Crete was once covered with dense forests, thus its mountains were called "Idea", i.e. wooded. Unfortunately these forests have almost disappeared due to logging, overgrazing and fires. Even so, the few remaining forests are some of the most beautiful landscapes in Crete and a typical sample of the Mediterranean vegetation that once covered the entire island.
Each area of Crete has its own characteristic trees. The provinces Apokoronas and Sfakia are covered with cypresses, Thrypti has mainly pines, the lowlands of central Crete host arbutus, the humid areas of Kissamos are covered with chestnuts, while the Diktaean and the White Mountains are home to oaks.
The most important cypress woods are met at the National Reserve of the White Mountains, Kroustas, the lowlands of Apokoronas and the mountainous province of Kydonia. The greatest oak wood is located at Rouvas at Psiloritis and it is home to rare animals and plants, including the endemic Cretan wildcat and the orchid Cephalanthera cuculata. Extensive pine woods are formed at the mountain of Thripti, at eastern Dikti, Sfakia, Asterousia Range and southern Psiloritis. More specifically, the pine woods of Selakano, Vorizia and Kato Symi are the largest beekeeping areas in Crete.
Woods of special tree species are also formed in various parts of the island, such as the famous groves of the Cretan Date Palm at Vai and Preveli beach. Also, Azilakodasos near Malia is the largest forest of holm oaks in Crete, while the area of Tris Ekklisies hosts the largest native forest of carob trees in Europe.
It is certainly the most famous beach in southern Crete, accepting thousands of visitors every summer. During the 60s and 70s, it was a favorite destination for hippies. On the banks of the Grand River there is a large colony of Theophrastus palm trees, which give the region a sense of an African landscape.
Vai was totally unknown until the early 1970s, when a popular commercial for the Bounty chocolate with coconut was filmed here, using the magical background of palm trees. In the advert, coconuts were falling from trees, however Vai palms produce dates. Consequently coconuts had to be falsely hung to create the right impression. The ad made this unknown earthly paradise renowned throughout the world.
The Samaria Gorge is the longest trekking gorge in Europe and also the most famous of all. Thousands of tourists flock here daily in the summer season to walk from the top to the bottom. For many visitors, it is the sole purpose of their visit to Crete. The length of the gorge reaches 18km and takes almost 4-7 hours to hike from Omalos to Agia Roumeli, depending on trekking speed.
The gorge of Agios Nikolaos, Gafaris or Rouvas is bounded by the peaks of Ambelakia from east and Samari from west. This is the most important gorge of Psiloritis and central Crete and took its name from the homonymous Byzantine church in the south entrance. This is an ecosystem with rich flora and fauna, smaller canyons and interesting geological formations and cliffs of rare beauty.
Sirikari is located 55km west of Chania and 17km south of Kissamos, in a lush green area with canyons and water streams. The road to Sirikari is paved and runs through the dense vegetation, indicating the beauty of the area at the very first moment. From here begins the beautiful canyon of Sirikari leading to the settlement of Polirinia, where the ancient town of Polirinia was built.
The cypress wood of Kritsa is located about 10km west of Kritsa village, very close to the asphalt road that heads to the plateau of Katharo. It is formed across a deep ravine, at the southern foot of Mount Tsiva. The forest is in the middle of the ancient path that led Minoans to the plateau of Katharo, with many Minoan pottery remains found here.
The forest Selakano is located 35km north of Ierapetra, in the southeastern part of the Dikti massif, surrounded by the four highest peaks (Lazaros 2085 m, Spathi 2148 m, Afendis Christos 2141 m, Psari Madara 2090 m). The area can be accessed via asphalted road that runs through a magical route till the village Selakano and starts either in Ierapetra or Kalamafka.
The wider area of Agios Ioannis at Sfakia province hosts one of the most beautiful pine forests of Crete. The most famous trail in the area is the ancient stone paved path that connects Agios Ioannis with Agia Roumeli, after reaching the beach with the church of St. Paul at position Selouda.