Nature and weather in autumn in Crete
I recently heard a description of Crete that captured my imagination: “In the summer, Crete is blonde. But in the winter it changes colour!”
The summer “blond” of Crete is due to the almost non-existent rain and a blistering hot sun, which causes the dried vegetation to colour the landscape in a yellow hue.
Those of us who live in Crete, or have visited the island in November, know that this is the month that a metamorphosis occurs – when green grass carpets most of the island, and Crete actually seems to wake up from its long summer slumber.
In school we learned that fall and winter are the seasons during which nature takes a rest, in order to be revitalized for its vibrant spring. Thinking it over now, however, it seems that whoever wrote that thought probably has never seen Crete in autumn. Also, winter is supposed to be an inactive season, but on this island no season is really inactive.
However, nature seems to go through its least creative period during the summer. Vegetation is extremely sparse and the landscape takes on a desert-like appearance, especially along its southern shore. Of course, we cannot ignore the plethora of fruits and vegetables being produced during this period. Therefore, the “inactivity” is only an appearance, caused by the intense drought that prevails in Crete and the Cyclades Islands.
In autumn, when the first rains wash away the summer dust, nature seems to suddenly wake up and begin its chores, and within a few days all is green again, with beautiful wildflowers dotting the countryside. Listen closely and you can almost hear the heartbeat of the inner island which now takes center-stage – away from the shores, which was the epicenter of interest for almost six months, as Greek and foreign tourists invaded the numerous seaside resorts.
Immediately at the end of the summer, farming activities get into full swing with the gathering of grapes and the spreading and drying of the raisins. Autumn sets in with the plowing and sowing of the fields, and the stomping of the grapes for the year’s production of wine and raki. When autumn turns to winter, it’s the time for the olives to be harvested – an activity which involves thousands of Cretans, farmers and non-farmers alike. Just about everyone on the island owns at least some olive trees in the villages, even though most of the population resides in the cities.
It is almost inconceivable for a Cretan to purchase olive oil for home use. Most people produce a sufficient quantity for the needs of the entire family, while a great many insure an extra income by selling their production of olive oil to wholesale companies.
Autumn Weather in Crete
Although autumn kicks off in September, most of the month is still summer, and the weather continues to be warm and mostly dry. During the day the temperature can reach 25 to 30 degrees, while at night you may need a sweater or light jacket for the evening chill. Normally, the strong summer winds die down by this time, and the days begin to shorten. The first rains usually appear in September, although there have been some years that the month remained completely dry.
In October, the days continue to shorten, but the sea becomes even calmer than usual. The temperature remains user-friendly, averaging around 25 degrees, and there are still many people enjoying the beaches, including the last influx of tourists. Some rain falls, but not too often.
November is the epitome of autumn in Crete , with enough rainfall and cold days so that home heating is turned on for the first time – but not everyday. There are still plenty of sun-kissed, calm days with the temperature climbing to 20 degrees or more by the seashore, while, at the same time, the first seasonal snow dusts the mountain tops.
In the beginning of December there are still enough warm days when the thermometer gets into the 18-20 degree range, but as the month progresses, the days will get cloudy and colder. However, one must remember that in Crete the seasons are not as clearly defined as in northern Greece , or especially in some other parts of Europe . Even in January, there are wonderfully sunny days providing enough warmth to allow sitting on the southern beaches in shirt sleeves.
Crete is unlike northern Europe where, from the middle of autumn, the days are continually cold and evidence of life in nature is almost non-existent. In Crete , there will be cold and rainy days, of course, but they will rarely last more than three or four days at a time. Then, the clouds part and the temperature edges upwards. For this reason, it is difficult to imagine another place with such a people-friendly climate.
The colours of Autumn in Crete
The turquoise of the sea is almost ever-constant off the shores of Crete . When the water gets rough, its colour will vary from dark blue to gray-green, but the lovely turquoise will return soon enough, together with the brilliant smile of Mr. Sun. The sea is the ruler of Crete – the number one attraction for the millions of visitors – but equally important are the island’s picturesque mountains and small fertile valleys. Let autumn be the reason to distance ourselves from the sea for a moment, and turn towards the mostly unknown, inner plateau of this unique Mediterranean island – those beautiful and quaint villages. Many of these villages, spread throughout the countryside, maintain the famous traditional character, with vineyards, olive groves and other magical natural surroundings. Let us leave the much-traveled roads so that we may trek a small narrow track on foot and re-discover the inner beauty of this magical island. Let us walk the fields and immerse ourselves in the colourful scenery – the richly green grass, the silver hues of the olive trees, the gold and red of the vine leaves, as they wilt and fall.
Olive trees and grapevines have co-existed in Crete for eons, and it is a truly harmonious marriage, indeed. Where the yellow of the vines ends, the silver-green colour of the olive trees begins – when the picking of grapes finishes, the harvesting of the olives commences. Century-old rhythms, which are repeated without interruption, create and support this special lifestyle.
In the autumn, even the atmosphere is different, becoming extremely crystal clear during those sunny days which follow the rains. Gone is the haze of the August heat, and the “far-away” mountains suddenly seem to be within arms length – each detail well-etched in the crispness of the fall day. Once again, Mother Nature dusts herself off, and begins to shine with the multi-colours of life. The sky becomes exceptionally beautiful and exciting this time of year. Some days, a multitude of clouds create dramatic icon-like figures and shapes, while other times a cloudless sky seems to meld with the sea, adopting a deep azure-turquoise colour of its own.
Snow-capped mountains are everywhere in Crete – it is impossible to imagine the island without them. Their presence is a constant, friendly reminder of the diverseness of Crete , and the Cretan soul identifies with the boldness of those lofty peaks. Is there at least one Cretan who could imagine his island without its mountains? Not likely!
Close to the mountainous areas, vegetation changes greatly, becoming more wild and imposing. The olive trees and grapevines no longer rule. It’s the acorn, oak, cypress, chestnut and plane trees – those wonderful giants that live by the water as if trying to quench an endless thirst – that become the dominate factors in the landscape. In autumn, the leaves of the plane (platanos) trees take on all the hues of gold and red to paint a fairytale picture of foliage.
The eyes can never encompass all of this beauty, and there are no words to describe the depth of its loveliness. We need the finger on the camera to click these magical moments into permanence, thankful that we are here in this time and place.
But, the gratitude is double: firstly, for the surrounding beauty of the island; secondly, for the knowledge that these moments are endless – that they will exist so long as I look for them.
Article by Yannis Samatas
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