Martsalo is a secluded beach in the west Asterousia Range, one of the most inaccessible areas of Heraklion. It is located just a few kilometers from the “horn” of Messara Plain, the Cape Lithino, and 80km southwest of Heraklion. To get here you should follow the dirt road that starts from Odigitria Monastery and heads to Lithino Cape (follow the dirt road that turn right after the monastery, while the left heads for Agiofarago). After several kilometers you will see a sign to Martsalo. If you follow the poor dirt track, you will find yourself at the beginning of Martsalo Gorge.
You should leave your car near the entrance to the gorge and continue walking southwards for about 2km.The route through the gorge is not particularly difficult. The gorge, like the rest gorges of the region (e.g. Agiofarago) was and still is a hermitage of the Odigitria monastery. For this reason, it is considered a site of great religious importance. In the gorge you will see many remnants of the cells, where the monks lived.
At the beginning of the route you will find the lovely church of Panagia Martsaliani, dedicated to the Annunciation. The church, built in a cave, was used as a catacomb at the time of Christian persecutions. Just a few centuries earlier, it came back to light by chance, when a shepherd found it and realized that it was covered by rocks. An icon of the Annunciation was then found, which is now kept in the monastery of Odigitria. When the Church celebrates on August 15, many visitors come from the Mesara Plain to Martsalo.
If you continue descending the gorge, with the vertical and steep cavernous cliffs aside, you will soon find yourself walking between the indigenous palm trees of Theophrastus (Phoenix Theophrasti). Indeed, Martsalo has one of the largest colonies of this species in Crete and the largest in the prefecture of Heraklion. Moreover, in middle of the gorge there is a stone container for the collection of water from a small spring nearby. Around this tank, the hermits used to cultivate the essentials for their living.
After walking for 15-20’ along the clusters of the palm trees, you will reach the beach formed at the exit of Martsalo. The beach has large pebbles and is completely isolated. The water is almost always very calm, which justifies its name (Martsalo means Good Harbor in Latin). In the middle of the beach there is a primitive pier for the boats that come here from Kali Limenes or Matala. The beach is surrounded by some tamarisk trees which provide natural shade. Martsalo is ideal for isolation and is completely secluded. However, it is considered a religious site and activities such as nudism is offensive to the hermits of the gorge.
The humble beach has been used as a port from the Minoan period. Traces of a harbor-hamlet of 1800-1600BC have been excavated here. Later, the Apostle Paul stopped at Martsalo to teach Christianity, during his trip to Rome.
Cape Lithino is located at the "corner" of Messara plain, and is the southernmost point of Crete. The highest summit of Lithino is the dry Kefali peak, from where vertical cliffs fall into the see for 391m and continue their vertical route below the sea surface. The view from Kefali is vertiginous and causes awe to everyone. To get to Kefali you have to follow the rough dirt road, 13km long, which starts from Odigitria Monastery and heads west. There are some primitive signs showing the way. On Kefali you will see the ruins of a german military establishment of World War 2, used for controlling the south coastline of Crete. There is also a small stone church dedicated to the Holy Cross.
If you ask a local if there are beaches between Martsalo and Vathi, he will definitely say no. It is good to bet that there are beaches and you will win! Indeed, just below Kefali, there is a secondary small cape, called Platys Poros or Trahili, on the west side of which, there are two bays with deep blue water and coarse pebbles. The are called "Maragou Limani" by locals, which means "Carpenter's Harbor". According to a story, the children of a carpenter used to throw rocks from Kefali peak to these beaches. They are the southernmost beaches of Crete and are only accessible by boat from the nearest ports. However, the sea in the area is quite wild and westerly winds often cause waves. Thus, you should make sure that the weather is windless. The coast near the beaches is full of caves, that worth being explored.
Just a few meters west of Martsalo beach and 600m east of Poros there is the small beach Kounenos, which is accessible through a foot path running close to Martsalo. The surrounding landscape with the caves, the cliffs of Kefali Summit and the fantastic rock formations make the place ideal for nature lovers. The beach has small pebbles and deep waters.