If you come to Hania by ship in the spring or early in the summer,
you can make out, very far off, the snow-capped peaks of the
Lefka Ori (the White Mountains).They owe their name not only
to the fact that they are covered in snow for most months of
the year, but also to the characteristic light grey/white colour
of their limestone rock.
This imposing mountain range rises smoothly from the northern
shores of Crete, ends in 57 peaks above 2.000 metres (the higher
peak being Pachnes at 2.452 m) and falls steeply to the southern
shores, forming imposing gorges. On the smooth northern slopes
of the Lefka Ori are built dozens of interesting villages, both
large and small, like the historic Theriso, the picturesque
Thymia, Tsakistra, Madero and Melidoni. There
are a few accessible dirt roads which climb to the heart of
the mountain, the most impressive being the one that ascends
from Theriso and reaches the foot of the Kaloros peak.
In the main massif of the Lefka Ori, there are only paths
used by shepherds and mountaineers.There are also four very
nice mountain refuges, those at Kalergi, Katsiveli, Volika and
Tavris. They all belong to the E.O.S. of Hania (the Greek Mountaineering
Association of Hania) with which you must get in touch if you
want to use the refuges (tel. 0821-44647). The most impressive
gorges in Crete are to be found on the southern precipitous
slopes, such as the famous gorge of Samaria (or the Farangas,
as the locals call it) and others which are less well-known
but equally beautiful, like the Gorge of Tripiti (a part of
which you can cross by motorcycle!), and the gorges of Eligia,
of Aghia Irini (St Irene) and of Klados.
The famous Omalos plateau is
situated at an altitude of 1.000 m in the western corner of
the Lefka Ori - the road to Xiloskalo goes past here, and from
there you can walk through the Gorge of Samaria. There are no
trees on the Lefka Ori above 1000 metres, so the locals call
it Madares (the bare mountains). The only vegetation is low
bushes and a lot of wild flowers.
There is luxuriant verdure and wildlife in the gorges, however.
Here, the unique National forest of Crete, an area of 48.000
stremmata, surrounds the Gorge of Samaria - this forest has
preserved a large part of the rich flora and fauna of Crete.
Thick clumps of cypress trees, ever-green oaks and pine trees,
springs with an abundance of water, steep rocks and inaccessible
slopes - all these make up a place where the unique Cretan ibex
(called the agrimi by the locals) still survires, as do the
extremely elusive wild cat (felix silvestris agrius-the only
known individual is a male, captured in May 1996) and significant
populations of polecats, badgers, birds of prey, etc.
To the east, the precipitous slopes of the Lefka Ori have
their final borders in the Imbriotiko Gorge and the Katre Lago
(i.e. the Gorge of Katre). Further east again, the Askyfou plateau
rises up, a bare and barren plateau with a semi-deserted village,
Asfendou, and a single rough road that goes through it. This
road begins just north of the village of Imbros and ends in
the picturesque village of Asi Gonia. North of this road, the
bare peaks of Agathes (1511 m) and Tripali (1494 m) can be distinguished,
while to the south you can see many beautiful gorges that descend
to the coast of the Libyan sea.
Continuing in an easterly direction, you cross a semi-mountainous
landscape with many peaks (all under 1000 m) and many level
cultivated areas with pastures between them. Throughout this
region, there are many small scattered villages of farmers and
animal breeders, totally uninfluenced by tourism as few tourists
visit them. To the south there are the impressive Gorge of Kotsifou
and the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, inside which are squeezed the roads
that lead to the tourist beach at Plakia and to the historic
monastery at Preveli.
From the beach at Plakia going east as far as Aghios Pavlos
(St Paul), the massif of Siderotas (1136 m) protects from the
deluge of tourists some of the most beautiful beaches in Crete
that are hidden behind it - an example is Tripetra Beach. To
the north-east of Siderotas, Kedros (1777 m), another massive
grey rock rises up, and between them runs the main road from
Rethimnon to Ierapetra. Both the road and the two mountains
go in a north-west to south-easterly direction. The extremely
beautiful Amari valley has exactly the same orientation - this
opens up north-east of Kedro and is a very green, protected
region that has been inhabited continuously since Minoan times.
