Ninety-nine out of one hundred visitors to Crete Island have no true conception of the touristic value Greece’s largest island holds in store. Most, especially those coming from Northern Europe, come here to escape after months of blistering cold. Some others venture to the land of the Minoans to absorb a bit of tradition and culture older than European civilization itself. And still fewer numbers come to experience nature that is remarkable. Many of the places, like Kourtaliotiko Gorge, are lost needles in a haystack of bucket lists yet to be created.
Kourtaliotiko Gorge (Κουρταλιώτικο Φαράγγι), which is also known as the Asomatos Gorge, is in south central Crete at a point in between the Kouroupa and Xiron mountains. The Kourtaliotiko River flows southwards through the gorge to the sandy beaches of Preveli, on the Libyan Sea. At a point the cliffs (600 meters high in places) of the gorge narrow to 20 meters apart, where strong winds create “claps” (kourtala) which can often be heard. This is where the name of the gorge ο Κουρταλιώτης, or “noisy” comes from. An experienced hiker could trek the whole distance of the gorge in under three hours, and beginners can take the easier path alongside the river and reach Preveli even faster. The Instagram share from nico_somaras_voyager tells of a typical adventurer’s journey down the 3 km long gorge.
The gorge cuts through a fascinating section of Rethymno Prefecture where important conservation efforts are going on. One such effort, the protection of endangered birds of prey like the bearded vulture, the golden eagles makes this part of Crete a nature lover’s paradise. Kourtaliotiko Gorge also offers visitors unique beauty, biological, and ecological value. Here, the second largest palm forest in Europe, or the clusters Palm of Theophrastus (Phoenix theophrastii) thrives at the end of the gorge. High up on the slopes, hikers will find lush vegetation, and fantastic animals like the leopard snake, turtles, and other colorful species.
The highlight of this amazing gorge is at the bottom where the church of local saint Nicholas Kourtaliotis is located. Here, the springs of Kourtaliotis help feed the amazing waterfall of Kourtaliotis. And from this point, trekkers can reach the famous Megalos River Bridge, and the palm forest of Preveli farther down the gorge at the coast.
Getting There – Staying Nearby
For travelers arriving by air to either Chania or Heraklion, the best way to visit Kourtaliotiko Gorge is via a car rental. From Heraklion, the drive is about an hour and a half, and from Chania, the top only takes slightly less time. From either direction, you take the main highway along the northern Crete shore to Rethymno, and then down the north-south route to Koxare and Preveli. If possible, we encourage travelers to book stays on the south coast near the gorge since there are so many sights to see in this area. Some suggested stays, restaurants, and other attractions are listed below.
If you choose an Airbnb or hotel in or near Plakias, the gorge and a host of other attractions are within a few minutes. For a memorable experience resort-wise, Kalypso Cretan Village Resort & Spa is a great choice for making the best of your time on the Libyan Sea. The Yoga Spa there is a one-of experience. To be as close as possible to the gorge, Villa Palm River is right on top of the river, and Airbnb Superhosts run the luxurious accommodations. There are scores of amazing traditional tavernas, nature attractions, beaches, watersports, and hiking adventures in the area too. The famous Sideradiko Tavern is one recommendation, and there’s a lot more information about the area via Cretan Beaches here at Cretan Beaches.