The Gorge of Agia Irini - Φαραγγι Αγια Ιρινη - is one of the four major canyons on the Island of Crete. Like the other three, the Samaria Gorge, the Aradena Gorge and the Imbros Ravine it is part of the mountain range of the Levka Ori, the White Mountains of the island. Like its peers the gorge runs from north to south, right out of the centre of the mountain range towards the Lybian Sea. The word "centre" actually is not quite correct as the gorge forms the western border of the Levka Ori.
Named after the small village Agia Irini (St. Irene) located to its north, the gorge runs for some 10km before it reaches the village of Moni. Here the valley widens to admit the Chania - Sougia road for the remaining 5km to the coastal town. The Agia Irini Gorge lacks the impressive upper end which makes the neighbouring Samaria Gorge so impressive. Rather than suddenly dropping into a profound canyon, at Agia Irini you gradually descend into a narrow valley with vertical walls building up on either side. A second Canyon joins to the east from the direction of Omalos and then a giant step takes you down several 100m until you reach the canyon floor. The narrowest part of the Agia Irini Gorge can be found at its southern end, right before it spills out into the valley near the village of Moni.
The general direction of the canyon - north to south - ensures that it fully catches the midday heat. It is a good idea to start very early in the morning, especially if you start from bottom up, meaning from the village of Moni. Ascending the gorge in the Cretan noon heat is far from enjoyable. Starting early will also keep you from crowds - the gorge is one of the more popular spots on the island - serving as a good alternnatiive for the overcrowded Samaria Gorge. Nevertheless, on both ends you can find refreshment kiosks and the gorge has an admission fee of €1.50.
Both trailheads for the Agia Irini Gorge are located on the road between Chania and Sougias, one south of Agia Irini, the other north of Moni. Both can be reached from the tourist centres on the north coast by leaving the coastal highway at Chania and heading for Agia Episkopi and Prasses. Right after the saddle Petras Seli with its intersection to Omalos the road heads downward to Dimitriana and Agia Irini. The Gorge entrance is at the southern end of the long stretched village. There is a small parking lot on the right side of the road.
The gorge does not belong to any of the natural parks or preseves of the island. It is used for sheep and goat grazing and there are quite a number of gates in both the upper and lower parts of the gorge. Parking at both entrances is free but you have to pay an entrance fee of €1.50 per person.
AccommodationYou can quite easily find hotel rooms and apartments everywhere on the coasts. All European travel companies offer accommodation so a visit to your nearest travel office will find you some. The closest possible in is at Agia Irini though I'm not sure that they cater for overnight guests. The best location is Sougia on the south coast with enough hotel rooms and even free camping on the beach.
Weather conditionsThe weather sites on the web only carry information for the cities on the north coast. The nearest weather link I could find was at Souda near Chania on the north coast of the island, some 60km to the north-west:
Maps & BooksThere are quite a number of maps and books out there, which deal with the island of Crete and naturally I don’t know them all. This is the list of maps and books which I used and I appreciate it very much if you can add to it
Unfortunately there are no topographic maps of Crete. The best maps I could find are scaled 1:100000 and contain the main hiking routes on the island. In one case the map showed wrong paths and roads (exchanged them) but in general they were quite useful.
- Kreta / Crete / ΚΡΗΤΗ Western Part
Since there are no good topographical maps of Crete you should take care to get a good guidebook. The ones I used have good tour suggestions though the descriptions often are somewhat shortish. In one case the maps were wrong but since the above map also showed wrong paths (as well as other maps I saw later) I attribute this to a general problem with the cartography of this specific area. Moreover, the books were issued in 2002 and thus paths might have changed meanwhile. The books are available in German and English. The description for the Agia Irini Gorge was accurate, however. The route is described starting from Agia Irini.
- Kreta West / Crete West
Gert Hirner / Jakob Murböck (translation: Gill Round)