Crete

The Minoan Trail
& Calypso Island

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Intro

The Minoan Trail & Calypso Island*

The Minoan Trail is a series of swims based around the truly untamed coastline of the traditional village of Sfakia, in south Crete. This tour will include the recently introduced daily trip to Calypso Island* (Gavdos), a remote, beautiful island that ‘time forgot’. You will have the unique experience of swimming around the sea-sculpted caves and rock formations of Cape Tripiti, the southernmost part of Europe and from here you can gaze at the archipelago beyond which lies Africa! With its rich 9000 year history of diverse ancient cultures it is easy to see why Homer referred to Crete as the true Gaia (world). *Please note: Due to the remote location of Calypso Island, this day trip is weather dependent.

Trip Dates

  • Sat 3 - Sat 10 June 2023
  • Sat 10 - Sat 17 June 2023
  • Sat 17 - Sat 24 June 2023
  • Sat 2 - Sat 9 September 2023
  • Sat 9 - Sat 16 September 2023
  • Sat 16 - Sat 23 September 2023
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Full Week's Routes

Big Swim Week Map

Do you want a taste of a timeless, traditional Greek village destination, combined with swimming in the southernmost part of Europe?

Then this is the trip for you.

Crete, with its rich 9000 year history established the first ever civilization in Europe. A melting pot of ancient cultures, the “world” as Homer called it, is a must-visit destination for the open water swimmer. Along with our local Cretan guides and contacts, we have sourced a unique swimming location that combines dramatic scenery, ancient ruins, beautiful local food and of course crystal clear seas. The Minoan Trail & Calypso Island* swims are based in the picturesque traditional Greek village of Sfakia and swimmers stay at Sfakian Horizon Hotel, a quiet location at the top of the village, offering excellent views of the bay below. This series of swims take place along the untamed coastline of south Crete, including swimming around the southernmost part of Europe during a day trip to Calypso island! - weather dependent.

This 7-day, approximately 5K swim per day sea safari starts on Saturday and finishes the following Saturday morning. We will greet you on your arrival on Saturday evening with a welcoming drink and an introduction to safety by our Crete based team. As part of this trip there will also be an optional opportunity for a filmed swimming analysis and open water swimming technique tips. During the week you will have the chance to explore dozens of caves, relax on remote beaches and peruse the gorges that have shaped this rugged, mountainous coastline with its churches and ancient ruins. Each day we swim a piece of the trail and we also stop for lunch at hand-picked seaside tavernas with extraordinary surroundings that specialise in local cuisine. The forgotten ancient waterside cities of Tara and Finix as well as some of the landscape can be visited on foot during lunchtime (not a guided tour).

By the end of an idyllic seven day tour you will have swum all the way from Ayia Roumeli, past Sfakia to the Vritomartis Beach, a distance of approximately 24K and will have completed The Minoan Trail, experiencing the unique natural wonder that is Southern Crete. The recent addition, a day trip to Calypso Island* will give you the chance to experience a remote, beautiful location and swim around Cape Tripiti, the southernmost part of Europe!

More on…CALYPSO ISLAND or GADVOS This is a unique, remote and interesting island located south of Crete. It is evident all around the island that it has been inhabited since Neolithic times and more recently many invaders have set foot on the island, including the Romans, Ottomans, Saracens, Venetians whilst pirates used it as a hideaway. It is also acting as a refuge for migratory birds between Africa and Europe, also ‘hosting’ more permanent wildlife such as the caretta-caretta turtles, thus deserving the protection of the Natura Organisation.

Experience for yourself the island where Calypso held Odysseus captive for 7 years and where “…the beaches are totally deserted and isolated, one more beautiful than the next, and the heavenly natural bays and azure-blue waters are ideal to enjoy a tranquil swim. Surely, the time you spend in Gavdos is never enough, an island which is so close and at the same time so far away from Europe…”.

*Please Note: Due to the remote location of Calypso Island, this day trip is weather dependent.

What is included in the holiday

The trip starts on your arrival at the hotel at Sfakian Horizon. On your arrival day you will be welcomed and in the evening have a chance to meet your fellow swimmers and be briefed on the week’s itinerary and safety issues over relaxing complimentary drinks.

On the first day of the trip our guides/coaches will video your swimming technique for an analysis session. We then view this with you and offer advice on achieving a more efficient, injury-free stroke. Individual advice can also be given during the swims.

Breakfast is offered every morning at the hotel and we will then travel in the traditional Greek boat to the swimming location (which is different every day). We will escort the swimming groups with the support boats and drinks will be offered at regular intervals during the swim. The boats will be manned by fully qualified first aid experienced swimmers who will keep a watch over you.

You will be given a Crete-theme Big Blue T-shirt, a water bottle and a swimming hat to use and keep and we have a range of snorkelling gear and fins you can borrow for exploring in caves or along coastlines.

