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Coastal flora, PlakiasCrete is the largest of the GreekIslands, being 258 kilometres longand 56 kilometres wide. To itssouth, across the Libyan Sea, lie theshores of north Africa; to the north lie theislands of the Cyclades and Dodecanese.Crete itself is dominated by four mountainchains which are largely limestone incontent and stretch,like the backbone of agreat sea monster, from its eastern to itswestern shores, rising at their highestpoint to 2,450 metres. From these heights,clear mountain streams empty into the Aegean Sea to the north. To the south thestreams have cut deep gorges beforeentering the Libyan Sea, and many dry out under the intense heat of thesummer sun.Crete's northern coast has been cultivatedfor thousands of years. Here, olives,grapes, melons, peaches, oranges andcereals are grown, and the ubiquitoussheep and goats are still pastured as inBiblical times. The island's climate,position, and variety of both altitude andterrain have created its outstanding -indeed world-renowned-flora. Not onlyare there over 1,600 species of floweringplant, of which at least 139 are endemic,but the display of colour along eachroadside verge is breathtaking. Theintense reds of poppies; the delicate pinkof Silene coloratablending so well with thepale purple of Sea Stock; the red, yellowand white of Ranunculus asiaticus; thepink of gladioli in the fields, andeverywhere the pale yellow of CrownDaisies make Crete a most colourful island in spring.Our visit to Crete will also coincide withthe northward migration of birds visitingEurope for the summer. Greek islands aretheir stepping stones, and indeed the finaldestination of many of the most colourfulspecies. We will watch for herons andbirds of prey as they fly in off the sea, for'falls' of passerine migrants in coastalmaquis and olive groves, and for wadersfeeding in the tiny marshy fields. At thisseason the coastal scrub can holdIcterine, Subalpine, Eastern Bonelli's andOlivaceous Warblers, Collared and PiedFlycatchers, and Black-eared andIsabelline Wheatears. Overhead, Swiftsand Bee-eaters hawk for insects. Cretealso has its own eastern Mediterraneanspecialities; amongst them, the elegantRüppell's Warbler, and the Eleonora'sFalcon which can be seen flying at duskalong most shorelines in late spring. In the mountains, a good population ofGriffon Vultures can be found, togetherwith the rarer Bonelli's and Golden Eagles, and Lammergeier.With the recurring theme of occupationfollowed by heroic battles for liberation,Crete's history is unusually rich, and wedo not plan to ignore it. The Romans,Venetians, Turks and Nazis have all triedto suppress these quiet, cheerful people.All have failed, leaving only the relics oftheir occupation behind them. Mostfascinating of all Crete's settlers were thefun-loving Minoans, the remains of whosepalaces and villages lie scatteredthroughout the island.During our 8-day stay we will be based forthe first four days in the picturesqueseaside town of Plakias on the southcoast. This will allow us the opportunity toexplore the dramatic gorges of Imbros,Kotsiphos and Kourtilotiki and the hillsaround the little town of Spili, famous forits orchids, tulips and other wonderfulflora. Other explorations will include theMinoan Palace of Phaestos which, with itsview of plain and mountain, has the mostawe-inspiring location of all Minoan sites.It also provides an excellent hilltop birdmigration viewpoint and flower-rich slopeswith possible Monkey Orchid and EasternSerapias. We will visit the Late MinoanCemetery at Armeni with its cool ValoniaOak woodland and the atmosphericmonastery at Moni Prevelli. From there wewill explore the back roads of the verdantAmari Valley, famous for itsapple, cherryand almond orchards, and Byzantinechurches.Western Crete is perhaps less well known,but is greener than the east and has somedramatic scenery. On one day we willhead to the top of the spectacularSamaria Gorge, where we will keep oureyes skyward for Lammergeier, butwalking on the Omalos Plateau we shallbe torn between birds and the amazingdisplay of iris, tulips and anemones. Wereturn to Chania via the reed-fringedreservoir at Ayia to look for Great ReedWarblers and Little Crake. On another daywe will visit the peaceful Akrotiri Peninsulaand spend time searching the extensiveolive groves around the monastery of AgiaTriada for migrant flycatchers, warblersand Golden Orioles. By now under theisland's spell, we must return to London,well satisfied with the colour, history andnatural history of Crete.CreteAn 8-day holiday in search of the spring flowers and migrating birds on the island of Crete.Tuesday 2nd April - Tuesday 9th April Cost: £1,395Tuesday 9th April - Tuesday 16th April Cost: £1,295Tuesday 16th April - Tuesday 23rd April Cost: £1,295Outline itinerary Day 1 Fly Heraklion. Day 2/4Plakias. Day 5/7Chania. Day 8Fly London.AccommodationA 2-centre holiday based in smallfamily-run hotels in Plakias andChania, both with private facilities.FoodAll included in the price, except for all evening meals in Chania.Allow £60.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusBirds and plants.LeadersJohn Willsher or Barry Oxley(ornithologist) and DavidTattersfield or Jenny Willsher(botanist).Single room supplement£120.ExtensionsArranged on request.Web quick search: GRC0242Call now or visit your free Trip ItineraryCRETEAKROTIRI PENINSULAHERAKLIONPHAESTOSDHIKTI MOUNTAINSCHANIAOMALOSPLATEAUIMBROSGORGESAMARIA GORGEPLAKIASOphrys creticaLammergeier

