H. Kato Zakros Trekking
WALKS AROUND KATO ZAKRO
Some of these walks are marked by dotted lines on the map, but some are not. They follow paths known locally as “donkey roads”, and were the only means of transport well into the 20th century, for animals, people and produce. Many have their origins in Minoan times, and thus are some 4,000 years old. As well as connecting Minoan settlements, these ancient roads were probably used for the seasonal movements of sheep and goats, and for getting goods to and from the port at Kato Zakro.
The features of Minoan built roads are most apparent on hillsides, as zig-zags, steps, paving and embankments built of stone. On the flat, without these features, the roads are often hard to find and stay on, and modern markers are few and far between. Usually the direction to follow is apparent from the terrain - the coastline for instance, or a gorge - and getting seriously lost is not a possibility. But the sharp stones and prickly bushes make walking off the tracks quite uncomfortable, so pay attention to your feet!
Many tracks cross fence-lines. Often there is a “gate” of sorts, sometimes only a hole in the wire-netting. There seems to be no problem with going through or climbing over fences, but be sure to leave them as you found them - they are there for managing the sheep and goats.
There is very little water in the countryside around Kato Zakro, and in the summer tune especially it is essential to carry enough for the trip. The times I give are approximate, since they depend on how fast you walk. You need good shoes, and if your legs are bare they will get scratched. Cretans are keen hunters, so during the hunting season try to make sure you have been seen. The sheep dogs seem fierce, but they are usually well tied up. There are snakes, but they are rare, very small and not lethal. The biggest challenge for the walker is probably the heat.
1. From Kato Zakro to Pelekita
This walk goes from the gate at the northern end of the bay, above the large caves which may have been quarried for stone to build the Minoan town. The path is not marked on the map, but is well-defined and follows the coastline before starting the climb towards Pelekita cave (signposted). The cave was in use in Neolithic times, and may also have been quarried by the Minoans. The track is recently made but seems to follow a Minoan road, traces of which are occasionally still visible.
There is a gorge leading up towards Traostalos (a Minoan peak sanctuary) about 20 minutes in. The beginning is easy to explore, but beyond the turn to the north it gets more difficult, and there may be rock-fall. This gorge is aptly called Kakos Potamos. It does not go all the way up to the peak sanctuary.
The walk to Pelekita and back takes about two hours.
2. From Kato Zakro to Zakros or Azokeramos
This track is on the map. It follows a Minoan road above the Gorge of the Dead on its northern side, and starts as the path up to the church of Ayia Antonios. Go past the church and through the field behind it to a gate in the fence. To the left is a small hill with the stone wall of an animal enclosure on its flank. Leave this on your left, and ahead you will see a steeper Mil leading up to a high plateau. As you get closer to it, you will be able to see signs of zig-zag embankments. There is a fence running up the slope: if you climb over this at the point where it conveniently sags, the zig-zag road with its sections of paving (partly concrete) and steps should be easy to spot, though it is very overgrown. Follow the zig-zags to the top of the hill. The road continues on over the plateau, though sometimes it is hard to find. As a general rule, stick fairly close to the line of the Gorge, and stay on the flat land below the slopes of Traostalos on the right. There are sections of embankments and animal enclosures along the way, though if you are slightly off-route you may miss them.
The plateau ends when it is cut across by the beginning of the Gorge of the Dead. If you want to go to Zakros, descend here and then go up the facing hill. There is no easily discernible path, but look for a surface which is slightly redder and rock which has a polish. You will pass the ruins of a round building with an attached enclosure. From this point you can see Zakros to the west and the ruins of Skafi to the east. After going through a gate, you will find another section of zig-zag leading down to a stream bed. Cross this, go through another gate, and follow the fence out to a road which will take you to Zakros. At the T-junction in the road, turn left. The walk from Kato Zakro to Zakros takes about two hours. For Azokeramos, go right after crossing the end of the Gorge and head towards Skafi, with its Minoan and later ruins. Beyond is Polla Kladia, another Minoan site, and then the village of Azokeramos, on the main road. The tracks are barely discernible, and the walk from Kato Zakro could take three hours. The Zakros/Palaikastro bus stops at Azokeramos, and the village is also the starting point for an unsealed vehicle road up to the lop of Traostalos..
