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Trip Blog

Discovering the Crete Discovery

By Swimtrek , 17 February, 2017

The journey I took to Porto Loutro last August was a little bit long winded compared to the route most people take. I was on a mission to collect the SwimTrek equipment from Paleochora. I took a long and windy bus journey into this familiar little town where we run our Crete Escape trip. Lucky for me, the ferry to Loutro only runs once a day, that’s an early morning sunrise ferry so I just had to stay the night. I woke at sunrise and was so relieved to have our good friend in Pal Beach Hotel help transport the heavy bags and boxes of equipment to the port. I thought I would be on my own with the gear from here, but as one kind Greek man left me, a few very kind ferry men picked up all the gear and loaded them onto little Neptune, the passenger ferry which was heading East and would take 2 hours to my destination.

On our way to Loutro I found it hard to keep my mouth shut in awe of the scenery. Coming close to Agia Roumelli, which sits at the bottom of the Samaria Gorge, we passed beautiful sea stacks, caves and cliffs dotted along the edge of the deepest blue waters. I looked down on the map of our intended swim destinations, tick, it’s on the list! We continued East along the coast and I could see the week of swimming unfold before my eyes, ticking off the swims and getting ideas for new ones as we pottered along below the cliffs. I was so excited!

Neptune took a left turn into the bay of Loutro. A semi circular pebbled bay, with stacked white buildings which looked tiny under the face of the mountain behind them. I hopped off my little boat and again with the help of the ferry men, the big heavy bags were passed out onto the port. Hotel Porto Loutro on the Hill, wherever I had to haul these bags to next I knew it was had to be up! I asked a man on the port if he could point me in the direction of Porto Loutro on the Hill. He smiled and asked if I owned all of the bags sitting at my side. He threw them into the back of his pick up truck and drove straight up the road, the only road in the village, about 50m behind the port. I had arrived.

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The lovely Sofia showed me around her hotel. A stunning hotel placed in a perfect location with just 23 rooms, all with views across the mountains and out over the ocean. We were facing South West which meant that the mornings were going to bring some spectacular sunrises and later, even better sunsets! First to recce some swimming. Not even a minute from the hotel, down the steps just off the port, I jumped into the water. About 24'C, now that's an ideal swimming temp. Crystal clear and impressive underwater scenery. I continued along the coast West of the hotel. Sometimes I forget that I'm swimming when there’s so much to see; underwater arches, caves delving deep into the coastline, and an abundance of colourful fish glistening below. I will always stand by the fact that the Greek waters have the most majestic colours of blue in the world, like nowhere else the sparkling turquoise disappears into the most incredible deep inky blues. I met Pippa my co guide for the first time that evening, with even more equipment from the UK.

She arrived from Sfakia, the more efficient route, only a 20 minute ferry ride. After another quick jump in the ocean, we decided to check out the hotel menu for dinner. Traditional Greek dishes with a modern twist, ideal to be able to get such a delicious meal right on our doorstep. We sat on the terrace and watched the sunset illuminate the sky and it's clouds in all shades of pink, purple, blue and orange. The plan of action was set out to get the trip in gear for the guests arriving on Sunday evening, just one and a half days away. That night we sorted out our equipment, emptying all the boxes and bags, setting some order for the next two weeks.

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Early to rise the following morning, to recce our first walk before the sun rose too high and too hot. We found the trail marked along the E4 path, East, in the direction of Sweetwater Beach. An easy hike just above the waters edge, we shared the path with gorgeous little mountain goats ringing their bells to wake up the sleepy village at sunrise. Sweet water beach was where we would begin our swim to Sfakia. The mountain water springs just beneath the pebbles gives the water a cooler, refreshing touch and slightly sweet taste, perfect after your hike. Just like the village of Loutro, this beach can only be reached by foot or by boat, so even though it is one of the most popular beaches in the Sfakia region, there are no crowds to spoil the tranquility. Back to Loutro just on time for breakfast. On the terrace again after the sun had drawn itself up from the mountains to glimmer over the ocean for the day. On SwimTrek, us guides probably (definitely) get the most feedback on the subject of breakfast. 5 stars all round here! Fresh fruit pots, granola, meats, cheeses, omelettes, cereals and breads. A highlight for most guests with the early mornings, fresh coffee for all! We caught the ferry to Sfakia to meet the man himself, our boat captain, Damulis. Head of the dive centre and water taxi services in Sfakia, he made time for us to go over the swim plans, start times and boat logistics for the coming weeks. The schedule was set, making sure we were doing the right distances each day and having alternative routes depending on the weather and water conditions. Our little boats were to arrive in Loutro the next day and be moored up so we could give them a little test drive before the start of the trip.

In Sfakia we took the opportunity to scope out the village. We stocked up with our shopping, for the usual SwimTrek snacks. And also, on cash! No ATM in Loutro or in any other village along our swim routes, luckily we stop in Sfakia for lunch mid week for top ups if needed.

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More swimming that evening to go over our SwimTrek on going training, it keeps us proficient with our lifeguard skills and it also allows new guides to learn how to work with one another, and another excuse for a dip! We choose a restaurant for the evening to make sure it was suitable for the first night’s group meal. Thumbs up for quick service, delicious food and sitting right out on the water, you couldn't go wrong in any of Loutro’s restaurants. Restaurant booked and the welcome letters out for the guests arriving the following day! We were up the following morning to beat the sun again for another recce walk, this time West to Marmara beach. More goats and pebbled beaches along this track, a little trickier to find our way on this one, that’s why we’ve got to recce! I will never be able to describe the caves in Marmara beach to what my eyes saw, no photos can do them justice. You will just have to go and look for yourself! It is my very favourite swim route on this trip. Just to float in the turquoise, sparkling blue waters that light up these fiery rusted rock caves above you, this is my highlight and what I have in my mind when I’m urging people to pay a visit. Back home, we put our navy collars on, ready to meet that first bunch of SwimTrekkers. These swimmers were about to be the Pioneers of the very first Crete Discovery SwimTrek tour. And they did a fantastic job!

Since leaving Loutro I have raved on and on about this destination. I managed to convince a few people to take a trip to this location a few months later and now they're back spreading the word. Loutro has so much to offer, the beautiful beaches, the swimming is sensational, the walking is wonderful, the people are so pleasant and the food is just divine! And the Hotel, just phenomenal. It’s ticked all the boxes. Efharisto poli to Sofia, Manolis, and all the lovely people at Hotel Porto Loutro. And to Damulis and Pippa for making this trip something quite special!

Caoimhe Gowran

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