From high mountains to green gorges
The White Mountains (Lefka Ori) extend to the southwest of Crete and constitute the core of the National Park of the White Mountains, with a total size of 585 km2.
This range of mountains is quite impressive in volume. At its north, many peaks climb above 2000m. The tallest is Pachnes, at 2453m. Its southern part consists of gorges and steep slopes that reach the Libyan Sea.
The White Mountains get their name from their peaks that stay full of snow almost throughout the year. The white peaks, together with many high plateaus, give the impression of a vast, arid, mountainous desert.
The terrain is rugged, with many contrasts that have created a huge variety of ecosystems and natural richness. More than 900 varieties of plants, as well as cypress and pine tree forests, together with shrubs, make a rare mosaic of unique endemic vegetation. The local wild goat, called agrimi, is the protagonist of the steep areas. Whereas kokkalas, the bearded vulture, flies over the high peaks. Both animals live exclusively in Crete.
The area is protected by many Greek and International bodies, that aim to maintain the balance between the natural and human environments. In 1981 Samaria became part of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves (MAB: Man and Biosphere), underlining the uniqueness of its biological diversity.
The Samaria Gorge is an attraction for visitors from all around the world, that want to experience a unique 16km hike. Along the path, ancient and newer settlements, places of worship, small churches and fortresses record the close relationship between humankind and nature.
The reserve of natural and cultural monuments, however, goes beyond the “Big Gorge”, or faragas, as the locals call it. It expands to the surrounding area, with a multitude of accessible gorges, mountains, and seaside settlements, as well as beaches that can be reached by car, hike, or boat.
There are many popular hiking and climbing paths, like the European E4 network. For adventure lovers, there are activities like bungee jumping from the 138m-high bridge of Aradaina Gorge, canyoning and caving. The National Park is also home to two of the deepest caves in Greece.