Whether you wish to find spirituality, climb some steep rocks or simply enjoy nature, then you found the right place!
Crete has many gorges –more than 250, as a matter of fact. Some of these are very hard to access, some are dry and others are full of vegetation and running water. Agiofaraggo (Aghiofaraggo, Agiofaragko, Αγιοφάραγγο) is one of the most imposing, easy-to-access gorges that offers something more than the joy of trekking. It is a landscape that unravels the beauty of the Cretan land before your eyes, wild but simultaneously hospitable. The route through the gorge will lead you to one of the most beautiful beaches of Crete of crystal clear water, surrounded by breathtaking rocks.
Once upon a time, Agiofaraggo was the home of hermits who alone enjoyed this little heaven on earth. As time passed, Agiofaraggo became a favorite destination of locals. Nowadays, it is usually enjoyed by all kinds of people, especially during the hot summer months. Therefore, if you wish to avoid the crowds it’s better to visit in autumn, spring or early summer. Agiofaraggo has also become one of the most popular rock climbing areas in Crete and it is common to see people hanging from its steep rocks, alongside the indigenous goats!
1st stop: Mires (Moires, Μοίρες)
In Mires you will find big supermarkets and all kinds of convenience stores to buy all the stuff you may need during your stay in the gorge. You can also find a supermarket in the village of Sivas. You will need cold water, fruit and dry or canned food – depending how much you plan to stay. If you are going for a day trip then water, crackers and fruit should be enough. Make sure you have a sun umbrella, because there are only a few spots at the beach where you can find shadow at the base of the rocks (and they are usually taken!) Otherwise, if you don’t want to carry an umbrella, you will have to move a bit into the gorge where there are some trees. Bring hats and sunscreen. But beware as these trees and bushes are also used as a toilet by the campers!
2nd stop: Monastery of Odigitria (Μονή Οδηγήτριας)
Just before the dirt road that leads to Agiofaraggo starts, lies the Monastery of Odigitria. Its courtyard and tower resembles a small fortress, and indeed it once was. The construction of the tower was ordered by the Byzantine emperor Nikiforos Fokas in 961 AD which was used to warn the inhabitants about pirate invasions. Nowadays, the tower you will see is the reconstructed tower, built during the Venetian period. It still preserves elements of the first construction, however, such as the Byzantine embrasures.
The Monastery also played an important role during the resistance against the Turks. The most famous monk of the Monastery was Xopateras, a rebel warrior known for his brave resistance against the Turkish army. One of his rebellious acts – the murder of a cruel Turkish janissary - turned an army of 3,000 against the Monastery. The siege lasted for 3 days with Xopateras and other monks resisting behind the walls of the tower. This unequal battle ended when the Turkish soldiers set fire to the tower and decapitated Xopateras. This is how Xopateras became a local legend and inspired numerous songs and poems (mantinades). When you conclude your visit to this legendary Monastery - that also features an old well, olive press and masonry oven – go back to your car and continue straight on, along the dirt road downhill.
3rd stop: Agiofaraggo (Αγιοφάραγγο)
The dirt road that leads to the gorge is relatively easy and besides the clouds of dust you will face no major challenges! Any type of car can take you there…When you turn right (beware not to miss the discrete sign!) towards the ravine of the gorge the road becomes narrower and difficult to drive on. Then you have two options: the first is to leave your car in the first “parking” you will see (normally there will be other cars there) and continue on foot, as after this point the road becomes more difficult to drive on. This means that you will walk about an extra 20 minutes more, until you reach the second “parking”. The first option is also good if you wish to walk more. If you are courageous, you have a 4x4 vehicle or you just trust your car, then you can continue driving until the second “parking” where the route into the gorge officially begins. You may wish to park your car under a tree, but we warn you that you may find traces of goat hooves on your car, as goats might climb on it to reach the tree leaves!
After all that, you are ready to start walking in the gorge! If you visit in spring you will see running water, but there is no difficulty to cross. You will see trees, bushes and ancient olive trees throughout the route. The steep and wild rocks rise dramatically from both sides of the ravine, adorned with impressive rock formations, caves and of course….goats! The route is easy and the walls of the gorge create enough shade during the day, so you won’t face problems with the heat. Having a hat with you is always a good idea though!
When you reach the temple of Agios Antonios you will be just 250m away from the beach. The temple dates back to the 14th century but unfortunately its frescoes have not been preserved. After all, the name “agiofaraggo” is not coincidental; it means “Saint Gorge” or “The gorge of the Saints” because before it became a popular destination for climbers it was a popular destination for ascetics! Actually, Agiofaraggo was the first ascetic “centre” of Crete with about 300 hermits living here in isolation!
Right outside the temple there is a well which used to supply water to the hermits and now to visitors, but most of the time it is dry. A bit further to your left you will meet “goumenospilio”, a small cave where the abbot of Agios Antonios lived. Its entrance is hidden behind some bushes. South of the temple you will see a vaulted Minoan tomb, standing witness of the long human presence in the region.
But enough about the sightseeing, what is really interesting to you is the beautiful beach, unraveled before your eyes as the ravine “opens”, with coarse sand and “attractive” waters, especially after walking in the heat! Most probably you will have the urge to storm into the water, but we warn you: the water is quite cold!
When finally relaxing at the beach, you can enjoy the striking beauty of the landscape: the gorge behind you, the beach surrounded by dramatic rocks and in front of you the blue sea. If you are lucky you will not find many people there, although Agiofaraggo has become extremely popular. There is a chance that loud neighbors may disrupt the peaceful atmosphere. And if not them, be prepared for a visit by the nosy goats, who are the indisputable lords of this beach and will approach you with no shame, especially if you have tasty treats with you! Don’t be afraid of them, give them something to eat, and you’ll become friends!
If you feel you didn’t walk enough or you need a break from relaxing, you can explore the slopes behind the steep rocks that surround the beach. If you go up the slope to your left (facing the sea) you can hike easily on the top of the rocks and enjoy a beautiful view of the beach. There you will see a large hole in the mountain that creates a lake. Be careful though, do not go too close to the edge of the cliffs or attempt to climb the rocks without the proper equipment!
If you plan to spend the night there, remember that at nighttime the temperature drops, so bring some sweaters. Finally, we kindly remind you to take all your rubbish with you…unfortunately many people don’t and the pile of rubbish you may witness at the root of the rocks is not an ‘organized’ garbage disposal place.
4th stop: Sivas
After walking in the gorge and spending all day at the beach under the sun, you will get hungry! In this case, the village of Sivas will be your next little oasis! Apart from being a picturesque traditional village with stone-made houses, Sivas is an essential stop for many hungry travellers. The taverns lined up on the central road just in front of the main square serve a variety of delicious Cretan dishes, such as goat in red sauce (you’ve seen it in the gorge, now taste it!), lamb baked in a wood-fired oven, rabbit casserole, wild herbs, fava (yellow lentils) and snails, all local products. On the square stands the impressive building that houses the primary school and the temple of Agios Ioannis (St. John), both built in 1864.