Prepare your journey - FAQ
Anopoli or Anopolis?
Both are "correct" – as much as a transliteration from another alphabet ever can be... The Greek word simply means "Upper Town", and as such is a fairly common name for a town in Greece. In fact, there is even (at least) one other Anopolis on Crete; it's near to and south-east of Heraklion and boasts a huge themed water park, and is prominently advertised on tourist maps and signposts. So don't get confused and end up there – unless you happen to like that sort of thing 🙂
Should I rent a car?
Yes! Crete is a very large, elongated island, measuring 260km east to west and 60km at its widest point, with a coastline of over 1000km. And it is very mountainous – almost everywhere! Both airports – Chania and Heraklion – are located in the north, while the Sfakia region is in the south. To get there as an individual traveller is only possible by car – unless you are a very fit cyclist or speak Greek, which would allow you to navigate the local buses.
One can arrive by bus at either Chora Sfakion or Paleochora (a picturesque tourist trap at the westmost end of the south coast). These two towns are separated by the incredibly rugged, uninhabited and very extensive Samaria national park in the White Mountains. No roads cross the White Mountains; one can get from Paleochora to Soughia by road, also from Chora Sfakion to Likos beach and Phoenix bay near Loutro. Between these ports is the large expanse of the national park with only one human settlement in it – Aghia Roumeli, another port and tourist destination which is only reachable by ferry boat. Ferries ply several times per day between all these ports, so a non-motorised holiday on the Sfakian coast is perfectly feasible; but to get up to the high plateau of Anopoli you'll either need an own car, or must hire a taxi at Chora Sfakion.
Looked at financially, if you spend money on ferries plying the coast, you'll also spend a lot more money on the expensive accomodation and restaurants at the tourist resorts. Thus it should hardly cost more to rent an own car and drive straight to Georgios rooms at Anopoli.
What sort of car?
We booked the cheapest class of car (at Budget, Heraklion) and on arrival were proudly presented with a powerful, long-slung almost-new sporty Golf - at least two classes higher, no extra charge. The rental agent was proud to give it to us, and initially we were very happy with it. It did have the advantage of being able to overtake quickly and safely, and was very comfortable, but... Many roads leading to secluded beaches and most secondary roads in the mountains of Crete are dirt roads brimming full of rocks and potholes. We therefore strongly advise you to take a jeep or pickup, even though they are more expensive to hire. Out in the wilds low-slung city cars are in constant danger of ripping their undersides, a fact which ever again had us on tenterhooks and me (Tim) nursing the poor golf along roads it was never ever designed for, with my guts quietly knotting up.
Indeed we did even have a totally flat tyre - on just such a road about 10 km from the next civilisation, noticed as we were navigating down a more-or-less 30° slope of loose slippery rocks, with another car just coming up. Believe us, you don't want to be in a situation like that! We unreservedly recommend the BP garage in Tavronitis near Kolymbari (North-West Crete) to repair a gashed tyre: It was recommended and he himself said he was the best, and we really believe it – amazingly quick, very cheap, and it held! Whatever car you do rent out, make sure it has a good spare tyre and the tools you'll need to get it on.
Drive out from Anopoli west towards Aradena (gorge) and branch left towards Phoenix bay. You'll soon be on a switchback, most of which is not tarmaced – this should give you a rough idea of what your car is in for! The photo includes Loutro (just visible on the left behind the headland), Phoenix bay (left of center) and Likos beach (right of center). Notice Gavdos island visible on the misty horizon, reachable by regular ferry in the summer months and said to be worth a visit. It's also the most southerly part of Europe.
Should I take an inflatable boat?
No. It might sound like a good idea to get to secluded beaches, but in fact they can almost all be reached by road, ferry or on foot. For sport kayaks can be rented locally (e.g. at Phoenix bay).
Do I need proper climbing boots?
Only if you're intending to do serious climbing on the hiking trails of the high mountains. For "normal" mountain paths and gorges trainers (robust gym shoes with high profile soles) suffice.
How difficult are the footpaths?
Crete is exceedingly mountainous and the Sfakia region especially so. Practically everything marked as a footpath will involve a lot of clambering and steep, rocky sections, often bridging many hundreds of meters of altitude. If you're not very fit take everything the locals say about these paths with a pinch of salt.
For example, Georgios wife told us that the footpath from Ekatarini church behind Anopoli down to Loutro (700m below on the coast) was "easy", and would take 1 - 2 hours. In fact it was quite challenging, steep and with rocky uneven footing, and it took us over three hours to get down – our legs were quivering by the end. We were effectively stranded in Loutro and had to take the ferry back to Chora Sfakion and taxi to Anopoli! An alternative return on foot would have been over the headland from Loutro to Phoenix and from there up the dirt road back to Anopoli.
Are there less strenuous walks?
Yes! Just walk the secondary dirt roads which often go many miles through the countryside and (comparatively gently) up into the mountains. They are quite easy to walk, but are often less used by people (or cars) than popular hiking trails. The famous Samaria gorge is by contrast almost overrun - it's a day-trip for the mass tourists from the north of the island, who arrive there in coachloads in the morning, clamber down through it right the way to the sea, arriving at Aghia Roumeli. From there they are ferried over to Chora Sfakion where their coaches pick them up and bring them back to their hotels. So if you prefer solitude, take those hinterland roads!
What else should we take with us?
- A good torch (for caves a headlamp)
- A swiss army knife (for everything from opening bottles to peeling cactus fruits)
- Warm clothes (for evenings up in the mountains, especially after mid-september)
Which maps and where to get them?
Don't bother with the free standard tourist maps, they lack detail and just push you towards the tourist traps.
For driving the car
There's a very good set of three road maps – Western, Central and Eastern Crete – made by TERRAIN, scaled 1:100000. They are made of waterproof and tearproof polyart paper and come in well-fitting plastic covers. They include a map of the districts major city on the rear side. You can get them in larger stationers in the big cities and also at larger petrol stations. But to save having to worry about that once there, you can also order them online.
For walking and hiking
You'll stumble across various booklets of walking and hiking trails in the better bookshops (which in turn can only be found in the large cities and populace tourist traps). We bought one for Crete South West from the Wander | Hike | Explore series, but it did'nt really help us much. The routes are fairly obvious and can be inferred from large-scale maps, the maps in the booklets are somewhere between non-existent and of little use (probably due to the cost of paying the copyright holders to include "real" maps). You may still like to get the online PDF-Version for just 4 Euros, it does add some colour and background to the trails.
The "real deal" is the Hiking Maps from Anavasi editions, from which we have number 11.11 (White Mountains / Sfakia). But now is there is new map covering more terrain, titled 11.11/11.12 and covering the White Mountains / Sfakia and Pachnes (highest peak on Crete) for just 8 Euros, available online. We recommend online purchase as it can be difficult to find a place with these maps in stock on Crete.
Where can I find more detailed information on Crete?
This website offers a fine depth of information on many aspects of Crete.