Crete is legendary for its healthy lifestyle, for the uncommon hospitality the people exhibit to strangers, and for its stunning history. The birthplace of might Zeus, home of the legends of Minos and the Minotaur, of Daedalus and Ikarus, and rumors of Atlantis too, Crete has too many secrets and treasures to even list. Among the lesser known jewels of the Cretan landscape, the islands eco-tourism haunts are a treat worth discovery. To this end, Argo offers these wonderful green suggestions.
A casual definition of Ecotourism leaves us with a form of tourism that involves travelers visiting the fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas of this amazing island. The idea of eco and agro-tourism demands we understand how low-impact and small scale alternative to standard commercial (mass) tourism are “the way” for a sustainable future. It is to this end that one of the healthiest places on Earth, and one of the most pristine remaining, has really always embraced ecological utopia. Here is a sampling of this Greek paradise’s best ecotourism developments.
Thalori Traditional Village
Tucked away amid the high cliffs near the south-central village of Kapetaniana, is a stunning complex of unique accommodations named appropriately, Thalori Guesthouses. The name literally means “sea” and “hill”, which indemnifies the perfect blend of Asterousia mountain range landscapes, overlooking the amazing Libyan Sea. 20 traditional stone guest houses dot the landscape, which is otherwise untouched by commercial enterprise. This is the real Crete, the untouched marvel the ancient Minoans roamed.
The Markos and Popi Skordalakis, the owners and visionaries behind this marvel, have created a picture perfect Thalori Traditional Village, a serene spot imbued with the power of nature, the fabulous history of the region, and most importantly the traditional way of life of Cretans. For those unaware, the Asterousia mountain range of is the southernmost chain in Europe, a unique biosphere where the ancient Minoans build the palace at Phaistos, to look out over the Massara illuvial plains. The only words that adequately describe the place are epic and eternal. The Minoans and subsequent inhabitants of these mountains attached a special religious significance to this place, and it is easy to understand why.
Thalori’s wonderful traditional restaurant, activities planning, and a new art residency program being developed are but a few of the attractive elements of this retreat. Markos and Popi also believe mightily in the farm to table ideal, and guests are encouraged to participate in the retreat’s argo-tourism efforts. Organized Cretan cooking classes are another big plus.
About the Thalori surrounds:
While the landscape of Asterousia may seem stark and desert shrub-like, the area surrounding is one of supreme ecological value. For those unfamiliar with the region, it is included in the NATURA 2000 network, a land where endangered species stand the chance of surviving owning to ecological protective measures. Some 192 bird species have been recorded so far in Asterousia, some of which are permanent, some migratory. Among the birds of Asterousia are the griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), the golden eagle (Aquila Chrysaetos), the Bonelli’s eagle, the peregrine falcon and the black falcon. Also of interest to nature lovers, diving excursions off Asterousia feature large Posidonia meadows (Posidonia Oceanica) and other species such as corals, sponges, anemones etc.
Thalori Retreat – Kapetaniana, Kophinas Municipality, Heraklion, Crete – Reservations: +30 6976994896
Agro-tourism Complex Dalabelos
Situated outside the quint village of Angeliana, the Dalabelos Agro-retreat sits overlooking the Cretan Sea 5 kilometers to the North. A short distance from the town of Rethymno, the farm-resort features 10 stone-built modern and fully equipped studios. But the heart of this amazing eco-tourism destination is the Dalabelos Estate, an idyllic green complex that integrates tourism with genuine Crete agriculture so perfectly. Run by Vassilis Petrodaskalakis and his family, the farm has 1,000 olive trees, a vineyard, an orange and fruit orchard, and several vegetable gardens that supply the restaurant.
All the units overlooking the farm have a balcony or a patio, a fireplace, air conditioning, a kitchenette, cable TV, telephone, Internet access, and the usual creature comforts. From the shade of Dalabelos’s restaurant, guests enjoy truly gourmet class Cretan cuisine, prepared in the traditional way with products exclusively from the farm. Even the bread is hand made. As for the hospitality, the legendary filoxenia (love of travelers) here is even more noticeable given how guest are incorporated into the daily routine. Cooking classes to excursions, and even helping out on the estate are all part of the schema.
