The most important ecosystem of the area is Youchtas Mountain, which is included in the Network of NATURA 2000. It is characterized by high biodiversity and many endemic species presence in Greece and Crete. Essentially, it is an ecological island, as it is surrounded by extensive vineyards and olive trees. Archanes - Vathipetro - Youchtas have been declared as a Location of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Youchtas Mountain and Knosano gorge, apart from the beauty of the landscape and the archaeological value, are rare locations of flora, and the ecological value in terms of fauna lies in the fact that they are the only natural habitat of the region.
- The canyon of Kounavia – Astraka – Karteros is the largest gorge of the area, with a length of approximately 21.500 kilometers. It is on the east side of Heraklion, and “crosses” the prefectures of “N. Kazantzakis”, Episkopis and Neas Alikarnassos, and belongs to the wider region of Youchtas, and Agia Irene Gorge (Natura 2000) in Acharnes. It is a beautiful adventure, with amazing, unique and impressive natural, morphological, aesthetical, historic and cultural features.
In the surrounding area, you will explore beautiful natural landscape, directly connected to the canyon; they seem to create a natural path through the history of the area, such as Spiliotissas River, Agios Ioannis Gorge, the museum of N. Kazantzakis, the Folk Music Lavirinthos, Youchtas Mountain, Agia Irene Gorge, and more…
A walk through this part will make you feel calmer, relaxed and close to nature.
- Panagia Spiliotissas Gorge: its name, “PANAGIA SPILIOTISSAS GORGE”, derived from the cavernous church of Panagia which stands perched on the slopes of the ravine, just a few meters outside the village of St. Basil. Of course, the natural beauty of this place became a place of worship. Religious centers such as the monastery of Panagia Spiliotissa, the churches of St. John the Baptist, St. Nicholas and St. Sunday decorate the sides of the stream.
The history of the Monastery of Panagia Spiliotissa begins around 1000 AD. Today it belongs to Saint Catherine of Sinai.
Visitors to the region, lover of nature or worshiper is able to walk into a well-structured path, near the stream, while enjoying unique natural landscape, from the village of Houdetsi to the village of St. Basil, or vice versa.
- Astrakiano Gorge: The gorge Astrakiano is the largest in the region, with a total path length of approximately 12.5 km in the bed of the river Karteros. The point of the canyon where the trail leads to the stairs is a landscape of outstanding natural beauty, with springs, river, waterfalls and lush vegetation.
- Canyon St. John At Kato Vrisi around 500 meters from the village center Astritsi lies the small gorge of St. John. The area is overgrown because of the abundant waters that gush from the top of the gorge. In front of the springs there is an area with ponds, where ducks and geese swim, benches and a pavilion of the cultural association of the village. Across from the springs is the chapel of St. John the Baptist, built on an elevated spot, in a cavernous cavity and above these, the Neraidospilios.
- Kounaviano Gorge:Kounaviano Gorge is divined in two parts. The first one starts from Kouvanoi, and the other from Varvaroi (Myrtia), and they meet at Astrakiano Gorge. Kounaviano Gorge has a length of 5 kilometers, and because of the dense vegetation, and the morphology, is not easily accessible. There are three watermills along the gorge. There are procedures on the way as to characterize Kounaviano Gorge as a Natural Monument, as well as for the creation of a path.