The Kapni Gorge, one of Eastern Sfakia’s most stunning canyons, remains largely undiscovered. The gorge begins as an open stream south of the Akones peak at Hionistra, located on the road between Askyfou and Asfendou villages. It concludes in the village of Nomikiana in the Sfakia province. In Hionistra, two streams in calcareous soils converge to form the Kapni Gorge after an hour’s walk. The canyon is extensive, requiring around four hours to traverse. It is among Crete’s challenging and perilous trekking gorges, with a rugged riverbed that forms dry waterfalls in certain areas, necessitating climbing.
It is not advisable for those inexperienced in mountaineering. The riverbed features several small caves that were previously used as sheepfolds. In one of these caves, there is drinking water, the only source in the harsh Kapni region. This water source is hard to find unless one is very familiar with the area. Kapni is home to beautiful vegetation, including maples and oak trees, and stunning walls of platy limestone in several places.
The name Kapni, meaning smoke, traces back to a story from the Venetian era. East Sfakia was once densely forested, providing refuge for Cretans fighting the Venetians. To counter this, the Venetians burned these forests, including the one in Kapni, which was so dense that the fire burned for weeks. The narrowness of the gorge created an oven-like effect, trapping the fire and significantly raising the temperature. The intense heat baked the mountain rock, similar to a lime kiln, and smoke lingered for days after the fire ceased. That autumn, a massive flood swept through the bare, fire-scorched hillsides, moving rocks with immense force to the gorge’s exit. This event resulted in a large deposit of sediment, creating the most impressive scree (locally known as sara) in Crete, visible from miles away. This scree starts at the gorge’s exit and extends to the village of Nomikiana.
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