Crete Nature

waterfall in Richtis gorge

Crete has a “thousand faces” – and this is no hyperbole!

If there is one thing that characterizes this island, it is the rich and diverse terrain, its wonderful climate conditions and the ever-changing landscape they together create. Every journey around Crete combines often austere and naked, and others lushly-wooded mountainscapes through small valleys and rolling hills with olive trees and vineyards. Steep and gentle slopes are carpeted with aromatic herbs. The beaches are just as distinct, each one with its own natural beauty and shape, sometimes secluded and tiny, other times stretching for miles. You will never get bored in Crete; there is always a new viewpoint or place, a unique ecosystem, or region of outstanding natural beauty and diverse habitat to explore.

Rich Geomorphology & Rare Ecosystems

A lot of areas in Crete are protected by Natura 2000. There are large numbers of gorges and geological faultings, hundreds of caves, and myriads of archaeological sites. All this makes Crete an ideal place for those interested in diverse and beautiful habitats – forests of cedars, palms, and oaks. The same is true for those keen on a more strenuous exploration of nature and its biodiversity, exploring the mountains and seas. There is also a large number of plant species that have been producing a wealth of natural products, some still in use today. With the mild climate all year round, this fully justifies the boast during ancient years that Crete was a blessed land.

Rare Plants and Herbs

There is a vast number of aromatic and medicinal herbs found on Crete island. The flora of the island encompasses 2,100 species of wild plants, of which 300 are endemic.

Rare Animals

A lot of the protected areas, under Natura 2000, are home to rare and protected animals. Crete hosts the world‘s largest colony of Eleonora‘s Falcon and is an important breeding area for rare raptors such as the Golden Eagle, the Lammergeier and others.

Marine Ecosystems and Beaches

Crete is not just about the mountains – the surrounding seas are some of the richest and most pristine marine habitats left in the Aegean. Corals and extensive sea-meadows with protected species of seaweed such as “Posidoneia” are to be found in these waters. The diverse coastline, at times rocky and wild, while others gentle and sandy, is lapped by crystal clear water of shifting shades of green and blue.

Kounaviano Gorge

Kounaviano Gorge

Only half an hour, (15 km) from Heraklion, the gorge of Kounaviano, one of the richest in vegetation and natural wealth in the whole prefecture, can be found.

Pefki Gorge

Pefki Gorge

The gorge of Pefki is one of the most well-known and popular gorges in eastern Crete and a favourite among visitors. A small gorge, it offers impressive rock formations and lush vegetation starting south of the village of Pefki and ending a little north of the area of ​​Aspros Potamos in Makry Gialos.

Ha gorge

Ha gorge

Ha Gorge is considered to be the most imposing gorge of Eastern Crete, due to its impressive geomorphology and biodiversity.

Vorizia Gorge

Vorizia Gorge

The gorge of Vorizia, located on the south side of the Psiloritis mountain range, in central Crete offers one of the most interesting geological formations and stunning landscapes on the island. The imposing rugged slopes at its southern side, create an impressive setting, and it is relatively easy to cross.

Oreino Gorge or Butterfly Gorge – Lassithi

Oreino Gorge or Butterfly Gorge – Lassithi

Oreino gorge is an interesting gorge that starts from Oreino village and ends in the area of ​​Koutsoura. Despite the catastrophic fires that the forest has suffered in the area of ​​Orino, the gorge remains one of the most beautiful ecosystems of Sitia with intense vegetation. It is relatively easy to cross and does not require much effort.

Havga Gorge – Kavousi

Havga Gorge – Kavousi

The gorge of Havga is a small but impressive gorge, which ends east of the village Kavousi. It is often confused with other gorges on the island that share the same name.

Mesona Gorge

Mesona Gorge

The gorge of Mesona is located north of Ierapetra, in between Sitia and Agios Nikolaos. You will find it on the east side of Kavoussi village; it is the continuation of the gorge Havga to the southeast in the direction of Mount Thripti.

Patsos gorge

Patsos gorge

The spectacular, verdant gorge of Patsos is located in the inland area of the prefecture of Rethymno, at the north-west part of the municipality of Amari.

Sarakina gorge

Sarakina gorge

A small but intensely beautiful gorge, which is located near the village of Mithi, 22 kilometres west of Ierapetra, at the south-eastern foot of Mount Dikti.

Pervolakia gorge

Pervolakia gorge

Pervolakia gorge is an exceptionally beautiful gorge, with a fairly easy route stretching almost throughout its entire length that becomes challenging the further in you go.

