The Demosaris Gorge
“While traversing this shady gorge with its dense vegetation full of dew and birdsong, I felt I should name it the Karystos Tempi, since in beauty, water and abundant greenery it surpassed Tempi in Thessaly”. (Tassos Zappas, 1984, p. 119)
It is very obvious that in the Demosaris Gorge a moderate traditional agricultural and stockbreeding culture coexists harmoniously with nature in the wild. Demosaris is a Byzantine place name. There are various versions as to how it was acquired. According to one version, it derives from Demosarius, meaning “he who exploits public land”, possibly land that was at the source or on the banks of the river. Another version claims it derives from the Demosaris Stream, meaning the waters were state-owned. The Demosaris Gorge may be divided into two sections, one above, the other below the village of Lenosaioi. Below the village, the gorge is steep and wild. From the village of Lenosaioi to the sea, it becomes a narrow valley. Scattered on the east side of the stream are the small settlements of Kallianos.
A very old right of way
The trail through the gorge was one of the main communication routes of South Evia. It also linked the Kallianos and Cavo d’Oro region with Karystos. The stone-paved path and the remnants of the cobbled track date as far back as the Middle Ages or even earlier. It may also have been used to transport ore excavated from the Kallianos region.
There are valid indications - rust deposits on Kallianos Beach and elsewhere - that the region was a mining centre during the Archaic and Classical periods. The gorge constituted the easiest and safest access to civilisation, traversing the wild natural surroundings of Mt Ochi. Until recently, a great many activities would take place in the vicinity of the gorge, particularly during the Festival of the Dormition.
During the festival, all sorts of transactions would occur at Lenosaioi: buying and selling, hiring out fields and employing shepherds.
Crossing the gorge
Nowadays, the Demosaris trail is still actively used by stockbreeders and an ever-increasing number of hikers. The most attractive and least tiring route runs from the Petrokanalo Pass (954m altitude). It terminates at Kallianos Beach after a descent of approximately 10 kilometres. The trail is signposted and accessible, while a large portion runs under the shade of plane-trees.
Two-thirds of the way down is the village of Lenosaioi. From that point on, the route follows a dirt road for about 1.5 kilometres. The dirt road terminates at a new trail that leads to the sea under a green vault of planetrees.
Vegetation and flora
The Demosaris Gorge constitutes the largest drainage basin of Ochi. Facing north, it receives the northern winds, fog and increased precipitation from the Aegean. The cool microclimate of the gorge produces a variety of forest and shrub vegetation. High up on the mountain, at the damper and colder spots of the gorge, above the springs and crags of Giouda, grow thin clusters of yew (Taxus baccata) as well as other rare forest species such as whitebeam (Sorbus aria), holly, oak, maple and, occasionally, chestnut trees. These are remnants of pre-existing extensive forest vegetation. In other drier, rockier spots, holly oak forests exist up to an altitude of 900 meters.
These forests are either single-species or may also contain hornbeam, plane-trees, oak and heath. Remnants of stands of perennial chestnut trees are a characteristic feature of this upper section of the Demosaris Gorge. Littoral plane-trees forests begin at an altitude of 1,200 feet and end at the sea. Beneath Skala Lenosaioi, at the point where the greatest craftsmanship and expertise went into creating the trail, forests of tree-like kermes oak and flowering ashes, as well as holly oaks, plane-trees, and wild olive trees are developed. The Demosaris Gorge has interesting bush formations. Heath prevails at the high altitudes. There are two varieties, briar and the tree-like erica arborea. Both form thick bushes which are less than a meter high, because they are regularly burned. Burned heath fields are excellent grazing grounds. Heath is burned in fall and winter, but never in spring. These fires cover very little ground and leave behind them small bare patches in the vegetation growth. Fields of heath and brake grow in the fertile damp soil found along the entire length of the gorge.
Wherever the soil is dry, the slopes are covered with brushwood. Finally, small salt-resistant shrubs grow upon the wave-sprayed rocks of the shore.
