The plane of Messara is located on the south side of Heraklion Prefecture, in an elongated area of 50km in length and with its width not exceeding 7km. In the south, the valley is protected by the wild Asterousia Mountains, while its western side is bounded by a vast beachfront with sandy beaches.
In the inland of Mesara, the villages are not highly developed, as people are still engaged in agriculture. But as you move towards the sea (to the west), villages and towns are more developed touristically. The largest town of Mesara is Mires, in the middle of the plain, and Tymbaki, near the sea. In both towns, people are mainly engaged in agriculture.
The valley is very fertile and has always been the main granary of Crete. The warm climate combined with the fertile soil, contribute to the cultivation of early vegetables, olive and citrus trees. However, in recent years, the main problem throughout the region is water scarcity, and the rains are limited. Thus, a large was dam built in Faneromeni, blocking the main tributary of Geropotamos River, which has become an important wetland.
Things you can do in Mesara are too many and you will never really forget the area. First, you should stop at the Palace of Phaestus, which was the second largest palace of Minoan Crete. Also, nearby is the Minoan town of Agia Triada, where a famous Minoan Villa was found. A little further and near the village of Kalamaki, you will see Kommos Minoan harbor, just next to the homonym nudist beach. Near Kommos, you’ll find the busy beach of Matala with the carved caves, which was made famous throughout the world by the hippies in the early ‘60s. Continuing on the other side of the plain, next to the village Agii Deka (i.e. Ten Saints), you will find the ruins of ancient Gortys drowned in olive groves, which was the capital of Crete during the Roman period.
The bay of Mesara from Komos
For those who want to see something unique, an elevated car is needed for exploring the wild Asterousia Mountains. Asterousia are arid and dry, with a few springs in places where wild animals find water. Engraved with countless bare canyons (Martsalo, Agiofarago, Trafoulas, Tripiti, Ambas, Achendrias and many more), Asterousia offer visitors amazing landscapes and idyllic beaches in the gorge exits to the sea. It is worth visiting the local monasteries, such as the monasteries of Koudoumas and Hodeghetria. Moreover, the best view in Asterousia is the "tip" of Messara, Cape Lithino, where you can drive from Odigitria. The view is breathtaking and can cause dizziness, as vertical cliffs of 400m come vertical into the sea. For those who cannot stand dirt tracks, there are paved roads leading to the beautiful fishing villages of Lendas and Kali Limenes, where there are several rooms to rent.
Mesara and its major monuments can be accessed by bus from Rethymnon and Heraklion, but the choices are quite limited (Matala, Phaestus, Komos, Tymbaki, Gortys). If you don’t have a car, you cannot explore the magical landscapes, especially in Asterousia Mountains. Having a car in Crete, in general, is very important, since the best places to visit are mainly not accessible with public transport.