The Rouvas Gorge

Sunday 19th November 2006

If you have been to Crete you may recognise the name Rouvas as the name of the bottled water often served in cafes.  According to the label "The natural table water ROUVAS got its name from the most beautiful holm-oak forest of Crete which lies exactly above the crystal springs of the village of Gregori at the foot of Mount Psiloritis".

The forest is reached by the Rouvas Gorge.  During World War 2 this was the setting for some severe battles between the German occupying forces and the Cretan resistance fighters.  These days it is much more peaceful and preferred by aficionados to the more famous and tourist infested Samaria Gorge, although live ammunition was found in the Rouvas Gorge by hikers only last year!

I was in Iraklio to visit Jamie and on a warm sunny November Sunday we decided to tackle the Rouvas Gorge.  We drove across the island through surprisingly green countryside until we reached Zaros, another name appearing on water bottles, and parked above the village at Lake Zaros, otherwise known as the "bottomless lake".  Judging by the treatment meted out to the local information sign, which has been used for target practice, there is still a fair amount of live ammunition in the area!

Target practice

The bottomless Lake Zaros

Above the lake we contoured the hill, stopping from time to time to enjoy the aroma from the various herbs in the scrub, until we reached the old monastery of Agios Nikolaos.  Apparently it was deserted until recently but clearly the Greek Orthodox Church is not without funds as a massive new structure is now being built at this fairly remote site at the foot of the gorge.

 On the scent

The new monastry and the Rouvas Gorge

The gorge is impressive.  It reminded me of Gordale Scar but on a much grander scale.  Finding the path up was problematical and on a couple of occasions we took a false trail, no doubt pioneered by goats, only to find our way blocked.  Once back on the proper track it was comforting to find the scarier bits protected by a handrail, though this at times seemed rather fragile and in parts the path had been swept away by rain induced screes, which were a bit of a challenge.  And also there were a couple of "Indiana Jones" type bridges to negotiate.

Man and dog at the half way seat

 Indiana Jones bridge 1

After 3 km or so of continuous climbing we came to the start of the oak forest.  The valley got narrower and narrower and the gorge actually started to have water in it.  Moreover the temperature dropped noticeably.  The top of the gorge produced a surprise.

The picnic area

There was a sort of junction and the stream turned right, gently uphill so we followed it in the hope of finding the chapel of Agios Ioannis.  

Suddenly, in a clearing, we were surprised to see a car.  And then more cars.  And then lots of people having barbeques and Sunday picnics.  

And then the chapel of Agios Ioannis.  

So we had our picnic sat on the Chapel wall in a lovely area surrounded by mountains.

The chapel of Agios Ioanni

Inside the chapel of Agios Ioanni

 Indiana Jones bridge 2 with disappearing dog!

We returned the way we came but that was no hardship as it presented a quite different view.  The second of the Indiana Jones bridges nearly caused a disaster or two.  The bridge gave options. Isolated bamboo poles on the right on which you could use your full height if you could balance or, on the left, a better surface but no headroom due to an overhanging rock.

Jamie took the sensible line and slid down the left side.  As dogs will, Poppy took the exciting line and tried to cross on the steep rock surface on the right and only just escaped tumbling down below.

I compromised and attempted the right hand poles (up which I had ascended) only to tread on the first pole and find that the leverage caused it to come loose and rear up in front of me. Chastened, I then took the Jamie route.

Otherwise, the 5 km descent was straightforward apart from the bits of screes.  Nearing the bottom we came across a cacophony of goats making their way down presumably to the monastery for feeding time, their bells creating quite an orchestra.

On reaching the bottomless lake, the taverna was heaving with Cretans enjoying a lazy Sunday lunch.  We tried to get a drink but they were far too busy so we jumped into the car and made our way to the village of Zaros, which was full of old men's bars.  We chose one and were quickly served with drinks and delicious tapas, all for only 3€.  How do they make a living?

Distance walked was about 10 km.  It was hard to judge the height climbed from the map but it must have been more than 2,000 feet.  An excellent introduction to the Cretan countryside.

Don, 19th November 2006


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