the promenade, with small boats bobbing on the gentle waves. In a sign of just how tired my legs were, when I found out that the hotel room was up several flights of stairs, my knees gave out an audible groan – or maybe I imagined that they did. On the plus side, the view out over the harbour from the balcony was superb, and I think my knees and calves probably agreed it was worth that little additional effort.
Not wasting any time, we scoped the area out for dinner options. I was starving, and the options were almost too much. I realised that I would need a few extra nights to be able to sample them all. In the end, we settled for a seafood feast from Pavlos. It surprises me now, but somehow I failed to photograph the large snapper that we ordered – signs that I really was hungry.
A fun custom here in Crete is that they will bring you out a small vial of ouzo and a dessert after dinner has been completed. I could barely keep my eyes open as it was, and the last thing I felt like was several shots of ouzo – but the alternative was throwing it away, and if there is something I hate more than wasting food, it’s wasting alcohol.
And all that was left was climbing back up the several flights of stairs to the hotel…
Day 6 – Hiking in Loutro
Maybe the ouzo had restorative powers, because I woke feeling good, and in time to enjoy the sunrise. Other than some bruising from where the waist straps were rubbing on my ‘hips’, I felt OK.
I felt even better after a quick swim in the harbour, and a semi-decent coffee (it was kind of a normal cappuccino). I ordered Sfakian Pie, which is kinda sorta like a Greek version of a quesadilla, but only in the most basic sense. It is kind of like a crepe, stuffed with a ricotta-like cheese, pan fried, and then drowned in honey. I’m not even kidding when I say it was one of my new favourite foods.
Even though I’d been up for the sunrise, the rest of the morning progressed a little slower. By the time we’d decided to get out and hike, the sun was well and truly up, and temperatures had already started to shoot up.
Unsure how legs were going to feel after yesterday (which, really wasn’t that tough a hike, but I’m not used to carrying so much weight), the plan was kept quite flexible – start with a walk to a nearby cove, and if time/energy persists, continue up another gorge, and if it doesn’t there are small ferry boats back to Loutro. Probably shouldn’t post the Strava link until the end, since it will give away the outcome…
Loutro had been gorgeous in the soft light of dusk, but looking back at it in the vivid light of day, with the bright blue waters, and the impossibly white buildings, set against the dry and dusty red rocky cliffs that towered above, it was now stunning.
But, we were walking away from town, and while it was tempting to just keep looking backwards, it was prudent to look forwards, too. The trail looped around a small cape, travelling under an old tower, as well as other older ruins, before the next small village came into view – Finikas. Compared to Loutro, it was tiny, with only a couple of small buildings, and even fewer people.
The trail continued up and over the next small cape, and the small effort of climbing a hill, as well as walking away from the coast set my sweat glands into overdrive. Today I’d only brought the bare essentials – water, sunscreen, my drone, and my camera – and had squeezed it into a small day pack, which made such a big difference to the ease of walking. I’d also ditched hiking boots for sandals (and socks), which was fantastically cool – even if I didn’t look cool.
The trail was a bit of a challenge to follow, with multiple options, and multiple different identifying marks. After the next small town, Lykos, the trail seemed to end at a cliff. We double, triple checked the maps, and sure enough, it was the right direction. Eventually we found the route that climbed up onto a small shelf above the cliff, which was ever-so-slightly on the wrong side of comfort. There was no immediate danger, but a little wider margin would have settled the nerves considerably.
We weren’t the only ones up on this narrow trail. To my amazement, there was a herd of sheep, trying their hardest to get out of the sun, and let the shaded rock absorb a little of their body heat. Still not really sure how they got up there – or what the plan is to get them down…
Just a little further, and we’d reached the small cove of Marmara. Other than being a sweaty mess, craving an ice-cold Coke and a swim, I was feeling in pretty good shape. I was growing faithful in my magic sunscreen, but still not quite ready to fully trust it, I managed to seek out the smallest patch of shade on this otherwise open and exposed little beach, clinging to it much like the sheep I’d just been baffled by.
