Visiting Crete is a sensory adventure filled with the scents of rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender, and chamomile. An island brimming with beautiful flowers and stunning landscapes, there are around 2,000 species of plants, about 10% of them endemic to Crete. The peak explosion of wildflowers is from March to and May, when wild orchids and tulips are joined by chamomile, poppies, anemones, iris, field gladiolus and much more.
Crete’s natural beauty is equalled only by the richness of its history. The island is the birthplace of the first advanced society on European soil, the Minoans, who ruled some 4000 years ago. At the crossroads of three continents, Crete has been coveted and occupied by consecutive invaders. Evidence of this long history can be seen in Chania, where labyrinthine lanes are lorded over by mighty fortresses, and where gorgeously restored Renaissance mansions rub rafters with mosques and Turkish bathhouses.
Gourmands also need look no further, on an island where ‘locavore’ is not a trend but a way of life. Rural tavernas often produce their own meat, cheese, olive oil, raki and wine, and catch their own seafood.
This tour takes you across this wonderful island and looks at history, both ancient and contemporary. Explore Crete’s rich botany, beautiful landscapes and delicious food and wine, and learn how all of these intertwine.
The tour is led by two British residents of Crete, who are also experienced tour leaders of walking and botanical tours on the island.
Valerie and Clive have spent their working lives in education, at all levels, with adults and children across the age range. They have lived and worked abroad and have travelled extensively. Since retiring, they have lived in Crete, building a house and garden on a wild and windy hillside.
In her capacity as the Branch Head of the Mediterranean Garden Society on Crete, Valerie organises a variety of events on the island and hosts visitors to her garden from as far afield as Australia and California. Clive, as a tour leader, has led groups of walkers on Crete, mainland Greece and other islands.
Both have joined tours run by Jon Baines Tours and enjoyed the cultural, historical and local emphasis that is at the heart of the philosophy of the company, along with the camaraderie of fellow tour members. The tour on Crete will emulate this, including the delights of Cretan cuisine.
Day 1 Chania (Mon,18 April)
Arrive and transfer to the Veneziano Hotel. Hear a brief background on the tour in the evening before a welcome dinner at the excellent Salis restaurant in the old harbour area.
Day 2 Chania (Tues, 19 April) Landscapes, food and wine of Crete
Explore Chania's old town on a walking tour. See the city’s impressive 14th-century harbour and 16th-century lighthouse. Learn of Crete’s Egyptian, Venetian, Ottoman and more recent influences as you walk its narrow streets. In the afternoon drive out to the foothills of the White Mountains and visit the beautiful Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete, encompassing a wide range of plants and wildlife that thrive in its microclimate, including fruit trees, herbs, medicinal and ornamental plants. Meet with the owners and learn about landscapes and cuisine of Crete. In the evening learn about the food and wine of Crete with a cooking demonstration, followed by dinner at the park’s restaurant.
Day 3 Chania (Wed, 20 April) Minoans and Crete’s classical history
Drive to Heraklion and visit the world renowned Bronze Age Palace of Knossos, accompanied by a specialist guide. After lunch visit the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, which includes important finds from the island such as the Phaistos Disc and Minoan frescoes.
Day 4 Chania (Thurs, 21 April) Wildflowers and landscape
Rise early to visit the Arkadi Monastery. Drive up to the Spili Plateau and see its wild tulips, which are endemic to Crete, wild orchids and a host of other wildflowers. Spend some time at the attractive village of Spili and have lunch at a local taverna. Drive west along the southern coast and stop at Frangokasteli, where there are options to visit the castle, have a drink or swim from a lovely sandy beach. Continue to Hora Sfakion and return through the White Mountains to Chania.
Day 5 Chania (Fri, 22 April) Battle of Crete and Ill Met by Moonlight
In the company of a specialist guide take part in a tour tracing Operation Mercury (the German Invasion of Crete) and the Battle of Crete. Visit Maleme and Souda Bay, war cemeteries, the memorial and museum. Learn the story of the kidnap of General Heinrich Kreipe, later written up by the writer Patrick Leigh Fermor and made into the film Ill Met by Moonlight. Enjoy a farewell dinner at Manousaki Winery with tastings of Cretan wine.
Day 6 (Sat, 23 April) Chania
The cost of the tour is USD $1,904 per person sharing