CRETE’S MOST DISTINCTIVE FEATURE IS ITS LARGE MOUNTAIN RANGES WHICH ARE HOME TO A NUMBER OF PEAKS.
Cretan mountains are mainly grouped into three ranges: the Dikti range in Lassithi, the Ida (Psiloritis) range in central Crete and the White Mountains (Lefka Ori) in Chania. The highest summit is Timios Stavros on the Psiloritis range (2.456 m), however the largest area is spanned by the White Mountains, the highest peak of which is Pahnes (2.453 m). The highest summit of the Dikti range is Spathi (2.148 m).
There are several more important mountains in Crete: the Asterousia range, the southernmost range in Greece; Mount Yiouchtas, the sacred mountain of the Minoans; Mount Kedros by Spili, the rugged mountain of the 100 springs; the Talean range, the towering mountain where the mythical robot Talos stopped to rest; Mount Orno in Sitia area and the pine-covered Thripti by Ierapetra.
The White Mountains
THE WHITE MOUNTAINS, OR LEFKA ORI, IS THE LARGEST MASSIF ON THE ISLAND AND ITS HIGHEST SUMMIT IS PAHNES (2.453 M).
The heart of this imposing range includes the Mountain Desert, where more than fifty peaks named Sori (piles), reminding of cones, exceed the altitude of 2.000 m. Dolines, reminding of upturned cones are formed at the foot of Sori peaks. This creepy and haunting landscape is a unique geological formation in the entire northern hemisphere.
Hiking in the White Mountains requires fitness, experience and a good sense of orientation. There are several mountain shelters where mountaineers can spend their night.
The highest mountain areas are covered by snow till late June. There are numerous caves, precipices, sinkholes and canyons. The most famous gorge is Samaria in the White Mountains National Reserve, but there are many more: to the south, the gorges of Aradena, Tripiti, Klados, Agia Irini, Imbros and Kallikratis, and to the north, the gorge of Vrissi, Therisso, Cyclamen, Boriano, Dittany, Kidoni and more.
The White Mountains are home to the deepest caves in Greece. These include the dark sinkholes of Gourgouthakas and Leon. The most well-known plateaus include Omalos, Anopolis, Askyfou, Tavri and Niato.
The White Mountains host a great variety of flora and fauna species, which are exclusively endemic (stenoendemic), not to be found anywhere else –not even in other parts of Crete. The areas on the southern side of the mountain range are covered with cypress, oak and pine trees, whereas humid areas favour the development of chestnuts, planes and other aquatic plants.
The Psiloritis Range
THE IDA RANGE, WIDELY KNOWN AS PSILORITIS, DOMINATES AT THE CENTRE OF CRETE.
The chapel of Timios Stavros marks the island’s highest summit (2.456 m). Areas with high altitude preserve snow till late June. The rough beauty of this mountain astounds its visitors. Magnificent caves, impressive karst formations, deep gorges, small plateaus, woods, small villages hanging over precipices and bare alpine areas compose this awesome scenery. Psiloritis was the sacred mountain of the Minoans and there are many myths related to it. The upbringing of the god of the Gods, Zeus, was associated to the Idaean Cave. In the past, Psiloritis was covered by dense forests, residues of which are still visible. The most important of those areas is the oak wood of Rouvas by Zaros. Travellers can experience the authentic Cretan tradition in Anogia, the major town of the mountainous part of the province Milopotamos. The plateau of Nida and the primitive domed buildings, called mitata, made solely of dry stone are worth visiting. Mitata provided shelter to shepherds and they were used for milking goats and cheese-making. Around Nida you can visit the Idaean Cave, ancient Zominthos and the observatory of Skinakas. The Psiloritis range hosts many caves, two of which are open to visitors; caves Sfendoni by Zoniana and Gerontospilios by Melidoni. Apart from them, Kamares cave has is of utmost archaeological importance.
The Dikti Range
THIS RANGE LIES BETWEEN HERAKLION AND LASSITHI.
Its highest summit is Spathi (2.148 m) and there are two more peaks at an altitude of more than 2000m. Lassithi Plateau, the largest in Crete, lies at the heart of the range at an altitude of 850 m. It is surrounded by a series of smaller plateaus such as Katharo, Limnakaro, Mari, Lapathos, Omalos, Erganos and Nisimos. There is a mountain shelter at Limnakaro from where hikers ascend to Spathi.
Several gorges are found in the range of Lassithi. Apart from the two gorges named Havgas at Katharo and Kalamafka, there are more canyons such as Sarakina, Adrianos, Ambelos, Roza and Kritsa.
The Dikti range has shows a significant diversity in flora and fauna. The lower mountain sides are covered by olive, carob and pine trees. To the south-east, Selakano is the largest pine wood of Crete and close to the village Krasi lies the holm oak wood of Azilakodasos.
The fertile plateaus and valleys of the Dikti range produce a large variety of agricultural products: potatoes, vegetable, pears, apples, walnuts, cherries, etc. Livestock breeding (sheep and goats) is yet another traditional activity in this region. The famous Diktaean Cave where Zeus is said to have been born is open to the public.
The Asterousia Range
BARE MOUNTAINS, CREEPY ROCKS AND STEEP CLIFFS THAT RUN ALL THE WAY DOWN TO THE SEA LEND THIS AREA AN AIR OF MYSTERY.
Asterousia is the southernmost mountain range in Greece and it extends between the plain of Messara and the Libyan Sea, bounded by the seaside settlement of Tsoutsouras to the east and Cape Lithino to the west.
This mountain range is not particularly high (its summit is Kofinas at 1.231 m). However, rough terrain, dirt roads, deep gorges and steep ravines harden its exploration.
It is characterized by high temperatures and dry landscapes with low vegetation, mainly scrublands. The few trees that struggle to grow on this arid land are almost immediately devoured by the hungry goats.