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Crete is a paradise for the walker. There are few places in Europe where you will find mountainous areas close to the sea a gentle climate and a mass of ancient walks and shepherds paths. You will find the hospitality of the Cretans second to none.

Crete (Greek: Κρήτη classical transliteration Krētē modern transliteration Kríti) is one of the thirteen peripheries of Greece. It is also the largest of the Greek islands at 8336 km² (3219 square miles) and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. Crete is a location of significant ancient history and a popular tourist destination; its attractions include the Minoan sites of Knossos and Phaistos the classical site of Gortys the Venetian castle at Rethymno and the Samaria Gorge as well as many other natural sites monuments and beaches. Crete was the centre of the Minoan civilization (ca. 2600–1400 BC) the oldest form of Greek and hence European civilization. The island has also been called Classical Latin Crēta Vulgar Latin Candia.

Geography

Crete is one of the 13 regions into which Greece is divided. It forms the largest island in Greece and the second largest (after Cyprus) in the East Mediterranean with a population of 650000 (2005). The island has an elongated shape : it spans 260 km from east to west and 60 km at its widest although the island is narrower at certain points such as in the region close to Ierapetra where it reaches a width of only 12 km. Crete covers an area of 8336 km² with a coastline of 1046 km ; to the north it broaches the Sea of Crete (Greek: Κρητικό Πέλαγος) ; to the south the Libyan Sea (Greek: Λιβυκό Πέλαγος) ; in the west the Myrtoan Sea, and toward the east the Karpathion Sea. It lies approximately 160 km south of the Greek mainland.

Crete is extremely mountainous, and its character is defined by a high mountain range crossing from West to East, formed by three different groups of mountains. These are:

* the White Mountains or Lefka Ori (2,452 m);
* the Idi range (Psiloritis ( [show location on an interactive map] 35.18° N 24.82° E) 2,456 m);
* the Dikti mountains (2,148 m);
* Kedros (1,777 m);
* Thripti (1,489 m)

These mountains gifted Crete with fertile plateaus, such as Lasithi, Omalos and Nidha ; caves, such as Diktaion and Idaion ; and gorges such as the famous Gorge of Samaria. The protected area of the Samaria Gorge is the home of kri-kri, while Cretan mountains and gorges are refuges for the endangered vulture Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus).

Climate


Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former ; as such, the climate in Crete is primarily temperate. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea, while winter is fairly mild. Snowfall is common on the mountains between November and May, but rare at the low lying areas - especially near the coast when it only stays on the ground for a few minutes/hours. However, a truly exceptional cold snap swept the island in February 2004, during which period the whole island was blanketed with snow. During the Cretan summer, average temperatures reach the high 20s-low 30s (Celsius), with maxima touching the upper 30s to mid 40s.

The south coast, including the Messara plain and Asterousia mountains, falls in the North African climatic zone, and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures throughout the year. In southern Crete date palms bear fruit and swallows remain year-long, without migrating to Africa.


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