Kritsa Gorge – Lassithi

Kritsa Gorge – Lassithi

The gorge of Kritsa begins at the north-eastern exit of the historical village of Kritsa and ends up at a flat area 2,5 kilometres to the north. Continuing in the watercourse from this point, one arrives at the entrance to the second section of the gorge, which is a lot more difficult. After a tiring climb, it leads to the foot of the Tsivi peak, over Katharo plateau.

Hametoulo gorge

Hametoulo gorge

The gorge of Hametoulo, also spelt Chametoulo, is found on the remote southeastern coast of Crete island, in between the villages of Ziros and Xerokambos.

Roza Gorge – Gonies – Chersonissos

Roza Gorge – Gonies – Chersonissos

The gorge of Roza, which is located in the municipality of Chersonissos, is essentially a branch of the Ambelos gorge. It is an uphill route 3 kilometres long, with an elevation difference of 300 metres.

Martsalo Gorge – Asterousia

Martsalo Gorge – Asterousia

The gorge of Martsalo, that belongs to the municipality of Phaistos, is one of the most characteristic and beautiful gorges of southern Crete. It is located at the western foot of the Asterousia mountain range, right next to Agiofaraggo, and south of Odigitria Monastery. It is 2 kilometres long and the elevation difference between the entrance and the beach of Martsalo, where it ends up, is approximately 145 metres.

Agios Antonios Gorge – Asites

Agios Antonios Gorge – Asites

The gorge of Agios Antonios is a small yet magnificent gorge, which begins at Ano Asites, 28 km from Heraklion. Do not be confused with the Agios Antonios gorge in Rethymno close to the village of Patsos also known by the name gorge of Patsos.

Agiofarago – Asterousia

Agiofarago – Asterousia

Agiofarago (or Agiofarango meaning the Saints’ Gorge) is probably the most impressive reasonably manageable gorge of the former Asterousia municipality. It is approximately 1,5 kilometre long and ends up at a magnificent beach.

Topolia Gorge

Topolia Gorge

The gorge of Topolia (Topoliano) is located in the inland area of Kissamos, at the western end of the Chania prefecture. It begins at the village of Topolia and after approximately 1.500 metres exits at a verdant valley, next to Koutsomatados village. The walk down the gorge, which is fairly easy, requires about one hour.

Katholiko Gorge – Chania

Katholiko Gorge – Chania

The gorge of Katholiko, also known as To Avlaki tou Agίou (= water channel of the saint), as locals call it, is located at the northern end of Akrotίri, near Chania, very close to Gouverneto Monastery.

Anidri gorge

Anidri gorge

The gorge of Anidri is one of the smallest of the Cretan gorges yet lovely in its own way. It is located in the Paleochora region, at the south-west end of the Chania Prefecture. It runs from the village of Anidri to the magnificent twin beaches at Gialiskari, which are separated by a small peninsula thick with junipers. The gorge is 2 kilometres long. It requires less than 1 hour to pass through, and a little more than that to…

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Agios Nikolaos Gorge – Crete

Agios Nikolaos Gorge – Crete

The gorge of Agios Nikolaos is flanked by the peaks of Ambelakia, to the east, and Samari, to the west. It is considered the most important gorge of Psiloritis and of Central Crete, and it was named after the Byzantine chapel of Agios Nikolaos which is located at its southern entrance. It extends along the imposing southern part of Psiloritis, from the north heading south, and it connects Rouvas forest to the north with the valley of Koutsoulidis river to…

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Agia Irini Gorge – Selino – Chania

Agia Irini Gorge – Selino – Chania

Agia Irini Gorge is a place of unique beauty and vegetation. It is located at the western section of the Lefka Ori (White Mountains), near Agia Irini village, which belongs to the Municipality of Kandanos – Selinos. The gorge is part of the E4 European long-distance path and can be combined with other hikes in the area. It is 7,5 kilometres long and the walk through it requires approximately 3 hours. The entrance is situated near the village of Agίa…

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Faneromeni Gorge – Lassithi

Faneromeni Gorge – Lassithi

The Faneromeni Gorge in the prefecture of Lassithi in Eastern Crete is also known as the Gorge of All Saints or Agii Pantes. This is one of the easiest gorges to hike through and is easily accessible, ideal for families and nature excursions in the area. It begins east of the location of Sfakidia and ends up at the bay of Faneromeni, next to the Monastery of Faneromeni.

Arvi Gorge – Vianos

Arvi Gorge – Vianos

The gorge of Arvi, one of the most spectacular gorges of Crete, has a north to south orientation. It begins in the Amiras area and ends up by the southern coast looking over the Libyan Sea. The outlet of the gorge is next to the Monastery of Agios Antonios, a little to the north of the current coastal settlement of Arvi. The gorge can be visited all year round, except in the wintertime, due to rainfall.

