The village of Sarakina is 12km north of Paleochora, with a small friendly cafe, and several short and interesting walks (ref. Explore ! September 2015.) Below the village, still glides the stream down the valley, close to 13th century Church of Michael Angelo, and flows on below Kondokinigi and Tsaliana, to reach the sea at Karavopetra beach.
But to walk through the Sarakina Gorge you’ll need to travel farther, for this runs between the two high mountain villages of Zourva and Meskla. The latter lies 20km SW of Chania, following the road to Omalos through Agia, then forking left at Fournes, and along the fertile Keritis valley for the final 5km into Meskla. At the far (southern) end of the village is the impressive Church of the Panagia with a large parking area, and close to there is shady and riverside Halaris taverna, a perfect place to relax and make decisions.
There are two ways to enjoy the gorge, one longer, although only 3km, the other far shorter, barely one kilometre. If you have two cars, or an amenable driver, take the steep and winding road for 5 km up to Zourva. Pass through, and on leaving the village on the road to Theriso, look for an Information Board where the walk begins.
Starting at 570m, with 300m of descent, little if any ascent, the route is very well waymarked, and will take under two hours with a ‘Degree of Difficulty’ of only 1/5.
The initial narrow path soon gives way to a wider track, the lack of views compensated by the aroma of pine forest and wayside flowers and foliage, especially in springtime, or in autumn the vivid ‘sternbergia lutea’ (winter daffodil.) After half an hour or so, signs will direct you to steps and leading more steeply into, and across the riverbed.
The halfway point, with a suitably placed bench seat to enjoy a snack. On the far side, the track continues more openly down the valley, eventually reaching a signpost, more steps, and a path leading down into the gorge itself.
I’ve never seen water flowing here, but after heavy rain, the narrow route between water-smoothed vertical and overhanging rock walls may be impassable. Possibly the shortest gorge walk on Crete, but one of the most spectacular, it’s over all too soon, so return through the almost tunnel-like passage, and enjoy it all over again.
From the exit, footbridges and walkways lead easily above the riverbed to an Information Board marking the end of the walk. Or alternatively, the start, as a short circuit from here, through the gorge and up to meet the gravel road, and turning left to return, will take an hour at the most. Now it’s only 400m back to the Halaris taverna and Panagia church/car park.
Should you need or choose to drive up to Zourva, 600m before reaching this dramatically situated mountain village is the highly recommended Rizinia Taverna, with a wide range of Greek cuisine (including home made ice cream), and from the terrace, possibly the best view in Crete.
And to return to Chania – ” now you are in Greece, why to hurry …” take the high-level scenic road from Zourva over to Theriso, and from there down through the impressive Theriso Gorge to the coast.