Monday, 10 June 2013

Alpine territory

Crete provides the visitor with a wide variety of landscapes to explore: The Cretan towns are large enough to disguise the island's character and make the urban landscape resemble the mainland; the island itself offers a coastline of over 1000 kilometres; finally, the mountains reach as high as 2,500m above sea level. The varied landscape yields a wide variety of flora and fauna - and even the character of the people who live in the different regions varies widely among them.

The Omalos plateau

It's not at all difficult these days to reach the highest peaks of Crete. The road from Hania to the Omalos plateau - where the famous narrow 16km Samaria Gorge begins, running down to the south coast of Crete - has been widened to a great extent. You can get to the valley using a simple private vehicle. That will give you a feel of what it is like to stand 900m above sea level. If you want to get a feel of higher things, you have a range of options:

  1. If you are an experienced mountaineer, you can climb the rockface of Gigilos.
  2. If you like mountain hikes, you can trek up to the Kallergi mountain refuge (1 1/2 hour walk).
  3. If you have a suitable vehicle (eg SUV, 4x4), you can drive up to the Kallergi mountain refuge (a 5km drive on a very rocky road).

We chose the last option. After a very bumpy ride, we felt like we were on top of the world, 1686m above sea level, to be exact. The Libyan sea (Southern Crete) was visible on one side of the mountain: 

... while the Sea of Crete (Northern Crete) was visible on the other side:

Despite the inhospitable terrain, there is a surprisingly wide variety of flora and fauna surviving at this height. Goats in particular enjoy the crisper air here - but they are moved to lower ground in the winter, as the mountains are covered in snow at this time.

While they stay here in the summer, they enjoy a host of wild aromatic greens growing at this height.

The rocky nature of the landscape in this terrain is perfect for goats - we watched them walking up and down hills without any difficulty.

We were also lucky to spot eagles at this height, although they don;t stop too easily for a photograph session.

Once back on lower ground at the plateau, we stopped off at one of the restaurants to have a sfakiani pita (cheese pie with honey), together with a nip of raki.

Those pies always taste so much better in mountain villages...

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