Forests of Crete

Forests of Crete

The variety of spectacles nature puts on in Crete – from mountains through plains to seashores, as revealed by the constantly changing landscapes – guarantees many surprises for the traveller. The rugged massifs, the gorges with their impressive wildlife, pristine islets with sand-dunes and cedar trees, wetlands and forests – all together produce unusual ecosystems across the island: gifts to those that seek to explore earth’s trail. In this section, you can explore with us some of these rarities – learn about the flora and fauna – discover the stories and legends they inspire and plan your next hike or road trip destination.

While Crete was once covered with thick vegetation and lush forests, logging and animal grazing have contributed to the loss of some of these habitats. Extensive wildfires, whether by accident or due to natural causes are also common every summer.

The forests of Selekano near Ierapetra, as well as Vorizia and Kato Symi, are significant apiculture centres and the largest in Crete.

Crete also boasts two extensive palm forests, one found in the area of Preveli, on the southern coast of Rethymno while the other is on the easternmost point in Vai. The latter is more extensive and the largest in Europe with more than 5000 trees. It is made up of Cretan Date Palm and was relatively unknown until the 1970s when it became popular with hippies and alternative holidaymakers. To protect the area, it is now only open to the public during the daytime and the palm grove is fenced off and designated a protected conservation habitat. Preveli is one of the most famous beaches in Crete and is located at the exit of the Kourtaliotikos Gorge, requiring a small but steep hike to reach the water. The palm trees lining the river create an otherworldly tropical feel that visitors love.

Other forested areas like the Diktean and the White Mountains as well as Rouvas at Psiloritis are known for their oak forest. Rouvas is one of the most important on the island with massive trees that grow thickly and reach heights of over 15 m.

Lake Votomos – River Koutsoulidis

Lake Votomos – River Koutsoulidis

Lake Votomos is a small lake, close to the village of Zaros on the southern side of the Rouvas forest. This small village on the foothills of Mount Psiloritis in central Crete is close to a lot of archaeological sites and monasteries but is mostly visited by those seeking to explore the natural beauty of the area. The E4 European long-distance path travels through the village; the north route takes you through the forest of Zaros towards the village of…

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Selakano Forest – Lassithi

Selakano Forest – Lassithi

Selakano Forest is an area of wild beauty and one of the most important ecosystems on the island, included in the Natura 2000 network. A pine forest, in a mountain setting, it begins some 35 km to the northwest of Ierapetra and runs on up the slopes below the summit of Afendi Christos peak of the Dicte (or Dikti) massif.

Vai Palm Forest

Vai Palm Forest

Vai palm forest lies in a beautiful valley, by a sandy beach, just north of ancient Itanos: 28 km from Sitia, 8 from Palaikastro and 6 from Toplou. Covering 200 stremmata (50 acres), it is made up of the native Theophrastus palms – the largest palm grove not only in Greece but in all of Europe.

Koufonisi Island – Sitia

Koufonisi Island – Sitia

Koufonisi is a tiny Greek island, located on the southwestern coast of Crete in the Libyan Sea. While it is only 5.25 square kilometres in size, the wealth of archaeological finds have termed Koufonisi, “little Delos”. Together with the main island, the region includes smaller islets – Stronguli, Makrouli and Marmara to the north, as well as Trachilos to the south. The sea comprises 60% of the designated territory.

Trygiodo Forest – Vroulidia – Anogeia

Trygiodo Forest – Vroulidia – Anogeia

The forest of Trigiodo – Vroulidia is an important ecosystem centred on an oak forest. It occupies the inner valley of a mountain massif near Anogia, one of the most well known touristy villages in Crete island, which borders the Zominthos region. Anogia rests on the slopes of Mount Psiloritis at an altitude of 700 m and is the birthplace of the famous Greek singer Nikos Xylouris.

Rouvas Forest

Rouvas Forest

Rouvas Forest is a vital ecosystem, primarily based on an oak forest, and one of the most important and treasured oak forests remaining on the island of Crete. Covering the inland slopes of Psiloritis, it is defined by the peaks of Ambelakia and Samari to the south, Chalazokephala to the west, Skinaka and Koudouni to the north and Gyristi to the east. The forest covers some 30,000 stremmata (7400 acres).

Preveli Lake

Preveli Lake

The area of Preveli on the southern coast of the island is, without doubt, one of the most striking in Crete. It combines the impressive geomorphology of the Kourtaliotiko gorge with an ecosystem of significance and a beach of rare beauty; nearby visitors will also find the Monastery of Preveli, with a small museum that is worth visiting for the history of the area. As a name, Preveli is mostly associated with the palm forest surrounding the beach.

Kournas Lake – Apokoronas

Kournas Lake – Apokoronas

The only freshwater lake on the island of Crete, Kournas Lake, is located at the north edge of the White Mountains, barely 4 km from Georgioupolis, on the borders of Apokoronas. The name – Kournas – probably comes from the Arab word for lake/tub – or perhaps the word for a tap. In the past, it was called Korisia. Some believe there was a temple here to Athena Korisias. The lake creates a fascinating environment, which constantly changes with the…

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Gigilos Peak – Sfakia

Gigilos Peak – Sfakia

Gigilos peak situated in the White Mountains range in the region of Sfakia is considered one of the most enchanting mountain summits of Crete. Rearing up from the depths of the gorge below Xyloskalo, it rises defiantly and barren, ashen in colour, but not in spirit, as its old name would suggest.

Symi Forest – Vianos

Symi Forest – Vianos

One of the most extensive forests on Crete is the Simi pine forest with the dominant species being the Calabrian pine (Pinus brutia) with large stands of oak, cypress and other species like maple, holm oak and holly trees also in abundance.