The holly grove of Rouvas is located 55km south of Heraklion and 16km north of Gergeri village, in one of the most rugged and secluded parts of Crete. This isolation is the main reason for its existence, since humans have fortunately not destroyed that like all the other lost forests of Crete.
Rouvas forest develops in a small –depression – plateau at the southern part of Psiloritis mountain. One can approach the forest either from Gergeri village through the forest road, or from Nida Plateau again through a forest road or even by walking in the European hiking trail E4, starting from the Zaros lake, crossing the amazing Gorge of Agios Nikolaos and reaching the forest after 2 hours.
The ecological importance of the forest is great, as very rare plants grow here and many protected animals find shelter. The rarity of the forest of Rouvas is linked to the fact that hollies escaped from their usual bushy shape and size and acquired different characteristics and sizes, unusual in Greece. A characteristic feature is the very old hollies, some of which have collapsed due to their age! Moreover, Rouvas is the largest tuft of hollies in Europe and extends in a region of 30000 acres. On the north side of the forest, someone will meet many ampelitsia (Zelkova abelicea), the only tree that lives only in Crete and nowhere else. Futhermore, the forest hosts one of the rarest and most beautiful orchids of in Crete known as the Cretan cefalanthera (Cephalanthera cuculata). Other trees that will be seen are platans, maples, cypresses, pines and holm oaks.
As for the wildlife, here is the refuge for the Cretan Lynx (Felis silvestris creticus), which is so rare that it has rarely been observed by scientists. Here live and other mammals such as badgers, weasels, hares, shrews and mioxos (Glis glis argenteus). The forest and the surrounding mountains host rare raptors such as bearded vultures, common vultures, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks.
If you walk the trail from the lake of Zaros, before the gorge of Agios Nikolaos you will meet the ugly monastery of Agios Nikolaos (20 'from the lake). Following the path through the gorge, which is organized and well designated, leads you to the small plateau of Agios Ioannis with the holly grove after 2 hours. It is worth strolling around the picturesque chapel of St. John and cool off from the surrounding springs. Two wonderful places of the forest sites are "Dyo Prini" on the west slope with amazing views to the forest of Rouvas and "Samari", south of the homonym peak, with a panoramic view of the whole Zaros area and the Mesara Plain. Here is the local mountain retreat. Moreover, on the mountains you will see several ruined “mitata”, old stone-buildings which operated as primitive creameries on the Cretan mountain. Finally, on the summer, the residents of Gergeri often organize traditional feasts under the huge platans of the forest, that should not be missed under any circumstances! Such a feast is held on Holy Cross Day, when the scenic chapel of Holy Cross, located in the woods and built with local stone, celebrates.
The main problem of Rouvas today is overgrazing. Additionally, a few years ago a big fire burned much of the forest and today soil erosion is a severe problem. Another issue is the lack of game, because of overhunting.