Heraklion Mount Ida Psiloritis

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Location: Fourfouras

Mount Ida, the highest mountain in Crete, forms part of the massif of Psiloritis, which covers a great part of the Rethymnon and Heraklion prefectures. On this awe-inspiring mountain, you can see some of the most stunning natural landscapes, unique caves, deep gorges, verdant forests and plateaus, as well as sights that date back to the Minoan times. The wider area including Mount Ida has been declared a natural park and is a member of UNESCO's Global Geoparks Network.

Caves and Gorges

Psiloritis has five peaks surpassing the altitude of 2,000 meters; the highest of them is Ida at 2,456 meters. Thus, it offers sublime views of the entire island of Crete; from the top, it is possible to gaze at the White Mountains to the west, Mount Dicte to the east, and the plain of Messara, the Asterousia mountains and the vast Libyan Sea to the south. Heraklion Town and Rethymno Town loom to the north, against the backdrop of the Cretan Sea.

The massif is brimming with caves, most of which are characterized by impressive geological formations, while some of them have yielded significant archaeological findings which are now displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion. The most spectacular one is Sfendoni Cave in the area of Zoniana, which boasts beautifully lighted stalactites and stalagmites of different colors and shapes. Here, visitors can also marvel at the so-called "cave pearls" a concretion of calcium salts formed in limestone caves that resemble real pearls. Other caves that stand out are those of Melidoni (also known as Gerontospilios), Kamilaris, Doxa and Kamares.

At the same time, Psiloritis is one of the best places to go hiking on the island, as deep gorges cleave their way through the landscape. The most impressive one is that of Agios Nikolaos in Rouvas, which is covered in dense vegetation, but the gorges of Vorizia, Almyros and Platania are well worth a visit too. The most common hiking routes start at Kamares (6-7 hours) and Ideon Antron (3-4 hours).

Flora and fauna

Historical texts reveal that, in olden times, Psiloritis was covered by thick forests housing several species endemic to Crete. Though only a few of these forests have survived to this day, it is still possible to hike through the lush kermes-oak forest of Rouvas, while smaller forests can also be found at the plateau of Vromonero, and the slopes of Zaros and Pardi up to an altitude of 1,600 meters. Groves of pines, cypresses and maples are also scattered throughout the slopes, but, in very high altitudes, the vegetation consists mainly of thorny plants, like heathers. The area above the Kamares village has been declared a listed natural monument for the protection of a rare orchid species that can only be found in Crete. The Natural Park is the natural habitat of many endangered fauna species too, including wild birds and the Cretan wildcat.

Mythology and archaeological findings

It is surely no coincidence that Mount Ida figures so prominently in ancient Greek mythology. It was believed to have been the home of the Curetes, rustic spirits that developed stock-breeding, hunting, and honey-making and taught people how to live in communities. According to the legend, they were appointed by Rhea to protect the newly-born god Zeus from his father, Cronus, who ate all his children. Thus, the Idaean Cave (Ideon Antron) was highly venerated throughout antiquity, as it was thought to have been the place where Zeus was nurtured.

Even before that, though, Mount Ida was dedicated to the worship of Minoan goddesses. This is why, along the way to the Idaean Cave, visitors can see the ruins of the palatial center of Zominthos, which has yielded significant archaeological findings. The mountain’s religious significance continued during the Christian era, and a small stone-built chapel dedicated to Timios Stavros (the Holy Cross) has been erected on its highest peak. Visitors can also find the remnants of various other ancient Greek archaeological sites (e.g. Ancient Eleutherna and Axos), as well as the ruins of medieval castles nestled among the rocky landscape.

Other landmarks on Psiloritis include Lake Zarou, and the Nida plateau, which is famous for its mitata. These small huts have been built to provide shelter to shepherds, and they are widely used for cheese-making. On a mountain peak called Skanakas, visitors will also come across the astronomical observatory of the University of Crete.


Trekking up to the very top of Psiloritis is demanding, and is usually attempted during the summer months when weather conditions are not adverse. Should you wish to spend the night on the mountaintop, bear in mind that, at night, the temperature often drops below zero even in summer. If you're feeling more adventurous, you can try your hand at paragliding, mountain biking, or canyoning.

Between the 22nd and the 30th of July, festivities including concerts and theatrical performances (the Yakinthia) take place near the chapel of Saint Hyacinth at Anogia.



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