Driving to Lentas in southern Crete - The Asterousia Mountains
Traveling towards Lentas one crosses the Asterousia Mountains, an elongated range that lies along the south coast of the province of Heraklion. The highest peak is 1280 meters above sea level and is known as Kofinas, above the monastery of Koudoumas and beside the village of Kapetiana.
The Asterousian landscape is one of the more exceptional in Crete and is, for the most part, rugged, dry and barren. A few olive trees grow scattered here and there, among the shrubs and bushes that reign.
I leave behind me the plain of Messara, characteristically still and quiet during the summer, and I begin my climb along the road that snakes its way high into the Asterousia Mountains. As I climb higher, with every bend in the road, my mood begins to change.
Asterousia is not overflowing with visible life. The landscape is deserted and only the odd hawk or vulture is to be seen cutting through the air. The view, however, is becoming panoramic and the plain of Messara stretches out below me, a broad strip of flat land enclosed by the peaks of Psiloritis (Mountain Ida) to the North and Asterousia to the South. It is a still, hot day with humidity making the view misty.
My gaze hovers over the mountain slopes and over the impressive rock formations before me, they are huge, sharp and rough. They draw the gaze with their rugged forms and their eerie beauty. The road is difficult, narrow with many steep sharp turns. I use second gear most of the time, occasionally going to third.
As much as it may tire me I am pleased. I like the constantly changing view and the scenes that are revealed at every turn. I am pleased as I climb and the air changes becoming fresher and less humid. I am still more pleased to be up on the mountain. I never liked the flat land with its limited horizon and stifling air.
In Asterousia everything moves upward. Perhaps it is because the spirit finds no comfort in the inhospitable rocks and seeks relief from above.
The peaks of the mountains show the way up; the pointed rocks direct the gaze upward. It is as though they are calling "Come on up. The answer to your journey awaits, there you will find the beloved images that will make your heart leap and put a smile on your face."
I follow the advice of the mountains and drive for some time on the almost empty road. I pass a small village built on the slope of the mountain with the unusual name of Miamou, an Arabic name they say. The village was built well hidden in Asterousia evidently for fear of pirates and their raids.
Shortly after Miamou I come to a sign to Krotos to the left or Lentas straight ahead. Fifty meters beyond the sign on the right side of the road, I see a spring running with the healing waters of Lentas. I continue and the journeys reward is not far off. At the next turn I come face to face for the first time with the deep blue of the sea.
The sweetness and beauty of the scene is unbelievable. The steep cliffs of the Cretan coastline plunge into the sea, a blue sea that stretches to the edge of the horizon. There are no limits, the gaze travels far and the spirit soars, gladdened and uplifted. Yes, it is worth the journey for such a view.
I continue the few kilometers that remain to Lentas. I can't wait to feel the cool sea on my body and to wash away the sweat and be baptized in the waters of Lentas.
As for the mountains, I am grateful to them for the surprise that they guard so well for the persistent traveler, who will not be deterred by the walls of the cliffs. I feel the mountains still have much to tell me. What I have seen is just the first paragraph of a long book.
I crossed these mountains quickly. I crossed them with the arrogance and the superficiality of the driver of a car. They deserve a slow crossing, like the countrywoman from Miamou on her donkey, who smiles and greets tourists who stop to take her picture.
Asterousia Mountains, their history, tourism and activities in Asterousia, south Crete
Author: Yannis Samatas