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Wild flowers in the spring at the ancient city of Aptera on Crete in Greece

Wild flowers in the spring at the ancient city of Aptera on Crete in Greece

Have you been to Crete? Have you explored the remarkable Minoan places, explored the dramatic mountains and coastline and savoured the wonderful cuisine, often considered the best in Greece? Oh and have you heard that there tends to be a few beautiful wildflowers carpeting the ancient cities and wider landscape each spring (like above)?

A view of the White Mountains in West Crete seen from the coast near Rethymno.

Trying to describe our tours of Crete, which we think are quite extraordinary (not surprising considering all the time and effort we have put into creating them), it would be very easy to pull one of those glib "Crete: island of Contrasts" descriptions. So let’s do that. What might you see there? What hits me most when I remember?

The Mycenaean Throne Room at Knossos, centrepiece of the Palace in its very Late Bronze Age form. The discussion as to whether this room is a Cretan/Minoan feature or a Mainland Greek/Mycenaean one is a key part of the stories we tell you in Crete.

The first time at Knossos seeing everything you’ve been storing up to see there since childhood, how it’s all expected and unexpected at the same time. The goosebumps as you see the Throne Room, the central element of the palace in its latest, Mycenaean phase, Evans’ reconstructions, and also the bits the books and photographs don’t prepare you for: the setting! The view to Mount Iouktas, the key open-air sanctuary when the palace was thriving!

The Central Court of the Minoan Palace of Phaistos, its lost parts eroded down into the Mesara Plain.

The end-of-the-world drop-off into space at the end of the Great Court of Minoan Phaistos, from a solid, safe mass of rooms, bureaucracy and opulence to unexpected nothingness over the beautiful green Mesara, that sea of olive trees.

A view from inside the biggest tomb at the Late Minoan cemetery at Armenoi, looking out towards the light of the world outside.

The thrill of the entrance to the great tomb at Armenoi, the descending stairs to the steep runway, all russet-red cut from the rock, dappled by the trees in the cool, quiet oak wood. A dark doorway far below. Allow yourself a little Indiana Jones moment as you step down…

A view across the Venetian fortress of Rethymno (the Fortetsa) to the White Mountains in West Crete.

Standing on the battlements of the huge Venetian Fortezza at Rethymno, with, away in the distance Mount Ida, a vast, broad-winged white seabird, stark against the deep blue sky, lower slopes invisible as it hovers, and with dragon-teeth crags of the White Mountains and the Akrotiri Peninsula in the opposite direction.

The beach at Kato Zakros during a less-brutal moment. Peaceful Mediterranean beauty, concealing long history. During the Bronze Age, the coastline was further out and so was the harbour.

Waves crashing on the beach at Zakros, near the Minoan palace and town. A tough landing for the Minoan sailors who would have used it; now filled with excited chatter and the smell of good food. What a view to be had while you’re eating: the stark, unforgiving cliffs and chasms of Crete’s brutally entrancing wild east.


Souda Bay as seen from Aptera

Standing by the walls of the Ottoman fort at Aptera, the Roman city behind you. Gazing over the thick blue of the bay with its postcard-perfect Venetian castle below. Few places could be prettier, few filled with so much catastrophic drama, from medieval times to the last war. Crete has an unfair share of history….

So many letters, so many words, so many sentences, so many consequences. The Gortyn Code should be World Heritage as an early and detailed law text and one of the longest surviving Ancient Greek inscriptions.

The sheer size of the Greek inscribed law code at Gortyn, sweeping along for ever, letters black in shadow against the terracotta-coloured stone, still defining boundaries over two-and-a-half millennia for a long-gone citizenry, or are they still here, tending their fields and groves unfazed by the shadow of millennia?

The view from where we stay in the south of Crete.

And to close a day, a late afternoon on the heights at Thalori. Relaxing in the beautiful village after visiting the little Byzantine church; the evening meal’s ready and there’s the prospect of raki [these are Paul's own italics] if you fancy. Golden shadows lengthen over the hills, shaping their slopes. In the distance, there’s the deep cleft in the rock down to the Libyan Sea, and the remarkable pinnacle of rock which makes this place unforgettable, a pinnacle that was a major place of worship during the Bronze Age, visible as far away as Phaistos and further. The goats are out as the sun westers and there’s the clonk and tinkle of bells, but otherwise, silence.

Certainly makes me want to be there. You? We look forward to welcoming you on our Exploring Crete tour.

A panoramic view of the Mesara Plain on Crete, taken from the foothills of the Asterousia Mountains during a research trip in October 2019.

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