The vegetation forms a variform mosaic from the highest peaks to the sea.
The region’s rich fauna is of interest because a variety of habitats - exposed mountain ridges, large rock formations, forests and undergrowth - coexist in one small area.
The wild, remote spots of the gorge provide safe nesting grounds for birds. Some of the most impressive species of the gorge are difficult to observe. One characteristic example is the white throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus), a timid bird that lives exclusively in the riverbed and feeds on aquatic invertebrates. The Eurasian eagle owl (Bubo bubo), which lives in remote valleys is yet another species that is difficult to catch sight of. It is the largest nocturnal bird of prey. It is also difficult to spot any of the area’s diurnal raptors because they are encountered at a much higher level than the riparian forest. The short-toed snake eagle (Circaetus gallicus) makes its nest in the broader vicinity of the gorge, while there are frequent flights of buzzards (Buteo buteo), sparrowhawks (Accipiter nisus) and kestrels (Falco tinnunculus), as well as migratory birds. Lower down in the gorge one can encounter Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus), which feeds on small and middle-sized birds. Birdsong also alerts visitors to the presence of various birds, especially during spring. Many species nest and sing inside the forest: the common whitethroat (Sylvia communis), the subalpine warbler (Sylvia cantillans), the European robin (Erithacus rubecula), the common blackbird (Turdus merula), the nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), the chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), the tit (Parus spp.), the cirl bunting (Emberiza cirlus), as well as other common songbirds.
The reptile population of the gorge is also interesting. There are many species of snakes, such as the grass or water snake (Natrix natrix), Dahl’s whip snake (Coluber najadum), the four-lined snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata), the Montepellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), the sand-viper (Vipera ammodytes), the Coluber laurenti, a species of tree snake and others. Many snakes feed off lizards, which are also abundant. Most characteristic is the European green lizard (Lacerta viridis), which may be found in the upper section of the gorge. Frequently and quite unexpectedly, it scrambles up onto the heath. Caspian turtles (Mauremys caspica) are found at the base of the river.
Amphibians set up a joyous croaking; they are represented by marsh frogs (Rana ridibunda), common tree frogs (Hyla arborea) and a mountain amphibian, the yellow bellied toad (Bombina variegata), which lives only in the colder waters.
In the small pools formed at the top of the river, one frequently observes young salamanders along with tadpoles and toads. Mullet and eel are located at the lower end of the river.
Not only nature lovers, but also individuals with more specific interests will find much to enjoy in the Demosaris Gorge: hikers are faced with an unceasing kaleidoscope of fresh images of dozens of springs, waterfalls, primeval riparian forests, and wildlife.
The Archampolis Gorge
The Archampolis Gorge is on the northeast side of Mt Ochi, seven kilometres south of Cape Kafireas. By taking the road from Karystos towards Amygdalia, one encounters Archampolis between the villages of Evangelismos (Dramesi) and Thymi. The small gorge has a unique wild beauty. Sheer sharp rocks tumble around, creating a dramatic landscape that ends up at a small heavenly beach. From above, along the length of the gorge, one can still see the walls of an ancient city, remnants of an ancient civilisation. According the archaeologist Donald R. Keller, during the 6th–7th centuries BC these walls enclosed a settlement and a citadel. Archaeologists claim this was the site of an ancient port with shrines and mines. Traces of rust, visible on the beach and amongst the ruins, confirm the existence of mining-related activities before the site was abandoned.
Rock plants and endemic flora species grow on the steep precipices of the gorge. These harsh rocks and their remote location foster the survival of certain rare birds. In Archampolis, one may encounter all varieties of “rock and sea”. Many animals of the gorge nest in the caverns and rock cavities.
Rare birds are found here, the Eurasian eagle owl, various species of raptors, the kestrel, the peregrine falcon, etc. Few people come here.
At quieter moments, one may be lucky enough to see other species, like seals, that require peace and tranquillity.
