Enjoying Crete's nature

'Dikteon cave. Place of Zeus birth. Crete. Greece. Horizontal' - Crete
'Dikteon cave. Place of Zeus birth. Crete. Greece. Horizontal' ABB Photo / Shutterstock

Crete, Greece's largest island, is home to a magnificent array of flora and fauna within its 8,000 square kilometers. Surrounded by the azure waters of the Mediterranean Sea, the island contains many different habitats to support its wide variety of plant and animal life. From its 1,000 kilometers of coastline to it's mountainous eastern region, Crete is a diverse island with an abundance of natural beauty.

While most of the island's 2,000 species of trees and plants can be found throughout Greece, 160 species are unique to Crete alone. Common species on the island include oak, chestnut, tamarisk and cypress trees that are found mostly in the wooded areas of the White Mountains, Zaros and Vorizia regions. The coniferous plane tree towers above most others at heights up to 30 meters, growing near the coast and offering the cool relief of its shade to locals during the often blisteringly hot summers. One such tree in the village of Topolia is so beloved by locals that it is regarded as a national monument.

The island is blanketed by colorful wildflowers in the spring. Poppies, camomile, tulips, orchids and cyclamens peek out from the rocky earth in April and May, and fragrant herbs like sage and dittany grow wild as well. The herbs are used in local dishes and as medicinal aids.

Look to the skies to find one of Crete's most elusive natural wonders. The bearded vulture searches for food from the skies above the mountainous regions and is gloriously colored with plumes of bright fiery orange dyed by rubbing against rocks containing iron oxides. Only 20 of the rare birds are estimated to be on the island.

The Mediterranean Monk Seal is another one of Crete's rarest creatures. The Greek coastline is home to the world's largest population of this protected species.