Zaros is a picturesque village located at the southern slope of the mountain IDI (Psiloritis) at 340m a.s.l, 45 km from Iraklion.
The main occupation of the inhabitants is farming and stock breeding, while there are quite a few traditional workshops of weaving, painting (icons), and musical instruments.
The name Zaros is considered to be prehellenic, and means the abundant water flow. It is clearly indicative of an age old history which is further verified by the Minoan findings in the Kourtes area, as well as the remnants of the Roman aqua ducts from which ancient Gortina got its water supply.
There is regular bus transportation from Iraklion to Zaros. There is also daily bus schedules from/to Mires and Kamares.
You can also rent a car from Iraklion and take the road Iraklion -Mires- Festos. The crossroad from the village of Agia Varvara leads to Gergeri, Nivritos and after 16km to Zaros.
There is a police station, post office, doctor’s office, and pharmacy.
The visitor can find a hotel with all facilities, and many smaller ones in traditional style.
There are also taverns with cretan specialties and fresh salmon or trout from the local fish ponds. Many cafes, bakery and grocery shops and Taxi station.
In Zaros, you will be impressed by the variety of activities it has to offer. Starting with a visit to the lake, you can enjoy your coffee while gazing at its blue green waters, feed the ducks and fish or walk around the lake and enjoy the beautiful scenery. When you have worked up an appetite, you can try the amazing food of the local cuisine at the traditional tavern protected by the shade of the plane trees.
For action lovers, the Agiou Nikolaou canyon is the ideal choice. The path starts at the Zaros lake and passes by many interesting sights and places, starting with the Agiou Nikolaou Monastary, 900 metres further down. About 2,5 kilometres down the path you will find the entrance to the canyon which leads to the amazing forest in Rouvas, one of the few oak forests in Greece. There you will find the Agiou Ioanni (St. John) church.
The length of the route from the lake to the forest is 5 kilometres and requires about 2,5 hours when hiking uphill and 1,5 hours when hiking downhill.
Next on the tour of the area’s sights is Moni Vrontisiou, which was an important spiritual centre during the 17th century. Do not forget to visit Iera Moni Agiou Fanouriou (Valsamonerou), a monastary adorned with beautiful murals. There are many more sights near the area which you can visit, such as the caves and canyon in Kamares in addition to many car routes.
If you would like to get to know the village better, a walk through the narrow alleys of the village may hold many surprises. You will have the opportunity to admire the traditional, local architecture and find yourselves face to face with the amazing chapel of Agia Kiriaki (St. Kiriaki) which is located next to the church museum. Further down in lower Zaros, you will come across one of the village’s ten watermills (up until today two of the ten have been preserved and are open to visiting).
About 7 kilometres outside the village you will find the manmade Faneromeni Damn, where the rich, natural environment meets man’s work in technology.
Zaros is also the ideal place for those who love trekking, hiking and climbing, as the European Climbing route E4 crosses the village.
Places of interest at the region:
* The traditional neighbourhoods the worksops, the houses of the village, and the traditional productive activities.
* The churches of Panagia, Agios Georgios, and Agia Kiriaki with the exquisite Templo wood carving and fascinating icons dating back to the previoius century.
* The traditional watermills one of which (in the area of Votomos) has been in working order since the 16 th century.
* The deserted settlements of Fari and Kourtes, south of Zaros, surrounded by beautyful landscape.
* The lake at the area of Votomos. A small man made lake, not far from the village, ideal for walking and pic-nic.
* From the springs of Votomos the ancient city Gortina got its water suply.
* Today a municipal enterprise, is bottling this water and sells it to the Cretan market and abroad, under the name «ZAROS».
* The Vrontissi monastery with the excuisite marble fountain and frescoes of the once renowned Cretan Fine Arts School. (Dradition says that Dominikos Theotokopoulos «EL GRECO» studied at this school)
* The now decrepit monastery of Varsamonero, with the temple of Agios Fanourios decorated with 15th century frescoes.
* The chapel of Agios Efthimios and the monastery of Agios Nikolaos, at the mouth of the gorge of Agios Nikolaos. This gorge provides great climbing trails. The E4 European Climbing Route crosses the village and the gorge.
* Moreover the massifs of the greater region are lined with hiking trails of national interest which can be crossed with Zaros as starting point.
* The gorges of Kamares and Voriza, the renowned Rouva forest as well as the forests on the slopes of Samari on Psiloritis and the Nida plateau are some of the better known areas of mountain IDI which was considered to be sacred by the ancient Greek people.
The Monastery of Vrontissi
This is one of Crete’s most famous monasteries. It played an important role during the years of the Cretan Renaissance, both in the letters and the arts, and, during the last centuries of Venetian rule, it was known for its many scholars, artists and venerable monks.
The names of famous manuscript copyists, painters and teachers are linked to the monastery and its surroundings. Michalis Damaskinos, Crete’s most important Byzantine artist, painted here six of his masterpieces, and, according to tradition, El Greco himself spent some time as a student in the monastery’s workshops.
The Vrontisiou Monastery, 50 kilometres away from Heraklion, lies on the south slope of the Psiloritis Mountain, a little to the north-west of the village of Zaros. It is not known when exactly the monastery was founded and by whom, but it is generally believed it was founded during the Second Byzantine Period (tenth to thirteenth centuries).
Vrontisiou Monastery reaches its highest cultural development under the Venetians. The Turkish invasion in 1669 marks the beginning of its decline and the monastery is violently attacked by the Turks during the periods of Cretan rebellion.
In spite of the fact that the walls of the monastery are practically completely destroyed, they still retain their fortress look and the church stands in the middle, with its double nave dedicated to Saint Anthony and to the Apostle Saint Thomas .
Outside the monastery walls, under everlasting plane-trees, there is a beautiful fountain, one of the island’s most important outdoor sculptures, a unique heirloom of its time. It represents Adam and Eve in relief and water pours out from the mouths of three lions. The present-day entrance to the monastery is new, but one can still distinguish the old one with its impressive central arch.
The bell-tower is independent from the church and bears the influence of the catholic style of the time. In the interior of the church, along the walls of the double nave, some of the remarkable wall paintings are still visible: among them, the one showing Saint Simeon Theodochos holding the Holy Child is outstanding. Equally remarkable, among the many interesting paintings on the iconostasis, is the representation of the Vine by the artist Angelos, one of the most famous paintings of the Cretan School.
The disasters that hit the monastery, particularly in the 19th century, have destroyed a vast number of relics, leaving us only enough to realise the great role it played as one of leading centres during the Cretan Renaissance.
The video here below was broadcasted by the local TV channel and you can see the area.