Vai, Palm Forest
Vai palm forest lies in a beautiful valley and by a sandy beach, just north of ancient Itanos: 28 km from Siteia, 8 from Palaikastro and 6 from Toplou by their respective roads. Covering 200 stremmata (50 acres), it is made up of the native Theophrastus palms – the largest colony not only in Greece but also in all Europe. A large enough stand exists at Preveli, with smaller clusters elsewhere, eg. at Aghios Nikitas. The palm also turns up here and there in the SW Aegean islands, Cyprus and Turkey.
Many legends exist about its origins. It was formed by the Phoenicians (an erroneous belief springing from the old story that they founded Itanos, back in the day), or it is the result of discarded pips left by the Egyptian soldiers of Ptolemy Philomater, or the allied troops of Mithradates of Pontus .. or even by Saracen piratesand invaders!
Be that as it may, it is certain enough that the development and survival of the forest is due to the arid climate and of groundwater in the valley.
It is also clear that the palm was about in Crete in the past: both Theophrastus and Pliny remark on it, and it is shown on coins and vase-paintings.