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Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and separates the Aegean Sea from the Mediterranean. At 152 miles from west to east and a maximum of 35 miles from north to south it is the 5th largest island in the Med. Contained within a total area of over 3,180 square miles are around 15,000 villages and settlements. Being the most southerly point of Europe, lying farther south than Tangiers in Africa, the island benefits from short mild winters and long hot summers.

The main centres of population are on the north coast of the island. From west to east the major towns are: Chania, Rethymnon, Iraklion (the capital) and Ayios Nikolaos. The old towns of Chania and Rethymnon exhibit some fine examples of Venetian architecture.

The landscape consists of craggy coastline, deserted sandy beaches, forested hills and snow-capped mountains. Mount Ida in the middle of the island rises to 2,456 metres while the multiple peaks of the White Mountains in the West are just three metres lower. Reaching down from the White Mountains to the south coast, the Samaria Gorge, at ten miles in length, is the longest and most spectacular gorge in Europe.

With a history of advanced cultures dating back well over 4,000 years, Crete has been labelled 'the birthplace of civilisation'. Between 1900 and 1905 Sir Arthur Evans excavated the Minoan site of Knossos, a Bronze Age settlement circa 3000 BC. The well-preserved Palace at Knossos is the finest surviving example of Minoan architecture. The legendary Minotaur, half man/half bull, was said to inhabit the labyrinth below the palace.

The rich culture and history of Crete have given birth to many great artists and writers. Famous examples include Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek and Domenikos Theotokopoulos, more commonly known as 'El Greco', the most outstanding 16th Century painter of the Spanish school.

The rugged countryside continues to inspire artists, painters and photographers alike. In late January, after a relatively short mild winter, spring bursts in to life with a spectacular display of wild flowers. Red poppies and mustard yellow flowers carpet the olive groves; on uncultivated ground wild anemone, tulips and delicate orchids bloom.

Blessed with a rich fertile soil many Cretan families are virtually self-sufficient. The combined effects of fertile soil and Mediterranean climate ensure a constant supply of high quality natural-tasting fruit and vegetables. The locals say take care when discarding seeds, pips and stones as everything grows so well in Crete.

If you have not yet experienced Cretan hospitality you are in for a pleasant surprise. Relaxed and friendly, Cretans gain great pleasure from the act of giving.

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