Katharo Plateau on Lassithi mountains

Plateau of Katharo

The plateau of Katharo is located at an altitude of 1200 meters and it is 26 km from Agios Nikolaos and 12 km from the plateau of Lassithi. The road from Agios Nikolaos via Kritsa village to Katharo plateau is an asphalt road, but the road from Lassithi plateau is still under construction. If you want to drive from Lassithi to Katharo you should seek recent updated information from the locals.

katharo plateau

Another scenic route is from Katharo to Ierapetra via the village of Males. The road until Males is a rough dirt road and you will need a 4WD car for a safe drive. The last part from Males to Ierapetra is an asphalt road and the distance is 10 Km.

In Katharo there are a few houses but there are no permanent residents. Its seasonal residents are shepherds, who also produce small quantities of vegetables (potatoes) and fruit (grapes, apples) for their own needs only. The electricity here is produced by generators. In Katharo there is a very unusual arrangement concerning the ownership of land. All land belongs to the community of Kritsa and the authorities allow the residents of Katharo to use it. In return, four percent of what they produce has to be paid to Kritsa each year.

tavern in katharo

In Katharo there are three taverns – cafes. The taverns open when the shepherds move their flocks up to the plateau. This happens on May 15 and they stay open daily until the end of October when the flocks leave the plateau for the lower, warmer areas.

During the winter they open only on weekends weather permitting. It is not unusual to find a heavy snowfall in January that will cover all buildings and at such times access to the Katharo plateau may not be possible.

The taverns serve local products mostly and, if you do visit Katharo, then you should not miss their specialities, the grilled meat of young goat or lamb or the mizithra, a fresh, soft white cheese produced by the shepherds of Katharo.

Katharo local Celebrations

In August two celebrations are arranged at Katharo each year:

  • on August 6, the celebration of the local church of Afentis Christos (Jesus Christ)
  • on the first weekend after August 15, the celebration of the Shepherd.

Visitors gather under a large oak tree and they can admire an exhibition of traditional items used by the shepherds. Shepherds of the area make cheese, the visitors can watch the whole procedure and afterwards, they can taste the fresh mizithra. Meat is also boiled and lunch is served to the visitors, while a Cretan lyra player entertains them. It is a popular event and more than one thousand people take part in the celebration. Visitors are expected to contribute to the costs of staging the event by purchasing an inexpensive ticket.

An unforeseen visit to Katharo

It is April 2004 and the day is sunny and very warm with temperatures around 27 C at sea level. The reason is the south wind blowing from Africa over the Mediteranean sea to Crete. This happens quite often in the winter and spring and sometimes the wind carries enough dust from the Sahara desert to paint the Cretan sky in a dull red colour. If a rain follows, then cars, streets and houses are covered by a thin layer of mud.

katharo map

Luckily this was not the case this time, the sky was clear and the air dry and clean. We left Agios Nikolaos for the short drive to the traditional village of Kritsa.

Kritsa is located 10 km south of Agios Nikolaos on the flanks of the Lassithi mountains.

We entered Kritsa and drove through it, anticipating a “special” feeling that would make us park the car and start exploring.

The car kept climbing through the narrow, winding road but the “feeling” was missing. There were some beautiful old buildings and a few tourists walking around but it was probably too hot for any exploration. Suddenly, close to the exit from the village a sign caught my eye: Katharo Plateau 16 Km.

The idea of climbing to a mountain plateau sounded intriguing: great views and cooler temperatures. The “feeling” was finally here and without a second thought we drove out of Kritsa and along  a winding road with numerous blind bends.

The car moved steadily on in second gear and we kept going higher and higher.

The altitude increased radically and the change in the air pressure made us swallow every now and then, as we tried to equalize the pressure in our ears.

view from katharo plateau to agios nikolaos bay
 Scenic sunset on the road from Kritsa to Aghios Nikolaos. Photo by Evgenio Archontopoulos

The area was covered with bushes and oak trees and the views to the Cretan sea were unobstructed and marvellous.

The bay of Agios Nikolaos was clearly visible, as well as the shore of Pahia Ammos, Kavousi and Platanos, the mountains of Thripti and the gorge of Ha.

On the horizon the shore of Sitia was barely visible. The air was getting cooler by this time and soon it had dropped to 20 C, making it a lot more pleasurable.

About half an hour later we had finally reached the plateau of Katharo, where we enjoyed the view of a cloudless blue sky, the summits Lazaros and Spathi with a little snow still on them, and the plateau itself covered with lush green grass and wildflowers.

At Katharo we enjoyed a delicious meal in a taverna that had just opened for the season, listened to the owner telling us about the harsh winter in the mountains which forces the shepherds to move their flocks down to the lowlands each autumn, gathered information on the festivals held here every summer, and left with the promise to return and spend more time in this distant corner of Crete, the beautiful Katharo Plateau.

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