British and Irish ex-patriate residents in Greece often forget just how large is Crete. In fact, the Island of Crete covers a total area of 8,336 square kilometres or 6.3% of the total territory of Greece.
Below is a photographic guide to the Megalonissos "Big Island" of Crete taken from Space during a NASA Space Shuttle Mission. The Semi Circular Island with a tiny speck in its centre is the Volcanic Island of Santorini (centre to the right in the photograph).
The highest peak on Crete is Mt Psiloritis (Ψηλορειτης) or Mt Pachnes, even Mt Idi - after its location in the mountain range called Oros Idi (Idi Mountains). It stands at 2456 metres or 8057 feet high in the Rethymnon prefecture (nomos). According to legend this is the birthplace of the Greek God Zeus, hence the reason the Greeks call Psiloritis the Mountain of the Gods. Actually there are five "peaks" within a few metres of each other. Psiloritis edges out Mount Pachnes at 2452 meters.
Mt Psilorotis is locally named as Timios Stavros (Holy Cross). Hence: Sainte-Croix" in French, or Heiliges Kreuz" in German.
From the picture below, you can see that there is snowfall but it varies from year to year. There are one or two cabins for skiers in the western part of Crete (yes there are several short run pistes) on the higher slopes at high altitude. Check out the culture of the people and the customs and other useful information of the Mt Psiloritis region at a dedicated website.
Crete is generally classified as a "Mediterranean Climate" with hot dry summers and cool wet winters. It is also a mountainous island including several high plateaus with a strip of low lying coastline. The island therefore has several micro-climates. The north coast receives northerly breezes, generally bringing cooler air, while the south coast is a more protected coastline from the prevailing winds. The south coast generally, the Island of Gavdos (regarded as Europe's most southerly island) and especially the plain at which Moires is at the centre, is regarded as having a North African climate - noticeably hotter and drier. The south coast resorts such as Matala and the areas around Plakias, Paleohora and all the way to Ierepetra and Vai are the hottest in summer, with soaring temperatures in the region of 40C+. Lassithi Plateau is cooler and pleasant at the height of summer, and cool enough to grow deciduous fruits such as apples and pears, and above the olive growing line.
If you like activities on the beach, Crete has 1,046 kilometres of Coast Line, much of which is suitable for swimming, sunbathing, scuba diving, sailing, and just having fun in general.
Also the majority of the beaches on Crete have been awarded the International Blue Flag status for their high quality health standard and cleanliness. Mind you, clean beaches are always a controversial issue, here is a conversation in our forum to illustrate from several years ago.
You may ask: "What is a Blue Flag Beach Award?" The answers can be found in our dedicated blue flag beach page along with the ranked beaches named in 2011 for those Class 1 beaches spread out over the island of Crete in all four of its prefectures, namely: Chania, Rethymnon, Herakion and Lassithi. Crete has the most beaches in Greece. Lasithi has the most beaches in Crete.
Crete is famous for its sunshine and blue sky, but the annual amount of sunshine per year varies from the North side to the South Side of this 260+ kilometres long island. The average in the North can be anything up to 2700 hours while the Southern Coast can bask in the sun for up to 3000 hours per annum.
Contrary to popular belief (particularly among tourists) Crete does not have wall to wall sunshine 365 days a year, Crete does have a winter, granted it's not as long as the Winters in the UK, nor anywhere near as harsh but it's Winter alright. In summer (May to September) temperatures are a daily average of 29°C and in winter they can be down as low as 14°C.
The average rainfall is around 9.27cm most of this seems to fall between December and April. Both Spring and Autumn are brief. Curiously the seasons are shifting. Novembers can be dry with clear days making them feel warm for the time of the year. March and April can be unpredictable. During that period, Crete can sometimes feel like it is experiencing four seasons in a day.
The Population of Crete is around 650,000 at last count (2005) This figure relates to permanent residents, and equates to around 5% of the total population of Greece. The figure in Summer is considerably higher with foreign workers arriving for the Holiday Season
Crete is a very popular travel and holiday destination. Of the two million visitors, half are from the British Isles. Most years Crete welcomes more than 22% of all international arrivals in Greece. More detailed and useful statistics and general reading on Crete can be found at Wikipedia.