About 70km east of the city of Heraklion is located the wonderful and distinctly upland Lassithi plateau, in the mountains of the same name. It is rather like the Garden of Eden for the ancient Greek Gods – and birthplace of Zeus.
On this excursion with your local licensed and professional guide, you will have the opportunity to visit and experience this land where were played out legendary dramas. Your guide and transport will meet you at your hotel: and you will be whisked off, up from the coastal plains into the sacred mountains and the caves that fringe them! It is quite a climb: the altitude is around 800 to 850m, making Lassithi one of the few residential areas in the Mediterranean at such high altitude. The snow remains on the mountain peaks till mid-spring: something of a surprise for most visitors of Crete, and ensuring that only the hardiest of folk overwinter there.
The villages of the plateau are set like beads on a necklace, all along the 23 km-long road that encircles the feet of the surrounding mountains. The fertile and flat plain in the middle is thus left free for cultivation.
As we ascend to the plateau, stunning panoramic views unfold to the north and west. Leaving the sea and beaches behind, we arrive first and en route still at the Nunnery of Kardiotissa- Panagia i Kera (Our Lady the Virgin Mary). The establishment dates back as early as the 14th century, with beautiful frescoes, examples of Greek Orthodox Byzantine Art. The setting of the Nunnery is tranquil; the architecture of the church with its paintings makes one appreciate the soothing influence of belief. To this day women visit this church, asking for a baby! Successfully. The many babies that are subsequently christened are witness to the miracle of love and faith, a living demonstration to the power of devotion.
From Kera the road goes ever on, rising sharply up to a mountain pass.
Soon appears the first evidence of the stone windmills, standing like teeth on the fringing mountains: we have arrived. Stopping awhile at the pass for plenty of photographs both out to the sea, and inland over the plateau, we hasten on to the cave of Psychro.
This is one of the most important sacred sites of Minoan Crete, and one of the largest caves on the island. The use of caves as cult places was one of the basic characteristics of the religious beliefs of the Minoans of Crete.
Cult practice probably begins here in the Early Minoan period (2800-2300 B.C.), although in the antechamber are preserved traces of the even earlier occupation belonging to the first farmers to settle in the Neolithic period. But the most important finds date from the Middle Minoan period (1800 B.C.) onwards, as the location was used for many centuries, right down until the Geometric (8th century B.C.) and the Orientalising-Archaic period (7th-6th centuries B.C.). In fact, worship never really ceased .. the finds prove that it was in sporadic use as late as the Roman period.
The Minoan pilgrims dedicated votive offerings, such as bronze idols of humans and perhaps gods, of animals, and small symbolic double axes, weapons etc. The excavators and several scholars identify the cave as the famous “Diktaian Cave”, where Zeus was born and brought up with the aid of Amaltheia and the Kouretes. Other stories have attached themselves to the cave: the seer Epimenides “slept” within, and ever afterwards could predict the future.
On reaching Psychro, there are several cafes at which to stretch cramped limbs, to rest a bit and take in the views again, before taking the path up to the birthplace of Zeus.
The cave itself is provided with modern pathways and ropes. But it is still a scramble to be undertaken with care .. and the correct footwear. Caves are also cool and damp .. surprisingly so. This one is naturally adorned with baroque-looking stalactites, darkened chambers and at the very bottom a still pool of very cold water.
A day in Lassithi is one that combines spectacular views and landscape, and a dip into many myths and legends, of ancient heroes and their gods. An excursion dedicated to nature, stories and adventure – an epitome of the untamed island of Crete.