When planning for our 2021 trip to Greece, a hike to Martsalos Beach in Crete was a must on our list. We enjoy the out of the way beaches in Crete. It is a lot of fun for us to hike to the beach, swim, and make our way back. We also wanted to hike to Agiofaraggo Beach but we knew we did not have the time to do both. Agiofaraggo will have to wait until our next trip to Crete.
The hike itself is 2 km (1.24 miles) and it took us about 45 minutes on the way down as we took lots of photos. It is an out and back trail. The way back took a little less than an hour as we stopped and took more photo.
Martsalos Beach is a bit more than 2 hours South and East of Rethymno along the Lithino Cape on the west side of the Asterousia Mountains. Although it is a bit of a drive we started off early morning and enjoyed the countryside. This is also a very remote area and you will be driving on rough dirt roads. If you plug this into your google maps the directions are pretty much spot on. That being said, mark your destination as Martsalo, Gorge.
On Google Maps, we had originally marked our destination as Martsalo Beach. Google maps took us past the entrance to an even more isolated and steep area and told us we had “arrived” although we were in the middle of an uphill road! Our GPS service was very intermittent throughout the trip but lucky for us we backed tracked and were able to find the entrance. Later, we realized our destination in Google Maps was actually Martsalo Gorge, not Martsalo Beach.
Other than Google Maps, we really had no trouble finding the area as there are small signs along the way. Note that some signs are only written in Greek so I was glad I studied the Greek alphabet this trip.
As mentioned above, we originally passed the gate into Martsalos. We remembered seeing it, but noticed the gate was closed so continued thinking there is an alternative entrance. If there is, we didn’t find it. When we back tracked, we saw a car pull out of the area and then shut the gate. To the right of the gate was the Martsalos sign so we opened the gate, drove through, and shut the gate. (Marked Point A on map). This road took us to the church pictured below.
The church marks the point where you can start your hike if you don’t have 4 wheel drive. (Marked Point B on map). We did so we continued down a bit further until the end of the road, which saved us from a longer hike back out. There was a young couple from France who asked if they could ride from the church to the path so they could take the shorter route. We gave them the ride and enjoyed their company.
On to the Cave Church
We started off on our path towards the Martsalos Panagia which is a church built into a cave along the path. There were lots of steps but they were not difficult, although I was already thinking how we would have to climb back up on the way back!
The Church cave, below, was once used as a catacomb during persecution times. There are other areas built into caves here and it’s my understanding this is a retreat or hermitage for the nearby Odigitria Monastery Regardless, it is considered a religious area so it is expected to be quiet and respectful through this area. We did not enter any of the buildings or church as we did not know if it is permissible. (Marked Point C on map)
There was no distinct signs through the gorge but it was easy to see the destination so we just followed paths and some cairns. Climbing down from the Cave Church to the floor bed of the gorge took some careful footing but otherwise the hike was not difficult. It was hot though. I was glad to have a hat on!
Once you are on the gorge floor, you will walk towards the tall palm trees in the middle of the gorge! There are only a few, but they are endemic to this area. These are called the Phoenix Theophrastus Palm Trees also know as the Cretan Date Palm. They are native to a few sites in Crete, Southern Greece and some surrounding Islands. We noticed both on the way up and back that the goats like this area! You can hear the goat bells from a distance and there seems to be quite a few in the area. Sometimes it was the only sound we heard in this remote area. (Marked Point D on Map).
After walking past the small palm forrest, the trail continues to slowly descend towards the sea.
At Martsalos Beach
We continued on to the beach and enjoyed a refreshing swim in the sea. Other than us and the couple who went down with us, there was only 3 other couples there. There were more goats than people at the beach! When you hike in Crete, you will see plenty of goats and this is true at Martsalos Beach also. The water was crystal clear and we enjoyed snorkeling, swimming, and just hanging out. One thing to remember though, the beach was rocky as was the sea floor. We wore water shoes and they were definitely a good choice. We spent the rest of the morning here and hated to leave. The walk up was not that bad other than it was up hill!
The hike to Martsalos Beach in Crete was one of the highlights for me of this trip. Next time we are in Crete, we are definitely going to hike to Agiofaraggo Beach and if we have time we will return to Martsalos Beach. If you enjoy hiking, I would totally recommend this!
Where We Stayed
While in this area of Crete we stayed at the Avli Lounge Apartments in Rethymno and could not have been happier. Staying here was very special. The room was comfortable, clean, had lots of space and nicely decorated. The service was outstanding. We enjoyed breakfast in the restaurant each morning and it was so fresh and good. I highly recommend Avli when in the Rethymno area.
Planning & Tips
If you plan on using your cell phone a lot for GPS or taking photos I found this I Walk phone charger to be a great tool. The vehicles we drove in Greece did not have phone charges adaptable to our I phones. This lightweight easy to carry charger saved me many times.
I also bought a National Geographic Map of Crete which was was priceless as we lost our GPS several times. The map is pretty accurate and durable. Although quite large it folds up like a typical map. Half of Crete is on one side of of the map and the other half of Crete is on the other side. I did have a bit of flipping around but it worked pretty well.
While planning our trips to Crete, I found the travel guide Top 10 Crete to be very useful. For one thing, it lists the top 10 places to go, restaurants, and sites. Additionally, it also lists the top 10 by region and area. Given these points, I felt it was a great planning tool, plus it came with a pocket size map which we did use.
True Trips, Greece. A big part of planning is done for us! Each time we traveled to Greece, we let True Greece plan much of our trip! We had them plan our lodging and also our transfers to and from airports and ferry ports. You can have them plan your tours too and also some dinner accommodations. They know the ins and outs that we would never think of. As a matter of fact, they are from Greece. This is invaluable, as it assures for a smooth trip. I 100% recommend True Greece, they are experts and they work hard to plan with you!
Enjoying Greece Back Home
The following links are to products I loved from Crete that I now buy by mail. I receive no incentives or commissions and I am not an affiliate of these products. I am just giving them a mention because I love their products and the service!
I buy Greek Honey, Olive Oil, and Red Pepper Spread from Carter Imports. I have been buying from them for a couple of years and I am more than pleased. They are a family owned business and are prompt, reliable and provide great customer service. Their Raw Cretan Thyme Honey comes from the Saviolakis family in the Sfakia region on Crete. The Saviolakis family has been producing honey for over 250 years. The EVOO I buy is Elia from the Koukakis Family from the Chania region. The Red Pepper Spread is not from Crete but from Florida Greece and the Tsakiridis family. Last but not least Carter Imports also sells my very favorite Greek Cookbook A Drop of Ladi in My Greek Soul written by Chef Krystina Kalapothakos. See below for a link to her site!
Check out Kouzounas Kitchen’s blog. Written by Krystina who authors the cookbook A Drop of Ladi in My Greek Soul. Krystina’s blog has recipes and great stories written with warmth and also with pride in her Greek roots. As I mentioned, it is my favorite cookbook. Her recipes are authentic Greek and any time I follow one of her recipes, my family and guests rave about how good it taste!
Follow these links for more posts of my 2021 Greece Vacay:
You can also follow my other Crete adventures here:
Links to our 2018 and also 2019 Trip can be found in this post:
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