Crete is the largest island of Greece and the fifth largest island
in the Mediterranean. It has an area of about 8300 sq.km
The island has an elongated shape, 260 km long from east to west and between 15 and 60 km wide. The coastline is over 1000 km long and consists of both sandy beaches and rocky shores. The high mountains are a characteristic of the Cretan landscape. They form three mountain complexes, each with its own 'personality'. Between the ranges lie semi-mountainous zones which cover the greater part of the island. There are also a few low lying plains as well as a number of high plateaux.
Crete has about 600.000 inhabitants, of which almost half live in the towns of Heraklion, Chania, Agios Nikoloaos and Rethymnon The rest of the island is sparsely populated, with large tracts of mountainous areas frequented only by shepherds.
Crete is divided into 4 prefectures (Nomos): Chania, Rethymnon, Heraklion and Lassithi. Their respective capitals are Chania (65.000 inhabitants), Rethymnon (40.000 inhabitants), Heraklion (160.000 inhabitants) and Agios Nikolaos (18.000 inhabitants)
You can see the distances between the main localities of Crete here.
Of more practical use to visitors we can also divide Crete into three regions: West Crete, Central Crete and Eastern Crete. These three regions have quite distinct characteristics.
The East is by far the driest part of the island although
olive trees are planted there as well. It possesses a mountain range,
Thripti, which only rises to 1500m but is very wild.
The area round the town of Agios Nikolaos and the Mirambello bay has become a focal point for tourism but the rest of the region is still pretty backwards compared to many other areas of Crete.
A large proportion of visitors to Crete arrive in
Heraklion, the capital of Central Crete. This large town is mainly
an important economic focal point in Crete. The hilly hinterland
is well known for its abundance of vineyards.
The region is very important archaeologically, not only because of the Minoan palace of Knossos. The whole region is dominated by the Ida mountains and Dikti in the eastern part. In the South the plain of Messara, one of the most fertile areas of Crete, has become an important centre of agricultural production.
Central Crete and essentially the North coast is by far the main tourism centre of Crete with more than half of all the accommodation of the whole island located there.
The West is the greenest and most mountainous area
of Crete. The majestic White Mountains or Lefka Ori dominate the
landscape and rise to almost 2500m. They drop abruptly into the Libyan
sea in the South and are cut by a number of deep gorges, the most
famous one being the gorge of Samaria.
To the North, hilly areas and some coastal plains provide a fertile ground for agriculture, mainly olive trees and citrus fruit. The North coast has many nice beaches and a number of tourist developments.
For the purpose of this web site we will consider West Crete as incorporating the prefectures of Chania and Rethymnon, although the latter stretches to central Crete.
Please note: the subdivisions made above do not reflect the exact administrative structure of the island. See Chania (regional unit) if you want to see how the Chania prefecture is governed after the 2011 Kallikratis reform.