“Exploring Crete” is Peter Sommer Travels’ first scheduled tour in 2017. This year, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a diary of sorts on our blog. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
It's only a picture, so you have to use your imagination to match our experience today: slabs of lamb roasting over an open fire, their scent mingling with that of the wood smoke emanating from the embers below, the sound of crackling wood, the movement of the flames, the warmth of the fire itself and the muffled voices of a happy crowd awaiting a hearty and delicious meal.
What a day we had today! We left the East of Crete behind and returned to the centre. There we visited one of the highlights of this island: the enormous Minoan Palace of Knossos, one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe, the undoubted centre of Crete's Minoan civilisation between 1,900 and 1,450 BC, a vast complex of hundreds of rooms, some decorated with frescoes, that may have given rise to the myth of the labyrinth.
Later, we had a wine-tasting and lunch at one of the most famous wineries in the Peza region, where our guests were introduced to the delights of the island's very own grape varieties in their fermented state: spicy Mandilari and fruity Kotsifali among the reds and refreshing Vilana among the whites... Finally, we ascended the Asterousia Mountains on the island's southern coast, as we will spend the next two nights in an exceptional place where traditional shepherd's homes have been restored as sophisticated guest accommodation in a place of great natural beauty high above the Libyan Sea. The day has been a long one, so we deserve some lamb!
It's still a bit chilly up here at this time of year, so our guests, having walked about outside to take in the stunning views of mountain and sea far below, are more than happy to settle into the convivial atmosphere of the hotel's restaurant. Nearly everything they will consume is of local, at times extremely local, production: the lamb and cheese are from this very village's own herds, the herbs and spices from the surrounding slopes, as is the honey that will make an appearance at desert and breakfast. The wine that will accompany these delights is from the very winery we visited earlier today.
Crete is well-known is Greece for the quality of its foodstuffs and the islanders' mastery in making a vast variety of dishes from them, all deeply rooted in local tradition, but also absorbing influences from Crete's Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman past. Cretan recipes are known for their subtle sophistication. Roast lamb, however, is the most straightforward of the island's many specialities: its merits rely entirely of the quality of the meat and to some extent the skills of the cook. Here, it will be tender, juicy and intensely aromatic, reflecting the botanic wealth of the hillsides all around us. (Needless to say, there are copious alternatives for our vegetarian friends).
It's time to eat now, but we'll pick up the thread in the Mesara Plain tomorrow...