Crete is the largest of the Greekislands, being 258 kilometres longand 56 kilometres wide. To itssouth, across the Libyan Sea, lie theshores of North Africa; to the north, theislands of the Cyclades and Dodecanese.Crete itself is dominated by a central spineof limestone mountains which rise to amaximum elevation of 2,450 metres. Fromthese heights, clear mountain streamsempty into the Aegean Sea to the north,whilst south of the mountains the streamshave cut deep gorges on their way to theLibyan Sea. This geographical positionand variety of terrain have blessed Cretewith a wonderful diversity of flowers andplants; not only an exceptional collectionof characteristic Mediterranean flora but,additionally, around 140 endemic species,making it one of the most exciting placesto see wild flowers in Europe. Some ofthese species originate from Asia Minor,reminders of the period some five millionyears ago when the island was part ofwhat is now Turkey, whilst others have theirorigins in North Africa. In addition to theplants, Crete offers us numerous Minoanremains and some exciting birds, both ofwhich we will be able to enjoy during thisautumn break. Our holiday has been planned to coincide with the best of the island'sautumn display of flowers. Crete is, ofcourse, noted for its fine array of springflowers. It is less well known, however, thatfollowing the hot, dry summer, earlyautumn rains encourage many bulbs suchas crocuses, colchicums, narcissi andscillas to spring to life. In addition, theautumn fruits and colours, together withpleasant weather, make Crete a lovelyplace to visit at this time of the year.We will be based in the relatively unspoiltwestern side of Crete, in the town ofChania. Our comfortable hotel lies on thequiet edge of this old Venetian port whichboasts many fine restaurants for us toinvestigate. At this time of year mostholiday-makers will have gone home, sowe will be able to wander through theattractive town and see it at its best. Thereis a fine Venetian harbour and a maze ofnarrow streets where there were once nofewer than 97 Venetian palaces! Evenbefore the arrival of the Venetians this city,formerly known as Cydonia, had long beenan important centre, occupied first by theMinoans, then later by the Romans, andmany of the Byzantine fortifications havebeen incorporated into other buildings.There are Minoan remains carefullypreserved alongside minarets andchurches, and a wonderfully colourfulcovered market full of herbs, spices, dried fruits, olive oil and honey. Later inthe week, we will take time to explore the back streets of Chania and visit the market before making an excursion to the Akrotiri Peninsula and the Monastery of Agia Triada. For much of the week, however, we willenjoy gentle walks in the countryside insearch of the island's flora. One of our firstdestinations will be the Imbros Gorgewhich lies on the long-distance E4footpath which, amazingly, runs from theAlps to the Cretan coast. The gorge hassteep, dramatic walls covered ininteresting plants, many of which areendemic. It is the second largest gorge inCrete and was one of the routes used toevacuate Commonwealth troops duringthe Battle of Crete. We will look forNarcissus serotinus,Crocus boryi,Origanum dictamnusand many othersduring an 8-kilometre walk which isregarded as one of the finest in Crete.An excursion into the White Mountains willtake us to the upland plain of Omalos.Situated at the top of the Samaria Gorge itis surrounded by dramatic mountainscenery. This fascinating landscape is fullof exciting plants including the endemicColchicum creticum,Acer sempervirensand Crataegus azarolus. Another scenicwalk from the village of Megala Horafia willlead to the ancient town of Aptera, whichcontains both Hellenistic and Romanremains and was once a major centre oftrade. This is an area full of natural andancient history interest, where we can lookfor Cyclamen graecumand Colchicumpusillumamong the flora and also visit theTurkish fort which offers breathtaking viewsover Souda Bay. On our last day we will visit the ancientvillage of Polyrenia. This is one of the most beautiful parts of Crete and thevillage is a delightfully chaotic mix ofancient and modern buildings clusteredtogether. After lunch at the local tavernawe can look for Cyclamen,Scillaautumnalisand colourful sternbergiasbefore visiting the ancient olive presses,Roman cisterns, 'cave houses' and raki'stills' of Polyrenia, which ensure afascinating conclusion to our autumnholiday on Crete. Crete in Autumn An unusual 8-day botanical tour revealing the wonderful autumn flora of Crete.Tuesday 23rd October - Tuesday 30th October 2012 Cost: £1,195Tuesday 22nd October - Tuesday 29th October 2013 Cost: £1,195(This tour can be combined with our 'Autumn Plants of the Peloponnese' holiday outlined on Page 73)Book direct on 01962 733051or see page 284 for Booking InformationCRETEHERAKLIONKNOSSÓSAKROTIRI PENINSULAAPTERADHIKTI MOUNTAINSCHANIAOMALOSPLATEAUSAMARIA GORGEPOLYRENIAIMBROS GORGEOutline itineraryDay 1Fly Chania.Day 2/7A daily programme ofbotanical and naturalhistory walks from ourbase in Chania.Day 8Fly London.AccommodationA comfortable, family-run hotel inChania, all rooms with privatefacilities.FoodIncluded in the price, with theexception of dinners which we willenjoy each night in one of Chania'sexcellent local tavernas. Allow £120.GradingA. Day walks only.FocusPlants; plus a little history/ancienthistory and general natural history.LeaderDavid Tattersfield.Single room supplement£170.ExtensionsGladly arranged on Crete in hotelor self-catering accommodation,with or without car rental. Pleasecall 01962 733051 for advice.Web quick search: GRC0343Samaria GorgeSea SquillCyclamen graecum