Crete – A wild and great island, a continent in itself, with Alpine mountains that require power and stamina if you want to traverse them by bike. But if you go for the adventure, you’ll experience a Mediterranean world full of simple beauty, you’ll pass by lavish chestnut and olive groves, meager rubble deserts and karst landscapes, and push yourself uphill until you hit the unexpected cold temperatures. You’ll suddenly find yourself surrounded by snow, driven by the wind like a mountaineer conquering inhospitable heights, and you’ll yearn desperately for the warmth down in the valley with its orderly stone walls, the scent of herbs, and the roar of the ocean that you can enjoy with a glass of wine in the beach tavern.
A mountainous island, a narrow bedrock that separates Europe from the Libyan Sea and Africa in the south. These mountains rose up from the sea about 70 million years ago when dinosaurs still populated our planet. Today, they form a connection between the southern Peloponnesus and Asia Minor and function as a link between the large mountain ranges of the Taurides and the Dinarides.
Two tectonic plates meet in Crete. The plate of the African continent slides below Crete (Europe) and shifts its crust as well as the rock formations on top of it, thus creating thrust faults, fracture zones, valleys and folded rocks. Accompanied by the occasional rumbling of earthquakes, the mountains on Crete and the entire surrounding islands continue to expand even today.
However, the inhabitants of Crete pay little attention to earthquakes. When I arrived in Chania after a heavy rumbling one day, I talked to a shop owner about the earthquake we had just experienced. He gazed at me in bewilderment and tried to use the tricky loanword I had used: »earthquake«? But his face lit up with excitement when he then told me »We had snow!«, showing me the height of the snow by pointing to chest height. Later on I learned that Chania had had about 10 cm of snow, but the chaos it caused had actually been equal to the measure the shop owner had indicated.
The highest peaks in Crete’s 15 individual mountain ranges are about 2.500 meters high. The island is oriented east to west longitudinally. It comprises an area of approx. 8.300 km², is 12 km to 60 km wide and 260 km long. The coastline measures more than 1.000 km.
The island is characterized by densely vegetated oak and chestnut forests in the west, smaller cedar and cypress groves, karst deserts in the higher regions, Alpine mountains, plateaus and fertile valleys, unusual caves and canyons that you often hear very exciting stories about, as well as deserts and jungle. In Crete, you encounter a continent’s worth of extreme contrasts in a country surrounded by the sea.