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Natural High: Explore the White Mountains

Blessed with high summits and spectacular gorges, the White Mountains of Chania province (Lefka Ori in Greek) offer stunning hiking experiences in any season. And if wild, pristine and rugged is your thing, experiencing Crete’s most famous mountain range is a must.

Boasting more than 30 separate summits over 2000 metres, with the highest, Pachnes, at 2453 metres, the White Mountains dominate the landscape of western Crete – a majestic curtain of towering peaks, snow-covered often from November until June.

It’s the stunning scale, diversity and history of this truly awesome landscape that pulls us towards it, and there’s a track for every level of hiker whether you’re a seasoned mountaineer or weekend walker. But first you’ll need to find your way into this extraordinary landscape.

Few major roads lead into the White Mountains, and two routes provide the easiest approach. From Rethymno, the most direct route is to take the road to Chora Sfakion through Vrysses and the Askifou Plateau, or through Argyroupoli and the mountain hamlet of Asi Gonia. Further west, accessing the mountains is best done by heading just west of Chania, and striking south, upwards to the Omalos plateau, near the northern entrance to the Samaria Gorge.

Unique in the northern hemisphere, the mountains’ central southern section has a moon-like landscape and is technically called a ‘high desert’, with dozens of cone-like peaks. Look out for golden eagles, hawks and vultures soaring above, all part of an extraordinary ecosystem, where nearly half the entire 1500 plant species of western Crete are to be found, many of which are not only unique to Crete, but to the mountain range itself.

Whilst its most famous and popular canyon is the Samaria Gorge there are many more to explore: in the south, the gorges of Aradena and Imbros (off the road to Sfakia) are ideal for an easy hike, and in the north, the Therisso gorge, south of Chania, is a beautiful spot.

These highlands are not only a glorious natural environment, but walk these peaks, plateaus and paths and you’re truly walking in history’s footsteps. Through the centuries the mountains have been a refuge for Cretans resisting the island’s regular invaders – from Arabian pirates to Venetians and Turks, and in modern times, German occupation forces during World War II.

It is possible to head out on your own to walk the White Mountains, but there are also organised hikes and assisted walks for individuals and groups available. For information contact the Greek Mountaineering Club of Rethymno – email: eosrethymnou@gmail.com – or the Greek Mountaineering Club of Chania, email: eoshania@otenet.gr

For the ultimate Lefka Ori experience the most intrepid adventurers can spend a night on the White Mountains at the Kallergi Refuge, 5km from Omalos. Perched beside the summit of Pachnes the refuge caters for serious hikers and climbers from around the world.

Tips on hiking the Lefka Ori:

  • Take plenty of water and a proper hiking map and compass
  • If traveling alone inform someone about your route and expected time of arrival
  • Check the weather forecast
  • Leave nothing behind but footprints
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