The Cretans are known for their generosity of spirit. They like strangers, they are pleasant, graceful and hospitable. As their glorious and turbulent history indicates, they are driven by a powerful desire for freedom and independence, which is reflected in every expression of their daily life. Their intense character, combined with a strong sense of family loyalty, often leads them to actions that may be viewed as extreme by outsiders. The ultimate expression of this behaviour is the famous "vendetta," where the rivalry between different families can continue for generations on end. The Cretans keep the local customs and traditions alive. Many still wear the traditional costumes, sing traditional Cretan songs and dance the local dances. Their income derives from agriculture, stock- breeding, commerce and in recent years from tourism, which has developed quite a bit. Cretan girls make beautiful folk-art objects, like ceramics, embroideries and woven fabrics, which can be purchased at most shops on the island.
Found in the crossroads of of three continents, Crete is surrounded be the Lybian Sea, the Cretan Seam the Karpatian Sea and the Myrtoon Sea. Its geostrategic poistions is of great importance, a fact explaining its adventurous history. The shape of the island is narrow but long, with a a length of 260 km. and width of 60 km. and just 12 km. in its most narrow part, which is located in the area of Ierapetra. Crete is the biggest among the greek islands, with a total area of 8,303 square km., including the reas of the little islands of Dia and Gavdos. The latter represents the southernmost point of Greece. Its extensive beaches - of great variety of terrain - have a total length of 1,064.4 km. The population of the island amounts up to about 500.000 residents, who live mainly off agriculture, animal husbandry and as of lately off tourism. Administratively, the island is divided into four Counties. The County of Chania, with Chania as its capital City, the County of Rethymon with thw homonemous capital city, the County of Lasithi, with Aghios Nikolaos as its capital, and the County of Heraklion, with its capital, the city of Heraklion being the largest city on the island with about 100.000 inhabitants.
In the mountains of Crete there have been formed many caves, owing to the terrain of the island. Archaelogical 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 thew 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.
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 wildgoat of Crete which is found nowhere else in Greece. other significant gorges are the gorges of Kourtaliotis river, of Nimbros and Tipoliano.
The mountainous areas of Crete form many plateaux. 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 (700 m 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.
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.
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.
Crete is known for the wide variety of its natural flora. It is estimated that the island is home to 2,000 different kinds of plants, many of which only grow on Cretan land, such as the famous evergreen, Platanus orientalis. Along the Cretan land spread green areas of unique natural beauty. One can admire beautiful wildflowers, anemones, daffodils, osiers and the wild ranunculus. On the mountain slopes grow cypress-, plane-, chestnut-, and oak-trees. The greatest variety of rare plants grows in the gorges, especially in the famous Samaria gorge, which is a known National Park. Here, one comes across rare plants, like the Ebenus cretica, Campanula pelviformis, Gladolius italicus, Linum arboreum, Staechelina arborea, Cyclamen creticum, Chrysanthemum coronarium, Cistus villosuscreticus and Petromarcula pinnata. In the rest of the island varieties such as Tulipa bakeri, Anchusa caespitosa, Erysinum raulinu, Dianthus juniperinus, Dianthus pulviniformis, Asperula idaea and Scabiosa minoana can be found. Finally, of singular natural beauty is the palm-forest of Vai, where Phoenix theophrastu grows, a variety unique to this part of Greece.FAUNA
Crete is well known for the cretan goat, otherwise called "kri - kri" which is found mainly in the Gorge of Samaria. The archaeological excavations, which have brouth to light many a wall paintings of the "kri - kri", testify to the view that this animal was worshiped on the island during antiquity. Its rareness is one of the reasons that led to the Gorge of Samaria becoming a national park. However, "kri - kri" have been spotted in the nearby islands of Dia, Theodoros and Aghioi Pantes. From the Cretan countryside, there could not been absent animals less rare, which are found in many parts of Greece. Among them, the rabbit, the wild cat or fourogatos and a unique kind of mouse. Among the birds, in the Cretan mountains we distinguish the golden eagle and the eagle Gyps Fulvus, while there are many kinds of travelling birds which make a stop on the island as they travel to the south.
The climate in Crete can be described as typical Mediterranea. Summer is hot and dry with sparce clouds and lots of sunshine. Winter is mild, although in certain areas there may be snow and temperature may drop to unusually low levels.