Up the rugged heart of Psiloritis Mountain, at its southeastern slopes, hides one of the most beautiful Cretan forests (and the most important in Heraklion prefecture). If you are already familiar with the ‘rough’ landscape of the specific mountain, you will wonder where about this forest hides. On the other hand, you should know that the ancient name of Psiloritis Mountain is ‘Idi’, which means ‘forested mountain’. Indeed, evidence suggests that once upon a time Crete was covered with forests and in Minoan times Idi was a green mountain. In our days, however, you have to search the remains of its greener past in some of its most remote corners. Nevertheless, the forest of Rouvas is easy to access; all you have to do is drive on the zigzag road that crosses the rocky slope of Psiloritis over the village of Gergeri and then down the dirt road that leads to the “secret” kermes oak forest of Rouvas.
The entire route is fascinating with interchanging landscapes and striking views to the sea at some points. When you climb up the road you will see the valley of Messara spreading until your gaze reaches the summits of Asterousia, the Libyan Sea and the island of Paximadia. When you enter the forest, the scenery dramatically changes. As you drive within a ‘hole’ in the mountain, the surrounding slopes are filled with kermes oaks, Cretan zelkovas (known as abelitsia and grows only in Crete) and maple trees that turn golden and red in autumn. Reverence!
When you reach the chapel of Agios Ioannis it is time to park your car and start walking (please do not imitate those tired people that like to picnic next to their car and drive it into the forest!). You are now in a tiny plateau with ancient plane trees and a little river. There are wooden picnic tables and benches to eat and rest and you will see locals enjoying their BBQ. You probably want to stay here and roll around the grass; however we suggest you save some energy because the adventure has just started. Tie you hiking boots or running shoes and follow the river to enjoy a nice walk in the gorge of Agios Nikolaos, aka Gafari.
The surrounding slopes are filled with kermes oaks, Cretan zelkovas (known as abelitsia and grows only in Crete) and maple trees that turn golden and red in autumn. Reverence!
It is one of the greenest gorges of Crete. Oaks, pine trees, plane trees, cypresses and other ‘stars’ of the Cretan flora will accompany your walk. The trail is well maintained and goes parallel to the river bed, sometimes crossing it. When the river is dry, you might ‘miss’ the little pools and waterfalls but at least you ‘win’ easier descents.
The wondering eyes of goats will follow your every step, as you now walk in their ‘fields’. Soon the gorge opens, offering breathtaking views to the forested slopes….Cretan nature at its best! If you are lucky you might see some wild Cretan fauna, like the Cretan badger (Meles meles arcalus); or if you are super lucky, you might meet the endemic wild cat of Crete that resides here (ok, if you are THAT lucky you’d better run and play the lottery, and on the way don’t forget to call the Museum of Natural History).
The trail continues, taking you between gigantic river rocks, trees that literally grow on rocks and hang over the cliffs. Eventually you will reach the Monastery of Agios Nikolaos. If you want you can continue walking to the lake of Zaros, but we have to remind you where you parked your car and the way back is uphill! ;-)