Asterousia Mountains are the southernmost range in Greece, located on the south side of Heraklion Prefecture. It is a narrow range, shaped between Messara plain and the Libyan Sea. Starting on the east at Tsoutsouras, it ends in the tip of Messara, Lithino Cape.
The average altitude of Asteroussia is not very high (<1250m), but access is quite tough because the terrain is very rugged, with many gorges and canyons. Asterousia main features are the warm temperatures, rare rainfalls and very low vegetation. The few trees that are struggling to grow are eaten by the hungry goats that are destroying everything. Bare mountains, sharp rocks and steep cliffs, falling in the sea, give an eerie character to the entire region making these landscapes unique in Europe.
A detailed tour of Asterousia
The tour of Asterousia starts from the East and heads to the West. Starting either from Tsoutsouras or Mesochori of Mesara Plain one can visit the Monastery of St. Nikitas, with the great beach next to it, and the small palm wood of Saint Anthony. Driving along the steep slopes of the gorge of Achentrias leads to the small oasis with plane trees in Maridaki settlement. However, as it may sound strange, walking the amazing footpath to Maridaki from Tsoutsouras takes 15’, while driving in the rough dirt road along Achentrias Gorge takes one and a half hours! In order to head to the west from Maridaki, you should drive back to Messara plain, as there is no other way. When returning, it is worth driving through the traditional village of Ethia and end up in Pirgos.
Near Pirgos starts a dirt road to the village Paranymfoi and then to the seaside village of Treis Ekklisies, where the largest natural carob wood in Crete is located. The scenery while driving in the rough track is unbelievable, with sharp cliffs and steep bare cliffs ending in the sea. Near Paranymfi you should visit the spectacular waterfalls of Ambas, in the beginning of the homonymous gorge. This canyon is home to the largest colony of birds of prey in Europe.
After returning to the plain of Messara, you can try driving in the most impressive track on Asterousia Mountains, the road to the monastery Koudoumas. This runs through the restored village of Kapetaniana and passes next to the highest peak of Asteroussia, Kofinas (1231m). The view from there is spectacular and climbing on the mountain is certainly worth every inconvenience. Then, a narrow dirt road, with amazing views to the sea, descends from an altitude of 1000 meters to the sea level, passing through a scenic pine forest. The road stops on the nice beach, next to the Monastery. From there you can walk westbound to the Cave of St. Anthony and later to the settlement of Agios Ioannis. Agios Ioannis can be alternatively accessed by car only via a second road starting next to Kapetaniana.
Continuing, following the road heading southwest of the village of Vasiliki will take you to the gorge of Tripiti, with a beautiful church built in the rock. The road runs in the gorge, passes through the large olive wood of St. Savvas, and leads through very narrow passages to the stunning beach of Tripiti. From Tripiti starts a second dirt road that continues west to Krotos village, across the wild and eerie landscape of arid Asteroussia.
This track leads to the small resort of Lendas, which according to the tradition was the point from where Zeus arrived in Crete, in the form of a bull, carrying Europa on his back. In order to reach Lendas, named so after the large hill that looks like a lion head, you can get the alternative asphalt road that starts from the Arabic village Miamou, which is worth stopping.
From Lendas, you can follow the paved road leading to the west along the beautiful shores and the small settlements. After passing Platia Peramata you will meet the beautiful beach of Chrysostomos, the site of ancient Lassea. Heading further west brings you to the vast calm beach of Kali Limenes. Opposite of Kali Limenes, you will see the ugly refineries of Vardinoyiannis family, while on the opposite hill you’ll see the little chapel of St. Paul. Just next to the church there is a small cave, where according to tradition, St. Paul lived for 2 years while traveling to Rome. Kali Limenes can also be reached via asphalted road starting from Pompia village, near Mires. Kali Limenes is actually the stopping point of the road network covering the western Asterousia. However, Asterousia do not end here... Indeed someone might say that Asterousia actually start west of Kali Limenes. Untouched landscapes of rugged beauty where only bad dirt roads can reach (or hiking is required), deep gorges and canyons compose the scenery here.
West of Kali Limenes there is a dirt road leading to the Monastery of Hodeghetria. The monastery can also be reached through a paved road starting from Sivas. The monastery is one of the most historic in Crete, having played an impotant role during the Ottoman Era. It still has vast areas in its possession. The gorge Agiofarago starts next to Hodeghetria. This is one of the most beautiful gorges of Crete, which ends on a spectacular pebbly beach. Hiking in the canyon is very easy and takes about 30 minutes (from the nearest car point). In the gorge there are many caverns where hermits from Hodeghetria still live. You can continue your journey west of Agiofarago, if you follow the dirt road leading to Vathy and starting from Hodeghetria. First you will find a turn to Martsalo. If you follow this road you will reach the lovely carved church of Panagia Martsaliani. From there walk in the gorge of the area and after a small palm wood you will end up in the small beach of Martsalo. This gorge has also been a center for asceticism before.
From the last junction, you can follow the other road to Kefali or Vathy. It is worth driving to Kefali, one of the most amazing parts of Crete, located next to Cape Lithino, the tip of Messara. Driving in a fairly rough dirt road will take you in a small plateau on the edge of which vertical cliffs, 400m high, fall abruptly into the sea. Standing on the edge can cause dizziness and will surely leave you breathless. Go back again and drive north to Vathy, a beautiful closed beach, formed in a well protected bay and looking like a lake. The walls of the local gorge are made of limestone and, thus, have been eroded by water and time. The road from Hodeghetria, ends here, and so does our guide along these amazing mountains.