Kotsifos Gorge

Kotsifos Gorge

The gorge of Kotsifos is smaller than the neighbouring Kourtaliotiko gorge but equally impressive. It is located between the peaks of Kouroupa (984 m) and Krioneritis (1.312 m) and is 2 kilometres long. The elevation difference between the highest point of the route in the gorge and the outlet is 390 metres.

Hohlakies gorge

Hohlakies gorge

Hohlakies Gorge is a beautiful, fairly small and easily accessible gorge in the prefecture of Lassithi. It begins at the village of Hohlakies and ends up at the beautiful bay of Karoumes on the eastern coast of Crete.

Richtis Gorge – Lassithi

Richtis Gorge – Lassithi

This is one of the most beautiful small gorges of Eastern Crete, following a well-marked route. Located in the prefecture of Lassithi, between Agios Nikolaos and Sitia on the northern coast, it follows the stream which flows all year round, creating a splendid waterfall.

Zakros Gorge – “Valley of the dead” – Crete

Zakros Gorge – “Valley of the dead” – Crete

This is the most famous and most frequently visited gorge in eastern Crete. It was named “Valley of the dead”, because of the Minoan cave burials which were found in the area.

Kourtaliotiko gorge

Kourtaliotiko gorge

The gorge of Kourtaliotiko is one of the most well known and popular for nature lovers in the region of Rethymno in southern Crete.

Imbros Gorge – Sfakia – Chania

Imbros Gorge – Sfakia – Chania

The gorge of Imbros, in the area of Sfakia, is one of the deepest and narrowest gorges of Crete. It begins a little to the south of Imbros village, on Askifou plateau, and exits after approximately 5 kilometres, at the village of Komitades, near the beach of Frangokastello.

Aradena gorge

Aradena gorge

The gorge of Aradena is one of the most significant and impressive gorges of Crete. Its entrance is located at the deserted village of Aradena, which is to be found at the western end of the plateau of Anopoli Sfakion, below the imposing, high peaks of the Lefka Ori mountain range.

Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge

Samaria Gorge is the longest and one of the most imposing gorges in Europe. This is perhaps the most popular trekking path of Greece and visited by thousands of people each summer. It has been designated as a Protected Monument of Nature, by the European Council, and it is one of the most important National Parks in Crete and Greece.

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.

Asterousia Range – Mountains

Asterousia Range – Mountains

The mountain range of Asterousia is the southernmost mountain range in Greece. It develops along the southern beaches of the prefecture of Heraklion, between the plain of Messara and the Libyan Sea.

Mount Idi – Psiloritis

Mount Idi – Psiloritis

The mountain range of Ida (Idi) dominates the centre of Crete island, occupying much of the prefectures of Heraklion and Rethymno, and dividing Crete into eastern and western. The highest peak of Ida is Timios Stavros with an altitude of 2,456 m. This is where the homonymous church is built of dry stone. The mountain range has four other peaks that exceed 2000 m, Agathias (2,424 m), Stolistra (2,325 m), Voulomenou (2,267 m.) and Koussakas (2,209 m.).

White Mountains – Lefka Ori

White Mountains – Lefka Ori

The White Mountains, or Haniotika Madares as the locals call them, is the most extensive mountain range of the island, with estuaries to the areas of Selinos, Kissamos, Apokoronas and the Municipality of Agios Vassilios (Rethymno), while occupying the entire area of ​​Sfakia.

Thrypti Mountain Range

Thrypti Mountain Range

Thripti, also known as the Sitia mountains, in the province of Sitia, is the fifth largest mountain range in Crete. The highest peaks are Thrypti/Afenti (1476 m) in the west and Ornos (1237 m) to the north.

Mount Dicte Crete – Lassithi

Mount Dicte Crete – Lassithi

The Dicte mountain range (also known as Lassithiotika Ori) takes up a good part of East Crete. It spreads out wide over with its steeper slopes on the south side; the other flanks are less precipitous. The gorges tend to be associated with the steep southern side.

Large Birds of Prey in Crete

Large Birds of Prey in Crete

Crete island is a habitat of a range of rare species and other large birds of prey. The mountain ranges, gorges and overall morphology of the terrain provide ample space and safe nesting spots for these birds. In general, Crete is an excellent bird-watching destination, as it welcomes both large birds of prey as well as migratory birds that arrive to breed or rest. Let’s take a look at some of the large birds of prey you are likely to…

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Flora & Fauna of Crete

Flora & Fauna of Crete

The flora of Crete is of particular interest to researchers, influenced as it has by the climate and the lay of the land. Of the 2,108 plants that grow on the island, 302 are endemics, meaning they are not found anywhere else in the world.

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