Kournas Lake is the only freshwater lake in Crete. Lake Kournas was known as Lake Koressia in antiquity but later took its current name from the Arabic word for lake.
The lake is in a beautiful landscape, lying in a valley among the hills, about 4 km from Georgioupolis in Chania Prefecture (west Crete).
Lake Kournas is relatively small, with a maximum length of 1,087 m and a maximum breadth of 880 m. It covers an area of 579,000 sq. m. and is generally shallow, 22.5 m at its deepest point, while it lies approximately 20 m above sea level.
Kournas lake with the sea near Georgioupoli in the background
Kournas Lake is the ideal place for an afternoon walk or a daytrip nearby. Many people like to have an afternoon picnic there. The landscape is lovely and relaxing, whether you want to go for a walk in the countryside, swim or ride a pedalo on the lake.
There are two springs on the southeast bank, one of which, the Mati or Amati (“eye”) as the locals call it, is visible in late summer. The lake is fed by streams from the nearby mountains and hills, whose underground courses are interrupted by the local bedrock on the way to the sea.
The ecosystem of Kournas Lake
eel at Kourna lake
Lake Kournas and its environs are protected under Natura 2000.
The lake, an important wetland, is home to ducks and , eels, water snakes and a rare species of bicoloured terrapin with a patterned shell, the Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemysterrapin).
Herons and cormorants also sometimes appear on the lake.
Recently there have been reports of large goldfish appearing in Lake Kournas, as somebody dumped them there without considering the results of introducing a new species to a closed ecosystem.
How to get to Kournas Lake
Lake Kournas is easily reached from Georgioupoli - you can take the country road from the village without going on the national road. Ask for Mathé’s taverna, pass it and continue to the lake.
Be careful as you approach the lake, as you may see signs about 400 m before it, pointing either straight ahead or right. These are sometimes even set side by side. Don’t worry, you can approach the lake from either direction.
signs pointing right and straight ahead to Lake Kournas
If you want to reach Kournas from the national road, look out for the signs because the way is not very well signposted and you may miss the exit. The sign for Kournas village, which also leads to the lake, is shortly before the turn to Georgioupoli on road Ε75.
What to do at Lake Kournas
Walk around the lake, whose colours change according to the time of day. The sun plays creative games with the hills and trees around the lake, lighting first one and then the other side and giving the water an aquamarine tint.
The lake also changes size, as the locals say, as the level drops in late summer, revealing a thick layer of white sand which forms temporary beaches.
In these months you can walk along the bank all the way round the lake. The full circuit takes no more than an hour.
beach at Kournas Lake
Swim or ride a pedalo on the waters of the lake. There are little beaches on the banks of Lake Kournas just under the main road and in front of the tavernas.
There you will find sun loungers and umbrellas in the summer months, while you can also rent pedalos (7 euros / hour) if you want to enjoy a ride on the lake - this is a particularly fun and romantic option in the afternoon.
Watch the ducks and feed them. There are many ducks with their ducklings on Lake Kournas, and when they all start quacking together it can be deafening. If the noise or the droppings decorating the beach irritate you, remember that you are just visiting, while they live here.
Ducks wadding happily along the bank
Enjoy a meal in one of the many tavernas and cafeterias at Kournas Lake, where you can eat beside the lake and enjoy the lovely view.
The tavernas offer traditional Cretan dishes and it’s worth trying the “apaki” (smoked pork) or the kid, a local specialty.
Don’t be surprised that all the signs are in English and Russian, as more and more Russian tourists have been visiting Georgioupoli and Chania Prefecture in recent years.
Buy souvenirs from the pottery workshops, which sell their own handicrafts along with other tourist items.
If you visit Lake Kournas in winter or spring, remember that the lake rises as far as the steps down from the road, so the beaches disappear.
Most of the tavernas, however, stay open in winter, though some of them may be shut on December and January weekdays.
If you have time, visit the picturesque village of Kournas, just 10 minutes’ drive south of the lake.
Myths and Legends about Lake Kournas
Like any self-respecting lake, Kournas has its own legends. The simplest one tells of its bottomless waters, which, as we know today, is not true. There are also theories about strange electromagnetic fields near the lake, making some people uneasy while others feel a very good energy.
Of course the lake has its own water nymph who appears on moonlit nights, combing her hair. There are two different legends concerning the nymph of Lake Kournas:
- The water nymph was the daughter of a villager who sat down with her father on the spot where the lake is today. Her father, bewitched by her beauty, was tempted and approached her with wicked intentions. The girl, terrified, cried out “Sink and Sinklake and I a spirit in the lake!” The spirits of the lake heard her cry, took pity on her and made her wish come true. The ground shook and sank with a terrible noise, leaving a lake where the valley had been, and the unfortunate maiden took refuge in its dark waters.
- The second legend about the creation of the lake and its nymph relates that the inhabitants of the area lived and acted in an ungodly manner. God was angry and decided to punish them, as he had done with the sinful Sodom and Gomorrah. So he caused it to rain for many days, drowning both village and villagers and forming a lake. The only person to survive was the priest’s daughter, who can still be seen combing her hair on a rock in the lake. This water nymph takes care of the ducks and other small creatures living in the area.
- Kournas, the picturesque traditional village of Kournas, 4 km after the lake