3. From Kato Zakro to Zakros via the Gorge of the Dead
The Gorge of the Dead is the beginning of the E4, a European Great Walk (marked on the map) which ends in Spain. The Gorge was not a Minoan route, since until the irrigation pipes were laid in the mid-20 century it was not passable for pack animals and difficult for foot traffic. It is not signposted at the Kato Zakro end, but the beginning of the Gorge is easy to find, on the road which goes past the archaeological site. Stick to the northern (right hand) side of the Gorge if you want to stay on the path. It is well used and should be easy to see. Although “eau potable” is promised, it does not run very often.
Up the sides of the Gorge there are many caves, which were used for burials by the Minoans. You can clamber up to some of them, but don’t expect to find any bones or treasures - they have all been removed by looters and archaeologists.
About half an hour in, once you have passed a picnic spot under a large tree, you will see a track leading up the northern side of the Gorge into a smaller valley. Follow the obvious line taking you up the left hand side of this valley. You will soon see the remains of a wall above you, and at the top many signs of habitation such as house foundations and pottery sherds. This is Kato Kastello, believed to be a refuge settlement used by the Minoans of Kato Zakro, perhaps to get away from pirate raiders.
About half an hour further on the Gorge opens up, with branches going to the right and left. Here you will see outcrops of a red, slatey material. If you want to leave the Gorge at this point, cross the river bed and find the path which leads up the left hand side of the hill between the two branches of the Gorge. This will bring you out at a car park on the main road between Zato Zakro and Zakros, about an hour’s walk in all.
If you want to continue up the Gorge, stay on its right hand path until it ends at Ellenika, another Minoan refuge settlement. Access to this one is difficult, but you will see the remains of terrace walls on the lower slopes. The river (still on your left) should now be crossed. It usually has water in it at this point, and you need to look for a line of boulders which will get you across dry-footed. The path then follows the southern side of the Gorge, sometimes using the irrigation pipes. (The southern route extends further down the Gorge, but involves a clamber over a substantial landslide -the northern path is easier.) There are occasional E4 marker poles, which will lead you to a short climb alongside a fence up to a gate on the right. If you find that the good path has disappeared, you have probably missed the gate and should retrace your steps - there is no easy way out beyond this point.
Once through the gate, you can pick up the road to Zakros by going right at the Gorge signpost. You will come out at Maestro’s tavema on the corner of the Plateia.
The walk up the Gorge takes about two hours, without the diversions to Kato Kastello and Ellenika
4. From Kato Zakro to Zakros via the “Old Road”
This walk follows the old unsealed vehicle road from Kato Zakro to Zakros, above the Gorge of the Dead on its southern side. It appears on the map and is a continuation of the road which passes the archaeological site and the mouth of the Gorge. At the Kato Zakro end there is an alternative start via a small section of Minoan road. Turn right onto a wide path immediately past the Gorge, go up a zig-zag which passes on either side of a small house and then through a fence to a recently restored section running alongside it. This connects with the old road, which looks as though it follows a Minoan zig-zag line. The road comes out at the same car park on the main road as the midway exit from the Gorge.
This is a straightforward alternative to the Gorge route, and takes about an hour.
5. From Kato Zakro to Xerokampos
This walk is marked on the map and follows the Minoan coastal route to a large Minoan settlement in the bay of Xerokampos, probably Ampelos at its northern end. This site has not yet been fully excavated.
The route starts at the southern end of the Kato Zakro bay, somewhere beyond the ruined buildings which were probably associated with a Minoan harbour. After going through a gate, you can either clamber up the hill on to the coastal plateau or continue on at sea level until you must go up a small ravine to the same plateau. Either way, the track on the plateau is hard to find, but if you stick fairly close to the coastline you will pick it up at the inland end of the first sizeable inlet, Mavro Avlaki, where there is also an embankment wall facing the sea.
