8.1 Mirtos- Embaros- Katofigi- Kaminaki- Lassithi

Lassithi Plateau
Lassithi Plateau and Mount Dikti – © nick / bikingcrete.com

There are many ways to the Lassithi plateau at about 900 Meter altitude. The main routes start from the east at Napoli or from the north at Malia or Chersonisou via Potamies and Kera to Lassithi.

The more adventurous tracks lead on tarmac and tens of kilometres of washed out dirt road, on a forgotten Turkish military track through the canyons, via Lythos and Kastamonitsa to the Lassithi plateau and if you love your racing bike, you have to walk it for a while.

Or you climb via ancient Lato, through the unique village of Kritsa, up to Avdeliako and Katharo, crossing the Katharo Plateau from south to north and then entering the Lassithi Plateau at the village of Mesa Lassithi.

Storm clouds over the Katharo Plateau – © nick / bikingcrete.com

You ride through the clouds and over the pass at an altitude of 1.100m and if you are lucky enough to arrive in spring, you can smell the scent of blooms on fruit trees with every breath you take and marvel at it. The potato- and cornfields, bright rows of vegetables, and blooms on the apple and pear trees look as if they were painted on canvas.

The lofty Lassithi plateau is an impressive size, and the villages on its fringes, as well as the unrivalled haggardness of the surrounding mountains and valleys, make it my favourite garden.

But the today’s ride is an approach to Lassithi from the South, featuring asphalt all the way and if you go by racing bike, you are perfectly equipped. This climb is at least as adventurous as the above-mentioned tours. Short sections of the road can be eroded and there may be some parts of unpaved road.

8.1 Mirtos- Embaros- Katofigi- Kaminaki

69 km | 2.727 vertical meters | Hors catégorie

Mirtos- Embaros- Katofigi-Kaminaki- Lassithi

I resolved to open a little – a very, very little crevice in the lantern – until, at length, a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out of the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye. It was open – wide, wide open – and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness – all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones” [The Tell-Tale Heart, Edgar Allen Poe, 1843]

Mirtos – © nick / bikingcrete.com

Mirtos: Where the southern foothills of the Dikti mountains slope towards the plain around Irapetra, lies the small village of Mirtos. Marked by prosperity and usually buzzing with agricultural activity, the road leading from Irapetra to the west loses its dusty and noisy character here where it turns off into the mountains and towards Ano Vianos.

Away from the road, this peaceful place is an excellent base for exploring the beautiful mountain scenery to the north and east, as well as for tours to the west till the coast at Tsoutsouros.

The alleys facing the sea are lined with white houses, a couple of restaurants and coffee bars, mini-markets as well as souvenir and arts and crafts shops. At lunchtime and in the evening, the beach promenade, where the powerful waves occasionally surge with a roar, is the most popular place for resting and enjoying a meal. The western outskirts of the village merge into the pebble beach and make this holiday resort a perfect spot for sailing (boat rental available) and bathing in the sea.

Accommodation: Big Blue Apartments, located up the hill at the western end of the beach promenade, offer functionally furnished rooms with a kitchenette, refrigerator, bathroom and balcony. The larger apartments, featuring up to two bedrooms and a large balcony or terrace, are lovingly decorated. With a unique view across the sea, you can imagine yourself standing on the bridge of an ocean liner (www.big-blue.gr). The tip for this tour came from the likeable owner, Pavlos Daskalakis: The shortest road connection from the south via Embaros and Katofigi to the Lassithi Plateau was developed into an asphalt road between 2007 and 2013, and was largely asphalted in 2012.

Ano Vianos – Main Square – © nick / bikingcrete.com
Embaros Signpost – You are on the right track to the Lassithi Plateau – © nick / bikingcrete.com

Ano Vianos: From Mirtos, take the well-developed road that goes steeply uphill to the west via Mournies, Pefkos and Amiras. After some 20 kilometres you will reach a plateau at 730 metres above sea level. Then dash down in a fast descent to the big village of Ano Vianos, beautifully situated on a steep slope. Be careful not to miss it, there is a new bypass!

The Byzantine churches of Aghia Georgios and Aghia Pelagia are worth a visit and offer a wonderful view of the valley from the small cemetery. Aghia Pelagia (signposted on the main square) boasts impressive wall paintings dating from 1360. Also interesting is the folklore museum at the western end of the village where you can see a collection dealing with the daily life of the last 200 years. There are two ATMs in town.

