Landforms and Nature

  Crete is the largest island of Greece and is located about 160 km south of the Greek mainland and 200 km north of Africa at the confluence of four seas: the Ionian Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Libyan Sea. With a total area of 8,336 km2 (260 km long and 56 km wide at its widest point) and a coastline of 1,046 km, Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus and Corsica.

The island's wealth is mainly due to its friendly natural environment and mild Mediterranean climate, which allows for the longest swimming season in all of Greece. The east of the island is drier but with many flowers and beautiful nature, in the center, there are many agricultural areas with vegetable gardens, vineyards, and olive trees, and the west is the greenest part with pine trees and forests.

The island of Crete was formed millions of years ago by changes in the earth's crust and has an enormous geological diversity, in which layers of limestone, phyllite-quartzite, and volcanic rocks predominate. Remarkable for their uniqueness and geological value, two areas of Crete -  Psiloritis and Sitia - have been designated "Global Geoparks" by UNESCO. Landforms are spectacular, dominated by three large groups of mountains that cross the island from west to east and whose ridges sometimes remain snowy until late spring: Lefka Ori / White Mountains (2,453 m), with over 52 peaks passing of 2,000 m, Mount Idi / Psiloritis (2,456 m), central and most imposing, and Mount Dikti (2,148 m). 

  Along them are formed caves, lakes, plateaus, gorges, valleys, and canyons of special beauty, which host countless hiking trails and facilities for adventure sports such as mountaineering, canyoning, and rafting. Some of the most famous and visited caves are the Diktaean Cave, the Sfentoni Cave, and The Melidoni Cave, while the unspoiled Samaria Gorge, the Gorge of Ha, and the Gorge of the Dead offer amazing trails for the hiking and off-road enthusiasts. On the mountain itineraries, lofty peaks border gentle landscapes. Here and there, sunny and fertile plateaus like Lassithi or Katharo, watered in spring by the melted snow from the mountains, reveal to visitors true agricultural paradises. 

 With its sandy beaches and most of the urban developments, the cosmopolitan North is the magnet for mass tourism. The south coast is famous for its wild landscapes and tropical-like beaches, being the favorite destination of adventurous backpackers and naturists. Balos and Elafonissi, two of the most beautiful Cretan beaches, have been ranked among the ten most beautiful beaches in Europe by tourism experts and visitors alike. Away from the coastal regions, the inland is a far less well-known part of Crete. Scattered on rural roads, the old villages surrounded by vineyards and olive or orange groves still preserve the patriarchal atmosphere and the customs of the traditional Cretan way of life.

 Crete is surrounded by 80 islets, some of them attracting tourists for their great beauty or historical importance. Known as the Leper Island, Spinalonga is a small arid island in East Crete, that served as a natural defense system for the Elounda port across centuries, and also, as a leper colony, until 1957. Gavdos, the southernmost islet of Europe is inhabited and became popular for its wild landscapes and virgin beaches. Located 8 miles south of Ierapetra city, in the open Libyan Sea, Chrissi is the most exotic islet of Crete, with crystal turquoise water and pinkish sands.

 The island is isolated between three continents, giving it a character of a nature reserve through the richness, diversity, and uniqueness of the ecosystems found here. About 1,700 plant species -  out of which, to mention the endemic Ancient Olive Tree, the Date Palm, the Orchid and Tulip, and a lot of wild aromatic plants such as Diktamos (oregano), Lavender, Thyme, Faskomilo (common sage), and Marjoram, make this land a botanical paradise. 

 There are about 1,000 endemic animal species, most of which are invertebrates, like spiders, and insects. Crete is one of the most important places for Caretta caretta breeding, the endangered loggerhead turtle, which nests on the sandy beaches of the island. Apart from the turtles, Crete also hosts several lizards, with the Cretan wall lizard being endemic only to Crete. Due to the reduced habitat, terrestrial mammals are rare (eg. mountain goat, wild cat, or Cretan mouse), and the island is less interesting as a safari or hunting destination. However, being on the migratory route between Europe and Africa, its many wetlands, estuaries, and deltas become temporary shelters for migratory birds and insects, thus a real spectacle for birdwatching enthusiasts, in spring and autumn. And in the summer, at nightfall, the crickets' song forms a background chorus, sometimes so loud that you can hardly ignore it.

  A great part of local food production is based upon the Crete-blessed fertile soil. The wines coming from sunny Crete have been often awarded in international competitions, getting more and more attention and appreciation. Crete is also famous for its herbs, thriving wildly or currently being cultivated in gardens in many places on the island. Used for their culinary and therapeutic value since ancient times, they are also the source of a variety of high-quality honey or serve as food for sheep and goats grazing in freedom, offering a distinct flavor to the local dairy products. It has been confirmed in scientific studies, that the Cretan traditional cuisine is one of the healthiest in the Mediterranean cultures due to the quality and freshness of ingredients and the nutritional value of olive oil, surnamed ”the green gold of Crete”.