The Aghios Dimitrios Gorge
This is an impressive calcareous gorge with the most dramatic rocky precipices in the Mt Ochi region. A new road runs through the gorge, leading from the village of Aghios Dimitrios to Kallianos and Cavo d’Oro. There are also two wonderful trails that cross the gorge. Starting at Aghios Dimitrios, one descends down into the gorge and ends up at the beautiful beach of Schinodavlia. The other footpath ascends high up above the gorge and reaches the Kalergos settlement. From there it descends abruptly to the Demosaris Stream and ends up at Kallianos Beach.
Undoubtedly, the most interesting thing about the gorge is its geology and its importance to birds and rare plants species.
The sheet-like layers of marble and cippolino marble form impressive towers, arches, cavities and gullies. The gorge has many springs, even near the sea.
Remnants of forest vegetation with plane-trees, evergreen oak and oak may be found next to steep ravines and growing next to rocks. The Porphyras Stream flows practically year-round, creating small waterfalls and natural pools. The Aghios Dimitrios Gorge is one of the most important sites in Evia for birds of prey. Rare raptors such as the Bonelli’s eagle, the peregrine falcon and the long-legged buzzard, live here or stop over, while the golden eagle is a very rare visitor.
During migrating season one might see griffon vultures – skipes, in the local dialect; which in the past used to nest permanently on the cliffs of the gorge. It is easy to watch buzzards, kestrels and sparrowhawks or to hear the booming call of the eagle owl during the night. The gorge is also interesting from a botanical point of view. Many rare chasmophyte plants grow on its high calcareous slopes, while unique plant communities exist near springs and seaside cliffs.
At the right the picturesque village of Aghios Dimitrios lies a wooded valley with plane-trees and evergreen oaks. Some of the oldest chestnut trees of Mt Ochi can be found scattered in this forest. A mountain trail begins at Aghios Dimitrios, passes through a barren landscape, which, due to the cold grey colour of cippolino marble, resembles a mountain iceberg and ends up at Boublia Peak. The route is one of the most beautiful in Evia. Boublia Peak rises like a pyramid over Aghios Dimitrios and the view is unrivalled. The valley of Aghios Dimitrios and the entire Demosaris Gorge lie at one’s feet. Lakka Boukoura means “beautiful meadow” in Arvanitika. These kind of meadows spread out at the foot of the peak where plane-trees grow and fresh water flows. A variety of mountain tea, which grows in June and is found only in the mountains of Evia, is abundant on the plateaus of the area.
The Aghios Dimitrios Gorge ends up at Schinodavlia, a small out-of-the-way beach.
The beach is bordered by stalactites, the product of centuries, still dripping cool spring waters. The colours are captivating. Anyone glancing up can admire the wild beauty of the gorge, and, with any luck, observe the flight of some birds of prey.
The estuary of the Porphyras Stream forms a small lake behind the beach; “limnionas”, in the local dialect. One easily encounters herons, slender-billed curlews, terns or other unusual bird species in the above areas.
After a drive of 32.4 Km from Lepoura, turn left on to the dirt road the chapel of Agios Nektarios. The trail (whitch is marked in red and black) begins 700m later, on your left (at a height of 120m.)
Within 5 minutes, you will reach the river, which is lined with laurels; follow the marks that take you in and out of the riverbed, where water flows, up to a certain point. Walk for 10 minutes and turn left at the plane tree, cross over to the right in 5 minutes time, and then to the left again, at the cypress trees, another 5 minutes later. Continue for 10 minutes and turn left onto a field, where the path is clearly visible and well marked (attitude:70m).
Follow the part to the left for another 10 minutes (altitude:64m) and continue along the dry riverbed for half an hour, until you reach Spilies. A 15-minute journey to the right will bring you to Charakas beach. The small gorge is very striking in places, and full of oleander, cedars, lentisks and plane trees. The crystal-clear waters of the Aegean will greet you at the exit.