Crete is well-endowed with mountains….
The White Mountains in the west (highest peak Pachnes, 2452 m)
The Ida Mountains in central Crete (highest peak Timios Stavros, 2456m)
The Dikti massif in eastern Crete (highest peak 2150 metres)
The Sitia mountains in eastern Crete (highest peak 1476 metres)
But it doesn’t stop there…..Crete is also criss-crossed by a number of other imposing ridges which reach to over 1000 metres. There are high-lying undrained basins, the largest of which is the Lasithi High Plateau (815 metres a.s.l, with an area of 45 sq kms). The Omalos High Plateau in the White Mountains (1050 metres a.s.l) is the gateway to the Samaria Gorge; there is the Askífou Plateau in Sfakiá and the Nida High Plateau in the Ida Massif. South-central Crete has a large area of fertile, low-lying plain, the Mesará, and there are other expanses of plain around the cities of Chania and Rethymnon.
The White Mountains of Sfakia straddle the Prefecture of Chania and have been a protective barrier against invaders in the past, since there are only a few passes through them to the shores of the Libyan Sea. Steep cliffs characterize the south coast, marking the course of the fault line where tectonic uplifting and sinking of the land took place. These cliffs are interrupted by spectacular caves and long gorges running in a north-south direction down to sea, the result of water erosion that accompanied and followed the uplifting. The most impressive of these are the Samaria, Agia Irini and Aradena gorges. There are gushing springs in the mountains which flow down through deep gullies to the sea, often forming icy streams which cross beaches into the sea; some subterranean springs bubble up from the sea bed to surprise swimmers! Crete also has one freshwater lake fed by springs, in an alpine setting, at Kournás near Rethymnon.
The central part of Crete is bordered in the west by the Ida massif. Hiking routes lead to the Nida High Plateau and the majestic Idaean Cave, where according to mythology, Zeus spent his childhood and youth. The great Minoan sites of Knossos and Archanes are situated in the undulating, hilly landscape behind Heraklion, which today is extensively planted with vineyards. On the eastern edge of the verdant Amari plain, famous for its natural produce since antiquity, are the Minoan sites of Phaestos and Agia Triada, whence you can look across to another famous cave site, that of Kamares. Zeus was born in the Diktaean Cave, on the edge of the Lasithi High Plateau in the Dikti massif. But there are over 3000 caves on Crete……….
East of Lasithi and the city of Agios Nikolaos on the stunningly blue Bay of Mirabello, the landscape becomes progressively more rocky. The wild Thripti mountains loom to over 1500 metres; the palm forest of Vai invites you to enjoy its refreshing shade. Although the landscape of the eastern coast is arid and sometimes forbidding, the Minoans chose to settle at sites there, particularly Zakros and Palaikastro. From here, and all along the south coast, there are long, pebble beaches where it is easy to find solitude.