Like Sicily, Crete is a distinctively separate region, both geographically and culturally, from the country of which it is a part. As the cradle of the Minoans, the earliest of European civilisations, Crete’s long history has had an inordinate influence on subsequent peoples, including the Mycenaeans, Greeks, Romans and Venetians, who occupied the island for several hundred years. Our tour to the western part of this long, mountainous island will reveal all these and more.
Even amongst the Greeks themselves, Cretan food and produce are acknowledged as the best in the country – its long growing season, fertile soils and proximity to the warmth of North Africa have created a perfect climate with an early spring, when every inch of the island seems covered in wildflowers, and a late autumn that sees wonderfully mild temperatures well into November. The famed Cretan cuisine is considered the best example of the Mediterranean diet – be sure to try kalitsounia – sweet or savoury pies – lamb casserole and, of course, the many local wines.
Cretans are known for their directness, honesty and open hospitality, and like many other island people, they prize their traditions and independent spirit. British guests, in particular, are warmly welcomed as the Cretans still remember the support received from Britain during the Battle of Crete in May 1941 and the subsequent occupation of the island.
We stay for four nights in Chania, the most picturesque port of the island, full of winding cobbled lanes, fascinating little shops, charming tavernas and old Venetian mansions. Our hotels are well-located in the heart of Chania, the perfect base for the first half of our tour.
Going even further back in history, we visit Aptera, a Hellenistic citadel and one of the most important city states of western Crete. Of course, we must explore two of the Mediterranean’s most significant archaeological sites: Knossos, capital of Minoan Crete, and Phaistos, the spectacular site of the second-largest Minoan palace. Our visit to Heraklion island’s main archaeological museum will complement our understanding of the Minoan civilisation’s artistic achievements from 1700 BC.
Inland Crete is home to some of the island’s loveliest and best-preserved villages, the essence of Crete untouched by mass tourism. We enjoy walks through charming villages against a backdrop of olive groves and rolling countryside, ending with traditional lunch in a rustic taverna to sample the local cuisine.
Our last three nights are spent just outside the lovely mountain village of Zaros on the southern slopes of Mount Ida, from where we visit a local farm hidden away in the undulating hills and gain a fascinating insight into the wonderful organic produce of the island.
Crete is undoubtedly one of the most diverse and fascinating destinations in Europe. Its historical and cultural treasures are a pleasure to discover and explore, away from the popular resorts of the coast. Once you have visited it, we are sure you’ll want to return again and again.