Patsos Gorge or Saint Anthony’s Gorge

Patsos gorge is a perfect excursion it can stimulate mind, heart and body. It has points of archeological interest in an extraordinary landscape and continuous challenges for excursionists who want to conquer the ravine.

From Rethimno you drive along the road to Spili that unites the two parts of the island from north to south. After 26 kilometers, at Mixorouma, you follow sings for Karines and pass Labini. Just after Labini a road sign indicates Saint Anthony, 12 kilometers away along an uphill road that offers a magnificent panorama to the south over the region of San Baseio.

7 kilometers away is Patsos, a village of small white houses whose courtyards are well - stocked with big woodpiles.

As you enter Patsos, a road sign to the left indicates “Farangi Agios Antonios”. You park your car in an area shaded by an oak tree. A large wooden structure marks the entrance to the gorge and a rustic gate sets you on your way along a gentle uphill trail protected by a wooden railing.

Two wooden arrows, pointing right and left, say the same thing in Greek, “Vorio Exodo” (northern exit), and invite you to descend into the gorge. You decide to follow the eastern side of the gorge because your attention has been attracted by another sign, “Spileo Furnaro” (Furnaro grotto), a high cave dug into the rocky wall, marked with tan and pink vertical streaks that at a certain point flatten out and shade into wavy, dark gray marks.

The trail leads downward and is facilitated by wide steps made of tree trunks that are blocked in place by large, curved, iron nails. Another sign saying “Spiliares” (small caverns) leads you astray more cavities open out under the ridge and odd concretions dangle below, stalactites over one meter long with jagged ribbing. Easy walks have been created throughout the area for people who want to enjoy nature without too much exertion, while more courageous excursionists can experience the intense emotion of taking on the gorge by following the intense emotion of taking on the gorge by following the steep hairpin turns of the path that plunges down to the bottom of the canyon. Now the floor of the ravine looks like a jumble of gigantic boulders lying next to one another and sometimes even on top of or inside one another. These massive forms seem to be elbowing each other out of the way, a rocky confusion interspersed with vegetation like the ubiquitous pink oleanders or the slender trunks of plane trees firmly rooted in the cracks of the rocks. The trail soon ends, abandoning you you can no longer continue along the right-hand side of the gorge. You are saved by a solid bridge with wooden parapets that leads you to the left-hand side and marks the entrance into the true ravine. From this point on you become improvised Indiana Joneses, no longer as young but just as intent on using your head, hands and feet to overcome obstacles. You climb rudimental ladders made of wood or iron that are anchored to the rock face with chains, climb through openings excavated in the rocks, and conquer other groups of boulders that lead you ever further down into the gorge. Since the fall season hasn’t produced much rain yet you have the unique opportunity of crossing the gorge, which would otherwise be invaded by a rushing stream. Striking proof is given by a passage excavated under a stone arch which, with the help of a short stretch with fixed ropes, takes you into the cave of a natural amphitheatre a few meters deep. This small lake is now dry and its uneven, black edge stands out in contrast to the pure, pearlygray calcium deposits on the bottom. The only traces of moisture are a small, pebbly pool that is colored turquoise by the refraction of the sunbeams, and the tender, bright green foliage of maidenhair ferns clinging to the lower edge of the limestone hollow.

You are now walking on the gravelly bottom of the gorge, there are no longer any trail markers, only large rocks to climb over. There are very few sigs of other excursionists you are preceded by a young, athletic hiker whose fast pace soon hides him from your view, thus preventing him from becoming a point of reference for you. The precious ladders have disappeared as well, and at a certain point you slide down a pole, the only way to overcome yet another obstacle. You are so far down in the ravine that you only catch rare glimpses of the sky. The canyon seems like an accordion as it widens and narrows, storing hot air in its narrowest points and surrounding you with it like a bubble. After hiking for over an hour, plane trees and thorny underbrush reappear, a sign that you have conquered the gorge, and in the distance you catch a glimpce of the mighty Potami dam. Curiously enough, the difficulty you encountered on your way down now seems minimal. The path is suffused with light, the succession of ladders leading up and down now seem like fun and you are soon back at the wooden bridge. To complete the excursion you decide to go back along the western side of the gorge, which you hadn’t explored on your way down. You take a short break below the welcoming branches of a plane tree before you climb up along a well-marked trail that sometimes rises gently and sometimes is so steep that you have to use your bare hands to progress along the reddish earthen trail that hugs the pink rock face streaked with green. In fifteen minutes, after ignoring the temptation to make a detour to the edge of the stream that invitingly flows below you, or to explore yet another grotto with an unpronounceable name – “Spileo Keratokefallos” – you return to the initial fork in the trail and the chapel of Saint Anthony.

At last you abandon ourselves to a well-deserved rest in the picnic area, satisfied that you have successfully completed your small undertaking.