Land and Sea
The brilliant colors are the first thing that strike a visitor to the Greek Isles. From the stunning azure waters and blindingly white houses to the deep green-black of cypresses and the sky-blue domes of a thousand churches, saturated hues dominate the landscape. A strong, constant sun brings out all of nature’s colors with great intensity.
Basking in sunshine, the Greek Isles enjoy a year-round temperate climate. Lemons grow to the size of grapefruits and grapes hang in heavy clusters from the vines of arbors that shade tables outside the tavernas. The silver leaves of olive trees shiver in the least sea breezes.
The Greek Isles boast some of the most spectacular and diverse geography on Earth. From natural hot springs to arcs of soft-sand beaches and secret valleys, the scenery is characterized by dramatic beauty. Volcanic formations send craggy cliffsides plummeting to the sea, cause lone rock formations to emerge from blue waters, and carve beaches of black pebbles. In the Valley of the Butterflies on Rhodes, thousands of radiant winged creatures blanket the sky in summer. Crete’s Samaria Gorge is the longest in Europe, a magnificent natural wonder rife with local flora and fauna. Corfu bursts with lush greenery and wildflowers, nurtured by heavy rainfall and a sultry sun. The mountain ranges, gorges, and riverbeds on Andros recall the mainland more than the islands. Both golden beaches and rocky countrysides make Mykonos distinctive. Around Mount Olympus, in central Cyprus, timeless villages emerge from the morning mist of craggy peaks and scrub vegetation. On Evia and Ikaria, natural hot springs draw those seeking the therapeutic power of healing waters.
Caves abound in the Greek Isles; there are some three thousand on Crete alone. The Minoans gathered to worship their gods in the shallow caves that pepper the remotest hilltops and mountain ranges. A cave near the town of Amnissos, a shrine to Eileithyia, goddess of childbirth, once revealed a treasure trove of small idols dedicated to her. Some caves were later transformed into monasteries. On the islands of Halki and Cyprus, wall paintings on the interiors of such natural monasteries survive from the Middle Ages.
Above ground, trees and other flora abound on the islands in a stunning variety. ON Crete, a veritable forest of palm trees shades the beaches at Vai and Preveli, while the high, desolate plateaus of the interior gleam in the sunlight. Forest meets sea on the island of Poros, and on Thasos, many species of pine coexist. Cedars, cypress, oak, and chestnut trees blanket the mountainous interiors of Crete, Cyprus, and other large islands. Rhodes overflows with wildflowers during the summer months.
Even a single island can be home to disparate natural wonders. Amorgos’ steep, rocky coastline gives way to tranquil bays. The scenery of Crete--the largest of the Greek Isles--ranges from majestic mountains and barren plateaus to expansive coves, fertile valleys, and wooded thickets.