Crete : Geography & Nature
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Sfakia, South Hania
The Samaria Gorge is one of the longest ravines in Europe (with a total length of 16 km) and offers one of the most spectacular hiking routes in Europe. Its width ranges from 150 m (widest part) to 3 m (narrowest part). The walk from Xyloskalo in the plateau of Omalos to the shores of Libyan sea at Agia Roumeli, takes 6 to 8 hours. The Samaria Gorge has been designated as a national park in order to protect its flora and fauna. It is one of the last shelters of the mountain goat of Crete (Cretan Ibex, common name : kri-kri). The flora is extensive, ranging from high cypress trees to flowers and herbs. The walking path follows the river which flows to small lakes and waterfalls.
The Gorge is open to visitors from May to October.
Diktaian Cave (Dikteon Antron)
Psychro, Lassithi Plateau
The cave of Psychro is one of the most important cult places of Minoan Crete. The excavators and several scholars identify the cave as the famous "Diktaian Cave", where Zeus was born and brought up with the aid of Amaltheia and the Kouretes, and which is connected with myths as this of the seer Epimenides who "slept" here, or the coupling of Zeus with Europa.
Lassithi, Dikti Mountains
The Lassithi Plateau (GR: Οροπέδιο Λασιθίου, Oropedio Lasithiou), is a high endorheic plateau, located in eastern Crete, Greece on the mountain range of Dikti at an average altitude of 840 m, and in a distance of around 55km from Heraklion and 50km from Agios Nikolaos. The plateau is elliptical in shape with an E-W axis of 11km and the N-S of 7km.
The plateau of Lassithi is renowned for its exceptional agricultural produce, the thousands (almost 15000) windmills that used to be there in the past, its significant historical role and for the unique cave of Psychro also known as "Diktaion Andron".
Kri-Kri or Agrimi
Cretan Ibex, Lefka Ori, Hania
Kri-Kri is the common name of the Cretan feral goat (Capra aegagrus ssp. cretica) which is the largest wild mammal on the island. Its grandeur, its bravery, its ability to observe without being noticed, its speed and its impressive horns are the features that were loved by the locals and made it a symbol of Crete and the untamed Cretan spirit. It lives mainly on the White Mountains and its local name is "Agrimi" (GR: Αγρίμι = the wild one) for the male and "Sanada" (GR: Σανάδα) for the female. Recent years, young kri-kris have approached the old village of Samaria, where they are fed by the park rangers and can be seen by the visitors. Kri-kris and goats are close genetically, as the hybridization that exists between them show. Kri-kri's size however is a good deal larger than that of a goat
Kri-kris have a strong sexual dimorphism. Males are larger than females. They all have horns, with annual rings and knobs, from which their age can be easily calculated. Males have larger horns than females (up to 90 cm), which curve backwards. An other characteristic of the males is the beard, which rarely occurs in females. Their coat is short and brown in summer and brownish and denser in winter. They have a black line on the back, which extends from the neck to the top of the tail while at its shoulders the line intersects with another one that reaches the stomach. There are also black patterns on the front parts of their legs.
There are numerous representations of Kri-kris on ancient sealstones, vases and coins, indicating the esteem in which they were held by the people of antiquity.
Phototograph by Anastassios Sakoulis - www.photophysis.gr
Gramvoussa Cape, Kissamos
West of Kissamos and north of the beautiful village of Kaliviani, stretches the impressive Gramvoussa peninsula. The peninsula is formed by steep rocks and is covered with thyme and origanum bushes and wild flowers. On the north west side of the peninsula opposite to the island of Gramvoussa is the wonderful beach of Balos (GR: Μπάλος). The beach is covered with fine white sand and is located between the two creeks of the Tigani cape. The same white sand covers the bottom of the sea and grants to the sea an emerald color. In front of the beach is the picturesque island of Gramvoussa and on the back is the Geroskinos mountain (altitude 762 m).
The road from Kaliviani is well paved dirt road, with amazing view to the steep rocky seaside of the east side of the peninsula. The road ends one-two km before the beach, and the visitor can follow a paved road to Balos. North of Balos, at the Korykon cape, are the ruins of the small Roman city of Agnion, with a temple of the God Apollo.
There are small boats, offering daily cruises to Balos and Gramvoussa, departing from Kissamos (Kastelli) during the summertime.
