"Ochi" has a variety of landscapes owing to its geographical position and the diversity of its terrain. The terrain of Ochi is mountainous, the main mountains being the Prophetis Ilias range (1339 m.) and Giouda (1386 m.). The northern and northeastern sections are intersected by ravines and they slope steeply towards the sea. The rock is mainly shale and cipollino marble. The terrain of the southern and western sections is smoother, but rock formations intermittently rise up in the landscape.
The region is geographically distinctive in that it has two radically different and discrete terrains: The northern and northeastern section of the mountain has steep forested slopes and is reminiscent of Pelion, while the southern and south-western is similar to the Cycladic islands. Ochi is situated between two seas. To the south and west is the Evoikos Gulf (Evia Gulf ), a large, protected gulf with relatively shallow waters. To the northeast is the Aegean Cavo d’Oro that has strong currents and very deep waters, even near the shore. In terms of climate, the north that looks out over the Aegean is humid and colder than the south, which has less rain in the winter and is dry in the summers. Ochi is a mountain on a cape full of contrasts.
Wetlands, rocky ground, forests and other wildlife habitats
A habitat is the natural environment of an animal or plant. Every habitat type has specific conditions and a relative homogeneity, such as, for example, a forest, a rocky shore or a swamp. A habitat can consist of several kinds of biotopes (insofar as these are delineated by discrete types of vegetation). In contrast, the habitat of micro-organisms is microscopic and can comprise only one species of plant.
For many insects a rotten tree trunk is their exclusive habitat. Most fauna species use more than one habitat. Some habitats can contain species that live mainly or exclusively there, because they have specific needs for feeding or reproduction. The very important habitats of the Ochi region are rocky areas, deciduous, evergreen and sclerophyllous evergreen forests, as well as wetlands.
Many specialised species that cannot be found in other habitats dwell in wetlands such as swamps, wet fields, puddles or ravines. For all their small size, the Karystos lowlands are very important because they are the exclusive habitat for many species that cannot be found elsewhere in southern part of the Karystia district.
Approximately 50 bird species (waterfowl, waders and other wetland species) have been observed just in the lowland wetlands. Also, Ochi ravines and springs constitute a true source of life for many small creatures, such as water insects, molluscs, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
The habitat type that is formed by rocky ground includes cliffs, rocky outcrops, caves, bays, gorges. These inaccessible areas are the exclusive breeding site of several species. In total, 27 bird species make their nests on rocky formations and 11 of these species are endangered or protected. Within this category are birds of prey, rock partridges, the blue rock thrush, crag martins and other birds that live in open rocky fields. Bats and many invertebrates find shelter inside the caves and the rocky crannies.
Deciduous, evergreen and sclerophyllous forests
Hundreds of different insect species and invertebrates which are food for many kinds of animals live on deciduous trees. An ancient oak tree can be home to 200 different species of invertebrates. The remains of the forests are home to many birds of prey and forest animals. Such woods in steep and inaccessible slopes are rare on islands.
Areas that are barren to the human eye are anything but barren for nature
The open treeless areas of Ochi have a rich variety of interesting reptiles and birds. Twenty four species of reptiles live in coppices and on rocky formations: 2 species of tortoises, 10 species of lizards and 10 species of snakes. Eighteen of the 20 species of birds of prey that have been spotted in this area hunt in such open, non-forested habitats. Some very rare birds of prey such as vultures, golden eagles, long-legged buzzards, peregrine falcons and Bonelli’s eagles hunt in open areas. It is interesting that age-old human impact on the environment (fire and grazing) has helped create the varied thicketed landscapes on Ochi. Despite one’s first impression that it is barren and infertile, this truly pastoral landscape plays a major role in protecting the local wildlife.
Rich bird life
Despite the fact that Ochi is an island mountain, it has over 211 different bird species. The area is of great interest to ornithology for the following reasons:
Southern Karystia is placed strategically in Evia’s southernmost point, and thus constitutes a replenishing stopover for many bird species that have to follow the flyway over the sea. It is indicative that 80% of the bird species that can be found in the area of Ochi are migratory. The cape and the shores of Kafirea, the top of Ochi and particularly the lowlands of Karystos are watch points from where one can watch the migration of many birds as birds of prey, waterfowls, waders and passerines.
A communications channel
Due to its geographical position, the area functions as a communications channel between the birds of Sterea Ellada (Middle Greece) and the islands. The mass of Ochi is a natural breeding ground for some species that can then disperse south to the Cycladic islands. Such species are forest passerines, some rare birds of prey and species that have a very small nesting population in southern Greece.
Birds of prey
Twenty (20) species of diurnal and five (5) species of nocturnal birds of prey have been recorded in the area. Some of them have permanent populations in the area. Bonelli’s eagles, short-toed eagles, falcons, peregrine falcons and many horn owls reproduce there. Bonelli’s eagles, long-legged buzzards, marsh harriers and black kites stop in the area during migration
Many nesting species
Sixty nine (69) nesting bird species, a large number for an island, have been recorded in the area. In addition, the area has populations of protected species whose numbers have been greatly reduced in Europe. Protected species that live in noteworthy numbers on Ochi are shags, nightjars, rock partridge, wood larks, tawny pipits, Rufous-tailed scrub robin, fan-tailed warblers, the black-headed bunting and Protzschmar’s bunting.
A haven for endangered species
The populations of many bird species have been reduced. Birds of prey particularly are disappearing at a frightening rate. Waterfowls and waders have ever smaller wetlands in which to hunt for food. Ochi is a haven because it is a habitat for populations whose numbers have fallen in the Aegean. If the natural environment is preserved, some species that have been lost or reduced will be able to return. Vultures and Bonelli’s eagles that used to nest in southern Evia might come back to the area if they and their habitats, are protected.
“Kastanolongos” - The last primordial chestnut forest of south Evia
Just east of the highest peak of Mt Ochi, at an elevation of 900– 1,100m is a very small, ancient wild chestnut forest that covers an area of approximately 60 hectares. Kastanolongos is a natural museum, where every ancient tree constitutes a living piece of natural sculpture. It creates a green oasis under the untamed peaks of Mt Ochi, providing a panoramic view of the southernmost peninsula of Evia and from the Southern Evoikos Gulf to Attica and the north Cyclades. Because its aesthetic value is of national importance, Kastanolongos has been ranked as a Region of Particular Natural Beauty.
In autumn, walking on a soft carpet of fallen leaves, one can watch the foliage of the trees dancing in the blowing wind, its colours shifting between gold and shades of bronze. Because of the fact that hardly any chestnut forests with such ancient trees remain in Greece.
Kastanolongos is an extremely valuable ecosystem indeed, it is the last genuine chestnut forest of southern Evia. Each ancient chestnut is a hub of life with hiding places in its cavities, its hollow branches and stumps, where insects, reptiles, birds and small mammals find refuge. In the broader vicinity of the forest, 59 bird species, at least 16 of which nest in the forest, have been recorded.
There are small springs, ephemeral streams and small meadows that are valuable, not only to undomesticated nature, but also to livestock breeding. It is from the Kastanolongos vicinity that one sets off to reach the peaks of Mt Ochi. A trail connecting it with the Demosaris Gorge also exists. A forest road, through the village of Metochi, in addition to the good traditional trail from the village of Myloi, leads to the chestnut forest.
Just a breath away from the beautiful forest is the Mt Ochi climbing refuge. It offers shelter to anyone that wants to explore the forest and the mountain peaks.
“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 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.
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.
Source: Ministry of tourism , Perfecture of Evia, Chalkida Mountain Association