This long, narrow island (about 165 miles from west to east) is dominated by a forbidding spine of mountains that rises to 8,000-foot Mount Ida. Much of Crete remains unspoiled; parts of the coast, however, have been disfigured by insensitive tourist development. Crete was the homeland of the enigmatic Minoan civilization, which flourished across the eastern Mediterranean around 4,000 years ago. The remains of the Minoan palace of Knossos were discovered in the 19th century and badly restored, but they are still worth a visit out of season. The Venetian ports of Chaniá and Rethymnon are enchanting. World War II buffs may wish to visit the Cretan battlefields, which saw the first full-scale airborne assault by paratroops (the German Fallschirmjäger) in military history. Crete should be avoided during the high season, when it is excessively hot and overrun by tourists from Northern Europe.