The Lissos gorge is one of the most beautiful gorges in Crete. You starting your trip with a sign with an arrow indicates Lissos and you start down the trail that leads into a small ravine with lots of rock roses and pine, cypress and carob trees. The path leads gently upward, with many strokes of red paint indicating the way. You frequently stop to listen to the rustling of the forest, as the wind lightly blows through the branches. After half an hour, an impressive, concave rocky wall with wide, vertical ochre bands interrupts your tranquil hike. Menacing and impenetrable, it obliges you to clamber up the left side of the hill, which is covered with maritime pines. Even though the altitude you reach is modest, it nevertheless offers a generous view of the east side of the beach of Sougia, nestled among the green mountains of the east side of the district of Selino. The narrow trail transforms itself into a broad, ancient path paved with large stones. This path has been trodden throughout the centuries, not by one-day excursionists with backpacks and alpenstocks, but by long processions of pilgrims – men, women, children, elderly people on muleback, provisions – heading for the beneficial water of the spring near the temple of Asclepius to cure their bodies with the precious liquid and appease their souls with votive offerings to the divinity. But it only takes you modern wanderers a quarter of an hour to reach the vast plain located 150 meters above sea leven. The plain is protected to the north by the round forms of the Pelekania mountains, schistose formations that can be easily crossed from north to south, and has many abundant springs and forests of chestnut trees.

You are well into autumn now and you don’t expect to find any flowers on the sunny plateau, a broad heath with dry bushes of spiny euphorbia, thyme, rock roses and a few solitary pines. But the beautiful lilac colchicums that cover the path are a surprise and you also come upon sweet pink cyclamens protected by brambles, an unexpected gift. You head toward the southern end of the moor and begin your descent down wide, rocky, hairpin curves, distracted by the abundance of cyclamens that invade the path, emerge from the rocks or peep out from the twisted roots of pine trees. This variety, cyclamen graecum, wich in olden times was called “chelonian” – turtle – because of the similarity between the tubers and a turtle’s shell, is a delicate shade of pink, with chordate leaves marked with gray - green veining. From here you can see your destination, the bay of Agios Kyrkos and the vast archeological area of Lissos. It takes twenty minutes to follow the broken path down along the slope, among boulders and small stands of carob trees, until you reach a level area with the most important ruins of this city - state, which was once part of the mountain League of the Oreii. Lissos already existed in the third century B.C. and flourished until the Saracen invasion in the night century A.D.

The archeological site is unguarded you easily cross the wire fencing that is broken in several places and enter the area of he temple dedicated to Asclepius, the Greek got of medicine and healing. Before entering the atrium of the temple, a series of steps lead to the thermal spring, whose water still wells forth. The building is a small Hellenistic construction of the Doric order, dating from the 4th to the 3th century B.C. Low stone seating runs around the interior of the building and a Roman mosaic pavement from the first century A.D occupies much of the floorspace. A geometric symphony in black and white mosaic tesserae is set inside a beautiful spiral frame with different types of decorative panels. Without a doupt the most interesting panel is the central one: a thin labyrinth of lines with naturalistic drawings, a quail on a blue background, its tesserae feathers shading from beige to brown. On the western side, near the alter, there is a hollow that was probably meant for the sacred serpent, the symbol of medical science and a mandatory presence in every sanctuary since it was believed that snakes had healing powers.

Fragments of twenty statues have been found here, as well as marble ornaments from a sacred road and a headless statue of Asclepius, that is now at the archeological museum of Chania. Near the temple is the church of Agios Kyrkos, that was built on the ruins of a basilica, with interesting fresco inside and more mosaics in the courtyard in front of the church.

To the west, on the hillside, there is an impressive necropolis of vaulted tombs, a burial ground that is perhaps of Cilician origin, similar to ruins excavated by archeologists in nearby Sougia. Now the trail widens out on a vast plain and leads in different directions. The European hiking trail continues to the west, crossing the hill and leading to Paleochora. To the east, the trail winds its way through a true archeological park with Corinthian capitals and columns lying on the ground, taking hikers to a small beach of white pebbles. The bright sunlight and the breeze animate the surface of the sea with countless sparkles of light. Despite the fairly brisk temperature you indulge ourselves in a dip in the sea, swimming out to the high cavernous wall of the bay. A boat appears from behind the promontory, from the direction of Sougia it lands and a couple with a child disembark. Without a doubt this is the boat of “Capitan George”, who has obsessively advertised himself with posters all along your excursion, as though to reassure tired hikers that they can quickly return to Sougia by sea.

A few meters inland from the shore, slightly to the side, there is the chapel of Panagia – the Virgin – embedded in the ground. Its façade of naked stone is embellished with insertions that are clearly of Roman origin, pieces of entablature and a fragment of a sarcophagus from Asia Minor with the head of a Medusa. The osmosis between Roman Hellenistic paganism and Christianity is complete.

You start back the way you came, accompanied by bright sunlight and a brisk breeze. Our pilgrimage only lasted an afternoon, but we are well satisfied with this happy combination of hiking, sea and archeology.