SUMMARY

  • On Arrival: Complimentary drink, T-shirt, Water bottle
  • 1st Day: Individual underwater video, Individual stroke analysis, Swimming hat
  • 7 nights’ Hotel accommodation
  • Breakfast
  • 3 motorised boats (One main and 2 auxiliary)
  • 3 qualified swim guides
  • Local boat captain
  • Cold drinks along the swims
  • Variety of snacks at the end of each swim
Day 1

Welcome, you have arrived at the Village of Sfakia (also know as Hora Sfakion) and had a chance to relax in your room in Xenia Hotel.

Far away from mass tourism, the area is known for quiet villages surrounded by unspoilt nature. Sfakia is famous in Crete for its clear blue sea, ideal for swimming, snorkeling and diving. Summer runs in Sfakia for a long time!…from May until into November.

If you arrive early in the day then there is a choice of local beaches for a ‘refreshing’ swim or you can simply dip into the sea off the hotel’s steps. (You can actually roll out of bed and into the water!).

This evening we all meet for a formal welcome in the restaurant area of Xenia Hotel for complimentary drinks and The Minoan Trail swim briefing by our Crete based team.

Day 2

Today starts with an initial open water acclimatisation swim and optional swim analysis session and your chance to meet the crystal clear waters of South Crete. This morning our qualified coaches and guides will split the week’s swimmers into 3 speed groups, will then film each swimmer and later provide feedback on technique. This initial 500m swim will take place just outside Xenia Hotel in the dramatic backdrop of The White Mountains which dominate the area.

Swimmers are then free to lunch in Sfakia village itself and have a chance to rest in their room.

We meet again early afternoon when we board our traditional boat and head east of Sfakia, where the first swim of The Minoan Trail starts. The 2.2K coastal swim ends on Vritomartis beach, after exploring some caves and dramatic coastline above and below water, on the way.

Total daily swim: 2.7K

Highlights: Caves, rugged coastline.

Sunday Afternoon

Day 3

We board our boat in the morning from the old harbour adjacent to Xenia hotel and sail west to the village of Loutro. Loutro is only accessible by sea, so it retains a tranquil, time-forgotten feel to it , therefore popular and well known. Our 2.8K swim starts just east of Loutro beach and follows the coast along to the famous Glyka Nera, or Sweet Water Beach. After a relax in this well-known place, again only accessible via sea, we hop on board our boat and head back to Loutro village to sample the tavernas with their abundance of Cretan specialities.

The scattered ancient ruins of Finix can be visited on foot, if time allows.

After lunch we sail east to Sweet Water Beach to start where we finished our morning swim.

This 2K coastal swim is eastwards landing at Lovers’ Cave sandy beach. Popular myth has it, that people are only ‘allowed’ in twos in this cave, so approach with caution! After mooring with our boat there and enjoying some well deserved snacks, we motor back to Sfakia, just a very short journey away.

Total daily swim: 4.8K

Highlights: Loutro village, Finix ruins, interesting coastline.

Monday Morning

Monday Afternoon

Day 4

Today we head again westward to Ayia Roumeli and is the longest journey we make on our boat, lasting about 1 hour 20 mins. Ayia Roumeli is well known amongst walkers all over the world as it is at the finish of the famous Samaria Gorge. This is the longest gorge in Greece, spanning about 18K and one of the longest in Europe, providing some remarkable scenery.

The 3.2K coastal swim starts from the ‘foothills’ of this landmark and swimmers, hugging the coast and exploring the rocky seabed, finish on Ayios Pavlos beach. This sandy beach has a cantine offering shelter and refreshments for those walkers who span the E4 walking paths, but most importantly the 11th century Byzantine church of Ayios Pavlos (Saint Paul). It is said that it was built in honour of Saint Paul’s visit to the area. It is a fine example of early Byzantine architectural simplicity and in remarkable condition, a must visit for the swimmer and visitor alike.

After a short stay for snacks and photographs we board our boat and head back to Ayia Roumeli for lunch at the coolest place in this village, the first taverna one encounters after finishing walking the Samaria Gorge.

We continue our trail and pick up where we left off, swimming a 2k coastal route from Ayios Pavlos eastward towards Plaka. During this swim we have the chance to exchange glances with the day’s walkers, who are walking the E4 path in a parallel fashion just above us on the foothills.

After the end of the swim and after replenishing lost energy with some onboard snacks, we head back to Sfakia.

Total daily swim: 5.2K

Highlights: Samaria gorge, Ayios Pavlos church, dramatic coastline.

Tuesday Morning

Tuesday Afternoon

Day 5

Today we will walk one of the most famous and historical gorges in Crete, the gorge of Imbros. It was chosen as it is relatively easy to access, easy to walk through and offering spectacular sections, especially several very narrow passages along the way.

