Crete is an island of light, the ‘cradle of Zeus’, with sun-drenched coastlines, picturesque villages and majestic mountains. No wonder that even the gods felt comfortable in this wonderful region of Greece.Heraklion is the capital of the largest and most southerly Greek islands, on which a highly developed culture has existed for 4,000 years. The Venetians built massive fortresses to defend the island against the Turks. The Gortys Ruins are reminders of the moving history of an old town that was prosperous in the 5th century B.C., when Gortys became the most powerful town of the Messara Plain. Throughout the olive groves and between the hills, can be found the scattered remnants of its past cultural riches.With its beautiful sandy beaches, Matala is a popular coastal resort to which many come simply to experience the glorious sunsets, in addition to the rich archaeological discoveries of the Phaistos Palace.The precipitous rocky coastline of Agia Roumeli is also the starting point of the Samaria Gorge, which is regarded as the largest in Europe. Eighteen kilometres long and in places up to 150 kilometres wide, the gorge stretches from the Libyan Sea right up to the heights of Lefka Ori. Picturesque harbors, ancient treasures, lost legends and Greek hospitality, who could possibly ask for more?
Crete is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean and the largest of the islands forming part of modern Greece. It is relatively long and narrow, stretching for 160 miles (260 km) on its east-west axis and varying in width from 7.5 to 37 miles (12 to 60 km). The administrative centre is Irákleio (Heraklion; historically Candia), on the north coast. Area 3,218 square miles (8,336 square km). Pop. (2001) 594,368; (2011) 623,065. Crete is dominated by harsh mountains rising out of the sea. The island’s east-west mountainous range consists of four main groups that rise to the island’s highest point, Ídi mountain, 8,058 feet (2,456 metres) in elevation. To the west the Lefká (“White”) Mountains reach 8,045 feet (2,452 metres), and to the east the Díkti Mountains extend to 7,047 feet (2,148 metres) in elevation. Those mountains rise above the high upland plains of Nída, Omalós, and Lasíthi and are marked by several gorges, the best known of which is the Samariá Gorge. The gradually sloping northern coast provides several natural harbours and coastal plains, where such major towns as Chaniá (Khaniá; historically Canea), Réthymno (Réthimnon; historically Rhithymna), and Irákleio are located. The Mesara (Messára) Plain extends along the south-central part of the island for about 18 miles (29 km) and is Crete’s major expanse of flatlands. Sandy and pebble-strewn beaches dot the coastline. Crete has six small rivers as well as springs, seasonal watercourses and ponds, one natural freshwater lake (Lake Kournás), and several artificial lakes. Crete’s climate varies between temperate and subtropical, with an annual average precipitation of about 25 inches (640 mm) and hot dry summers. Winter temperatures are relatively mild. The air in the mountains is temperate and cool. Precipitation in that region is much higher than elsewhere on the island, and the mountains are often covered with snow in the winter (November to May), which may remain on the highest peaks throughout much of the year.