Winter: Cretan Nature at Its Wildest

Winters in Crete are usually mild but wet: it rains a lot along the coastline, but the deeper you adventure on the island, you will find snow on the highest peaks of the White Mountains (Lefka Ori), Dikti Mountains, and on Mount Ida (Psiloritis).

At lower altitudes, snowfall is rare, but you should prepare for endless rains and dreary skies, especially from January to March, when the Cretan winter is at its coldest. Decembers are milder, sunny days – albeit rare – are perfect for drives in the countryside along olive groves and citrus orchards, up to on the hills covered in verdant green grass dotted with wild yellow flowers.

And, perhaps you didn’t know it, considering that Crete is popular as a summer destination for lovers of the beach and the sea: the island is ideal for ski mountaineering. But unfortunately, there are no lodges or trails, and a ski resort planned in 1977 on the Nida Plateau in the Psiloritis mountains closed soon after opening and remains now in ruin. But you can still find accommodation in one of the mountain shelters: 

  1. Kallergis Mountain Shelter in the White Mountains is on the Omalos Plateau. It boasts accommodation for up to 50 people in the tourist season (from April to October). The Mountaineering Club of Chania operates it. To arrange accommodation offseason, call +30 697 658 5849 or email refugecrete@gmail.com.
  2. Katsiveli Mountain Shelter in the White Mountains is managed by the Mountaineering Club of Chania too. You’ll find it on the Katsiveli Plateau, which gives you access to the Svourichti peak, the E4 trail, and the Sfakiani Madara trail. Some 20 people can fit in here. Call + 30 28210 44647 or email info@eoshanion.gr for reservations and information.
  3. Volikas Mountain Shelter in the White Mountains is close to the Kambi alpine village, and it can accommodate 30 guests. From here, you can access Spathi peak, Livada, the E4 trail, and the Therisso trail.
  4. Information is available calling + 30 28210 44647 or emailing info@eoshanion.gr.
  5. Greleska Mountain Shelter in the White Mountains offers basic accommodation, but it’s well worth choosing it for the views of the Omalos plateau and the Samaria and Agia Irini gorges.
  6. For reservations and additional information call + 30 28210 44647 or email info@eoshanion.gr.
  7. Tavri Mountain Shelter in the White Mountains near the Askyfou plateau on the Tavris Askufo plateau offers easy access to the E4 trail, the Sfakiano and Kavi gorges, and Kastro peak. It can accommodate 45 guests. Contact details + 30 28210 44647, info@eoshanion.gr.
  8. Migerou Lakos Mountain Shelter on Mount Psiloritis is managed by the Cultural Association of Livadia and offers access to the highest peak on the island, Timios Stavros. It can only accommodate six people, so call +30 2834061489 for reservations in advance.
  9. Toumbotos Prinos Mountain Shelter (Mountain Shelter of Samari) on Mount Psiloritis is operated by the Mountaineering Club of Rethymno. It can accommodate up to 30 guests. For reservations and additional information, call +30 6932034813 or email ph4225@edu.physics.uoc. gr.
  10. Samari Mountain Shelter on Mount Psiloritis is west of Rouvas Gorge and offers accommodation for up to 20 mountaineers. Call +30 281 022 7609 for information and reservations.
  11. Prinos Mountain Shelter on the east slope of Mt. Psiloritis is the ideal starting point to access the Rouvas Forest, Nida Plateau, the E4 footpath, and the Koudouni and Gyristi peaks. Call +30 281 022 7609 for additional information and reservations.
  12. Strovili (Limnakaro) Mountain Shelter on the Dikti Mountain Range is managed by the Mountaineering Club of Lassithi (sometimes referred to as the Hellenic Alpine Club of Lassithi or H.A.C.). From here, you can explore Spathi, Psari Madara, and Afendis Christos peaks and the Slekano forest on the E4 trail. The shelter accommodates 12 people. More information is available calling +30 28440 31260, +30 2810 226900, or +30 694 4782507.

These shelters operate in the tourist season if you cannot plan a winter holiday in Crete. Skiing and snow kiting are new pastimes on the island, yet ideal if you want to experience first-hand Cretan nature at its wildest. The mountains are impressive under the snow, and the landscapes are nothing short of being spellbinding.  

If you remain close to the coastline, the vibrant green of the meadows and hills will surprise you. Indeed, winter is one of Crete’s greenest seasons, with trees and grass shining like emeralds under the touch of the rain. Winter is also when fresh lemons, oranges, and pomegranates are abundantly available.

Finally, the beaches of Crete are spectacular in winter. There are no tourists in sight, and you can admire the wild fauna on the dunes. Look for flowers like cretensis, orchids, gageas, daisies, and crocus on hills running along the coastline. Plan a nature hike, and go foraging for herbs like sage, thyme, and rosemary, which grow in the wild. However, keep in mind that hiking the gorges can be challenging or dangerous after heavy rainfall. Find alternative routes to stay on the safe path.

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