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About Crete - Landscape

Three mountain ranges form a sort of spine stretching across the island. In western Crete, the Lefka Ori or White Mountains occupy a large area within the prefecture of Chania and contain more than 40 peaks over 2,000 metres high. The highest peak in this area is Pahnes, at 2,452 metres above sea level. The Idi or Psiloritis Range in the centre of the island contains the highest peak in Crete, Mount Idi (Psiloritis) at 2,456 metres above sea level. At the eastern end of the island are the Dikte Mountains with several peaks above 2,000 metres high.

The same geological forces that created the mountain ranges also created awe-inspiring gorges throughout the island. Faragi Samarias (Samaria Gorge) is the most famous with a length of 16km, making it the longest gorge in Europe as well as one of the most impressive thousands of tourists take the 6- to 7- hour walk every year. Another less well-known gorge is the Faragi Imbrou (Imbros Gorge) that begins at the plain of Imbros and ends at the Libyan Sea beside Hora Sfakion. The Kotsifou Gorge and the Kourtaliotiko Faragi (Kourtaliotiko Gorge) are only a few kilometres away from one another, near Plakias in the prefecture of Rethimnon. In the western part of Crete there is also the Faragi Agias Irinis and in eastern Crete, the Kilada ton Nekron (Valley of Death), named because of the Minoan graves found there.

There are more than 2.000 caves on the island. Many of these were used in ancient times, some possibly as far back as 3000 B.C. The Spileo Eilithias (Eithilia Cave) was a cult centre devoted to the goddess of childbirth, Eilithia. Relics found here date back to Neolithic times. The Spileo Dikteon Andron (Dikteon Andron Cave) on the Lassithi Plateau, is the legendary birthplace of Zeus. According to legend, Zeus stayed in the Spileo Ideon Andron (Ideon Andron Cave) on Psiloritis during his youth.

Another cave, Spileo Melidoniou (Melidoni Cave) was the site of a tragic episode in the struggle for Cretan independence: In 1824, 300 villagers took refuge from Turkish troops in this cave. When they refused to come out, the Turkish troops barricaded the opening with combustible materials and set fire to them. None of the villagers survived. The Spileo Sendoni (Sendoni Cave) near ancient Axos, is one of the most beautiful in Crete. The Spileo Agiou Ioanni (Agios Ioannis Cave) is the place where the saint lived and died.

In the mountains of Crete there have been formed many caves, owing to the terrain of the island. Archaeological and paleohistoric findings testify to the fact that most of these caves were used during the prehistoric era as sites of worship and religious observances. Among those caves, we distinguish the Dikteo Andro and the Ideo Andro, connected with many local legends, the Caves of Melidoniou Apokoronou, of Sendoni Rethymnou, of Ilithieas, the Cave of Aghios Ioannis the Hermit and the Caves of Omalos Chanion.

The coastline of Crete spans an area of 1,046.4 km and is adorned by capes, bays, picturesque harbours, gulfs, steep cliffs and lovely sandy beaches. The southern coast is less developed as far as tourism goes, thus more peaceful and secluded. The northern coast, though rougher, tends to get more crowded. GORGES
Some of the most characteristic natural beauties of the Cretan scenery consist of the famous Cretan gorges which begin at the mountainous areas of the island and end to the sea. The green gogrges aabound with rare species of flora and fauna which are protected by strict rules, as they are unique throughout Greece. Among them, one can admire rare species of cypress-trees, platans, pine-trees and wildflowers. The most famous and significant gorge of Crete is the infamous gorge of Samaria, which impresses with its size and unique natural beauty, while on its slopes, one can adire the famous wild goat of Crete which is found nowhere else in Greece. other significant gorges are the gorges of Kourtaliotis river, of Nimbros and Tipoliano.

Crete has 155km of sandy beaches along its coastline. The prefecture of Chania contains two outstanding beaches in the west side, Elafonisi in the southwest and Falasarna in the northwest. One of the longest stretches of sandy beach is at Georgioupolis, between Chania and Rethimnon. Vai in the northeastern point of the island, is a heavily visited beach and is the site of the only natural palm grove in Europe. South of Iraklion, Matala, is famous for its caves and has a pleasant sandy beach. There are also pleasant beaches in Frangokastello, Makrigialos, Kato Zakros, Preveli, Paleohora, Agia Pelagia, Istro and Malia.

In the year 2009 in total 419 beaches of Greece have gained the “Blue Flag” status. 96 of those are located in Crete; truly a wide range of organized beaches to choose of. The current “Blue Flag” beaches are:

Prefecture of Chania: Ag. Apostoloi 1 & 2, Agia Marina, Agios Onoufrios, Almyrida, Chalikia, Chrysi, Gerani, Grammeno, Kalamaki, Kalathas, Kalyves-Xyda, Kavros, Kolymbari, Kyani, Limnaki, Maistrali, Maleme, Marathi, Nea Chora, Pachia Ammos, Perastikos, Platanias, Platanias/Limanaki, Stalos, Stavors and Voulismeni

Prefecture of Rethymno: Adelianos Kampos, Agia Galini/Ystero Varkotopi, Bali Livadi, Bali Varkotopos, Damnoni, Lianos Kavos Lavris, Panormo Limni, Pigianos Kampos, Plakias, Platanias B, Rethymno 1-4, Skaleta and Souda