Vái Palm grove & Beach
Sitia, East Lassithi
A palm tree forest stretching on a marvelous valley and sandy beach. It consists of self planted palm trees of Theophrastus (Phoenix Theophrasti). It is unique of its kind in Greece, Europe and probably the world. Vai because of its special value and beauty is protected by the Greek state, European Union and international contracts. The protected area covers 23.4 ha.
The sandy beach of Vai is amongst the most beautiful in Crete and Greece and attracts thousands of visitors every year since Vai is a top destinations especially for the new comers.
The small islets opposite the beach add a lot to the beauty of the place.
There is a parking area, a tavern, a canteen, umbrellas and seabeds.
There is regular public bus connection with the towns of Sitia and Palaikastro during the summer and many organised day trips by travel agencies.
If you don't like crowds, you can walk a little to the south from Vai to Psili Ammos a lovely small beach with fine gold sand which is nested in a small cove.
Viannos town & area
South east Iraklion
Historical place with outstanding natural beauty, unspoiled villages and great beaches. The town of Ano Viannos is built amphitheatrically on the southern slopes of Dikti mountain at 560 m. above sea in a distance of 65km from Iraklion and 40km from Ierapetra. It preserves the traditional character with the narrow paved streets, the stone built houses - especially the "Plaka' quarter - the old kefeneios with tables under the plane trees and old churches such as Agios Georgios and Agia Pelagia with wall paintings dating back to the 14th century. There are a few accommodation facilities, banks, medical center, taverns, gas stations, shops etc. Ano Viannos is the seat of the municipality of Viannos.
Messara, South - West Iraklion
Matala (GR: Μάταλα) was the ancient port of Phaistos and Gortys and a former fishing community which has developed into a modern holiday center. It is located 4 km south-west of the village of Pitsidia and 75 km from Iraklion. It is built on the coast line of the Messara bay inside a small and picturesque inlet. During the 60's the caves of Matala were hosting a hippie commune.
The gorge that forms the river "megapotamos" ends at the Libyan Sea creating a small lagoon at its mouth. This lagoon, which the locals call "Lake" (limni , Gr:Λίμνη), is surrounded by palm trees and rich vegetation and is one of the most attractive places in Crete. In the past it used to be the ideal place for camping and naturalism. The sea is clean with a dazzling range of green and blue colors and the beach has fine white sand.
Flora & Fauna
There are 2000+ different plant species in Crete with approximately 10 % being indigenous in the island. The Cretan flora is especially rich in herbal and pharmaceutical plants like oregano, thyme and labdanum. Indeed, quite a big percentage of these are collected, dried and sold to the local market and abroad. There is also an amazing variety of flowers in Crete, like tulips, cyclamen, orchids etc. Due to the climate and the land terrain the blossoming period lasts for more than 6 months (March to September). Finally Crete is the northern point on the globe where certain African trees are encountered , like cedar and palm.
Crete has also a varied fauna. There are certain subspecies of animals that are indigenous only in Crete, like the local wild goat, kri kri, and the Cretan tree frog. There are also various birds from a number of subspecies of the common hawk, to the grey heron. Finally, the sea life is fairly varied, and certain beaches in the south of the island offer protection to the caretta-caretta (sea turtle) during its reproduction period.
Find related pages...: Environment & Nature
Natural History Museum of Crete
Iraklion, Dermatas Gate
The Natural History Museum of Crete is housed in the renovated former premises of the Heraklion Public Power Corporation, on Dermatas’ Bay. With an area of 3,500 m2, it is the largest exhibition of its kind in the Mediterranean, showcasing the natural environment of Crete and the wider Mediterranean area in an innovative, original way.
Crete's only freshwater lake, Lake Kournás (GR: Λίμνη Κουρνά), is relatively large, with a perimeter of 3.5 km. Although almost all touristic leaflets say that it is possible to walk around the lake, that is not true. At least not at the end of the rain season (winter). There is a nature preserve on the Southwest of the lake. But there is a rustic road from the North of the lake to the Hills on the West of the lake too.
South west Kissamos
Elafonissi is a small islet on the southwest of Crete. It is connected to the beach with a shallow reef (max. depth 1 meter) that allows crossing when the sea is calm. There are only a couple of cantinas on the beach and plenty of places for camping. The place can be accessed by car from the village of Vathi or by boat from Paleohora. There are no permanent inhabitants.
