You don’t have to travel far outside of Rethymno on the gorgeous Greek island of Crete to find some peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of tourism. Jump in a car, on a quad, or on a scooter and you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by nature with the sound of goat bells echoing among the mountains, cicadas shouting from the dry and dusty olive trees, and perhaps the splash of water from a stream or waterfall!
The following 3 gorge walks are located within 15-30 minutes of Rethymno town, 2 of which can be reached by bus. Let me tell you about them…
St Anthony Gorge (Agios Antonios)
I adore this place, and the drive to reach it is just as picturesque if you take the longer route and drive all the way around Amari Dam. No matter what time of year you visit you’re in for a treat – Even in the height of the Summer Season it doesn’t get busy unless you visit on a Sunday when the taverna by the entrance gets full of Greek families! Think of it like your very own magical Samaria Gorge but without the killing distance, nor the tourists!!
The deeper you go, the quieter it gets but the more dangerous and adventurous it gets too – Know your limits! If you’re somewhat agile (I’m arty, not sporty!) you’ll be able to cross the rope bridges (literally a rope to walk on and a rope to hold on to), scale the boulders, climb up/down the rickety ladders and reach the very end, passing a couple of waterfalls on the way. It’s worth the effort but it’s not worth hurting yourself for – Scraped knees are one thing, broken legs are something else entirely.
Update* Coaches are now visiting this gorge on a guided walk during Summer which, I feel, has spoiled this special secret place somewhat but the guide is only taking people on the basic route up to the ‘sky observatory’ so it’s pretty easy to avoid the tour and get deep into the gorge to the good stuff!
How To Get There: Car – There’s ample parking. Unless visiting in the height of Summer, drive all the way down the hill turning left at the taverna – There’s a small parking area usually with some spaces… It saves you walking back uphill after you exit the gorge!
Practicalities: There’s a taverna with toilets at the entrance but they sell tasty traditional Greek meals rather than snacks so take some items of food with you along with drinks.
Pack some basic first aid items – Bandages, plasters etc and possibly some dry sock. I for one usually fall/slip at least once resulting in wet feet and bottom, sometimes resulting in cut knees. Hiking boots or trainers are needed, do not attempt this in flip flops!
Magical Moments: Look out for turtles in the ponds – They’ll see you but you probably won’t see them! Also, try to persevere until you make it to the small waterfalls. Recommended to have someone with you when you do this walk due to the danger the deeper you go.
Why’s it called Mili (or Myli)? Because of the water mills! This gorge is full of old mill ruins, has a stream, and also a church built into the rocks. There are multiple paths to take on shorter or longer walks but the trails are not well signposted. The longest hike to/from the gorge leads all the way down to the sea, coming out at the resort of Plakias (the Rethymno version, not to be confused with the Chania place of the same name!). This is a gorge I’ve been to a couple of times but not explored fully, one day I do plan on doing the full walk to the sea.
Get There By: Car or on the Rethymno hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus
Practicalities: Park on the side of the road anywhere between the 2 wooden information huts. Wear long shorts, or trousers if you can as this gorge has lots of overgrown scrubland with spiky vegetation that likes to scratch legs. The longer trail for this goes past the cafe – ask them for details, it’s only accessible late Spring until mid Autumn.
Magical Moments – Coming across the ruined mills!
This gorge follows the riverbed so is only accessible from April-October depending on the amount of rainfall. You can walk some way following the dirt track, or, for the best experience, in the rocky riverbed itself, just be careful not to twist an ankle! If driving in, go past the AutoGas station and past Culta Terra and continue into what appears to be open countryside, park anywhere you want, the further in you drive, the less you’ll have to walk.
How To Get There: Car or local ‘hotels’ bus, walking from the Lidl bus stop at Platanes, Rethymno to the gorge.
Practicalities: There is hardly any shade here (in contrast to St Anthony’s Gorge and Mili Gorge) so I would recommend doing this during the middle of the day only early or late in the season.
Magical Moments: Seeing the goats with kids in April and finding the beauty in the details of nature such as the texture of the rocks and an oleander plant growing through a rock.
Bonus Place: Rethymno Pine Forest
You wouldn’t think this place existed so close to the town center. Enjoy the views out across the harbor as you collect some pine cones and enjoy being out in nature. In Summer you’ll have to ignore the sound of the highway which is just below, but off-season this isn’t so much of a problem unless the wind is blowing in the wrong direction. It’s a good spot for a picnic and a short wander before going off to explore elsewhere and it’s 99% sure that you’ll have the place to yourself during the daylight hours.
This place is so ‘secret’ i.e I’m the only person who adores it, that it’s not marked on Google maps. I’ve added an X marks the spot to the following photo so you’ll be able to zoom in on your map and find the location.
How To Get There: Car or walking from town
Practicalities: There’s not so much space to walk here, it’s better for a picnic spot rather than a hiking spot. Park just off the ride on a slight pull in area. This is ideal as a stopping point either enroute or on the way back from Mili gorge.
Magical Moments: The views overlooking Rethymno harbor and the sudden serenity after the hustle and bustle of town.
I discovered these gorges / natural beauty spots thanks to the Cretan Beaches website who have a guide for the best beaches and gorges of Crete. Their free online guide gives more practical information than I have covered too such as difficulty and distances plus many more walks all over the island that you can enjoy.