Ideon Cave (or Ideon Andron) is one of Crete’s most fabled destinations – the birthplace of Zeus. From here, many places on the island are within an easy distance.
Where is Ideon Cave, Crete, Located?
The cave is on the slopes of Mt. Psiloritis, also called Mt. Ida- Crete’s highest mountain. The cave itself is a dramatic 1498 meters above sea level. Ideon cave is 20 kilometers from the village of Anogia, slightly higher than the Nida plateau. This mountainous area offers some of Crete’s most exciting topography.
How to Get to Ideon Cave
Ideon cave is a marvelous scenic drive of an hour and a half from the Nikos Kazantzakis International Airport. Booking a car hire at Heraklion Airport is the easiest way, so you can be on the road immediately after landing. If you plan on arriving by ferry, a car rental can be delivered to Heraklion Port.
If you would like to take the KTEL bus service, there are one or two departures per day to Anogia, the nearest village. For more information and schedules, please check here.
The History of Ideon Cave
This is actually one of two caves in Crete that claims the honor of being the birthplace of Zeus- the other is the Dikteon cave, located in eastern Crete. According to Mythology, Zeus’ father Kronos had received a prophecy that one of his children would overthrow him. To prevent this, he devoured each child at birth, except the fortunate Zeus. His mother Rhea hid him in this cave to protect him from his father (she fed Kronos a stone wrapped in infants’ clothing in order to deceive him). The plan worked. Zeus was raised in the cave, watched over and nurtured by his mythical care-givers – Amalthea his foster mother, who is sometimes represented as a goat, and sometimes also called Ida – from which the other name of Mt.Psiloritis derives. Other helpers were the Kuretes, or Corybantes– dancers who worshipped the goddess Cybele with drumming and dancing, whose sounds concealed the cries of the infant Zeus from his father. As we all know, the prophecy came true and when Zeus grew he did take his place as head of the Gods.
Of course such a sacred place was also a place of worship and rites, drawing pilgrims to celebrate the mysteries of Zeus, a secret cult. One of these worshippers was Pythagoras, who described an altar and a throne of ivory, which has now been lost.
What to See and Do Near Ideon Cave
Ideon cave part of the National Park of Mt. Psiloritis, a protected area that belongs to both the listed UNESCO geoparks and the Natura 2000 network. A unique geological setting unites a variety of rock formations – cross sections reveal strata of rock types and a visual chart of the formation of the mountains. Fossilized corals and sea creatures can be found in the Fodele outcropping, and ophiolites – oceanic plates – remain from the Tethys ocean of the Mesozoic era (250 – 65 million years ago).
But you do not need to be a geologist to enjoy the drama and beauty of the Geopark– there are caves for exploring and gorges for hiking. The Ideon cave itself has a large main chamber. More interesting from the standpoint of beautiful geological formations is the Sfendoni cave, located at the village of Zoniana, near Anogia. A guide brings you on a path of 270 meters through fantastical landscape of stalactites, stalagmites, and sparkling crystals.
The Platania gorge in the Amari valley makes a fantastic and challenging hike, featuring caves and cliffs – some areas are best suited to experienced hikers. For an easier but no less lovely hike, there is the Mygias trail. The hike begins above the reservoir of Anogia, and takes about an hour and a half. There are steep cliffs and magnificent oaks, and the hike has an altitude change of about 180 meters.
Beaches near Ideon Cave
Here in the middle of this large island, the beach of the south coast are close by. Matala with its striking cliff with caves is a great favorite, for its pure waters and for its heritage as the beach made famous by the hippies in the 1970s. It is a two-hour drive through beautiful scenery Agia Galini is a marvelous beach town in the south, with charming tavernas and lovely beaches for every taste, both organized and wild. It is a curvy and lovely drive of a little over 2 hours. On the north coast, you can enjoy Amoudara, an organized soft sand beach for about an hour and 20 minutes away, with facilities for watersports, diving, and windsurfing. Fodele beach, about an hour and a half from Ideon cave, is a long sandy beach with good tavernas at the shore.
Activities Around Ideon Cave
In addition to the beaches, caves, and hikes, you might enjoy a day at a waterpark. Crete’s largest waterpark – Acqua Plus – is about an hour and 4 minutes away, not far from Heraklion. Wineries offer another pleasant and interesting activity- in the region of Heraklion, there are several, including Alexaki, Boutari, and Michalakis Estate, all one and a half to two hours away.
The village nearest Ideon cave – Anogia – is one of the most famous of Crete, both for its role in the Cretan resistance as well as for its excellent music- this is the home of legendary lyra players. Come for some local culture and honest, delicious cuisine, washed down with tsikoudia (the local grape marc spirit) and good cheer.
Cultural Excursions Around Ideon Cave
The hikes around Ideon cave are also cultural destinations in themselves. The approximately 6 km trail from Diaro to the Vossakos folds is a relatively easy trail with some paved portions, leading to the Timios Stavros (Holy Cross) monastery. This 12th century monastery, like many monasteries of Crete, played an essential role in uprisings against the Ottomans. After active centuries, the monastery was finally abandoned in the middle of the 20th century. It has now been restored.
From Ideon cave, you are relatively close to some significant Minoan sites. The Minoans were an advanced Bronze Age civilization of Crete. The palace of Phaistos – the second largest Minoan palace of Crete, is less than two hours’ drive, towards the south coast. It was here that the Phaistos disc, covered with symbols, is one of the most mysterious findings of archaeology, was found. The palace was excavated in the early 20th century.
For anyone interested in history and archaeology, no visit to Crete is complete without a visit to Knossos, the main palace of the Minoans, just an hour and a half from Ideon cave. This is a truly spectacular site, excavated and in part enthusiastically restored by Sir Arthus Evans in the early 20th century. It was here that the Minotaur was hidden in a maze. Impressive architecture, columns, and intricate wall paintings, as well as copex water and drainage systems, structure, and light wells attest to the high standard of living and advanced culture of the Minoans.
Learn more – and see originals of the replicated famous frescoes like the Prince of the Lillies – at the Archaeological Museum of Heraklion, one of the most significant museums of all Europe. 5,500 years of history are covered in the museum. The collection of Minoan antiquities is the finest in the world.
The Ideon Cave – close to both the Geographical center of the island as well as its mythological heart, is a wonderful base from which to explore the natural and cultural wonders of Crete. Also, away from the more touristy coastal regions, it is a great place to have a more authentic, personal island experience.
The region is a joy to explore by car.