The highest peak on the island of Crete, Mount Psiloritis, also known as Mount Ida, rises some 2,456 meters above the sea. The towering peak that the Egyptians called “The pillar that holds up the sky” casts its morning shadow over the majestic Amari Valley to the southwest, and towers over Heraklion Prefecture to the east.
A UNESCO Geopark, Mount Psiloritis is blessed with an amazingly biodiverse landscape. Here you will find endemic plants and animal species seldom found in such unique coexistence. Some plants found on the mountain, are indigenous only to Crete. Trekkers hiking Psiloritis are often captivated by the lush gorges that stand in stark contrast to the barren terrain in parts of the refuge.
An Experience Like No Other
Traditional villages dot this wonderous landscape, and the views from atop the mountain are nothing short of breathtaking. To the south, the Libyan Sea envelops Crete’s shores and stretches to North Africa. Gazing northward, adventurers can almost see the legendary Thera, now called Santorini, just over the horizon on the Cretan Sea.
Village Life Near Mount Psilorities
If you draw a circle around Mount Psiloritis on a map, hundreds of villages large and small will come into your mind frame. It is in these villages, some as old as time itself, that the real treasure of this island resides. The traditions these people cling to for dear life, create a fabulous tapestry of culture and history most visitors to the island never experience. In the north, there’s a ring of villages like Eleftherna, Margarites, Choumeri, Melissourgaki, and Avdellas.
Westward, there’s Arkadi, Agia Fotini, Thronos, where Aravanes Taverna is located, and amazing Monastiraki, where a fabulous Minoan Palace’s ruins still stand. South of the mountain, Kouroutes, Nithafri, Apodoulou, Platanos, Kamares, and Zaros are part of a string of wonderful villages, each with their own personality. To the east, are Agia Varvara, Kato and Ano Asites, Krousonas, Korfes, and Tylissos, where another Minoan Palace once stood.
For travelers who want to experience Crete’s authentic pastoral way of life, the people and places in the shadow of this daunting mountain live a lifestyle some say is the healthiest and kindest on Earth. It is said that the Greek god Zeus was hidden here from Cronos and that he grew up playing in the Eden-like fields of the Amari Valley.
To the east of the mountain lies the stunning pastoral treasure, the Nida plateau. This is where the archaeological site of the Cave of Zeus ( Ideon Andron) can be found. There’s also a branch of the European walking route E4 to the Timios Stavros trail that leads to the summit of the mountain. We have this from the amazing Cretan Beaches website:
The plateau can be reached via a dirt road starting from the picturesque village of Anogia, but also via a rugged dirt track from Gergeri. The plateau is used as pasture and is not cultivated. Due to overgrazing, you will not see any trees in the plain, although it was previously covered by a dense forest. You can still see a small, but excellent, sample of this forest, in the nearby oak wood of Rouvas, which can be reached via the road connecting the plateau with Gergeri. Also, another nice idea is trekking down the Voriza Gorge, starting from “Poros Milias”, the south passage that links the plateau to the plain of Messara.
For trekkers who want to travel the summit of the mountain, there are or 5 different routes, the easiest being from the aforementioned Nida Plateau. You can drive to Anogia village from Heraklion and then to Nida Plateau (1hr & 30 min). Don’t worry about missing the restaurant, it’s the only building on the plateau. The walk to the Idaion Cave entrance is pretty easy, and it’s well marked. The first couple of hours are a breeze until you have to descend to the Akollita Plateau and then on up the rest of the way to the summit. Be advised, there is usually still snow at this altitude into the month of June. At a minimum, trekkers will need good hiking boots, two pairs of socks, sunscreen, a hat, and about 3 liters of water for this trek. You can spend the night on the summit, but you should have warm clothes and a sleeping bag.
Psiloritis is actually the tallest landmark on an island that is essentially all mountain. An almost continuous chain of peaks extends from the White Mountains in the far west, to Mount Dikti in the east, with the Massara plains connecting the chain to the Asteroussia Mountains and the Libyan Sea in the south and east.
Other wonders lie in the shadow of this awesome mountain includeing the springs at Spili, Lake Votomos at Zaros, the gorges of Agios Nikolaos, and Vorizia, plus Almyros. Be sure and take in the wonderful Arkadi Monastery if you are traveling Amari and the western slopes of Psiloritis too. And for those who want a fantastic guided experience, we suggest you stay at Aravanes in Thronos, overlooking the valley. Just ask for Tito. He has vast experience leading small groups up on the mountain.
In this part of Crete there’s a world of wonders, activities, and events going on year-round. Running enthusiasts may want to take part in the international Psiloritis Race. There’s too many mountaineering, caving/spelunking, paragliding, mountain biking, and climbing activities and experience to list here. Below you will find a few recommendations for staying and dining nearby.
Mount Psiloritis Stays
Aravanes is a traditional family Cretan taverna situated in tiny Thronos, which guards the whole of the Amari Valley. Experience what TripAdvisor terms a “Heartbreaking view on mountains” – enjoy the finest authentic Cretan cuisine, and become friends with sisters Maria and Eleutheria and their family, Cretans with hearts of pure gold. Aravanes is has won TA’s Certificate of Excellence 2017 – 2019. Room prices start at €31.50, but early morning overlooking the valley of Zeus from your private balcony is priceless.
The Delina Mountain Resort is situated a stone’s throw from picturesque Anogia village, 910 meters up along the road towards Nida Village. There are a number of advantages for stating at this amazing resort. First of all, you’re halfway up the mountain. Then, enjoying an indoor pool or indulging with a sensuous massage accentuate typical Cretan hospitality in a pristine environment. From Booking – “Set in an area of 28 acres, this resort combines the fine facilities of a luxurious hotel with the authenticity of Cretan tradition and the wild beauty of the island.” The bed and breakfast rates start at like €60 per night.
In the heart of Zaros Village, KERAMOS Studios are is a beautiful traditional guesthouse only 45 km from Heraklion right underneath Mount Psiloritis to the southeast of the peak. This is where the purest water on Earth is bottled from natural spring water from the mountain’s runoff. Zaros is our favorite sparkling water, and this traditional family guesthouse is full of Cretan hospitality. Expect perfect Cretan breakfasts and mouthwatering traditional recipes. Prices here start at about €30 euro per night.
Enagron Cretan Ecotourism Village is one of Crete’s highest-rated eco-tourism experiences. Set in the foothills of Mount Psiloritis to the North, the Axos retreat is surrounded by beautiful olive groves and vineyards. With the greatest care for the native environment, the owners of the resort created furnished apartments for from 2 to 6 people that are a cut above. There is excellent Cretan gastronomy and myriad activities to enhance the experience. Enagron accommodations start at around €88 euro per night.
For more information on what to see and do in the Psiloritis area, be sure and visit these Cretan Beaches pages. No one has done more research into this amazing island. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us, we’ll find your answers.