Facts about Samaria Canyon6 February 2023
5 minute bike check29 March 2023
The most iconic mountain bike adventure at Sitia area for experienced cyclists
1400m ↑ / 1400m ↓
Max / Min points
735m / 30m
- Crossing Maronias river
- The canyon from Katsidoni to Agios Ioannis
- The view of the mountains with wind turbines
- Ziros Village
- The café shops at Ziros Village
- The rocky Pastures from Ziros to Sitanos
- Sitanos village
- The view of north coast from Kryoneri
- The playful downhill from 630meters to Piskokefalo
Our most epic route in the Sitia area was planned entirely from satellite maps without being 100% sure if it could actually be done. Unfortunately for us who live in Heraklion, a route to the Eastern end of Crete requires a lot of travel time by car. Although we have done various routes in the area from time to time, we do not know the Sitia mountains as well as the Thrypti mountains. Our aim was to do a long round route with as much dirt road as possible and limited or no tarmac. The design of the route was done on the satellite maps with Google earth. In some places of the route it was not clear that there was a passage to join two different areas. So we made 2 alternate routes and set off hoping we'd get lucky. Fortunately thanks to the experience we have in planning routes and with a bit of luck due to the increase in oil prices we made it.
The starting point of the route is in the village of Piscokefalo, 3 kilometers south of Sitia on the road to Ierapetra. Initially we follow the asphalt road to Zou but after 1 kilometer we will leave the main road behind to cross the Maronia river. Initially the route goes parallel to the river which we have to cross several times, we cycle sometimes on small paths next to gardens and sometimes on dirt roads on the east or west side.
The first kilometers are flat and easy. Our shoes got wet as the height of the water in some places was over 30 cm but fortunately they dried quickly.
Attention: on rainy days or after a rain crossing the river is dangerous.
Φουσκές, ένα από τα δενδρα που χρησιμοποιούν οι κρητικοί για την κατασκευή της Κατσούνας (φώτο πάνω)
After a few kilometers and when we are below the village of Maronia, begins the uphill. Initially the roadbed is made of concrete and the slopes in many places exceed 15%. We ride through olive groves on the slopes of the mountain opposite the archaeological site of Praisos. The road network is large as there are too many roads that serve the countless agricultural holdings. Although we follow the route with GPS, there are some places where we forgot to take a turn, mainly on downhill sections where we were focused on avoiding stones rather than looking at the GPS screen.
Unfortunately, on this part of the route we had the first breakdown, the soles of our friend Haris' shoes started to come off. Cycling is not only difficult but also dangerous. If the bottoms are not stable the spd pedals will not unlock and when you need to stop someone will fall with the bike, something we have all experienced on our first rides with clip-on pedals. After loosening the pedals to make them easier to release and tying the shoes with insulating tape we continued hoping that Harry wouldn't give up because of shoes.
After 9,5km of cycling we reached the 1st point where we were not sure that the road continued on the opposite side of the mountain. We had prepared that we might have to carry the bikes to cross the ravine, or in the worst case, change the route and go up to Katsidoni village. It wasn't a few times in the past that we had to do something similar, we know now. After all, mountain bikers know that mountain biking, pushing and carrying are inextricably linked.
Fortunately for us, the road that crossed the once abandoned olive grove had recently been cleared and opened with some agricultural machinery. The olive trees were pruned and all the plants that had grown up creating an inaccessible jungle had been cut down. The recent rise in olive oil prices prompted many Cretans to cultivate olive groves that had been abandoned for many years.
Climbing the rough road through the olive trees, sometimes pushing and sometimes cycling, luckily we met a farmer from Katsidoni who gave us insulating tape and a wire to repair Haris's second shoe which also started to come off. He even offered to treat us to a raki, which he said would help us climb the hills.
At the 11 kilometer we will meet the dirt road that connects Katsidoni with Handras. The road passes through a small beautiful canyon with many impressive rocks and a small stream that was flowing the day we passed.
