Agia Irini Gorge

Agia Irini gorge has its own intrinsic beauty, made of sweeping views and a relatively easy path without any difficult points to overcome. Not as well-known as and certainly less difficult than the nearby gorge of Samaria. To reach it, you mast leave Chania and follow the crosses the island from north to south all the way to Sougia. You drive through citrus fruit orchards and head in the direction of Omalos, toward the northernmost edge of the White Mountains. At Alikianos you make a detour to drive through valleys of chestnut trees, whose spiky, dark brown fruit thickly carpets the ground all the way to the edge of the roadside. Then you pass by abandoned villages, Papadiana, Nea Roumata, Prasses, Agia Irini, and after passing this last village, a sign on the left and a map of the trail indicate the entrance to the gorge. After paying the symbolic entrance fee of one euro, you will find ourselves in a dark, wild forest a mountain tangle of majestic pine trees, enormous plane trees and leafy oaks lining a riverbed. We cross a small, slightly shaky bridge made of wooden planks and start down the trail. The first portion leads upward, with the deep chasm on the right and a sturdy wooden fence protecting the trail in the more difficult points. After overcoming the trickiest part of the ravine, the trail begins its descent along wide curves all the way to a first picnic area, which has a fountain.

You soon realize it is actually the sound of rustling oak leaves, infinitely amplified. After walking for an hour, you are surrounded by the penetrating perfume of wild sage, for a thick track of these aromatic bushes covers an entire slope. It is Crete’s “faskomilo”, also known as salvia fruticosa, with its characteristic light green leaves covered with a whitish fuzz. There is so much sage that a young Greek excursionist behind us marvels that he can smell the scent of tea. This observation isn’t as odd as it might seem because, in Crete, these labiates are used in infusions. “Vounisio Tsai”, mountain tea, is a very popular drink that is sweetened with honey and warms the inhabitants up on the rare cold winter day in Crete; it is also considered a failsafe antidote against colds. You continue to descend the gorge along a zigzag for another hour from one hairpin turn to the next, all the way to the bottom. The pine trees gradually diminish, making way for small oak trees and majestic plane trees. You come upon the huge trunk of one of these trees, over fifteen meters long, lying alongside the trail. The underbrush has ferns and mushrooms very similar to porcini; most likely they are boletus appendicularis, a type of mushroom that goes very well with meat dishes. Bluish on the inside, their preferred habitat is any broad-leafed tree, in particular oak. A solemn silence envelops us, you feel tiny and lost at the bottom of the valley and, like in other gorges. One last stop in a vast picnic area – you have counted three along the way – with a natural spring gurgling from the rocks. The gorge gradually widens and flattens out, leaving behind the rocky peaks and making its way among chastetree and oleander bushes. The landscape is softer now, almost domesticated, with olive trees planted in orderly rows. A wooden arrow, with the Greek word “exodus” indicates the exit and a few meters father on a pleasant tavern-snack bar appears. It is very similar to an Alpine chalet-refuge and is still open even though you are well into October. the hike lasted three hours, with a 400 meter vertical drop from to finish. Now you must find a way to reach the nearest town, Sougia you call a taxi, whose number is listed in the parking lot of the tavern. The alternative is a rather monotonous, two-hour hike along the paved road.