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 from Anapodaris river, 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 waterfall of Ambas, in the beginning of the homonymous gorge. This canyon is home to the largest colony of birds of prey in Europe.
Ambas Fall by Paranimfi in winter; Asterousia Range in winter turns into a land of waterfalls!
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.
The imposing gorge of Tripiti to the east of Lendas
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... Untouched landscapes of rugged beauty where only bad dirt roads can reach (or hiking is required), deep gorges and canyons compose the scenery here.
The church of Saint Anthony in gorge Agiofarago
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.
Agiofarago Gorge (meaning Gorge of Saints) is located in south of Odigitria Monastery and has been shaped near the beds of two streams. The first stream starts north - northeast of Gyalomonochoro and the other starts northeast of the Odigitria. The two streams meet, near St Kiriaki and after following a relatively smooth path, west and south of Church St. Kiriaki, it arrives in Porofarango, where the main gorge of Agiofaraggouo starts and ends at the Libyan Sea, at a small but amazing beach.
Martsalo gorge has a length of about 2km and is located in the south coast of Asterousia Mountains, in Heraklion Prefecture. It starts from the north and ends at the Libyan Sea, in the small picturesque beach of Martsalo. Apostle Paul stopped in Martsalo, during his journey to Rome.
The gorge of Trypiti is formed at the range Asterousia, to the south of the village Vassiliki. The length of the canyon reaches 4 km and a beautiful pebble beach is formed at its exit. The beach is reached though a dirt road that runs high along the eastern side of the canyon for several kilometers before reaching its riverbed, just before the exit to the sea.
Anapodaris Gorge is formed at the final part of the longest river of Crete, Anapodaris, that collects the waters of Central Province Heraklion and South Dikti Range. The suggested route has a duration of 3-3.5 hours and is possible during summer or late spring when the river does not have too much water. It is worth noting that the river empties to the sea about 40 million cubic meters of water annually.
The gorge of Mindris starts near the village Filippi and ends at the port of Tsoutsouras, after running a distance of 6km. It is a open canyon without vertical walls, which’s riverbed is dry in summer and very easy to walk. On the riverside traces of ancient settlements, ranging from the Minoan to Roman Era have been found.
The gorge of Ambas is located 53km south of Heraklion, in Asterousia Mountains. Starting from the small plateau formed near the village Paranymfi (710m altitude), it ends at the beach of Treis Ekklisies. This is a large (4km long) and beautiful canyon with many narrow passages, which is accessible only by experienced canyoners.
The Gorge of Ethia, officially known as Vorno, is located south of Heraklion, at the Asterousia Range. It starts from the village Ethia and, after tearing Asterousia northwards, it finishes at the plain of Messara, between the villages and Rotasi and Mesochori.
Kefali Peak is located at Lithino Cape, 80km southwest of Heraklion, at the tip of Messara. From Kefali (altitude 391m) almost vertical cliffs fall in to the sea, causing awe to anyone. It is one of the most spectacular scenery can be met in Crete, with incredible views to Gavdos and the wild coast of Asterousia.
Matala is famous for the carved caves in the rocks and the hippies of the ‘70s. It is located close to Phaestus, the second largest palace of the Minoan civilization. Matala was the port of Phaestus, and on the Roman Times, it became a port of Gortys.
The monastery of Koudoumas is located 74km south of Heraklion, on the western side of Cape Martelos and south of Kofinas Peak (the highest peak of Asterousia Mountains). The whole area is full of cavities where hermits used to live. To reach the monastery, you have to drive in a passable dirt road of 20km, starting from the village Sternes, which descends from an altitude of 1000m to the sea level. The views during the descent are shocking and could cause vertigo! The route passes between pine and cypress trees, many of which are bent by the wind..
The small palm grove of Saint Anthony is located next to the Monastery of St. Nikitas, in one of the most inaccessible places in Crete. An oasis in the middle of nowhere, the palm grove is now protected by goats and is studied under scientific research.
The carob wood of Tris Ekklisies is located 64km south of Heraklion, next to the village of Tris Ekklisies. The area, one of the most secluded in Europe, is very difficult to reach, as a very rough dirt road 10km long starts from the village Paranymi, runs across the wild Asterousia Mountains and ends at the beach level.
The Gorge of St. Savvas is the natural continuation of the canyon Trypiti, in the wild and imposing Asterousia mountains. In the arid landscape of Asteroussia Mts, the dense forest of the wild olive and carob trees looks like an oasis in the desert.
The name means the lake of the Turk, taken after a legend according to which a Turk was drowned here. In order to reach the lake you should follow the dirt track from Ahendrias to Stiromandra. From Stiromandra follow the short path which is part of the old trail from Ahendrias to Agios Nikitas monastery.