Imbros village and gorge
Sfakia, South Hania
The ravine begins from the last houses of the village of Imbros and 8 km after it ends at the village of Komitades. Its crossing is smooth and entails no danger...
Kalikratis Village & Gorge
Sfakia, South Hania
Kalikratis is a small mountainous village at the foot of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) at an altitude of 750m above sea level. It is a traditional village with many well preserved stone houses. A German army of two thousand soldiers, invaded the village during the October of 1943 , burned it down and executed twenty men and nine women who did not manage to leave on time.
A little to the south of the village starts the gorge of the same name which is part of the European hiking footpath (E4) and after some 4km walking ends at the village of Patsianos.
At 1538m above sea level, 20 km. south of the traditional town of Anogia , on the plateau of Nida, of Mountain Psiloritis, lies this sacred cave, where according to mythology, Rhea, Zeus' mother, hid the new born Zeus in this cave in order to protect him from his father Kronos (Saturn), who was in the habit of swallowing his children because he feared they might deprive him of his power. Hidden in that cave Zeus grew up being fed with the milk of the goat Amalthia, while the 'Kourites" covered the child's crying through banging their copper shields.
Agia Varvara town
Agia Varvára (GR: Αγία Βαρβάρα) is a town built along the road between the Messara plain and the Malevizi region at the highest point (580 m).
The town enjoys a unique location with a splendid view into the Malevizi region, and a cool climate, particularly pleasant during the hot summer months. It produces first-rate fruit and vegetables.
Because of its strategic location on the main north-south axis, the town was often exposed to fierce battles. A famous warrior, Mathiou Kapitakis or Mathioudakis was born here: he fought side to side with Karaiskakis and was killed at Faliro. His comrade-in-arms, Logios, was the hero of Aghios Thomas.
As you reach the village, on the north side there is a rock with a chapel dedicated to Profitis Ilias. On this rock -which used to be twice as large but part of it fell off at the beginning of the 19th century- there used to be an ancient temple.
Nowadays, the visitor can find every kind of commodity and facility on hand at the modern town of Aghia Varvara. In summer a special 'tsikoudia' feast, and in early spring a carnival feast are organized by the Cultural Association of the town.
At the centre of the town, there are two churches - one old and one new - both dedicated to the patron saint, Aghia Varvara. Three Byzantine churches are also well worth a visit: Profitis Ilias, Aghios Giorgos and Aghios Ioannis, and of course the old monastery of Aghia Pelagia by the cemetery.
A picturesque uninhabited small island of cedar forest, tempting golden beaches and the well preserved old church of Agios Nikolaos, only 8 miles off the port of Ierapetra, to the south. From the middle of May to the end of October, there are daily boat cruises to Chrissi island, departing from Ierapetra and Makrygialos. There is a bar restaurant at the south beach and a beach bar at the northern beach also known as "Golden Beach". The island belongs to the NATURA network due to its rare combination of ecosystems which form the habitats of several endemic species.
Zakros Gorge of Dead
Zakros, Sitia, East Crete
Within a few distance from the town of Zakros, starts the Gorge, which ends at the bay of Kato Zakros, almost near the Palace area. This gorge is of outstanding beauty, with large caves in its walls. In those caves were discovered tombs dated to the Minoan period, and finds of great archaeological importance. That is the reason why the caves are named "The Caves of Dead" and the gorge "The Gorge of Dead".
Because of its natural beauty and archaeological significance the gorge attracts numerous visitors every year.
Kenouriou, South Iraklion
Zaros (Greek: Ζαρός), at an altitude of 340 metres, is a town with a lake and gorge nearby. It has a couple of hotels and it is 44 km from Heraklion at the southern foothills of Mountain Psiloritis. The population of 3,400, produce olive oil, sultanas, vegetables and spring water. There are a couple of fish farms that serve both trout and salmon.
In Zaros, there are cafes near Lake Votomos, as well as a tavern that serves fresh trout called I Limni (The Lake). Close by is Rouvas Gorge, which is part of the Psiloritis mountain range and is on the hiking route known as the E4 European Walking Path. Nearby Zaros are traditional water mills which have been working since the 16th century, as well as archaeological sites and monasteries.
Zaros is also famous for its water "ZAROS" bottled by a company called Votomos SA.
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