Valleys and Plains
Fertile valleys and beautiful plateaus
In between Crete's many mountains are fertile valleys and beautiful plateaus. The largest of these is the Messara plain south of Psiloritis. To the west among the White Mountains are the Omalos plateau and to the east the Lassithi plateau. With its location 800 meters above sea level it is the highest place in the Mediterranean area where people live all year round. The Nida plain has the highest erase in Crete. (1360 meters above sea level). It lies at the foot of Timios Stavros. Crete's highest point.
The Messara plain
The Mesara plain stretches approx. 50 km in the east-west direction and 7 km in the north-south direction and is the largest plain on Crete. The fertile plain is formed by the washing down of clay from the Psiloritis mountains which lie along the valley's north side.
The valley is bounded to the south by the Asterousia mountains. A dry and wild mountain scenery with dramatic cliffs down towards the Libyan sea.
Due to its fertile soil Mesara has been an important agricultural area since antiquity. Two of the most significant archaeological sites in Crete; Phaistos and Gortyn, are located here. Also today the valley is an important agricultural area.
The Omalos plateau
The Omalos plateau is surrounded by the Lefka Ori (the White Mountains), at an altitude of approx. 1,100 meters above sea level. The plain lies 38 km south of Chania. From Xyloskalo at the plain's southeastern corner, you can start the tour through the famous Samaria gorge.
The Omalos plateau is mostly used for grazing, but has previously been cultivated. You can still see some of the old stone houses that shepherds used when they lived on the plain with their animals.
Omalos The 2.080 meter high Gigolos mountain, where in ancient times it was believed that Zeus' throne was, rises above the plain. At two and a half hours you can walk up to the top. En route you pass Demonospilio, 'devils cave' and Linoseli, a spring where in ancient times there was an oracle. It is one of the most beautiful mountain walks in the White Mountains.
Omalos is also known for the Cretan rebel from the time under the Ottomans, Hadzimihalis Yiannaris (1851-1916), who is buried here.
The Lassithi plateau
The Lasithi plateau (Oropedio Lasithiou) is located approx. 70 km east of Heraklion in an altitude of about 850 meters above sea level. The fertile plain have been inhabited since 6.000 BCE and the famous Diktaion Andron cave, located near the village Psychros, is said to be where Zeus was born.
Lasithi In 1293 when the Venetians giverned Crete, the inhabitants were displaced from Lasithi and their villages destroyed because of their rebellion against the rulers. Later in 1546 the plain was resettled with refugees from the Peloponnese. At that time were established a series of irrigation canals that are still used today.
Lasithi is famous for its windmills, which were used to pump water for irrigation. In the 50s there were around 4.000 windmills in the valley. Today diesel pumps and electric pumps are used, and only a few of the famous windmills have been restored.
Lasithi is still an important agricultural region of Crete. Among other things, you get some excellent potatoes from here.
The Nida plateau
The Nida plateau is with 1.360 meters above sea level the highest plateau of Crete. In winter it can be cut off because of snow and there are no permanent settlements here. The plain lies on the eastern side of the highest mountain massifs of Psiloritis.
NidaPreviously, the plain's fertile soil was used to grow grain, but today it is only used for the grazing of sheep. More places you can see so-called 'Mitata'. Stone huts, which the shepherds used as temporary housing.
From the plain one can go up to Ideaion Andron cave where Zeus grew up, or continue to the summit of Psiloritis, Timios Stavros. In the opposite direction down the mountain one finds the largest oak forest in Europe, Rouvas.