Being the largest island of Greece at 8261 square kilometers Crete is often referred to as ‘Megalonisos’ (big island). It is in fact the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. Crete, which lies south of the Aegean Sea, in the center of the East Mediterranean basin (where Europe, Asia and Africa meet), is a long and narrow island with east-west orientation (260 km long and widest part at 60 km).
This island has been blessed with an extraordinary fusion of landscapes some of which include snow-capped mountains, gorges, caves, rolling hills, cascading valleys, plains, endless citrus and olive groves, rivers, lakes, natural and man-made ports, harbors and countless kilometers of varied coastlines.
The Lefka Ori (White Mountains) are snow-capped in the winter and the snow is still visible at the start of the summer – wonderfully contrasting sight where the light of summer defines each twist, bend and cliff of this massive mountain. It is for these reasons, as well as the fact that they are covered in a whitish- light grey colored limestone rock, that these are called the White Mountains. With over 55 peaks this mountain range rises well to 2,452 meters above sea level at Pachnes and falls to the southern shores. It is this decline which has created several beautiful and most impressive gorges such as the well-known gorge of Samaria beginning at Omalos and home to the unique species of wild goat (locally known as the ‘kri-kri’), and others such as Therisso gorge, Agia Irini gorge and Imbros gorge.
Crete is dotted with several traditional and interesting mountain villages some of which include the historic Therisso village, Kandanos, Vamos, Vrysses and Melidoni village. Mountain retreats are a unique experience at any time of the year.
The northern coastline has large bays, a multitude of larger beaches and the largest natural harbor, Souda Bay. Scattered in the sea are a number of islets such as Agii Theodori, Agii Pantes and Spinalonga.
Some of the most famed beaches are Elafonisi beach, Falassarna beach, Balos lagoon, islet of Gramvousa and Gavdos islet. Elafonisi beach – a destination in itself – is on the south-west corner of the incredible length and a wide section of sandy beach before the sea.
The Balos lagoon and the islet of Gramvousa (again north-west Crete) are quite ‘tropical’ in style with turquoise waters and magical beaches. Gavdos islet (48 kilometers south of Chora Sfakion), accessible only by boat is a get-away destination.
The southern coastline which faces the Libyan Sea has smaller indentations; smaller beaches, caves and ports such as Sfakia, Loutro, Agia Roumeli, Paleochora, Plakias, Agia Galini (all coastal villages with varied beaches).
Lake Kournas, just 4 kilometers from Georgioupolis, is the only freshwater lake on Crete and is protected under Natura 2000 as it is an important wetland and home to ducks, eels, water snakes and the Diamondback Terrapin (a rare species of terrapin/turtle with a patterned shell). Most enjoyable place to relax at with views to mountains, the sea as well as the lake – even while it sits just 20 meters above sea level.
The Diktaean Cave and the Idaean Cave are the most important caverns on Crete and are known since Neolithic times.
A land of contrast and surprise is heartwarming to be in; while in the west you are surrounded by citrus and olive groves which alternate with mountain plateaus and while in the east, taken aback by the number of palm trees around. Stunningly beautiful natural landscapes provide exciting incentives to venture out, explore Crete and discover its beauties in art, culture, gastronomy, natural surroundings and traditions.
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