Coming out of the canyon and having an amazing view of the wind turbines above us, we will leave the road that leads to Handras to go up to the small church of Agios Ioannis Prodromos, the road on the satellite map looks like a dead end. Here we will make our first stop to eat and rest for 10 minutes, after all the big climbs are over and we have reached 537 meters altitude. The pass to Katelionas is the second point we weren't sure about, luckily there is a small road through the olive groves.The first 100 meters are not quite visible as overgrown grasses have covered the rarely used road.
We have now reached over 500 meters altitude in an area with many small plateaus some of which we will cross to reach Zero. In the main village of the area there are several cafes, taverns and grocery stores for supplies and rest.In the cafe where we sat for coffee, two other groups were enjoying home cooked food which tickled our noses. Unfortunately our time was limited and we settled for chips and bars from the grocery store.
From Ziros we follow the uphill asphalt road that leads to Lamnoni with a view of the large air force radar at the top of the Mountain. This is probably the most boring part of the route since we enjoy more cycling on dirt roads. At the top of the route at the point where we have to go left dominates a large stone placed upright like a menir in a Galatian village. The inscription in German and Italian refers to the construction of the road in 1943 during the German occupation.
The boring asphalt road follows a dirt road that crosses a beautiful area, typical of Eastern Crete. The landscape is rocky and the trees are few, dominated by small bushes that struggle to survive in a place that receives the least rainfall in Crete. In February when we did the route there was a lot of green grass, even though we had a very warm winter. In the summer everything has dried up even the thymes have changed foliage to withstand the lack of water and the heat. The landscape is magical.
We cycle for quite some time at almost the same altitude passing through or next to some small abandoned settlements.The village that impresses me with its name is Zakathos, although it is the third time I have passed through here, I have never visited it. The name reminds me of something Minoan like Zakros, Zominthos or even Zaros. The same feeling I have for Sitanos.
After a short but fun downhill we reach Sitanos, a beautiful village that stands out like an oasis in the rough landscape. The village does not seem to have changed much in recent years and retains its traditional character without modern concrete houses with ugly balconies. This is what the villages in Crete must have looked like 80 or 100 years ago. Unfortunately, this lack of new constructions also reflects the abandonment of the villages. In all the villages we passed through we met very few young people, they prefer to stay in the city, our villages are becoming deserted.
After Sitanos we must follow the asphalt road to reach Karydi. Here we will meet the first cars after a long time as it is the passage to Zakros and Xirokambos. From Karydi we continue again on a dirt road in the direction of the village of Mitato, strange name for a village in eastern Crete. Mitata are the stone buildings used by the shepherds, mainly in Psiloritis range, as summer residences and for cheese making, in Eastern Crete they are absent. The name comes from the Latin metatum meaning military accommodation, in Byzantine times the word Mitato had the meaning of temporary accommodation. perhaps all these small villages were temporary shelters, now they are all deserted.
The dome of the church in Mitato stands out from afar, we will pass outside the village without stopping.
From Mitato we will cycle to Krioneri. After some time we see the sea again. The view is endless, from here you can see Cape Lithino and Sitia, magic. From Kryneri we will continue on the asphalt road that leads to Rousa Church, but we will soon enter a dirt road again.
Although we initially tried to descend from a distinct but very steep path we quickly gave up as our bikes (cross country) are not for this type of descent. With proper enduro bikes it would be more fun, maybe some local enduro riders use them. We return back and find the rural dirt road again, we start the long descent of the route, fast, impressive with breathtaking views. From 620 meters we will go down to 30. I don't have time for pictures as I have to watch the GPS at the same time, to avoid getting lost in the labyrinthine network of country roads and avoiding stones and obstacles. My eyes are blurry from fast full of stones road, we stop for a photo and check that we haven't missed a cyclist. Luckily I managed to record some footage with the GoPro.
Attention: On rainy days or after rain the river is dangerous.
Attention: The route cannot be done by car or other motorized vehicle.
Download the gpx file for your gps for FREE!