Just a short walk this month, in fact only 2.5 km, but one with a difference. The Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete are situated at the foot of the White Mountains, just 18 km south of Chania on the main road to Omalos, through Alikianos and Fournes. Without a car, KTEL buses to the Samaria Gorge pass the entrance, and there’s a direct service to the Park leaving Chania bus station daily in summer at 9.30am, returning at 2.30pm.
The history of the Gardens is fascinating. In 2003 a massive fire devastated this area (Skordalou) destroying some 100,000 mature olive trees, many aged more than 400 years. Over the next seven years the family owners redesigned the landscape, built pathways, and imported trees and shrubs from around the world. Now the park, opened in 2010, and situated on a steep hillside overlooking a winding river valley, covers nearly 20 hectares (200 km 2).
Admission to the walk through the gardens is 6 euros for adults, 4 euros for children aged 6-12, accompanied children under six years free. No dogs are allowed. The 2.5 km trail begins by the remains of a burnt out olive tree, a memorial to the fire, and a symbol of hope for the future.
April through to early June are the best months to visit ; after then an early start is advisable to avoid the summer afternoon heat, although the gardens are 60% shaded. It will take around 2/2.5 hours to enjoy the full trail, which includes 150m of descent/ascent, but a ‘short-cut’ can reduce the walk to around an hour. Paths are steep in parts, slippery after rain, and nowhere paved, so good footwear is essential. Anyone with knee or similar problems can borrow a traditional Cretan walking staff – katsouna – as you set off. In summer, take a sun-hat, water, and possibly insect repellent with you.
The path winds down through a Tropical Garden, then Mediterranean Fruit, Alpine and Cherry Tree Gardens, with all specimens informatively labelled, and rest areas at intervals.
At the foot of the trail is a small lake with muscovy ducks (and toilets), and a fenced area with (fallow) deer, Cretan goats, and sometimes donkeys. And peacocks everywhere …. hopefully displaying their magnificent plumage for photographs …..
The return path passes along and under avenues of citrus trees, with several varieties of orange, lemon, mandarin and bergamot, and on our recent visit, the pervasive aroma of lavender, thyme, rosemary, sage and other herbs.
Eventually the trail climbs steps bringing you nicely into the Restaurant, where the menu includes many Greek and Cretan dishes using local produce and vegetables grown on the premises. Tables on the terrace have an outstanding view overlooking the Gardens, and beyond towards the north coast. On sale also are a wide variety of Cretan products, and a range of books.
The Botanical Park is open from late March until early November each year, from 9am until an hour before sunset. There is no limit on how long you can stay, so it’s possible to arrive mid-morning, stroll through the gardens, then enjoy a leisurely lunch before re-walking the trail and appreciating this remarkable amenity all over again.