Crete – the cradle of the European culture
After touring in Macedonia and Thrace, in the northernmost part of Greece, we will continue touring in the southernmost part, namely Crete.
Crete is the warmest part of Greece with countless opportunities for early to late spring vacations. The island offers a wide range of activities in the spectular Cretan nature, both related to the oceans and to the wild mountains.
There is as well a large number of archaeological sites which includes the Minoan sites of Knossos and Phaistos and the classical site of Gortyns. You’ll find a number of museums throughout Crete. The Heraklion Archaeological Museum displays most of the archaeological finds of the Minoan era.
Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece while retaining its own local cultural traits (such as its own dialect, poetry, and music). Crete was the centre of the Minoan civilization (c. 2700–1420 BC), the earliest “high culture” civilization in Europe, which built the first palaces in Europe.
The island has an elongated shape: it spans 260 km from east to west, is 60 km at its widest point, and narrows to as little as 12 km (close to Ierapetra).
Coordinates: 35°13′N 24°55′E
Mountains and valleys
Crete is very mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from west to east, formed by three different groups of mountains:
- The White Mountains or Lefka Ori 2,452 m (8,045 ft) – Chania region
- The Idi Range or Psiloritis 2,456 m (8,058 ft) – Rethymno region
- The Dikti Mountains 2,148 m (7,047 ft) – Lasithi region
These mountains gifted Crete with valleys, such as Amari valley, fertile plateaus, such as Lasithi plateau, Omalos and Nidha; caves, such as Diktaion and Idaion (the birthplace of the ancient Greek god Zeus); and a number of gorges.
Crete has quite a few gorges such as the famous gorge of Samaria, Imbros gorge, Kourtaliotiko gorge, Ha gorge, Platania gorge, the Gorge of the Dead (at Kato Zakros, Sitia) and Richtis Gorge and waterfall at Exo Mouliana in Sitia.
A large number of islands, islets, and rocks hug the coast of Crete. Many are visited by tourists, some are visited only by archaeologists and biologists. Some are environmentally protected.
Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former. As such, the climate in Crete is primarily temperate. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea, while winter is fairly mild. Snowfall is common on the mountains between November and May, but rare in the low lying areas.
The south coast, including the Mesara Plain and Asterousia Mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. There, date palms bear fruit, and swallows remain year-round rather than migrate to Africa.
Today, the island’s tourism infrastructure caters to all tastes, including a wide range of accommodation; the island’s facilities take in large luxury hotels with their complete facilities, swimming pools, sports and recreation, smaller family-owned apartments, camping facilities and others.
Visitors reach the island via two international airports in Heraklion and Chania and a smaller airport in Sitia (international charter and domestic flights starting May 2012) or by boat to the main ports of Heraklion, Chania, Rethimno, Agios Nikolaos and Sitia. Popular tourist attractions include the archaeological sites of the Minoan civilisation, the Venetian old city and port of Chania, the Venetian castle at Rethymno, the gorge of Samaria, the islands of Chrysi, Elafonisi, Gramvousa, and Spinalonga and the Palm Beach of Vai, which is the largest natural palm forest in Europe.