We will board a mini bus which will take us to Imbros village, the entrance of the gorge. We will then enter and walk ‘down it’ the destination being the village of Komitades where we will lunch.

After lunch we will go back to Sfakia where we will start our afternoon swim from The 3 Brothers beach. We will follow the coast up to the beach past the Lovers’ Cave exploring the many caves on the way. We will swim back to the hotel where the swim ends.

Total daily swim: 2K

Highlights: Unspoilt natural beauty of Imbros Gorge, caves around Sfakia village.

About Imbros Gorge Walking distance is 8 km, the average walking time is about 2 hours going down on a gentle path. It is relatively easy to walk with comfortable shoes (running shoes are good enough), offering many shaded areas.

For a number of people (especially Australians, New Zealanders and British) walking through the gorge of Imbros is almost a pilgrimage. Many people have had parents or grand-parents who fought with the 20,000 allied troops in Crete and walked through the gorge in May 1941 in order to escape the island to Egypt, via allied ships in the cover of darkness; it was a small Dunkirk!

There is a monument in Sfakia village commemorating these events.

Day 6

This morning we once again sail west to pick up our trail where we left it off yesterday at the Plaka location. Beginning with a 3k swim we head eastwards along the dramatic coastline overwhelming the scenery. We have the chance to spot the E4 path walkers once more as well as the enormous birds of prey catching the warm currents high up in the mountains. We finish at the Ayios Vasilios area and after some quick snacks on board our boat we head to Marmara Beach.

Here we lunch at…”maybe one of the best tavernas in Crete”…the Chrisostomos Taverna on top of a hugh rock offering scenic views of the area, as well as mouthwatering delights!

This is the finish of yet another interesting landmark the Arathena Gorge, a dramatic chasm in the mountains visible from afar and reminiscent of bygone troubled geological events.

This afternoons 2k swim starts from Ayios Vasilios where we left of this morning and ends in Marmara Beach. After boarding our boat and relaxing over snacks we head back to our hotel.

Total daily swim: 5K

Highlights: Marmara beach, Arathena gorge, rugged coastline.

Thursday Morning

Thursday Afternoon

Day 7

Our final day of The Minoan Trail starts where we left off near Marmara Beach. We start the swim at the beginning of this bay just below the ancient settlement of Finix town and hugging the coast we swim past Likos bay and head for the small beach at Marmara. Just before it, explore the impressive marble caves and the azure hues of the crystal clear water.

This is a 2.1K swim.

We lunch at the remote Likos bay in the tranquil Giorgos House Taverna where home made food and welcoming hospitality come as standard.

Finally we finish the Trail with a 2.2K swim starting from the Finix peninsula and heading into Loutro village itself and going round the small little ‘goat’ island with its interesting rock formation. Time allowing we stop at Loutro for a relaxed and a well deserved coffee.

You have now officially swum The Minoan Trail!

Total daily swim: 4.3K

Highlights: Caves, rugged coastline, swimming into Loutro.

Friday Morning

Friday Afternoon

Day 8

The week’s tour has gone too fast and it is our final goodbye, “sto epanithin” (until we meet again). This is the last morning in the accommodation at Xenia Hotel and swimmers are asked to vacate rooms by 11am. If you need to stay for a little longer please ask Giorgos the hotel’s manager or let Michael, Lisa or any of the guides know.

If guests are staying longer in Sfakia and Crete we can suggest accommodation options and places to visit in and around the area, but heading back towards Chania Town (where swimmers usually fly into), is highly recommended.

Other Activities around Sfakia

Short walks

If you are interested in shorter walks (1-2 hours) there are some local to Sfakia. Walks are undertaken at swimmers own risk – please ask the hotel for advice if needed on walks and ensure you take your mobile and ample water with you and you have a decent pair of walking shoes on.

Some walks start at your hotel in Sfakia, others can better be accessed by car or bus.

In the village of Chora Sfakion are a couple of interesting short walks. From the road that crosses behind the down-town part of the village, you can walk up the path to the cave of Agios Antonios. In the back of the cave you can find a small chapel. The cave is surrounded by archaeological sites: an ancient beehive enclosure and a Roman shrine. Above the village you can visit the ruins of the old part of the village in Georgitsi, just uphill.

The beautiful path uphill to Manolou is a must-do. You can have a look inside the Ilingas Gorge from high up, you pass the old Agia Triada church, and come across archaeological sites with the ruins of a watchtower, and a lime kiln. All the time you have a beautiful view of the entire coast.

Archaeological sites

Sfakia is full of archaeological sites; there are several watchtowers and forts from the Venetian and Turkish era, like the fortresses in Chora Sfakion, Loutro and Agia Roumeli. In Frangokastello you find the spectacular castle from 1371. There are the ruins of ancient cities, and a hundred churches, some of which date back to the late Middle Ages, like the Byzantine church of the Twelve Apostles in Chora Sfakion, or the chapel of Saint Paul at Ayios Pavlos beach.

