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Gorges to hike and walk near Káto Arkhánai, in Heraklion region

List of Gorges near Káto Arkhánai

  • 2.6 km
  • Kounaviano Gorge
  • 4 km
  • 2 h

The Kounaviano gorge, known for its lush vegetation, is the greenest canyon in the entire Heraklion prefecture, serving as a verdant oasis in the heart of Pediada province. The gorge is named after the village of Kounavi in its district, even though it actually begins from the village of Peza, hence it could be referred to as Pezzano Gorge. This gorge is a tributary of the Karteros river and runs parallel to the Astrakiano gorge. The Astrakiano and Kounaviano gorges converge at the Kaki Rachi area near Skalani, forming the Karteros Gorge. Kounaviano’s entrance is situated at the northernmost point of the fertile Peza plain, collecting all the area’s water. It has numerous springs along its bed, some of which retain water throughout the year.

In recent years, the gorge’s trail has been marked and cleared, with the addition of small bridges, wooden railings, and informational signs. Walking along this trail is a delightful and easy experience, shaded by perennial plane, oak, and other trees. The riverbed walk is simple, without significant altitude changes or difficulties. At the gorge’s starting point, two small waterfalls can be seen. Old watermills, once used to grind the area’s cereals, can be found at three different points along the trail. This region has always been one of Crete’s most productive. Additionally, limestone kilns and various fruit tree gardens can be spotted. A walk from the gorge’s entrance at Peza to its exit at Kaki Rachi near Skalani takes approximately 2 hours.

  • 4.0 km
  • Astrakiano Gorge
  • 11 km
  • 5 h

The Astrakiano and Kounaviano canyons are two verdant gorges that converge near Skalani village and empty out onto Karteros beach. The combined length of these canyons is roughly 21 km. Situated to the east of Heraklion city, these gorges are part of the broader Mount Jiouktas area. They offer easy walking trails, making them perfect for families and children.

The longer of the two, Astrakiano, begins at the Paliarda location in Kolomodi and extends to the area beneath the deserted Kato Astraki village, after crossing the picturesque Astrakiani Kamara bridge. From Kato Astraki, a brief trail leads to the Neraidospilios site, known for its stunning pond and gushing water caves.

The path along the Karteros river commences from this point, offering a lush green trail equipped with wooden bridges and railings. After crossing the Aitania bridge at Kaki Rachi, we reach Kali Rachi where the Astrakiano and Kounaviano Gorges, originating from Peza, merge. From Kali Rachi, the river continues to Karteros along a well-structured path. This section, known as Karteros Gorge, passes by ancient water mills and the historic Saint Nicholas Church (Agios Nikolaos). Near the Karteros gorge exit, at the Mesa Karteros spot, you’ll find an old inn and a second chapel dedicated to Saint Nicholas. This location, accessible by car from Karteros, is an ideal picnic spot.

The Astrakiano canyon (Astraki – Kali Rachi) measures about 7km, with a hiking duration of 3-4 hours. The Kounaviano Gorge (Peza- Kali Rachi) is roughly 4km long, requiring about 2 hours for trekking. The shared section of the Karteros gorge (up to the second Saint Nicholas chapel (Kali Rachi – Mesa Karteros)) is approximately 6km.

The canyons’ route is abundant in natural, morphological, aesthetic, historical, and cultural aspects. The landscape boasts exceptional natural beauty, featuring springs, ponds, rivers, mini waterfalls, and lush vegetation. Prior to World War II, the canyon housed 10 watermills, and locals would fish for eels and crabs, some of which still exist today.

  • 6.2 km
  • Spiliotissa Gorge
  • 1 km
  • 0.5 h

The Spiliotissa gorge, situated approximately 24km to the south of Heraklion, is a verdant chasm that originates from the Houdetsi village, passes through Agios Vasilios, and terminates in the Peza valley, where its waters feed into the Kounaviano gorge. The most picturesque section of the gorge is the 1.5km stretch between Houdetsi and Agios Vasilios. Starting from Houdetsi, where parking is available in the village, a well-kept trail leads down to Agios Vasilios, meandering through dense foliage and groves of orange and olive trees, irrigated by the stream.

At the beginning of the path, two Byzantine churches, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Nicholas, are encountered, along with two former grain mills. After approximately 500m, the historic Sinai Monastery of Panagia Spiliotissa can be found, which lends its name to the gorge. A quick exploration of the small monastery with its cave-like church is followed by a continued journey into the verdant heart of the canyon, towards Agios Vasilios. A beautiful fountain and the Byzantine church of Saint John are located just outside the monastery.

  • 11.5 km
  • Agia Anastasia Gorge
  • 4 km
  • 3 h

The Agia Anastasia Gorge commences from Kenourgio Horio in the Pediada Province (at an elevation of 160m) and concludes at the coastal village of Gournes. It’s named after the cavernous chapel of Saint Anastasia situated near its entry point. The stream that flows within it collects water from the region east of Sgourokefali and originates near Agia Triada.

Its plant life mainly consists of oleanders and the gorge narrows at various points along its path. A descent through the gorge typically takes around three hours. Regrettably, the gorge has been heavily polluted by trash and waste from nearby sheepfolds. Despite ongoing appeals from hiking clubs to the Hersonissos municipality, the situation remains dire.

  • 13.2 km
  • Venerato Gorge
  • 5 km
  • 0.5 h

The Venerato canyon, a hidden gem, is nestled 17km south of Heraklion, adjacent to the Venerato village and Paliani Monastery. Despite its modest length of 500m, the deepest part of the gorge leaves a lasting impression on its visitors, despite the visible impact of human activities.

The journey begins in Avgeniki village and concludes at the Agios Fanourios church in Venerato, nestled beneath a towering cliff. A brief stroll through the canyon from Agios Fanourios can be paired with a quick exploration of Venerato village. This charming village, once home to Venetian nobles, was often referred to as “Little Venice” due to its picturesque landscape.

The Apollonas river, which maintains its flow throughout the year, meanders through the gorge, carrying water from Agia Varvara to the Giofyros river. The river’s name, Apollonas, is derived from the ancient town of Apollonia, which once stood here. Some remnants of this town still exist near the gorge. As one ventures further into the gorge, the vegetation and platan trees flourish, harmoniously blending with an ancient watermill. The gorge narrows down to a width of 60cm, with the walls towering up to 25 meters.

Moving ahead, the Gra Spiliara (Old Cave), a haven for wild pigeons, emerges. The cave and the canyon served as a sanctuary during the Turkish Era and the German Occupation of Crete. Some parts of the gorge require wading through water or climbing over rocks. It is advisable for those descending the gorge to wear a helmet to protect against potential falling stones caused by the goats that inhabit the canyon’s edges.

After walking another 80m, you’ll reach the Kouroupi area. Here, the canyon walls almost converge, creating several small waterfalls. There’s a narrow, 20-meter long crevice in the rock that ends in a 7-meter high cliff and a deep pond. This marks the end of the walkable part of the gorge.

Until the 1950s, locals sourced their drinking water from this river, used it for irrigation, and it was home to a variety of wildlife including turtles, eels, and crabs. Sadly, pollution and domestic sewage have significantly degraded the ecosystem. This beautiful location deserves a better fate, and we can only hope it attains it.

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