The island of Chrissi (or Gaidouronisi) is situated approximately 9 nautical miles south of Ierapetra. Due to its incredible natural beauty and important ecosystem, it has been included in the European initiative NATURA 2000. It has an area of 4,743 square kilometers, and a maximum altitude of 27 meters. It’s an islet known for its exotic waters in all the shades of blue and green, the golden beaches -where it got its name from-, and the protected forest with the cedar trees, which are over 200 years old. Chrissi is a piece of paradise on earth, the southernmost natural park of Europe, and a gem in the Mediterranean.
The cedar forest extends to the center of Chrissi, covering an area of 350,000 square meters, which is about 1/4th of the island, with an average of 14 trees per 1,000 square meters, and average age of trees 200-300 years. Those trees is a rare variety of Lebanon cedars, 1 meter tall, and with a diameter of up to 1 meter. The cedars have a root system that develops at a radius of at least double their height. Except from their large roots, they also develop a network of thinner ones that form a thick mesh that withholds the sand. The path through the forest and the dunes is simply magical.
The colors of the rocks, which are mainly grey-green, reddish-brown, black, etc., are spectacular, while almost the entire island is covered by golden sand. The base rocks of Chrissi were created through the solidification of lava that poured out of an undersea volcano millions of years ago. The 49 species of fossils (corals, shells, barnacles, urchins) found on the island come from the sea. They were imprinted on the volcanic rocks 350,000-70,000 years ago, when Chrissi was still underwater. The northern shores (Belegrina, Hatzivolakas, Kataprosopo) are filled with shells. Especially on the east side of the northern beach, the amount of shells is so big that the view is overwhelming.
If you walk west of Belegrina, the next beach you will see is Hatzivolakas. This is a more quiet area, against a rockier landscape, with the beach surrounded by large cedars about 200 years old. West of Hatzivolakas there are traces of a Minoan settlement that prospered from the trade of porphyra, which is the popular red pigment used for dying royal clothes. The scenic chapel of Agios Nikolaos and the island’s lighthouse are located right there. On the northeast of the church there is an old salt marsh and the island’s only house, built atop ancient remnants. There are wells and carved tombs on the south and southwest of Agios Nikolaos, with the biggest tomb dating back to the Roman era. Another beautiful pristine beach of the island is Kataprosopo, which faces the Mikronisi islet, on the east of Chrissi, and is a habitat for thousands of birds.