Was it today that I had to atone for my sins? I must confess that the images of the „Punishment Of The Damned In Hell“, which I had studied in the church of Aghia Pelagia, were stuck in my head. As I drove through the olive groves, up and down through hills and valleys, I was haunted by the increasingly strong headwind. Sneaky as a snake, it came at me with enhanced force on the ascents, while the midday heat singed me on the descents. The poison of fatigue crept into my body and increasingly diminished the strength I would all too soon desperately need on the mountain.

Below Mount Madara (2.140m) – Go for the adventure – © nick / bikingcrete.com
Climbing The Ridges – steep passages with pitches of up to 20% – © nick / bikingcrete.com

Embaros: After 38 kilometres in total, turn right towards Embaros (spot the large sign saying „Lassithi“). At the crossroads in the town centre of Embaros, follow the street with the pharmacy, the church and the small, blue „Katofigi“ direction sign. The next village of Xeniakos has another big signpost directing you to Katofigi and Lassithi.

The climb: A big S-bend with an ascent of 8% at the village exit of Kaminaki marks the beginning of the actual climb. The road continues to rise steadily on a straight stretch and further on, on a steep ramp with a pitch of up to 16%, you leave the last houses of Xeniakos behind you. Then it becomes quiet and you are alone, surrounded by the breathtaking scenery of the Dikti mountain range.

Your senses sharpen in this barren mountain landscape. The scent of chamomile is overwhelming; it blends with smell of sun-dried thyme, wild sage and rosemary, and is overlaid by the stench of a decaying goat. The road goes uphill, first in steep curves, then in narrow hairpin bends cut deep into the limestone and marl layers of the Plattenkalk, sometimes featuring unimaginably steep passages with pitches of up to 20%.

The huge falcon with a wingspan of almost three metres in flight – © Oliver / Fotolia
High Noon – © MEISTERFOTO / Fotolia

The falcon‘s eye – In my silent struggle, accompanied only by the sound of my breathing, I suddenly heard a noise. It was a soft humming, then a buzz, clearly different from the surrounding sounds. Getting louder, it seemed to come from right above me. With a quiet „swish“, a shadow flashed over me and across the street in front of me.

I looked up into the sky in shivers and saw an eye gazing at me. Just like this eye stared straight at me, I only peered hard into this eye.

And from this big eye, surrounded by a bright red sclerotic ring, a beam hit me as if it came from a burning glass.

Directly above me, a huge falcon with a wingspan of almost three metres drew its course in circles. And not just him – ten giant birds of prey sailed higher and higher on the upwind, hovering weightlessly above a breathless human insect that crawled up the mountain at walking pace.

Downhill from the pass – © nick / bikingcrete.com
Mount Dikty (2.148m) and Mount Madara (Afendis Christos) – © nick / bikingcrete.com

Six kilometres from Xenaikos, behind a first mountain pass at an altitude of 950 metres, the scenery changes. You enter a new world where steep ascents lead through picturesque valleys of the alpine mountains. Surrounded by the high peaks of Mounts Dikti (2.148m), Lazaro (2.085m) and Madara (1.783m), your route leads along eroded gullies, in which the road threatens to sink.

Then further on, an Alp embedded in a small valley with lush meadows. This is where they wave and shout „Ελάτε εδώ. Από πού είσαι; Γερμανικά … Έλα, πάρτε ένα ποτό νερό… – come and drink some water.“  There, the white pearl of the chapel of Ag. Manouil flashes up from its green surroundings. What a fantastic trip.

The next mountain pass at an altitude of 1.300 metres is the last one to master after a challenging 12 kilometre climb with an average gradient of 10%. And there they are again: The huge hawks of the Dikti Mountains now sail over the pass and sweep across the valley lined by sheer rock walls – farewell and have a good flight, you bearded vultures.

St. George’s Church – © nick / bikingcrete.com
Lassithi in sight – © nick / bikingcrete.com

Accomodation Agios Georgios: Taverna Maria-Rea is located on the main street opposite the school and offers guest rooms with a small bathroom above the tavern as well as traditional Greek hospitality. Maria herself is the chef, don’t miss her moussaka.

The rooms facing the street provide a great view over the Lassithi plain and St. George’s Church. For larger rooms and studios, visit her „Hotel Maria“, which is slightly hidden in a side street on the western outskirts of the village, 200 metres from the folklore museum. (Unfortunately both destinations are probably closed)