The next feature on the track, about half an hour in, is the remains of a round building, possibly a Minoan watchtower. A similar tower, this time built in a small ravine or river bed leading down to the sea can be found about 15 minutes further on. It is surrounded by other signs of habitation such as buildings, walls, sherds and steps which were probably part of a road. This area is called Lidorako. Continue walking near to the coastline and you will come to an inlet with spectacular white and red cliffs. From here it is a short walk to a sandy beach at the beginning of the bay of Xerokampos which in summer will be full of tourists. The small settlement of Xerokampos is still about half an hour’s walk away, close to the hills. It has tavernas and rooms to let.
There is no public transport from Xerokampos back to Zakros, and unless you want to retrace your steps or walk the unsealed road that goes up the hill between the beach and Xerokampos (about 8 km) you will need to hitch a ride or call a taxi from Zakros. The coastal walk takes about three hours.
6. From Zakros to Magasa/Karidi
This walk goes up the first major gorge to the north-west of Zakros. It is not marked on the map. The easiest way to approach it is via the little church at the south-western end of the town. From the Plateia, take the first turning to the right off the main road to Kato Zakro (just past the hotel on the other side of the road), and then turn left. The church is on the right, tucked under the hill. Go past it to the springs, then cross over the valley behind the town and take the road on its other side. Before the town ends the gorge opens up on your left, and the path is on its left hand (southern) bank - hard to find initially, but the embankments, steps and paving will soon become apparent. The route ends in a farm near the top of the gorge. If you climb to your right out of the valley a little way past this farm you will find a gate leading on to the modern road down to Adravasti. The wells and deserted farm buildings of Magasa, where there were once Neolithic and Minoan settlements, are on the other side of the road. You can continue on to Karidi by the path marked on the map or by the road. There is no public transport on this road.
The walk up the gorge to Magasa takes about one and a half hours.
7. From Zakros to Ziros
This walk follows another section of the E4, appears on the map, and is well-marked with poles. It starts just before the little church behind the town. Go through the large gate beside the hen-house, and turn left. The zig-zags of the Minoan road can be clearly seen from this point, and easily followed until you get to the flat land at the top of the hill. Even here the route is obvious enough, and there are a number of ruined towers along the way. It exits onto sheep pastures and an unsealed road, which goes up the hill to Sitanos on the right. Take this road to the right, and in a short distance the Minoan road continues up to the left.
You will soon pass the modern church and ruined village of Skalia, where there is also a spring. The village was occupied until quite recently, and some of its inhabitants were betrayed to the Turks and killed in a church in Ziros at the beginning of the 19th century. The priest who betrayed them is said to have been later burnt to death in a lighted oven. A little further on is Zakathos, whose ancient buildings are still used as part of a sheep farm.
The road then rises to the high plateau and continues past military installations to Ziros. There are some more Minoan ruins on the way down to the town, where tavernas and accommodation can be found. There is also public transport, but to Siteia, not Zakros. This walk takes about five hours.
8. From Chochlakies to Karoumes Bay and Palaikastro
The Zakros/Palaikastro bus stops at Chochlakies, and from there you can walk down a gorge to Karoumes Bay. Above the bay, to the right of the exit from the gorge, there are a number of Minoan buildings and walls, sometimes said to be military but more likely associated with sheep-farming. The bay was however used as a naval base in Roman times. Tourists now visit it for its beach.
From Karoumes the route continues on to Palaikastro. You will pick it up very near the beach on the left hand side of the valley. It is on the map, and unusually well marked, with blazes about every 50 metres. After traversing along the coast, this route comes out at a small swimming bay and then turns left over the hills to join an unsealed vehicle road. It is then a long and tedious walk to Palaikastro.
As is often the case, the approach to the town itself is not very obvious. Leave the installation at the top of the hill to your left, and you will find a section of concrete road which leads into a small path and ultimately an area behind the town which looks like a rubbish dump. Alternatively, if you go down to the beach rather than left to the road and up the hill, you should find the old Minoan road (not marked on the map) which leads past the peak sanctuary of Petsophas and to the ruins of Minoan Roussolakos, on the coast.