Crete, sometimes spelled Krete (Greek Κρήτη / Kriti) is the largest of the Greek islands and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean Sea. It is the Greek island closest to North Africa.
Tourist attractions in Crete include archeological sites at Knossos, Phaistos, Gortys and many other places, the Venetian castle in Rethimno, the Samaria Gorge and many other minor gorges (Agia Irini, Aradena, etc).
Crete was the location of the Minoan civilization (ca. 3000–1400 BC), one of the first civilizations in Europe.
Crete is one of the 13 regions of Greece. It is the biggest island in Greece and the second biggest (after Cyprus) of the East Mediterranean.
It lies at the Southern Aegean Sea and at the crossroads of three continents Europe, Asia and Africa covering an area of 8,336 square kilometres and a population of over 800,000 according to the 2000 survey. The length of the island is 260 km, but the shore-length is 1,046 km. The biggest width is 60 km from the Dion cape to the Lithinon cape, while the smallest is 12 km and is called "isthmus of Ierapetra". A high mountain range crosses the island from West to East, formed by three different groups of mountains. To the West the White Mountains (2,452 m), in the middle the mountain of Idi (Psiloritis-2.456 m) and to the East the mountain of Dikti (2.148 m). These mountains gifted Crete with fertile plateaus like Lasithi, Omalos and Nidha, caves like Diktaion and Idaion cave, and gorges like the famous Gorge of Samaria. It consists of four prefectures: Chania, Rethimno, Heraklion and Lasithi. It has three significant airports, Nikos Kazantzakis at Heraklion, military airport Daskalogiannis at Chania and the new Public Airport (will open not before mid 2005) in Sitia. Among its principal cities are Heraklion (Iraklion), Chania, Rethimno, Ierapetra, Agios Nikolaos, Sitia.
Crete straddles two climatic zones, the Mediterranean and the North African, mainly falling within the former. As such, the climate in Crete is primarily temperate. The atmosphere can be quite humid, depending on the proximity to the sea. The winter is fairly mild. Snow fall is practically unknown to the plains, but quite frequent in the mountains. During summer, average temperatures are in the high 20's-low 30's (Celsius). The exception can be the south coast, including the Messara plain and Asterousia mountains, which fall in the North African climatic zone and thus enjoys significantly more sunny days and high temperatures during the summer. Probably the best time to visit Crete is spring and autumn.
The economy of Crete, which was mainly based on farming, started changing visibly during the 1970s. While there is still an emphasis on farming and stock breeding, due to the climate and the terrain of the island, there is a drop in manufacturing and a big increase on the services industry (mainly tourism related). All three sectors of the Cretan economy (agriculture, processing-packaging, services), are directly connected and interdepended. Crete has an average per capita income which is close to 100% of the Greek average. Unemployment is at approximately 4%, half of that of Greece.
Crete is one of the most popular holiday places in Greece. Fifteen percent of all arrivals in Greece, come through the city of Iraklion (port and airport), while charter flights to Iraklion were last year 20% of the total of charter flights in Greece. In sum more than two million tourists visited Crete last year. This increase in tourism is reflected on the number of hotel beds, which increased in Crete by 53% from 1986 to 1991 while in the rest of Greece the increase was 25%. Today the tourism infrastructure in Crete caters to all tastes. There is accommodation of every possible category, from large luxury hotels with all the facilities (swimming pools, sports and recreation facilities etc.), to smaller family owned apartments, to camping facilities. Visitors can arrive at the island through two international airports in Iraklion and Hania, or by boat to the ports of Iraklion, Hania, Rethimno and Agios Nikolaos.