Prefecture of Iraklio: Ag. Georgios 1-3, Ammoudara 1 & 4, Anisaras, Drepanos, Ellinoperamata, Fodele, Limenas Chersonisou 5, Matala, Potamos and Potamos A

Prefectrue of Lassithi: Ag. Fotia, Ag. Nikolaos 1-3, Ag. Panteleimonas, Almyros, Ammos Dimotiki & Marina, Ammoudara, Ammoudi, Analipsi, Boufos, Chavania 2, Chiona (2x), Driros, Elounda & Elounda 1, Elounda Pigaidakia, Ierapetra 1 & 2, Katharades 1, Kitroplateia, Kouremenos, Koutsonari 2 & Ag. Ioannis, Limanaki, Makrigialos/Lagoufa, Myrtos, Pilos, Plaka, Poros 1 & 2, Schisma, Siteia 1 - 3, Vai, Voulisma and Vourlia

For the whole list visit the website of the Blue Flag Organization

The mountainous areas of Crete form many plateaus. Some of them are very fertile with abundant water and are systematically used to cultivate garden produce and fruit. Others are used for pasturing. Among the better known ones are the Plateau of Lassithi on mountain Dikta, at a 900 m altitude, the very popular Omalos Plateau, on Lefka Ori (700m altitude), made famous in folk songs, Plateau of Askifou and, finally, the plateau of Nida, on Psiloritis mountain, (1,400 m altitude).
The mountains of Crete present a wide variety of geological formations, valleys, gorges, caves and plateaux. They are part of the Dinarotauric Arrow, which begins at the Dinaric Alps. The western side of Crete includes Lefka Ori (White Mountains), or Madares, with Pachnes being the highest peak at 2,453 m. The central part of the island is dominated by Psiloritis, or Ida mountain, Crete˘s tallest, Timios Stavros (2,456 m) being the highest peak. In the eastern part of island one can admire Dikta, or Lassithiotika (2,148 m). Apart from these mountain chains there are other, less high ranges, such as Kedros (1,777 m), the ridge of Kouloukonas alias Talea Ori (as it was known in the ancient years), mount Kofinas (1,231 m) and the Sitia mountains where the tallest peaks are 1,320 m and 1,476 m high. The Cretan mountains are for the most part covered with forests. In the recent years, severe damage has been caused by fire and the intensive timber trade and the forest density has been significantly reduced. Still, Roura Forest on mount Ida and Selekano Forest on mount Dikta, are well preserved. Yet, the most beautiful forest on the island is the famous palm-forest of Vai, where the palm-trees reach the beach giving a tropical touch and unique beauty to the area.

The Oropedio Lassithiou (Lassithi Plateau), with its distinctive windmills, is surrounded by the peaks of Dikte and it lies at a height of 850 metres above sea level. Located at the head of the famous Samaria Gorge, the Oropedio Omalou (Omalos Plateau) lies in the Lefka Ori at a height of about 1,000 metres. Two other noteworthy plateaus are Nida, at the base of Mount Psiloritis and Askifou, in the Lefka Ori.

The Pediada Mesara (Mesara Plain) is the largest plain in Crete, measuring 50km in length and 7km in width and is on the south side of the island, in the prefecture of Iraklion. This southern location, in combination with the fertile soil, allows crops to be grown that cannot be cultivated in other places in Crete.

A great variety of agricultural products is produced in the numerous valleys found on the island of Crete. The lowlands of the island spread along its north side, where we find the valleys of Kastellion Kisamou, of Kydonia, of Aghia, of Georgioupolis, of Rethymnon, of Chania, of Malia, of Ierapetra as well as the Mesara Valley, known since antiquity for the bounteous production of cereals. Due to the yielding climate of the island, agriculture is greatly developed and during the last few years big greenhouse cultivations were created here, from where all kinds of products are shipped to the rest of Greece. Among other products, Crete is famous for its olives - from which the high quality cretan oil is produced - the grape vines, the groceries, the oranges, lemons and other products of the kind, as well as for the production of "tropical" fruits, such as bananas, avocadoes and kiwi, as well as thwe famous cretan raisins, known by the name of Soultanina. In the mountains areas, there is bounteous production of of mountain tea, chestnuts, walnuts and other products. On the island there is also production - in great quantities - of high quality honey and cheeses, such as the cretan anthotyro, the mizithra and the graviera, while local fishermen sell all kinds of fish and sea food.

Due to its narrow width, the island of Crete has view rivers, which begin from its central, mountains region and end at the Libyan and the Cretan Seas. Most of them have little water during the winter months, and they dry up in the summer. The biggest rivers on the island are the Geropotamos and the Anapodiaris, in the Messara area, the Tyflos and the Kolenis in the valley of Chania, the Kilaris, the Mega Potamos and the Kourtaliotis, at the delta of which we find an area of exquisite beauty. The island does not have big lakes as well, except for some very small ones as well as the lake of Koyurna in the Apokoronou area. There also exists the small but picturesque harbour-side lake of Voulismeni, next to the port of Aghios Nikolaos.

Limni Kourna (Kournas Lake) is one of two freshwater lakes in Crete, in the prefecture of Chania. It has an area of 160,000 square metres, which varies seasonally. Sheltered by surrounding hills, the lake has an idyllic setting that contains interesting flora and fauna.

The other is Limni Agias (Agia Lake) in Kydonia, also a wild life refuge, where many birds nest and wildflowers abound in spring. Agia Lake is in the middle of the fertile plain of Kydonia near the village of Agia.

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