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.
8 nights from £849pp
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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 five nights close to the city of Chania, the most picturesque port of the island, full of winding cobbled lanes, fascinating little shops, charming tavernas and old Venetian mansions. Our family-run hotel is beautifully sited, set back from the well-developed north coast and surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. You'll gain fascinating historical insights when we visit both Maleme, where the first German parachutists landed.
Going even further back in history, we visit the Hellenistic citadel of Aptera, with its beautiful small amphitheatre, as well as Knossos, one of the Mediterranean’s most important archaeological sites, unearthed and controversially partly reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans. Our visit to the island’s main archaeological museum will complement our understanding of the Minoan civilisation’s artistic achievements from 1700 BC.
Crete’s rough terrain makes this one of the best walking destinations in Europe, especially along the numerous gorges along the southern flanks of the island’s three main mountain ranges. We have two opportunities to experience and walk through the unique natural environment of the island, with its 150 endemic plants and a species of wild ibex, which you may be lucky enough to spot.
Our last two nights are spent just outside the lovely mountain village of Zaros on the southern slopes of Mt Ida, from where you may either walk the spectacular but little-visited Zaros gorge, or visit a local farm hidden away in the undulating hills, where you can 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.
Western Crete Itinerary
Fly to Chania or Heraklion in Crete. On arrival, we transfer by coach to the family-run three-star Eleftheria Hotel, where we stay for the first five nights, with breakfast and dinner on four nights at the hotel and one dinner at a local restaurant. The hotel is situated in a quiet location, surrounded by olive groves in Agia Marina, just to the west of Chania.
Today we explore the old harbour of Chania, which has survived remarkably well from its heyday when it was a major outpost of the Venetian empire. The small port is wonderfully picturesque and there are numerous charming tavernas and shops to explore along the winding lanes. We continue further afield with a visit to one of Crete’s least well-known ancient sites, the ancient city of Aptera. Set on a high bluff overlooking Souda Bay, its perfect strategic position is still evident today, as it controls the access to one of the best anchorages in the south-eastern Mediterranean. Most of the remains originate from the Hellenistic period and during the Roman occupation of the island.
This morning we drive south to the Imbros Gorge, one of many in this part of Crete. You may choose to explore the five-mile gorge, which can be walked in about 3 to 3.5 hours. The views across and above towards the high peaks, cliffs and forest are stunning. As the terrain is uneven and peppered with loose stones, this walk is recommended for the surefooted with a reasonable level of fitness – walking boots are essential. If you prefer a more relaxing morning, our coach also takes us to charming Frangokastello on the south coast. Stroll along its beautiful beach, one of the most famous in Crete, and perhaps take a dip in the sea, or explore the 14th-century Venetian fortress, where a celebrated battle between Greek and Turkish armies took place. According to legend, shadows of the fallen soldiers appear on the anniversary of the battle to march towards the fortress at dawn. There’s time this afternoon to seek out a taverna and sample some of the local specialities – such as ‘sfakianes pites’, delicious cheese pies drizzled with Cretan honey – or simply enjoy a cup of tea and watch the world go by. Next we enjoy a tasting of local wines at the award-winning Dourakis Winery. One of the best wineries on the island, it features an ancient wine press made of stone, which stands as proof that wines have been produced here as early as the Minoan period.
You have the entire day to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of your hotel and explore some of the excellent tavernas in the area or to revisit the old city of Chania. Alternatively, you may wish to book our Personalise Your Holiday experience.
Few things are as characteristic of the Greek landscape as the olive tree, which flourishes in abundance in Crete. Astonishingly at least 10 of these date back thousands of years, making them true living monuments – perhaps older than the Parthenon in Athens! This morning we head to the sleepy mountain village of Vouves to see the world’s oldest olive tree, today a protected monument. It’s incredible to think this ancient wonder has outlived empires and still continues to bear fruit! We continue inland into the rolling foothills of the White Mountains to the Botanical Park of Crete. After a wildfire destroyed the entire area 14 years ago, a local family turned their 50-acre farm into what is now the best Botanical Park on the island. Spread out along the terraced hillsides, the shady paths meander through more than 150 indigenous and sub-tropical trees, herbs and plants that thrive in the mild Cretan climate. The afternoon is free for you to relax at the hotel.
We say goodbye to Chania today and head east to Knossos, the best-known ancient city on the island, famously unearthed and controversially partly reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans. Then we continue to Heraklion, the capital of the island. We meet our local guide with whom we’ll visit one of the best archaeological museums in Greece, with some amazing exhibits from the Minoan period. After some time for lunch, we continue south to the charming village of Zaros on the southern slopes of Mount Ida, where we stay the three-star Hotel Idi for two nights, with breakfast and dinner. The hotel is set around beautiful countryside just outside the village.
Archaeological excavations have brought to light fascinating ancient sites across the island. Today we have a guided tour of Phaistos, one of the most important centres of the Minoan civilisation and the most powerful city in southern Crete. The remains of the palace are remarkably preserved, so it’s easy to imagine the city in its heyday. Situated in a fertile plain, the archaeological site boasts superb views over the mountains and the sweeping bay of Messara. This afternoon we get to truly experience the delightful life of a Cretan farmer at Kamihis Farm, nestled in a green valley and run by a charming family, happy to show visitors ‘the Cretan way’. Try your hand at milking a goat, making cheese and baking a delicious pie with ingredients straight from the farm. Enjoy an included light lunch along with your homemade creations, and finish it all off with a taste of the local tipple, ‘raki’. The tempting smells of fresh herbs and baking bread, the chorus of farm animals and the lovely views of the surrounding hills create the perfect finale to a memorable tour.
Transfer to Chania or Heraklion airport for your return flight.
- Insightful guided tours and visits
- Local departures
- Financial protection
- Personal service
- Hand-picked hotels
- Breakfast and dining options
- Outstanding tour managers
- Free time to explore
- All local taxes and overseas transfers