It may be mostly known for the Samaria Gorge, but the region of Hania is home to a wide variety of hiking trails that are connected to different parts of its history, from the Minoan Bronze Age to the Pre-Industrial period.
In collaboration with local municipalities and the Social Co-operative Enterprise, Paths of Greece, this initiative spearheaded by the regional unit of Crete includes a network of at least 60 trails, totaling a length of 600 kilometers. This will gradually be completed in the six municipalities of the regional unit of Hania by the end of 2023.
The great Roman road In order to map out the routes that compose the Hania Trails network, Fivos Tsaravopoulos of Paths of Greece conducted more than 120 hours of interviews with locals, while one of his “accidental discoveries” from his research includes one of the more well-preserved Roman roads ever found in Greece. This road linked Elyros with Sougia, and measures more than 5 kilometers, 2.5 of which are built from horasan mortar, also known as Roman mortar.
When I ask him what other surprises the creation of a hiking network within areas whose history dates back millennia holds, he mentions trails that have existed since Minoan times; such as the Apteras trail used by inhabitants of the prehistoric settlement at Azoires Stylou to procure water from the river.
He also tells us about an enormous olive tree over 3000 years old at Samonas, a tree that humans have tended to since the Bronze Age.
Showcasing the Cretan heartland The “discovery” at Temenia in the municipal unit of Selino was just as charming: in the picturesque coffee shop of the village, the Greek coffee is made with water sourced from the spring that bears the same name, on the opposite side of the road.
In fact, the purpose of the trails is to highlight routes rich in experiences, and to promote the villages of the Cretan heartland. “When you walk, you really see what a place has to show you, you meet its people,” Fivos realizes. “The trails are also a means to discover a place’s timelessness. Traversing cliffs and steep slopes remind us of the struggle people endured to make their necessary journeys in the past.”
“By exploring an old path network, you also realize how different the sense of time must have been. On the trail from Hania to Paliohora for example, one comes across two inns, which means that it took two days to complete this route,” he adds.
Hania Trails have the potential to attract a quality, international audience, effectively extending the duration of the tourist season. They also reconnect locals with elements of the “heritage” they silently accepted from their fathers and grandfathers.
As Fivos highlights, “the younger generation do not see rugged crags or ruins anymore, but the path taken by their grandfather or their village windmill.” These paths carry collective and individual memories, and this promotion brings them back to life.
An urban walk and accessibility at Samaria The close connection between the Hania Trails network and the authentic side of Crete is also noted by Dimitris Michelogiannis, the visionary responsible for the completion of the project for the Regional Unit of Crete:
“The development of a network of routes is connected with the promotion of lesser known parts of the cultural and natural wealth of Hania and the heartland, such as the ancient towns of Aptera and Lissos, or the Hania gorges. The connection between walks and culture is also the essence of the urban network connecting the new Archaeological Museum in Halepa, Hania, with the surrounding neighborhoods, set to open to the public in the next few months. Finally, the creation of a new, innovative route is in progress, which will make part of the Samaria Gorge wheelchair accessible.”
The project’s budget, funded by European and national funds from the Decentralized Administration of Crete, comes to 1.5 million euros and includes the design, implementation, preservation, promotion and management of the network.
The first seven routes of the Hania Trails network, completed by the Municipality of Hania, are already ready and the digital maps are available on the application Avenza Maps (avenzamaps.com/vendor/3883/paths-of-greece).
The project also includes the creation of a complete virtual gateway and series of digital applications for the entire network.
Routes that stand out
- The paths that traverse the fairytale cypress forests of Apokorona (low difficulty).
- Built on a cliff, with views of the sea and the pine trees lining the beach, the path from Agios Ioannis Skafion to Agia Roumeli is one of the most impressive routes in Greece (medium difficulty).
- The impressive route from ancient Falasarna to Balos (high difficulty).
- The “Koumi and Mitata” route in the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) of Apokoronas passes through impressively tall, circular structures (koumi) used by shepherds for shelter and cheesemaking (medium difficulty, to be inaugurated).
- The multi-day archaeological route that connects Paleohora with the ancient cities of Irtakina, Elyros, Sougia and Lissos, also known as the “Federation of Orion” (low difficulty, to be inaugurated).