Today, about twenty or so of the most picturesque hamlets in
Crete nestle here.
Immediately above these villages, the main Psiloritis range
stretches out, having the same orientation (from north-west
to south-east). It begins to rise smoothly at Moni Arkadiou
and reaches its maximum height at the peak of Timios Stavros
(the Holy Cross), 2.456 m, the highest peak in Crete (just a
few metres higher than the peak of Pachnes in the Lefka Ori).
The small Chapel of the Holy Cross dominates the summit, a
humble Christian continuation of the very ancient Minoan tradition
of building peak sanctuaries. The impressive of Nida plateau
stretches out to the east, at a height of 1.400 metres, enclosed
by snowy peaks and bare mountain slopes. On one of these, the
Ideo Andro is situated, the cave where, according to mythology,
Zeus grew up, and a little further south is another Minoan sacred
cave, the cave of Kamares. Apart from these, there are hundreds
of explored and unexplored caves in Psiloritis, a true paradise
To the south, the mountain slopes of Psiloritis are steep
at first and then come down smoothly to the plain of Mesara.
The road goes by in the transitional stage; this comes from
the villages of Amari and ends at the main road from Iraklio
to Gortyna. This road passes through a dozen or so large and
small villages built in the shadow of the precipitous mountain
slopes, like the picturesque Lochria, Kamares and Vorizia, from
where paths lead to the peak of Psiloritis, Zaros with its abundant
springs and the head village of Yeryeri. A rough road ascends
from the latter towards the north, and it ends in the Rouva
Wood, a small island of thick wood with evergreen oaks, pine-tress,
and huge cypress-trees; a poor sample of the vegetation once
covering the whole of Psiloritis, as its ancient name bears
witness to (Idi wooded landscape). On its north-east side, Psiloritis
is a sea of both high and low peaks, with rocky bush-covered
ravines between them, where one can follow some of the most
impressive mountain routes in Crete. On the northern foot of
the mountain and in the valley that opens up between Psiloritis
an Mount Kouloukonas, there is a crowd of picturesque villages
like the legendary Anogia, Zoniana with its interesting cave,
Kalamos and Pasalites with their old neighbourhoods.
The valley of Mesara begins south of Psiloritis, and stretches
out towards the east - it is the biggest and most fertile plain
on the island. It has a length of approximately 40 kilometres,
a width of between 5 and 20 kilometres and most of it is covered
with plastic greenhouses. It was formed by a tectonic earth
submergence that left the Asterousia Mountains projecting as
independent mountains. The Asterousia, which retain their Homeric
name, is a small unexplored mountain paradise with few visitors
and even fewer inhabitants but is full of outstanding mountain
East of the Asterousia, after a small hilly area, the mountain
slopes of Dikti, or the Lasithiotika mountains as the locals
call them, rise up steeply. They stretch for a length of 10
kilometres and a width of 5-6 km in a horseshoe shape, and they
hug the famous plateau of Lasithi. The highest peak is Dikti
(2.148 m) and is followed by many others higher than 1.500 m.
Between them, less well-known but much more beautiful plateaux
than the touristy Lasithi plateau have been formed, like the
Nissimo plateau to the north, the Katharos plateau to the east
and the Omalos plateau to the south. On Dikti, the thickest
woods in Crete have been preserved until today, through which
pass many impressive mountain trails. Every summer, however,
many fires are steadily reducing these beautiful woods, so visit
them while they are still there.
The final mountain range in Crete at its eastern edge is Thripti
with its peak of Afendis Estavromenos (1.476 m). Recently a
dirt road was opened all the way to the summit, from which,
at a glance, you can embrace the whole prefecture of Lasithi
– the poorest and most barren but also the purest and
most beautiful corner of Crete.
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.