Beginning from the crossroads of Kaloudiana with direction to Topolia we go past Voulgaro, the village that was inhabited by the Bulgarian soldies brought by Nikiforos Fokas in 961 and given their name.
A little over Voulgaro, running waters existed in the past and still exist today, allowing poplar-trees, which are very water-demanding, to grow. The name of the tree in slavic is Topolia, like the name of the modern village. We meet poplar-trees even today at Topolia, but the excitement of the nature worshipper reaches its peak, when, in spring (April-May), we are near the tunnel of Topolia and see the slopes of the gorge covered with the blooming unique endemic plant Ebenus cretica, maybe the most beautiful bush that you will find all over the area.
Here we will also meet the «wild sage» (Salvia pomifera) with its beautiful white-blue flowers, which is drunk as «a tea» to reduce the blood sugar, as well as the well-known thyme (Coridothymus capitatus), the wild rose bush (Cistus creticus), the prickly broom (Calicotome villosa), the lentisk (Pistacia lentiscus), the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua).
Later toward the gorge bed we will find the frangnant «myrtle» (Myrtus communis) in extensive clumps. The myrtle was dedicated to Aphrodite. Theophrastus mentions it 4 times in his writings, while Dioskourides used its fruits to treat the illnessess of the bladder and for stings of spiders and scorpions. He gave its boilded juice, mixed with wine, as a medicine against diarrhoea. Its leaves and fruits are rich in tannins. The leaves contain an essential oil that gives it its distinctive pleasant smell. People in Crete used its pulverized dried leaves for the cure of ulcers caused by lying in bed for a long time, while chewing its fruits was considered to be effective in the treatement of the inflammation of the gums. But the botanical interest is concentrated on the rare endemic species that exist in the slopes of the gorge, the Centaurea argentea, and Centaurea redempta. Even if you are completely ignorant of botany, it is certain that you will be impressed as you cross the gorge in spring, even in a car, by the colours and the scents of the magical place.
As we go on we walk under the cave with the picturesque little church of Agia Sofia, the settlement Katsomatado, and going past the chestnut trees (Castanea sativa), the plane trees (Platanus orientalis), the heathers (Erica ardorea that blooms in spring and Erica manipuliflora that blooms in autumn) and the arbutus (Arbutus unedo) that dominates on the sides of the road, we reach the majestic Elos which, along with the nearby villages Vlatos, Rogdia, Limni and Strovles, are an oasis of green and life. Here you will also be impressed by the chestnut forests, that produce the famous cretan chestnuts.
Elos, the “head” of the nine villages (Inahorio), is the heart of the chestnut production in Crete. Here the area is also covered with heathers and arbutus from which they produced a famous brandy in the past, through distillation. If it is autum you will taste the delicious arbutus berries, which are particularly valued by the local people. The ancient Romans also valued them particularly but considered them to be indigestive so they ate only one (unum edo) giving the species this name (Arbutus unedo).
In autumn you will also tast delicious blackberries, the fruits of the bush Rubus sanctus, that is everywhere in the area and sometimes makes the passage difficult. This bush was,according to mythology, a merchant of clothes and as he became importunate, trying to persuade women to buy his clothes, they complained to Zeus and he transformed him into a thorny plant. This is’ why it tears people’s clothes, to force them buy new ones and support the merchants – his former colleagues .
Here we will also meet the «styrax» (Styrax afficinalis) with the beautiful little frangnant white flowers in spring. In the past they used to cut the trunk of styrax to obtain a liquid that had healing properties and was very fragnant becauce of the aromatic essences it contained. The Turks used it dried as incense in their mosques. By dissolvig this resin in olive oil the Cretan Turks produced a medicine against rheumatisms and chilblains and as a cosmetic substance for the skin.
The beautiful and very tall trees of the area (plane trees, wild chestnut trees etc) are ivy-covered (Hedera helix). According to mythology Dionysus brought the ivy to Europe from Asia and the plant was dedicated to’ him. It is referred to by Pausanius, Theophrastus and Diskourides. In homeopathy they use a liquid from ivy leaves against rhenitis, rachitism and catarract. The fruit is toxic and causes blisters to the skin. In popular medicine it leaves as used as cataplasms against burns. Its wood is considered to be perfect for the manufacture of the cretan lyra. The plant is very importan in apiculture as it blooms in autumn and supplies the bees with nectar and pollen.
But as we continue our tour it would be lack of respect to forget to mention the extensive farming of the blessed olive tree (Olea europea) and in particular the variety that produces large fruits, which are wonderful as edible olives (cracked. salted etc) or as excellent olive oil, that financially secures the inhabitants of this beautiful place.
Apart from the rich vegetation of the area, if we search lower we will meet the rare and protected endemic species Lathyrus neurolobus, Carex cretica and Symphyamdra cretica with its beautiful blue flowers, which has extreme botanical interest.
If we ascend higher with direction to the summit, at Agio Dikaio (1008m altitude) we meet important population of the endemic cyclamen (Cyclamen creticum), the rare endemic plants of Crete that we also found in the gorge of Topolia Centaurea argentea and Centaurea redempta, and the Brassica cretica ssp cretica, a rare plant that grown in chasms (cliffs). Outside Greece it have been found only in Lebanon.
The ascent to the summit will give us an unsurpassed view to one of the most forested areas of Crete, in combination with the blue of the sky and the distant sea.