Martsalo Gorge – Asterousia
The gorge of Martsalo, that belongs to the municipality of Phaistos, is one of the most characteristic and beautiful gorges of southern Crete. It is located at the western foot of the Asterousia mountain range, right next to Agiofaraggo, and south of Odigitria Monastery. It is 2 kilometres long and the elevation difference between the entrance and the beach of Martsalo, where it ends up, is approximately 145 metres.
Passing through the gorge is fairly easy, with the exception of one very steep downhill section, from the cave-chapel of Panagίa to the stream bed, where some caution is required.
To reach the gorge of Martsalo from Heraklion, about 70 km, you will drive south following signs towards Matala and then take the road that leads to the southern coastline towards Kaloi Limenes. What makes Martsalo so special is its uncommon landscape, which looks more like a Middle East scenery. Many kinds of trees and plants grow in the watercourse, such as Cretan date palms (Phoenix Theophrastus), centuries-old olive trees, carob trees, tamarisks and tall oleander trees. Numerous wild kri-kri goats also find shelter there, and can often be seen along the way. The stream bed ends up at the gorgeous little Martsalo beach, which is known for its exquisite, deep green sea waters. Access to the beach is only possible if you hike or get there on a boat, so if you seek solitude, you will be rewarded. There are no shops nearby so make sure you have brought enough water and snacks.
The beach of Agiofarango nearby, is another one of the biggest attractions to the area, offering solitude and pristine waters. This is a place where the grandeur of nature is allowed to shine and wild goats roam freely. Do not be surprised if you spot hermit monks in the area. For those not wishing to hike, you may also reach Agiofarango beach on a ferry from Matala, Agia Galini or Kaloi Limenes. If you are staying in the area for a few days, you may also wish to combine it with a hike through the gorge of Agiofarango.