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Lake Kournas

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The unique natural freshwater lake of Crete has two faces, one in summer and another in winter, α lake in two, with different characteristics and different images in each season.

Hiking in Crete, Alternative Crete
Photo: Alternative Crete (Lake Kournas)

The legends of the lake

A blonde girl stands on the shore on a rock and looks at the ‘’bottomless’’ lake, no one knows if she will dive to save herself or if she has just been saved.

Legends and local superstitions associated with Lake Kourna where in two cases at least, a young, blonde, and beautiful girl is the main face of the myth.

In the first myth associated with the lake, the fair-haired beautiful girl, in order to escape her Father’s sexual desires, wishes that the area would sink, and a lake would become there. Together with the lake also her, to sink and drown to become the fairy of the lake.

In other myth it is the girl who is saved, as the only virtuous one, and an entire village and its inhabitants, sink into the depths of the lake like other biblical sinners who are punished by annihilation. And the fair-haired girl stands on the shore of the lake and from there looks down to the deep blue bottom at the sinners.

Other Local legends about the lake they speak about the lakebed, including one claiming it is bottomless.

Lake Kournas, Crete-Chania
Photo: Alternative Crete (Lake Kournas)

The landscape

But how did all these beliefs and myths about Lake Kourna come about?

People since ancient times have always had the tendency that they cannot explain with the logic, “mythologizing” it, and the one and only freshwater natural lake of Crete seems not to have escaped this tactic.
Perhaps its uniqueness was an occasion to enter the realm of legend, also the landscape of the area helps the most of it.

The lake is only 2.5 kilometres distance from the sea, and we would expect its water to be, if not salty, at least brackish. But the two springs that supply the lake with water from the heart of the Lefka Ori (Lake Kourna is at the base of the mountain, from there Lefka Ori begin to rise to the West), have always kept the lake full of fresh water for hundreds of years.

Perhaps the deep blue that dominates in the middle of the lake may have made the inhabitants of the island believe that the lake has no bottom, it is a “bottomless”.
The white sand that circles its shores, and gives it a characteristic blue-green colour, and scales to bright blue in its center, would have reinforced the belief of our ancestors of a bottomless lake.

White sandy shores, chaotic blue in the middle and a uniqueness on the island. How easy it was myths and legends to create?

Kournas Lake, Chania-Crete
Photo: Alternative Crete (Lake Kournas)


In winter, Lake Kourna transforms into a landscape of absolute winter and mountainous beauty, which is rare by Crete’s standards, since the water is rare at the mountainous topography of the island.

The mountain slopes reflected on the lakes surface and its sandy bottom give the lake a deep, dark, green colour, and the frequent cloudy days of winter together with the colours of the olive groves from the east side of the lake, compose a scene of mystery enough of making you to believe all the above myths.
The overflowing lake hides its golden sand, and all the bright colours sink and  lost in the “bottomless” lakebed.

Landscape intensely winter and rare for Crete, where the locals do not miss the chance to enjoy it, either by taking a short hike around the lake, or by filling the taverns around the lake.

Lake Kournas, Chania-Crete
Photo: Alternative Crete (Lake Kournas)


During the summertime, things are completely different. The water of the lake is less, one of the springs that’s filling the lake, now visible and its white sandy shore is revealed. The landscape transforms from winter and mountainous to coastal and touristic.

Its white sand is more reminiscent of a beach than a lakeshore, and human activity superimposes this image. Sunbeds on the shores of the lake, crowds, paddle boats lakes surface, taverns etc. an ideal holiday choice, an image completely different to that of winter.

But Kournas has regained its colours, blue-green waters around the shores, deep blue in the middle, you think that the surrounding slopes are “sinking” into the lake. The fruits from the olive trees glisten under the Greek summer sun.

This plurality in colours and images of Cretan nature is the reason that convinces the travellers to return again.

Kournas Lake, Chania-Crete
Photo: Alternative Crete (Lake Kournas)

Hiking in Apokoronas and around the lake

The experience of hiking around the lake is mandatory, there are many paths surrounding the Kournas lake and in the wider area of Apokoronas.

Many choose a short hike around the lake, around the shore to enjoy its rich ecosystem. Of course, you can see up close the geese and ducks that roam freely among the people and even observe the rich birdlife of the area. It is estimated that around 130 species of birds “stay” in the lake as “permanent residents”, while there are quite a few migratory birds that use lakes waters as a stop on their long journey.

In the water world of the lake, you can see mosquitofish, eels, waterhens, etc. Unfortunately, you will also see many goldfish, although they were not an endemic species of the lake, and this is because many people “throw” them into the lake when they no longer want them at home. This has the effect of increasing their population rapidly and disrupting the balance of the ecosystem.

Lake Kournas, Crete-Chania
Photo: Alternative Crete (Lake Kournas)

Another option for hiking is on the paths that approach the lake from the mountains or on the slopes that surrounds the lake. Trails with a spectacular view of the lake from above, an impressive view of the sea and the bay of Georgioupolis, but also a wonderful mountain view of Lefka Ori.

A third option is the wider area of Apokoronas, with its wide hiking trails that passing through traditional villages, crossing unexpected woods, and offer an alternate touch with the semi-mountainous landscape of Crete.