Yoga in Sfakia

Have a look at this site for yoga and it is run by a very enthusiastic person called Eugenia who is a specialist and partly Australian and partly Greek. http://www.yogaoncrete.gr/

Travel Information

The closest airport that feeds our Sfakia base, is Chania International airport (North-West Crete) which is well connected with many airports from all over the world.

After arrival, we recommend that you catch a taxi from the airport to our hotel, sharing with other swimmers; this costs 85 euros per taxi ride and takes approximately 1 hour 20 mins. The taxis are big and comfortable and can take up to 4 people (splitting the 85 euro cost). You can pre-book your taxi at info@taxisfakia.com (taxisfakia.com) and for larger parties, for 5-8 people there are ‘taxi minibuses’ costing 140 euros per taxi ride.

PLEASE NOTE. The welcome briefing takes place on the first Saturday at 7.30 pm at our hotel in Sfakia (Sfakian-Horizon)) so please book your flights accordingly so that you can attend.

Alternatively, you will need to get a bus or taxi from Chania airport to Chania coach station situated in Chania City Centre and then a coach to Hora Sfakion, or simply Sfakia, which will cost slightly less but increase the travel time. The reverse can be repeated for the travel back.

There are other ways you can reach us and apart from Chania, Rethimno and Heraklio would be the closest major towns with airports. For specific travel information please email us with your query info@thebigblueswim.com or call our office on +44-113-2169434 and we will be glad to assist.

RECOMMENDED. If you have a day or so to spare before or after your trip, we highly recommend that you stay in Chania Town and in particular around the old city. A modern and bustling place nowadays, Chania has a long and turbulent history and this is clearly evident in its ruined fortifications and forgotten alleyways. As a visitor you can stroll in its cobbled pedestrianised streets, visit museums or simply have a coffee and sample the distinct Cretan cuisine in one of many places dotted around the sea front. The imposing Venetian harbour with its old, decommissioned arched boatyards is a must for the visitor whilst the old Ottoman architecture can still be seen all around the area. You will not be disappointed!

ACCOMMODATION

We are based in SFAKIAN HORIZON Hotel, located in a brilliant position towards the top of Sfakia with excellent sea-views. Most rooms have been recently refurbished, are spacious with en-suite facilities, a kitchen area for cooking, fridge, satellite TV, hairdryer and Wi-Fi; most areas are air-conditioned and some rooms have balcony with views; breakfast by the pool bar is of course included.

On arrival, swimmers have the chance to relax and unwind by the pool, or visit the white shingle turquoise waters of Sfakia village beach just a 5-minute walk away. Please refer to the hotel’s site for more information: https://sfakian-horizon.gr/

As the hotel is located towards the top of Sfakia village, there is a short uphill walking distance from the harbour; furthermore as there is no lift in the hotel, some steps might also be involved, leading to your room.

There is limited availability of single supplement accommodation, so please email us or phone our office first to check.

Big Blue Swim Accommodation

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Testimonials

Huge thanks for a superb swimming holiday in Crete - nice group, lovely hotel/setting, great swims with that extra added excitement factor at times- and of course, brilliant guides!!

Laura, Southampton, U.K

Testimonials

We all had a wonderful week in Crete last week. It was pretty damned perfect! I have done a lot of swimming holidays and this was one of the best. Mia and Noa were excellent guides, they really were a good combination and made sure that we all had a good holiday. Mia took the time to coach us and I noticed an improvement in my stroke and the speed/ strokes of the people in my group. I will certainly book with Big Blue again and will recommend you to anybody who asks about swim holidays.

Maggie, Isle of Mann

Testimonials

I just wanted to thank you for the most incredible holiday last week. I wasn't sure what to expect but it exceeded anything I could have imagined. The organisation was seamless and the whole experience was just great. Mia and Noa were great guides and I found I have come back both relaxed and invigorated and perhaps slightly fitter! It's clear that you put your heart and soul into it and it was a really privilege to swim there.

Kate, Knutsford, U.K

Testimonials

Magnificent, we absolutely enjoyed every second of the week. We loved the boat, what a joy to sail on and we loved the crew - all four of them took care of our needs in my view to perfection. We loved the swims - oh my God what a place you have there. The water is amazing (just the right temperature, the blue is incredible and if like me you swim along the shore then there is always something to look at). We loved the people and Greece and the islands and the tavernas and our accommodation and the food - we loved it all: oh, I forgot...we loved the weather too!!

Kenneth, Christchurch, New Zealand

Testimonials

An awesome week of fun, friendship and fantastic fitness! Thanks Michael, Lisa Jax and Jamie. You guys are fantastic! We had an awesome time! Thank you so much!

Yolanda, Australia

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