The beach was nice, but it was the series of small caves that tunnelled deep into the cliffs that made it extra memorable. It also made it somewhat terrifying. There was next to no waves, but yet, there seemed to be current that sucked you up and into the caves. Some had small beaches, but others were rocky, and I was having traumatic memories of washing up against rocks in the surf back in Australia. There is just something that causes sheer terror any time I get near any of those caves, which I can’t rationalise. Now that I write this, I think I finally understand fear of heights – I have a respect for them, but I wouldn’t call it paralysing, like I have seen with other people.
Anyway, as usual, going off topic. After thoroughly resting and relaxing on the beach and in the water at Marmara, it was time to make a move. We were now at the mouth of the Aradena Gorge, which was both far less famous than Samaria Gorge, and far, far less busy.
The hike starts with a narrow opening in a tall chasm, immediately sending a feeling of awe. Things mellow quite quickly, but never become boring. The walls close in, and open up, but the cliffs always remain there high above. And, the best thing, was near silence – other than the goats, and all the rocks that they were setting loose to tumble to the floor far below.
It wasn’t just rocks that tumbled. The valley floor was littered with the broken remains of goats that weren’t quite as surefooted as they’re made out to be. It may sound like an exaggeration, but there were skeletons, and pieces of skeletons everywhere you looked. You could probably live here, and wait for goats to fall to their death as a source of nourishment.
Back to something less morbid, the hike continued to Aradena Bridge, which spans across the gorge (and you can bungee jump from it), but as we started late, and spent a good amount of time lazing around in Marmara (worth it), we had to turn around and start to make a path back to Loutro to make sure we didn’t get stranded in the dark.
Not only was the trail less trafficked than Samaria, it was also a lot more natural, with large rocks and boulders in places that required a little skill to navigate and scale. The few people that we did see looked like they were quite serious hikers, and I can’t imagine what they thought of me, in my watermelon board shorts and sandals (with socks).
Instead of following the trail all the way back to Loutro the way we came, we saw a detour that took us up to a nearby village of Livaniana. It was a steep climb, which seemed to have been created by whoever owned the taverna in town. They also didn’t seem to care much for gradient, as it seemed to climb straight up the hill, and only using switchbacks when absolutely necessary. Thankfully without all the weight on my back, it was mostly a challenge for my heart and lungs, rather than my entire body.
But, the views rewarded the effort, as it so often does. The taverna, however, did not. In a sign of just how few people visit this little taverna (which happened to have two other visitors), it was an honesty system, taking what you wanted from the fridges, and leaving the cash in a box.
From here, it was all downhill along a dirt road to Phoenix, and then back around the cape to Loutro. From here it looked so close, and even though it was all downhill, the cumulative effect of the heat and yesterday’s effort was starting to kick in right about now. I’m also willing to admit that it might have been me crashing from a sugar/caffeine high from using ice-cold Coke as a reward for hiking.
I’d wanted to find somewhere to enjoy the sunset in Loutro, but, the town is in a sheltered cove facing south, with the sun setting behind some large hills further to the west. There was a hint of colour in the skies, but it was not like the light shows we’d been treated to elsewhere.
Though truthfully, I was mostly interested in eating. This time we tried Blue House, which had a fantastic selection of homemade meals sitting on display, much like a cafeteria. It had looked amazing every time I’d walked past (which was actually quite a was a few times) and I’d been waiting eagerly for this meal. And, once again, I was so excited to eat, that my camera missed out.
Oh, and more ouzo as a digestif. I won’t lie, it has really grown on me.
Day 7 Loutro Rental Boat
Another beautiful sunrise from the balcony of the hotel, followed by another refreshing swim in the harbour, and another amazing Sfakian pie (and a palatable coffee) for breakfast. I was really feeling this routine.
