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.
Just below the famous Kamares cave, above the village Kamares we meet a sizable wood. Kamares wood covers the region on the south side of Mavri peak and reaches up to an altitude of 1600-1700 meters. Its area reaches almost till the position Koutsounares where the Voriza canyon starts and continues above the village Vorizia.
The Goniano gorge is the unique passage which connects Sklavokampos and Gonies with Tylisos. Its length is 3 km. and is relatively wide and straight. Reaching though the exit (in the point where a monument of those killed during the 2nd World War is in the road to Gonies) the gorge turns abruptly towards south and before it comes out of the limestone mass follows an irregular and abrupt course.
The mountain shelter at position Samari is located at an altitude of 1417 meters on the west side of the gorge of Agios Nikolaos. It's a single-room stone building with a wooden attic that can accommodate up to 20 climbers. It has 2 W.C., fireplace and there is a possibility for cooking. There is water available from a cistern which is not potable.
The pine grove of Pefkias is the densest wood in Psiloritis Mount (denser than the forest of Rouvas) and apart from the great pines that dominate the area, you will also meet cypress and oak trees. In Pefkias, you will meet many bee hives as it is one of the most important areas in the prefecture of Heraklion for apiaries after the forests of the province of Viannos.
The shelter Prinos is located at an altitude of 1100m at the eastern slopes of Psiloritis Mount. It can be accessed either by hiking 2:00 hours Ano Assites or driving from there. From here one can hike to the nearby peaks of Koudouni, Gyristi, Rouvas forest (4 hours) and Nida Plateau (7 hours). The shelter has been operating since 1967 and can accommodate 30 people.
The peak of Vigla is located at an altitude of 907 meters and is one of the lowest peaks of the mountain range of Psiloritis. it is located just above the village of Ano Loutraki of Malevyzi province. Despite its small height, it has very steep slopes and rises abruptly above the village and the tallest of the two peaks is a quite sharp limestone ridge.
Southeast of the Monastery of Arkadi on the western slopes of Psiloritis, the wood Aravanes is formed which climbs up to the peak of Mygia. Access is possible through rough dirt roads that start from Ancient Eleftherna or west of Arkadi Monastery, which owns large areas here.