Heraklion Asterousia Mountains

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Location: Kapetaniana

Asterousia Mountains is a 60-km-long mountain range in southern Heraklion, separating the Messara Plain from the Libyan Sea. This is one of the most unique places in Crete, being ideal for visitors who enjoy hiking and exploring off-the-beaten-track paths in the backcountry.

Though the Asterousia Mountains are not particularly tall, their slopes are steep, forming numerous gorges and chasms. For the most part, vegetation is scarce, with just a few groves and a few small streams and waterfalls that often disappear during the summer. Winters are mild and summers are cool, and there are barely any signs of human presence.

Although the conditions are not ideal for the establishment of settlements, archeological findings suggest that people have been around since the Neolithic Period. A Minoan temple has been discovered at Kofinas, the tallest peak of the Asterousia (at an altitude of 1231m) and the sanctuary of the Asklepieion of Ledas (the ancient Levena) was also quite popular during antiquity.

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Top Tours and activities

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    Category: Day Trips

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More about the Asterousia Mountains

Up until the previous century, a few hermits used to occupy some of the caves on the mountains, so a few small churches and chapels have been constructed here and there.
Even if the mountains have mostly been uninhabited, they functioned as a natural fortress, protecting the villages of the Messara Plain from pirate attacks and allowing them to thrive in the past.

Currently, the mountains are mainly occupied by livestock such as goats that roam freely, as well as various species of birds and small wild animals, some of which are endangered or exclusive to this area. For example, the steep slopes of the mountain range host the largest population of vultures in Europe. For the protection of the local fauna, the mountains have been included in the Natura 2000 network.

What to do in the Asterousia Mountains

Keep in mind that, although there are a few gravel roads, which may be suitable for driving depending on the car type, the only way to explore the region is on foot.

There are numerous hiking paths, many of which remain uncharted. Some of the routes are considered at least moderately difficult. The most popular hiking paths pass through gorges like Agiofarago and Achendrias or lead to chapels and monasteries, such as that of Agios Nikitas.

Depending on the time of the year you get there, you may be able to see the streams or visit spots where vegetation is more dense, such as the palm forest of Agios Antonios, the pine forest at the exit of Achendrias Gorge, or the carob forest near Tris Ekklisies Beach. In this area, you can also visit the spectacular Ambas waterfall, which is 145 meters high and can be found near the entrance of the homonymous gorge.

Visitors who decide to stick to the coastal part of the route will have the opportunity to reach a few wonderful and completely secluded beaches. Not only are they ideal for swimming but they are, in fact, considered some of the cleanest ones in Crete. The proof of that lies on the seabed, which is covered with Neptune grass and houses various fishes that thrive only in totally unpolluted waters. In the rugged area of Gournia, near Vathi Beach, you will also find five narrow and rocky coves that look like tiny fjords. The largest and most impressive of them is sometimes transformed into a tiny, magical beach, though this depends on how much it has rained during the winter.

Make sure to bring along snorkeling equipment, as gorges like Agiofarango and Tripiti will eventually lead you to the sea!



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