These islands in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea are both blessed with mountain ranges, intriguing wildlife and beautiful vineyards. But if you had to pick just one to explore, which would it be?
Population: 1.2 million
Total area: 9,250 sq km
Famous for: Beaches, halloumi, Lefkara lace, cats and the 1974 Turkish invasion of
Total area: 8,336 sq km
Famous for: Beaches, olive oil, Moni Preveli monastery and the ruins of the Palace of Knossos.
Cyprus is home to 400 species of bird, most of them migratory. In autumn, Egyptian vultures and red-footed falcons soar above the Troodos Mountains, while flamingos (right) flock to the salt lakes in winter. Meanwhile, conservation work has boosted numbers of spiral-horned mouflon to 3,000.
Crete and a few of its islands are the only places you can see a kri-kri, goat. But with just 2,000 left, your best bet to see one is to head into the White Mountains. Look out too for the endangered bearded vulture and Eurasian hoopoe, with its peachy punk hairdo and zebra-striped wings.
Cyprus has 52 designated trails, many of which are in the mountain range. For a challenging hike, climb 1,952m to the top of Mount Olympus, the island’s highest point. Alternatively, explore the lower Kyrenia range (right) by the coast in the north.
A 230km signposted route runs along its spine, through pine and eucalyptus trees.
Crete’s highest peak, the 2,456m Mount Ida, is a UNESCO Global Geopark. As well as incredible views, you can explore caves and see fossilised coral and ancient volcanic rock. Meanwhile, the west of the island is home to a 16km gorge trail that winds down through Samariá National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
All those mountains mean thrilling cycle adventures across mixed terrain. Seasoned cyclists can pedal a 62km route from Deftera to Machairas Forest and Monastery – but be prepared for a 15km uphill battle. For an easier ride, take the 8km path along the River Pedieos from Lakatamia to the Presidential Palace in Strovolos.
If you have thighs of steel then tackle the White Mountain range, a national park with 30 summits over 2,000m. But there are plenty of gentle routes at lower altitudes too. Wind through valleys of orange, lemon and avocado trees and along the way you’ll pass traditional villages and Byzantine churches.
Cypriots have been making wine for 5,500 years. The island is best known for Commandaria (right), which is made from indigenous red Mavro and white Xynisteri grapes. The Commandaria wine route connects 14 villages that produce the dessert wine. As well as vineyards, along the way you can see Cyprus’s biggest dam.
When it comes to wine, Cretans know what they’re doing; archaeologists discovered a wine press here that dates back 3,500 years. Indigenous grape varieties include white Vilana and Vidiano and red Liatiko. Join a tour to explore the island’s wineries, most of which are in the north on the outskirts of Chania and Heraklion.
With olive groves and fruit orchards, mountains and forests, there’s a lot to like on both of these islands – whether you’re a hiker, cyclist or birdwatcher. So it comes down to this: do you want to spot a kri-kri or a mouflon?
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