There are some mountain days, rock climbs or long walks that are so perfect in every aspect that any attempt to repeat them would be a disappointing and total anticlimax. So, I’m sure, would be the superb but difficult walk along the west coast of the Gramvousa peninsula from Falasarna to Balos, which we achieved last month after many years in the planning.
I had never been to Balos, dissuaded from visiting by an 8 km drive along a rough dirt road, or sharing the beach with several hundred day-trippers arriving by boat from Kissamos. Some years ago, on an afternoon in Falasarna, I located the start of the route, and walked the first kilometre, on a narrow path climbing high above Schinias Bay. The following summer we were all packed and geared up, then June temperatures soared to mid-30s, and we aborted the attempt.
“ Not for ever in green pastures, do we ask our way to be …..” we sang in school assemblies many years ago, “ .. but the steep and rugged pathway, may we tread rejoicingly.” The pathway from Falasarna is certainly steep and rugged, and we definitely rejoiced in the lagoon on reaching Balos! The Information Board at the start gives the distance as 8.87 km (less than six miles for U.K. readers), advising 5/6 hours for the walk, with Difficulty 3, for sure the highest grade.
We had booked rooms overnight at Pension Stathis & Anastasia ; we said “Breakfast not necessary, we’ll be leaving very early,” but lovely Anastasia gave us bread, cheese, cucumbers and fresh peaches, which we ate on the balcony soon after 7am, and walked out of Falasarna platea an hour later, just on eight o’clock. Howard’s wife Jo would drive round to Balos in their VW camper, to meet us … we hoped …. later.
Easily along the track, between olive trees, past the last of the greenhouses and Ancient Falasarna to the start proper. Blue-paint way-marking and intermittent poles indicated the route as we climbed up and away from the coast. We had purposely chosen a cool-forecast day (it would be maximum 21c), but low clouds covered Gheroskinos, at 715m the highest peak on
this long ridge, and on the terraces of Plaka, raindrops were falling on our heads, fortunately amounting to nothing more.
We paused for water overlooking Cape Ghaidharoporos ; so far the path had crossed relatively easy terrain, but an hour or so ahead of us, the cliffs rising almost vertically above Aphidia Bay looked impenetrable, and the only guide I had found warned : “There is only one negotiable route on this thunderous precipice, and the path rises steeply to find it.”
Now we needed to occasionally use hands and feet, over rocks and often insecure boulders, to the start of this 600m long traverse, but first another rest, now in sunshine, for drinks and energy bars. We could now see the islands of Agria and Imera Gramvousa, and the Tigani promontory below which is Balos Bay, with the bare rock island of Pontikonissi bathed in sunlight some 10 km offshore.
We set off across – “Prepare for the worst, hope for the best” – but “siga, siga,” slowly, slowly, all was relatively easy – although with 300m of space below our feet – until we came to a small “sting in the tail”.
A sheer rock wall we needed to traverse around, into a deep rock-filled gully. But, with a fixed rope/wire ‘handrail’, all was negotiated without difficulty, and we climbed to what was the high point of the walk in two ways, at 345 metres, and with a spectacular view down to the translucent and aquamarine waters of Balos and Gramvousas Bays, far below.
Both in retrospect and at the time, the descent was the hardest part of the day, threading a steep way between loose rocks and ‘phrygana’ bushes …. “ before you are rewarded with the gentle sand hills which lead to the beach.”
And there at the water’s edge was Jo, and practically no-one else – maybe in the distance were another ten people apart from ourselves. One of the Seven Wonders of Wales (in the U.K.) is Snowdon’s Mountain – without its people ! And Balos is similar – one of the World’s Best Beaches …. but …. I doubt very much that I will ever return.
We stayed for around 60 minutes, swimming in the warm shallow water, and enjoying the cold beers and lemonade which Jo had thoughtfully carried down, – “An hour of glorious life” – to echo Whymper on the Matterhorn summit. Then up the constructed path to the road, where there were far more scavenging goats than the half-dozen vehicles in the car park. And Jo drove us home to Paleochora, from where – incredibly – we had set off just over 24 hrs earlier.
For anyone contemplating the walk, the route is well marked throughout, but it would be far harder to find the path heading from north to south. Total ascent was 609m, distance from Falasarna was 10.52 km, and our walking time 3hrs 58 mins, with another hour or so resting. There is no shade, shelter or water throughout, and mountain walking or basic rock climbing experience is essential.
Final words from the guide : “For all its difficulties, and perhaps precisely because of them, this walk is amongst the most beautiful coast walks in Crete, and one of the least known.”