Crete during Winter
Crete is an ideal place to visit all year round. Its mild climate and its unique mountainous features attract visitors before and after the established touristy summer season. Crete’s stunning natural beauty awakens in visitors an imperative need to discover its mountains, its gorges, its paths.
Many old customs are still preserved in the villages during the Christmas and Easter celebrations. In the past, white animals (sheep and cows) should enter houses in order to keep evil spirits away. Similarly, sea squills are hanged on the doors as a symbol of immortality. A unique event not to be missed is the celebration of the Christmas mass in a real manger in the cave Marathokefala. Moreover, in the Christmas village at plateau Omalos, the snow confers a magic aura of Christmas to the setting.
Fruit-bearing trees, especially citrus trees, thrive in many areas of Crete. Oranges from Maleme in Chania have been awarded PDO status, though other famous varieties include oranges from the planes of Milopotamos and Fodele, bananas from Arvi, and apples from Lassithi Plateau. At present, alternative crops have been developed and previously ignored products, such as prickly pears, have become standardized. Dried figs, sultanas and currants have always been crucial both for the islanders’ diet and as an exportable product. Their high energy value makes them more suitable for the winter period.
The rugged terrain of Crete is a paradise for lovers of off-road exploration. Driving in dirt tracks, on the edge of steep slopes with breathtaking sea views, is a unique experience. The island is home to an increasing number of companies offering four-wheel drive excursions in the most amazing places of the island. Crossing mountains on motorbikes is also a very popular activity of local motor clubs. Cycling, either off-road or on asphalt-paved roads, is also a wonderful way to explore the hinterland. Many companies and cycling clubs operate in this sector. The Cycling Tour of Crete is one of the most famous cycling events and attracts many visitors from all over the globe.
Trekking and Climbing
The best way to explore Crete is to walk off the beaten track, follow ancient paths, enjoy the wonderful scents of herbs in the canyons, climb on the tops of the highest mountains and gaze at the deep blue Cretan and Libyan Sea on the horizon. The E4 European Long Distance Path involves a large network of trails with special cultural, natural and historical value. It is marked by the European Ramblers Association and crosses the island, from Kissamos to Zakros. Hikers have the opportunity to explore a wide range of landscapes of great diversity. Apart from the E4 trekking path, there are plenty of options for majestic mapped routes. Many travel agencies offer packages for trekking on the island and there are many hiking and mountaineering clubs. Important mountain races are also organized, such as Psiloritis Race and the Marathon of Samaria.
Apart from Cretans, most visitors ignore that the snowy peaks of the Cretan mountains in winter are ideal for snow sports. All mountaineering clubs on the island organize courses and training sessions related to snow mountaineering, especially in the ranges of White Mountains and Psiloritis. Mountaineering is usually combined with a stay in one of the many mountain shelters. Ski mountaineering, an exciting winter sport that combines trekking on snow-covered surfaces with skiing, attracts an increasing number of fans. Many Cretans climb up the whitewashed mountains and descend slopes on skis or snowboard. Snow-kiting is a relatively new winter sport, which has spread rapidly around the world. The sport is similar to water-based kiteboarding, yet with the footwear used in snowboarding or skiing. Crete is an ideal destination and champions of the sport were excited to do kiteboarding around the white peaks with the blue sea in the background.
Crete during Spring
Nothing is repeated in Crete. Enormous geological contradictions and special weather conditions have formed unique landscapes, surprising the visitors and keeping senses constantly alert. Each route in Crete is unique. Variant sensations, pictures, colors, flavors, sounds accompany visitors at every step.
The flora of Crete
Crete is characterized by a great diversity of landscapes and in combination with its isolated geographic location, it hosts a large number of plant species. Great Britain, whose area is 40 times larger than the island of Crete, encompasses almost the same number of species of plants. This is indicative for the variety of species available on the island. Over 1700 species have been recorded up to date in Crete, many of which are endemic. Some remote areas of the island, especially the White Mountains and the surrounding islets are home to many stenoendemic species and subspecies, i.e. plants that are only distributed in this limited area.
