Chania Agia Irini Gorge

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Location: Agia Eirini

The astonishingly beautiful Agia Irini Gorge is located on the western side of the White Mountains in the area of Selino. Named after the homonymous village near its northern entrance, it is the second most visited canyon of Crete after the gorge of Samaria.

Its formation is probably owed to the erosion of the limestone rocks by the water streaming down from the White Mountains, which would also account for its lush vegetation. A small creek runs through it till it reaches the sea on the beautiful Sougia Beach.

Due to its remarkable flora and fauna diversity, the Agia Irini Gorge has been declared a Natura 2000 protected area, while the Ministry of Agriculture has proclaimed it a wildlife refuge. It forms part of the kri kri Cretan wild goat’s natural habitat and it is characterized by a wide range of microenvironments where many animal species find shelter. There is an impressive variety of trees, including cypresses, Eastern Mediterranean pines, maples, planes, and at least two different kinds of oaks. Oleanders, carobs, shrubs, brushwood and aromatic plants like the endemic Cretan dittany complete the verdant landscape.

However, its significance is not only limited to its rich biodiversity and high aesthetic value; it is also a place of great historical significance. During the times of Ottoman rule, numerous Cretan insurgents sought refuge in the Polla Spitakia (Many Houses) location, which provides an escape route towards the Omalos plateau, while, in 1866, around a thousand women and children escaped the Turkish troops through the trails of the gorge. Visitors can see a Byzantine church dedicated to Christ the Savior (1358 AD), as well as the ruins of the Agios Georgios chapel (1460 AD). To the south lie the ancient cities of Elyros, Syia, Lissos and Poikilassos.

The trek

Agia Irini forms part of the E4 European Long Distance Trail. It is 7.5 kilometers long and crossing it takes around 3 hours. Hiking is relatively easy, while the copious flowers and trees, the rich aroma of sage and the song of cicadas make for a unique experience. After a short descent, it starts going uphill again, so that it provides great views. There are plenty of marks and signs showing the remaining distance till the exit, and, near the entrance, there is a map indicating the entire route as well. Along the way, you will find resting places with toilets, benches and running water. After you exit the gorge, though, you will need to walk a further 4.5 kilometers along a paved road in order to reach the village of Sougia. Thus, it is recommended to take a break at the cantine near the exit before embarking on this final part of the route.

Unlike the gorge of Samaria, which is only open from May to October, that of Agia Irini remains open for a longer period. Nevertheless, it is not advisable to visit it on a rainy day.



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