Perhaps the retreat’s biggest attraction, the Dalabelos kitchen is what healthy Cretan cuisine is all about. Here organic vegetables cooked in virgin olive oil, wild herbs, and the freshest herbs and spices, further attest to one of the healthiest places on Earth. But don’t fret if you are a meat lover, Crete’s best kept secret is the fact the locals pride themselves in succulent lamb dishes. Take a pottery course, explore the countryside on a mountain bike, or take part in experiential activities for Eco-psychology, this is one of the most serene and laid back places on this world.
About the Dalabelos surrounds:
Dalabelos is located near the sea, on a cliff at the foot of Mount Ida (Psiloritis). The surrounding region is a vertible nature lover’s wonderland of endemic flora, set beside the mythical caves Ideon Antron on the Nida plateau, Gerontospilios at Melidoni and Sphendoni at Zoniana, and more. Deep gorges carve their way through a vibrant yet arid land where ancient civilizations once thrived. Guests with a penchant for archaelogy will find the nearby sites of Zominthos and Eleftherna, and the byzantine churches and Venetian monuments like the monasteries of Arkadi and Vosakou, powerful inticements for exploration. The estate is in fact, a key facet of this magical central Crete ecoscape, a place never to forget.
Dalabelos Ecotourism Estate – Ageliana Rethymnon Crete, Greece – Reservations: +30 2834022155
Enagron Ecotourism Village
It was Herodotus who mentioned the village of Axos so favorably in the times of legend, the Virgil, then Cicero, and then… Well, you get the idea. Situated in the valley next to Axos is one of Crete’s most unique eco-tourism encampments. Not so many people realize this part of Greece has been inhabited for over 4,000 years, but even fewer are aware of how the developers of Enagron have assimilated all that is best in the Cretan way of life there. Located a short drive from Crete’s capital of Heraklion, this speck of a village has all the amenities of a four star resort, with none of the pretense. In typical Crete form, the classy stone accommodations fit perfectly into the rocky crags decorate this valley. The quint coffee shops and 600 friendly residents of Axos, the nearby villages of Zoniana and Veni, give the visitor a real impression of what sustainable life should be all about. The word that best describes Enagron is harmony.
The images here show the tailored accommodations of this extraordinary repose, but the surrounds are the real treasure for guests. Nearby caves, the countless monasteries dotting the hilltops (especially the Monastery of Vosakos), and activities like the Bucolic excursion to the house of Panoysis, the Shepherd, are as unique as they are memorable. The myriad social, cultural, and religious exhibitions that take place in all the villages around the area, ensure visitors are left feeling at home, as if the reality of western civilization can finally sink in. The old customs and traditions of Crete, are exuded throughout the Enagron experience.
Perfectly adapted to the surrounding natural environment, in both traditional architectural style and pragmatic operation, Enagron is as close to ideal as it gets. From the playground to the coffee shop, the Enagron team have turned over every natural stone to perfect this place. And in the restaurant and cafe, all the benefits of the Cretan diets are on the menu, in picture perfect culinary display. Cooks Stavroula, Irene and Virginia create a gastronomic accent to a place King Minos himself would have doted over. Guest can do nothing and relax, or elect to take cooking or bread and cheese making classes, maybe hit the spa, and much more. Enagron is that nice, Axos that much of a cool place to tell folks back home about – or to stay and live in for that matter. Yiannis and Fani Papadakis create something magical, on a mysterious and epic island paradise.
About the Enagron surrounds:
This part of Crete has its own brand of ancient lore and everlasting natural value too. A walk up from the valley to the village of Axos will indelibly stamp the traveler. Guests get acquainted with the society here, and are immersed in the culture and the traditional activities of the locals. There’s more history and myths, and local stories and legends than almost anywhere you can name. Almost four thousand years of continual habitation have left a mark by humans here. Axos and Mount Ida were a whisper on the lips of Achilles and Odysseus no doubt. One can almost hear them echoing in the village’s labyrinthine paths today. But Axos is but one gem in the crown of Crete, countless geoheritage attractions are packed into Psiloritis Geopark and all that surrounds it, and Enagron is base camp for dozens of hiking, biking, climbing, and ecotourism expeditions into this natural wonderland.
Enagron Ecotourism Village – Axos Mylopotamou, Crete, Greece – Reservations: +30 28340 61611