A new guide to walking in western Crete
Athens Plus, 10 July 2009

It's not so long since anyone who cared to explore Greece offroad was pretty much on their own. Few detailed maps and even fewer guidebooks were available. Recent publications have begun to remedy the deficiency and a new book, "Hikes, Walks and Rambles in Western Crete: A Guide," published by Kritiki, is a welcome addition to their number.

While the authors, Angelos Assariotakis and Yannis Kornaros, are dedicated mountaineers, their book does not assume specialized knowledge or expertise and, as the title suggests, the routes they describe are graded for difficulty, from easy to very tough. They are clearly of the persuasion that it is better to travel than to arrive: "Fundamentally," they state in the introduction, "we think that the beauty or a place lies in the trail which leads us to it and the effort we make to reach our destination."

The book reflects their enthusiasm for the less-trodden paths of their native Crete and a practical approach to walking. A concise section introducing the geology, climate, flora, people, mythology and history of Crete precedes tips on how to get there, accommodation and food. Some of that material may be available in a general guide, but Assariotakis and Kornaros inject invaluable local know-how. Their tips on clothing and equipment, for instance, are tailor made to help walkers prepare for three things that Crete, as they note, "has in abundance: stones, thorns and sun."

They have walked, climbed and scrambled every step of the way and can suggest when it's better to go against the flow, as in beating the crowds and the worst of the sun in the popular Samaria Gorge by walking up it instead of down. Detailed instructions include when and where to collect water, where to slide down a hill on your rear or clamber across a creek and what alternatives there are to some scary descents.

Brief highlighted texts offer intriguing background to everything from a bear-shaped stalactite, the wild "kri-kri" goat and the native herb dittany that was used by Hippocrates, to Cretan heroes, dances, folklore and traditions that include sheep-stealing and vendettas.

Each of the 51 routes comes with its own small map and an information table listing the level of difficulty, duration, elevation changes, terrain, signposting, recommended season, availability of water and shade, popularity of the route, food and accommodation, access to the trail and sights to be seen on the way. The book concludes with a summary of routes, useful telephone numbers and addresses, a map key, bibliography and photographs.

Despite all the information it contains, the guide is surprisingly compact, kept small partly by limiting illustrations to maps and a few indicative photographs of what you can expect to see. It will make a perfect companion for walkers at all levels of ability who want to explore the natural beauties of Crete.

"Hikes, Walks and Rambles in Western Crete: A Guide" is published by Kritiki in Greek and English editions. The English translation by Aristos Grigoriadis is a little stilted at times but never less than clear.