Martsalo is a secluded beach in the west Asterousia Range, located just a few kilometers away from the “horn” of Messara Plain, the Cape Lithino. It is located 80 km southwest of Heraklion. To get there, one must follow the dirt road that starts at the Odigitria Monastery and heads to Lithino Cape; the right turn leads to Martsalo. After several kilometers, a sign will indicate the way to the beach. Once at the entrance of the gorge, visitors must leave their car and walk southwards for about 2 km. The route is not particularly difficult and was and still is a hermitage of the Odigitria monastery, making it a site of great religious importance. At the beginning of the route lies the lovely church of Panagia Martsaliani, dedicated to the Annunciation. The church, built in a cave, was used as a catacomb at the time of Christian persecutions.
The surrounding area is home to some of the largest colonies of the Phoenix Theophrasti species in Crete, and the largest in the prefecture of Heraklion. In the middle of the gorge is a stone container for the collection of water from a nearby spring. After a 15-20 minute walk, visitors will reach the beach formed at the exit of Martsalo. The beach is made up of large pebbles and is completely isolated. The water is almost always very calm, and the beach is surrounded by tamarisk trees which provide natural shade. As the beach is considered a religious site, activities such as nudism are offensive to the hermits of the gorge. The beach has been used as a port since the Minoan period and traces of a harbor-hamlet from 1800-1600BC have been found. Additionally, the Apostle Paul stopped at Martsalo to teach Christianity during his trip to Rome.
Cape Lithino is located at the “corner” of Messara plain and is the southernmost point of Crete. The highest summit of Lithino is the dry Kefali peak, from where vertical cliffs fall into the sea for 391m. To get to Kefali, visitors must follow a 13 km long dirt road that starts from Odigitria Monastery and heads west. On Kefali, there are the ruins of a German military establishment from World War 2 and a small stone church dedicated to the Holy Cross. Just below Kefali, there is a small cape called Platys Poros or Trahili, on the west side of which are two bays with deep blue water and coarse pebbles, called “Maragou Limani”. Additionally, a few meters west of Martsalo beach and 600m east of Poros lies the small beach Kounenos, accessible through a foot path running close to Martsalo. It is full of caves, cliffs, and rock formations that make it ideal for nature lovers. Boat service from Kali Limenes is available for those wishing to visit the beach.