Crete has a rich biodiversity and the best moment to witness this is in the spring when the flora is at its best. Over 1.700 species have been recorded up to date in Crete, many of which are endemic. Some remote areas of the island, especially the White Mountains and the surrounding islets are home to many stenoendemic species and subspecies, i.e. plants that are only distributed in this limited area. Every year these rare species attract botanists from all over the world. They come to study wild flowers, including impressive native Cretan orchids. Moreover, endemic tulips grow on the White Mountains, on the Dikti range, on the Gramvousa peninsula and in the small botanical paradise of Gious Kampos in Rethymnon. Crete is also famous for its aromatic plants and herbs that grow everywhere on the island. Many of them have been used since ancient times for their therapeutic properties and they are currently cultivated in many places of the island.
The existence of numerous caves is inextricably linked to the rugged topography of Crete. Crete has more than 4.500 mapped caves and sinkholes, available to each experienced speleologist who wants to enjoy their rich decoration and fauna. The geological importance of Crete is indicated by the numerous international caving missions for the discovery of unexplored caves and sinkholes. Internationally famous precipices are Gourgouthakas (the deepest in Greece with a depth of -1.208m), Leon (with a depth of -1.110m) and more. Areas that host a large number of caves, ideal for cavers, include mount Stroumboulas by Heraklion, the Geopark of Sitia, the Geopark of Psiloritis and Melidoni area at the White Mountains. On the island, many speleological clubs offer their research and educational contribution. All clubs together constitute the most active speleological community in Greece.
Carnival is another great celebration with roots deep into the past and it is enthusiastically celebrated in places like Gergeri in Heraklion, with Arkoudiarides (wild bears) wearing furs and bells, the soiled faces of the Lerades, Siviani which is a special mask made of the roots of the American aloe plant (known in Greek as the immortal plant) and other typical figures such as the Camel and the Cadi (Turkish judge). The larger cities on the island organize parades and treasure hunts. The main Easter customs include the auction of the Holy Cross, passing the sheep under the Epitaph procession, burning the effigy of Judas in a big bonfire, carrying the Holy Light from the church to the homes and placing red eggs on the graves.
Crete during Summer
From the dunes of Lafonissi and Xerokambos to the tropical shores of Kedrodasos and Chrissi, from the hidden beaches in the wild gorges of Sfakia and Asteroussia to the emerald bays of Triopetra and Plakias, from Balos and Elounda lagoons to the palm groves of Preveli and Vai, from piney beaches of Ierapetra to the long organized strands of the northern coasts, Crete offers the ultimate combination of carefree holidays and natural beauty.
Summer all year round
Thousands of kilometers of coasts carved by salt, the sun and the wind. Crystal waters exhausting the color palette of blue and green. Steep mountains which abruptly raise above the sea … this scenery is met in all areas of Crete. The coastline of Crete is 1046 km long, with very well organized, popular beaches, but also isolated, scenic and pristine places. In Crete, visitors can escape to one of the numerous hospitable, organized beaches located mainly in the northern coast that hosts the major tourist resorts. All those beaches offer visitors a wide range of services, amenities, security, cafes, bars, restaurants, water sports, lifeguards, etc. Most of them have been awarded with the Blue Flag for their safety, cleanness and immaculate amenities.
For romantics and adventure lovers, there are pristine beaches of incomparable beauty, especially in the southern coast. Small emerald heavens are reached after driving in serpentine dirt roads on the edge of steep slopes with breathtaking sea views, or after walking on ancient paths and crossing wild gorges. The winter in Crete is mild, while the spring and the autumn are soft and pleasant; the summer is warm and bright with cool breaks due to the northern winds (meltemi) of August. Crete falls into two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African zone, mainly falling into the former.
Sea temperature rarely falls below 15 degrees Celsius in winter, especially to the south. Winter swimming with the whitewashed peaks of the Cretan mounts at in the background is a unique experience and attracts an increasing number of fans. The climate of Crete is considered as one of the finest, healthiest and mildest climates in Europe. One factor that plays a key role in the formation of the climate is the sea surrounding the island and alleviating the heat intensity of the summer sun. Ierapetra is considered the warmest Greek city and the coastline of the Libyan Sea and Gavdos are the warmest in Greece. The southern coast, including the plain of Messara and the Asterousia Mountains, falls into the North African climatic zone and thus has many sunny, warm days all year round.
Crete’s rugged terrain below sea surface, forms imposing abysses, caves and reefs. Furthermore, numerous shipwrecks and airplane carcasses are dispersed around Crete, as a reminder of its history. Guests of Crete have the opportunity to escape to the magical underwater world by choosing among a large number of companies that deal with diving. Besides diving, visitors can explore coasts through snorkeling or participate in fishing trips or bottom-glass boat excursions.
