Seven kilometers outside the city of Heraklion, in the middle of an amazing landscape that combines perennial pine trees and vineyards, lays the palace of ancient Knossos. Knossos was the very center of Minoan Civilization, the so-called first European civilization, and had been covered by volcanic ash for more than 2000 years. People were able to admire again its marvels only by the beginning of the 20th century when Sir Arthur Evans started excavations in citu – and today, thousands of visitors pay annually a visit to the home place of King Minos.
We will start our run just outside of this surrounded by legends place and we will find our way through the vineyards until the entrance of Knossos’ canyon. Running by the side of river Keratos, we will surpass the byzantine church of Virgin Mary, the famous Venetian aqueduct of Santa Irini that used to collect water for Heraklion and we will find ourselves in an amazing natural park (nominated as a protected Natura 2000 area) that provides shelter for the local wild flora and fauna (totally harmless to people, we assure you!). After these first 9 off road kilometers of moderate difficulty, we enter the village of Archanes. We will make a small (~6km) loop here, running through the Minoan cemetery of Fourni.
Archaeologists made some amazing discoveries ere, and today is an ideal place for many outdoor activities, for cultural events (a small open-air theater is placed here) as well as for relaxing.
At this point, we begin the most difficult part of our run, as we are going to run over the holy mountain of Giouchtas. Seeing this mountain from Heraklion, its shape reminds us of the outline of a human head, which is why it was believed that Zeus, the Father of the Gods, was buried here. Giouchtas is a place of great archaeological and ecological importance, full of ancient ruins and home place for the great cretan vulture – climbing on it will be a bit hard (4 off road kilometers on slippery rocks) but, do believe us, the panoramic view from the church of Jesus Christ at the top of Giouchtas (811 meters altitude) will compensate us for the try.
After that, begins the last (yet still hard…) part of our run. Downhill running on Giouchtas through a narrow trail of intense slope for 3 kilometers can be exhausting – however, the amazing smell of dictamus, thyme, oregano and the other herbs of Cretan nature will take away any negative thinking (“what am I doing here?”, “why did I choose this tour” and other happy thoughts…), and escort us until the village of Archanes, nominated some years ago as one of the most beautiful villages in Europe. Its unique character, its cultural inheritance and its tranquility makes Archanes an ideal epilogue for our run. The flowers, the traditional narrow streets, the figures of the local people staring puzzled at “…these koyzoyloi (“crazy”, “mad”) runners again” that went down from Giouchtas – they will all absorb the tense and fatigue, and let all the breathtaking experience settle down. Yes – it will be a bit hard. Experience and good physical condition are required, as well as a good pair of trail shoes. But we do feel that runners are often seeking for hardship, so we can already imagine you smiling.