“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.