Conquering deep blue
The options for exploring the coasts of the island are endless. There are daily boat services to many of the most famous remote beaches, such as Balos, Preveli and Agia Roumeli. Visitors can also join trips to the islands of Chrissi, Gavdos, Dia and Koufonisi. Those looking for more options or seclusion could rent a motor or sailing vessel from the marinas of Lassithi, Heraklion, Rethymnon and Chania and in almost all smaller harbors of the island. Indeed, there are many people combining vacation in Crete with a trip to the magical island of Santorini. In recent years, the number of visitors who prefer exploring the rugged coastline and the beautiful beaches that offers canoe kayak amenities has increased. Several companies offer equipment and kayak lessons.
Crete during autumn
Crete is a heaven for nature lovers and those combining adventure and fun on their vacation. The island offers a variety of activities and opportunities for exploring nature and promises a unique and unforgettable experience for those who decide to explore it.
Crete is isolated from other continental regions of Europe, Asia and Africa and this is reflected on the genetic diversity of the island’s fauna. From the proud Cretan ibex, the wildcat and the Cretan shrew to the endemic arthropods and bats, the fauna of Crete hides many secrets about the evolution of species in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the island there are no animals that could harm humans. The ancestors of the Cretans attributed this either to a labor of Hercules in order to honor the birthplace of Zeus, Crete, or to the blessings of Paul the Apostle, who spent two years in Crete. Avifauna of Crete is considered one of the richest in Europe, home to over 350 bird species. Cretan mountains host the highest insular population of vultures in the world, while along with Corsica, Crete hosts the last couples of lammergeiers in the Balkan Peninsula.
In autumn, Crete is a favourite resting place for a vast number of migratory birds. Many observation huts and towers have been installed in wetlands where bird watchers can watch a great variety of birds. Apart from wetlands, watch towers have been placed in several gorges and mountains that are home to a large number of birds of prey. The largest natural lake in Crete is located at Kournas by Georgioupolis, where visitors can observe birds from the local watch tower. Small, but important, natural ponds with water all year round are also located at Tersanas by Chania, at Mohos and Thrapsano while seasonal ponds are met at Orne, Parakalouri, Ziros, Omalos by Viannos, Achendrias, Stroumboulas, various plateaus of north province Mirabello, Gergeri and in several more places. Artificial lakes where one can observe birds are located at Ayia by Chania, Votomos by Zaros, at the large dams of Bramiana, Aposelemis, Faneromeni, Potami and the numerous small dams in the hinterland of Heraklion. Rivers and wetlands that are home to large populations of wading birds are also found in numerous sites of the island. The most famous include the estuaries of the rivers Aposelemis, Anapodaris, Almiros by Gazi, Preveli, Platys, Almiros by Agios Nikolaos, Kyliaris and the four rivers of Georgioupolis. Other extremely important locations are the saltpans of Xerokambos, Gavdos, Chrissi and the marshes of Malia, Katalyki and Falassarna.
Adrenaline at …heights
The island of Icarus and Daedalus is home to several companies and clubs that organize contests or offer lessons and equipment for air sports. Crete is full of steep slopes, ideal for mountain sports associated with the wind, such as paragliding or paramotor. The area of Avdou by Hersonissos is one of the most popular paragliding spots. All major airports of Crete house certified air-sport clubs that provide seminars and small aircrafts to rent. There are also many clubs for aircraft modelling that organize astonishing demonstrations. For extreme athletes, there are various skydiving schools with experienced instructors. The schools operate at some airports of the island, such as Timbaki.
Crete offers a very wide range of options for experiences that will follow the visitor forever, most of which are related to nature. Horseback riding is one of the most common activities in Crete. The island has a long tradition in using horses in everyday life. Even today, many Cretans own a Cretan horse (georgalidiko), a breed perfectly adapted to the rugged terrains of Crete, and take part in competitions and shows. On the island there are many riding clubs and associations, while companies offer riding courses or excursions. Wetlands of Crete are shelters for a large number of plants and animal species. They are crucial for the conservation of biodiversity on the island. During fall and especially in spring, visitors can observe migratory birds in the numerous watch towers placed at most wetlands. Watchtowers have also been installed in mountainous areas with a large array of predator species.