Hiking anywhere presents its own set of rewards and challenges compared to normal backpacking, and difficulties picking a place to call home for the night are often first among those. Leaving the true backcountry, however, and camping in a region that has been inhabited for thousands of years is a different thing entirely.
This post is part of the Sleep Less, Dream More series in which we share uncommon sleeping places and circumstances travelers encountered during their trip.
Written by Stephen Lioy.
Everyone from ancient Minoans to Nazis and Ottomans and modern-day Greeks have left their mark on the south shore of Crete, and the E4 trail picks it way through the remnants and detritus of these inhabitants and occupiers.
At its best, the E4 trail takes hikers into well-reserved Venetian Fortresses and crumbling hilltop Ottoman citadels overlooking the Libyan Sea and with Africa just beyond the horizon. From these the weight of history stands just outside the tent flap and the evening campfire seems to make the modern day feel far far away.
At its worst, the E4 damns intrepid travelers to beachfront campsites where a sand-pitched tent never stands a chance against Mediterranean winds or rocky caves in which bats and bugs dance in a less than delicate duel to the death that seems to involve an unreasonable occurrence of cranial collisions. These are the nights where a warm bed is the stuff of a stolen sleeps’ figurative dreams.
In the middle somewhere are all the rest; the tents pitched perched atop an outlook staring down the sun as it slips from another perfect sky. Nights spent on the beach counting the stars so bright that even a roaring fire can’t overpower their shine, debating whether to spend the morrow hiking up another hilltop fortress or impossibly perfect gorge or just one of the many ancient shepherds’ paths to one of the many hidden villages to which the real roads have only recently run.
Most memorable of all, though, is a night in a dead city. Once the harbor of a trading city that minted its own money, Lissos also served as a center of healing with a famous temple to the Greek God of Medicine. Neither healing nor trade is the most prevalent impression of Lissos, so much as the hillside full of inaccessible crypts that stands watch over the ancient port. In the strong midday sun that most dayhikers encounter the ruins of Lissos, these tombs mostly fade from view into the overgrown slope on which the stand. As the light lengthens at the end of the, they stick out as guardians still standing vigil over a town destroyed by earthquake in the 9th century. The little chapel of Panagia still stands overlooking the harbor, long-abandoned buildings reaching back to an age when 30,000 people lived in the area. Alone at night, in a tent pitched squarely in between these relics, the quiet sound of lapping waves does little to dispel the thought of the dead all around and not another living person for miles. Even Panagia, lit only by the light of three small candles inside, feels like one last taper shining in memory of the departed.
In the morning, with the bright sun shining again, it is a very quick hike up out of this narrow valley and back on the trail towards the boisterous village of Sougia!
About the author
Stephen Lioy is a photographer at StephenLioy.com and travel blogger at MonkBoughtLunch.com based in Central Asia who spends his free time hiking, camping, and sleeping in dodgy beautiful places. Visit his websites to read more, be wowed with photos from across the globe, and follow him on social media.
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Love your writing, sounds like a wonderful adventure and destination for the future.Thanks for sharing.
It is definitely a worthwhile place. Some stretches of the trail are difficult, but that only makes the sense of accomplishment and appreciation more piquant at the end. Thanks for reading!
Hi Lyn! Thanks for stopping by. Love Stephen’s writing as well and to be honest: I had never heard of the E4 trail. Sounds like an amazing adventure and is one for the wish list :)! Have a great day!!
Thanks Manouk! Yet another addition to an ever growing list, eh? I know the feeling well.
Crete looks like an amazing place to camp out … considering most stay in hotels and hostels, it’s good to know about options from an outsdoorsperson’s perspective!
Hi James, thanks! I never considered camping in Crete prior to Stephen’s post, but it looks incredibly adventurous! Definitely an option :)
Agreed, James. I always find that some independent adventure gives me a different and often more exciting perspective on a place. I cut the sentence that said so, but you should be aware that it’s technically illegal to free camp in Greece. I never ran into any problems, but it would be something worth keeping in mind if you were planning a similar trip.
Stunning impressions indeed Stephen! And yet another proof for the most memorable nights not being the comfortable ones… I love falling asleep and waking up surrounded by the pleasant orchestra of nature and seeing the sky instead of a ceiling. This gorge sleeping spots looks terrific!! Probably a nice echo of the ocean in there, huh!? :)
Take care and keep exploring!
Hey Oliver, thanks for stopping by! I’ll let Stephen know you commented! Cheers, Manouk
A beautiful echo, once those bats quieted down for the night! I just spent the weekend in the frozen mountains of Kyrgyzstan, with a very similar end result. Lots of discomfort, but so much beauty that it made the hard moments more than bearable.