The mountains of Ida, better known as Psiloritis, are located in the center of Crete and cover a large part of Heraklion and Rethymnon Prefectures. Among its many peaks and the offshoots of the main massif, the five highest peaks are the most dominant: Holy Cross (2456m), Agathias (2424m), Stolistra (2325m), Voulomenou (2267m) and Kousakas (2209m). Indeed the peak of the Holy Cross is just 3m higher than of the highest peak of the White Mountains (called Pahnes), being the highest point of Crete.
Psiloritis offers an amazing experience to those who try to know it better, and there you can see some of the most impressive landscapes of wild beauty. Deep caves, karstic formations, deep gorges, small plateaus, pine and oak woods, villages on the edge of the cliff, bare alpine zones: all that make up the unique scenery Psiloritis.
The towering Ida always caused awe to its visitors. Thus, the ancient Minoans considered that as a sacred mountain, where many myths are positioned. The cave of Ideon Andron, close to the wild plateau of Nida, was linked to the upbringing of Zeus, the most important God. Nearby, the sacred spring of Zominthos and the small town, was used as a sanctuary.
The cult of Psiloritis continued even in Christian times. Even today you can visit the stone church of the Holy Cross on the top of the homonym peak, which was built long ago. On 14 September, each year, many locals from all over Crete trek to the Holy Cross, via the path that starts from the plateau of Nida (4-5 hours climbing) and stay overnight at the top, to participate in the Church on the next morning (15 September is the Holy Cross fest). The view from the top is breathtaking, as you can see Crete in all its width, from Heraklion to Asterousia mountains, but also from Gavdos to Chrissi islet. It is a unique experience that anyone should have, as long as you get properly prepared for the cold night in the 2500m altitude (the temperature falls below freezing point even in August). Also there is no vegetation and water over 2000m, so be sure you have water and a hat while ascending.
Rouvas gorge at Psiloritis Range
Previously Psiloritis was covered by large pine forests, which are now very limited. The remaining ones, however, indicate how the green slopes used to be a few centuries ago. One of the largest forests of Crete, near the Gergeri village, the holly wood of Rouvas, is home to endemic and rare species of plants and animals. Morever, the southern slopes of Psiloritis, from Zaros to Vorizia, host a rare pineforest. Other smaller forests are these in the plateau Vromonero next to Kroussonas and Pardi, near Amari valley.
The local fauna is very rich and Psiloritis is extremely important for the biodiversity of Crete. Psiloritis is home to rare birds of prey, such as bearded vultures, common vultures, golden eagles and red-tailed hawks. Also, the forest of Rouvas shelters one of the rarest mammals in Europe, the “ghost” Cretan Wildcat.
Apart from the woods of Rouvas, Vromonero and Pardi, you can visit the beautiful villages around the Psiloritis slopes. In mountainous Mylopotamos area, with Anogia being its capital, you will meet authentic Cretan people, and on the villages on the south slopes of Psiloritis you will enjoy the magnificent views of the plain of Messara. From Anogia you can visit the Nida Plateau and the cave Ideon Andron, the ancient Zominthos and Skinakas Observatory. You can also visit the plateau Livadi and return to Heraklion via the alternative road that runs along Gaidourorachi Gorge.
The Ida is full of caves with the largest cave being the magical Sfendoni in Zoniana, which can be visited. Other caves are those of Kamilari in Tylisos, Gerontospilios in Melidoni, Doxa in Marathi, the cave of Kamares, Chonos in Sarhos and Marathospilios. You can also visit the karstic Voulismeno Aloni near Tylisos, formed after the collapse of a large cave.
Melidoni Cave in north Psiloritis outskirts
The gigantic mountain Psiloritis stores huge amounts of water while snow on the peaks remains till May or June. These quantities, through underground rivers, reach many areas around the Mountains. You can visit the beautiful springs in Spili, the lake Votomos in Zaros, the dam of Faneromeni in Messara Plain, and the springs of Almyros near Heraklion.
The mountains of Psiloritis are crossed by wild and deep gorges. It Is noteworthy to mention the lush gorge of Agios Nikolaos in Rouvas, the rugged gorge in Vorizia, the canyon of Almiros starting from Stroumboulas Plateau and the Platania Gorge in Amari valley.
The gorge of Agios Nikolaos, Gafaris or Rouvas is bounded by the peaks of Ambelakia from east and Samari from west. This is the most important gorge of Psiloritis and central Crete and took its name from the homonymous Byzantine church in the south entrance. This is an ecosystem with rich flora and fauna, smaller canyons and interesting geological formations and cliffs of rare beauty.
The Cave of Melidoni is located approximately 1,800 meters northwest of the homonym village of Mylopotamos. Gerontospilios, as also called, is very important due to the archaeological findings, some of which are exhibited in the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon. Moreover, the cave has played a tragic role in the history of Cretan revolution against the Turks, in 1824.
Ideon Cave (or Ideon Antron) is located on the eastern slopes of Mount Ida (Psiloritis), in the plateau of Nida. The distance of the cave from Anogia is 24km and from Rethymno it’s 78km. The cave has not any special geological value, but has enormous mythological and cultural value, as this is the cave in which, according to the legend, the greatest Greek god, Zeus, was grown up. Today, thousands of tourists visit the cave every year, especially during the summer months.
The imposing Ida Range has the highest peak of Crete, Timios Stavros at 2546m altitude. For reaching Timios Stavros, there are many ways from both north and south sides. The view for the peak is amazing towards all directions.
Cave Zoniana, Sfendoni or Sfendoni's Hole, is located 1km north of Zoniana village in Mylopotamos, about 43km west of Heraklion and 52 southeast of Rethymno. It is shaped on the southern slopes of the hill Halepa at an altitude of 630m. The cave is accessible and is the most beautiful cave in Crete and one of the most beautiful in Greece, with rich stalactite and stalagmite decoration. It belongs to the Natural Park of Psiloritis, which is protected by UNESCO.
The plateau can be reached via a dirt road starting from the picturesque village of Anogia, but also via a rugged dirt track from Gergeri. The plateau is used as pasture and is not cultivated. Due to overgrazing, you we’ll not see any trees in the plain, although it was previously covered by dense forest.
The cave of Kamares, also called Kamaraiko, is located at the southern foot of Psiloritis. In particular, it is situated on the slopes of Mount Soros, at an altitude of 1700m and northeast of the homonym village of Kamares. It is not important in terms of speleology, but the minoan findings made the cave a very important archaeological site.
Platania Gorge is located in the Amari valley, 38km southeast of Rethymno, on the western outskirts of Psiloritis. It is a unique trail, with impressive cliffs, vertical limestone rocks, rock roofs and caves. The trail is recommended for experienced mountaineers, although the first part of the trek is quite easy and well pathed, even for children who are physically fit.