The Richtis Gorge is the highlight of one of the most unspoilt regions of Crete and nature lovers will be pleased to discover this stunning landscape.
Where is the Richtis Gorge Located?
The Richtis Gorge is located in one of the most fascinating and yet lesser known regions of Crete – the easternmost regional unit of Lasithi. The gorge itself is just inland from the northern shore of the island, by the village of Exo Mouliana. The village is located past Agios Nikolaos, the capital of Lasithi, en route to Sitia.
How to Get to the Richtis Gorge
It’s easy to get to the Richtis Gorge. If you arrive at the Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport in Heraklion, you can pick up your car rental directly at the airport and be on the road in no time. Alternatively, if you arrive by ferry, a car can be waiting for you at Heraklion port. The drive to the Richtis gorge takes about an hour and 45 minutes, with most of the road treating you to fabulous sea vistas and marvelous coves.
Alternatively, If you would like to travel by public bus – KTEL – you can go from Heraklion to Sitia, and from Sitia take a taxi (about 15 eu). Or, if you are already in Agios Nikolaos, you can take the bus from there. Inquire at the KTEL station if there are any local routes to bring you closer. For schedules between the larger towns, please check here.
The History of the Richtis Gorge
What is particularly fascinating about the Richtis Gorge is that it is a combination of wild nature and traces of civilization. This hike begins at the Lachanas Bridge, a beautiful stone bridge of the 19th Century. The bridge has a sad history, said to be the place where many Turks were killed as they were trying to get to Sitia during the population exchange of the 1920s. Now there is nothing but peace here. This protected nature preserve is a fascinating biotope. Fed by a rushing brook, the nature is dense and green along its banks. Many lovely butterflies call the gorge home, as do reptiles – particularly the lovely lizards one sees all over Crete – and many species of birds.
The hike of 3 kilometers takes you from an elevation of 350m to a beach. The descent can be a little tricky in some places as you navigate the boulders along the river, but the reward is fantastic – mid-way through the hike you come to a spectacular 20 waterfall filling a beautiful pool. This is a great place to take a break and maybe even have a swim to refresh yourself. “Richtis” – the name of the gorge – is Cretan dialect and means “waterfall”.
Along your path as you descend, you’ll see some beautiful stone watermills, long abandoned.
What to See and Do Near the Richtis Gorge
The Richtis gorge is near many exciting activities. The Sitia UNESCO Global Geopark – a vast area of over 500 square kilometers that encompasses a number of unique ecosystems. Hikers will love this area of Crete – besides the Richtis Gorge, there are many wonderful hikes for varying degrees of stamina and skill. One branch of the European E4 trail ends here – at the shore at Kato Zakros.
The more robust adventurers will love canyoning, rock climbing, and caving – the area is full of mapped caves and draws many caving enthusiasts each year. In fact, there are over 170 caves and gorges in the region. UNESCO refers to this as a unique speleological park – a haven for bio speleologists, researchers, and serious cavers.
Paleontologists too will find the region fascinating, as there are fossils of earlier residents, including elephants and hippos.
Enjoy a each Holiday – Gorgeous Beaches Near the Richtis Gorge
But of course, most of us come to Crete expecting to swim and enjoy a gorgeous beach. In this, too, the region near the Richtis gorge is unusually blessed.
One of the most famous beaches of Crete is also one of the protected habitats of the Sitia UNESCO Global Geopark. Vai beach is both a gorgeous soft sand beach and a wild palm forest. This forest of date palms is the largest palm forest of all Europe, and it is an exotic and beautiful site. Vai is on the eastern coast of the island, about an hour’s drive from Richtis Gorge, through some stunning countryside.
“Psili Ammos” means “fine sands” in Greek, and it really is. This beach of silky white sands is truly a beauty. To reach it, you walk over the hill from Vai. This secluded beach with its turquoise waters is somewhat secluded, and can be popular with naturists.
If you are looking for a little more civilization, you may like Almiros – “salty” – a full service beach very close to Agios Nikolaos. The beach has shallow waters and is usually calm. It’s good for children and also a good place to try out some watersports – you’ll find many water sports facilities on the beach.
It takes its name from the Almiros river that flows into the sea here, creating a wetland and protected reserve for rare birds with lovely eucalyptus trees.
Activities Near the Richtis Gorge
Visit Agios Nikolaos
The nature of eastern Crete, both by the sea and inland, is so spectacular you may not be thinking of towns and cities. But in fact, the Richtis Gorge is near Agios Nikolaos, capital of the Lasithi Regional unit and one of the loveliest port towns you could ever wish to see. Colorful and enchanting, it has both a marina and the Voulismeni “lake” – an inlet surrounded by cafes and tavernas.
Sitia is the easternmost small city of Crete, and also a lovely place to have a meal or stay as a quiet home base with a beach.
One of two golf courses in Crete is at Elounda, a renowned elegant resort.
Try Horseback Riding
In the beautiful village of Fourni in a fertile plane just inland from Agios Nikolaos is a professional horse stable that organizes marvelous horseback excursions.
Go Wine Tasting
The Toplou Monastery at the northeastern tip of the island is both an important cultural and religious destination as well as a fantastic winery. Traditional grape varieties and organic cultivation make for wines of unique character. Taste them with the accompaniment of traditional Cretan cheeses and snacks for a delicious cultural experience.
Cultural Excursions Near the Richtis Gorge
The Richtis Gorge is near some of the most interesting cultural sites in Crete, from different ages of Crete’s long history.
Kato Zakros and the Minoan Palace
Kato Zakros (lower Zakros) is an important Minoan palace, the main parts of which were only excavated beginning in 1961. This eastern port for the Minoans opened them to trade with the east, as evidenced by findings.
The Gorge of the Dead
It doesn’t sound inviting, admittedly. But the gorge of the dead is beautiful and filled with a strong positive energy. This is the gorge that leads to the Minoan Palace of Zakros, and it’s also part of the E4 trail. The gorge takes its name from the practice of the Minoans of Zakros to lay their dead to rest in a place of great honor – in the caves high up in the walls of the gorge. The gorge is a lovely hike.
This fortress island in the lovely gulf of Elounda was once one of the most significant fortifications of the Mediterranean. The Venetians started constructing salt pans here in the 15th century, and by the later 16th century decided to fortify the island completely, to protect themselves from pirates. The fortress remained in Venetian hands even after the Ottomans conquered the island, and remained Venetian until 1715.
It’s a beautiful fortress island, all golden stone ruins and wildflowers. But today it’s most famous for another phase in its history – Spinalonga was a leper colony for much of the first half of the 20th century. The island is a museum that tells us all about this phase of its history and the lives of its residents, all set among the beautiful ruins.
Exploring the Richtis Gorge
The Richtis Gorge is at the heart of a fascinating region, full of beautiful driving routes and exciting destinations.