There were a few places in town that rented out small (plastic) boats for a day trip. Licenses weren’t required, just some experience piloting them. I might have had experience skippering a ship (I had to check, skippering is actually an accurate word), but my experiences had ended in disaster, though no one died or was seriously injured, so that’s all that matters, right? Plus, I got this sweet photo out of it… So, I was happy to hand over the duty to someone else more qualified, while I acted as ballast – which I’m more capable of.
It was a perfect day, with calm waters, next to no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. Again. It was quite a small boat, so we kept it fairly close to shore should this bright red little plastic boat need to be abandoned. It was a little twitchy, but it seemed to do the job of cruising along just fine – though, I wasn’t skippering, so I guess my opinion doesn’t really mean much.
The first stop was Agios Pavlos, a 10th Century Byzantine church, supposedly built for Saint Paul, who baptised people here on his way to Rome. I don’t know much about Christian lore, so who am I to say otherwise.
I am qualified to say that the church is quite remarkable, especially the way it is situated right on the beach (they have shored up the footings, as one of the few Christian proverbs I ‘know’ is something about building on a rock, not on sand). Sadly, as we had to anchor the boat a little way out and swim to shore, I had to rely on my phone for photos, rather than my camera – at least the camera on the Pixel 2 is decent-ish.
It was small, but the antiquity of it made it absolutely enchanting. There was an older couple that appeared to be on a pilgrimage of sorts. It always makes me feel uncomfortable sharing a church with people who take it seriously. It makes me feel like an intruder. I got over it, and went inside, and was amazed to see that there are still fragments of murals on the ceilings. They were in pretty poor state, which was unsurprising as has windows that are open to the elements.
There was also a small taverna here, which was a good opportunity to eat more sfakian pie and to try some local beers – Eza and Mamos, both delicious.
We then went back the opposite direction, back past Marmara where we went swimming, back past Loutro, and past several other smaller beaches that are reachable by foot on the trail between Loutro and Hora Sfakia. It was actually really amazing to watch the trail from the boat, at the way it clung to the cliffs in places, as well as what looked like a makeshift tunnel channelled into a cliff face at one point.
We ended up stopping at a small cove just past Ilingas, which is the last beach before Hora Sfakia. Thanks to needing a boat to reach the cove (not actually, some people were swimming past with their snorkels), it was vacant. It was beautiful, though you’d be hard pressed finding somewhere along this coastline that wasn’t beautiful.
And here we swam and sun-baked for as long as we could, conscious of the fact that the wind was starting to pick up, and with it so were the waves. There was also a strict policy that the boat needed to be back before sunset, so, reluctantly, we swam back to the boat (losing my sunglasses, which to be fair, were found back in 2013 while travelling through Katherine in Northern Territory) and chugged our way back to Loutro.
The waves were certainly not as gentle as they had been earlier, with the boat now crashing on swell that seemed to continue to grow with each passing minute. It was never a serious concern, but it required a little more attention and care – and my ballast skill came into full effect. It was a shame to have skipped several of the other beaches along the way, but the two that we stopped at were definitely the standouts along the coast.
We pulled back into Loutro’s sheltered cove, and the waves immediately chilled out, giving me a chance to do what I’d wanted to do all day – fly the drone around the boat. Flying from a boat always terrifies me, and I was relieved when I was able to safely catch little Boris (the drone’s name). The video is cooler than this still image, but who knows when (or if) I’ll do something with all the video…
I was really hoping that the boat rental would have allowed us to watch the sunset from the boat, which we would be able to take out just past the peninsular, but the sunset rule was a legal requirement.
Instead, we found a waterfront bar, and settled for the best you could get in this little town. Plus, hard earned beer. And then more amazing Greek food (lamb on a spit roasted over coals), which again wasn’t photographed.
I was a little sad to be leaving Loutro tomorrow. It had only been a short stay, but there was something about this little town that I instantly fell for. At least we’re moving on to somewhere even more exciting – Gavdos!