Our Exploring Crete tour is the ideal opportunity to experience this fascinating island to the full. You will visit its most important ancient sites, including the famous prehistoric Minoan palaces, but also veer off the beaten track to explore many of Crete’s hidden gems. Our tour of Crete includes a vast variety of different landscapes and ancient sites, bringing you into direct contact with the island’s coasts, mountains, gorges and fertile plains, as well as its historical villages and towns.
Crete is the largest of the Greek islands and its historical significance is second to none, ranging from Stone Age seafarers and Neolithic farmers to the mysterious and fascinating Bronze Age civilisation of the Minoans. The island’s renowned Classical cities and the rich remains of the Roman, Byzantine, Venetian and Ottoman cultures lead us right through to its turbulent 20th century history.
As well as its historical and archaeological riches, the island is a place of extraordinary natural beauty and diversity. Its inhabitants are fiercely proud of their homeland and maintain its many traditions, including the fabled Cretan hospitality. As a result of its varied nature and past, Crete also boasts one of the most celebrated variations of Greek cuisine.
Our Crete tour is complemented by excellent meals in carefully selected restaurants and tavernas, as well as wine tastings from regional vineyards. At night, you will be staying in beautiful surroundings, ranging from high-quality city hotels via an elegant Venetian palazzo to traditional inns in serene mountain villages.
Your tour guides have excavated, surveyed, researched and travelled around Crete and are passionate connoisseurs not only of its archaeology, but also of its landscapes, people, traditions and products. Their in-depth knowledge will be your shortcut to a superb experience of one of Europe’s most celebrated destinations.
If you have never visited Crete, this expert-led tour is the perfect way to explore this wonderful and fascinating Greek Island; if you have been before, we are sure you will see it afresh and from a completely different perspective – in the company of two archaeologists who know the island intimately.
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Later, we drive up into the Dikti Mountains to the celebrated Lasithi Plateau, 1,000m above sea level and famous for its white-sailed windmills. After our first village lunch, we make a short climb to one of the region’s sacred caves, a key feature of ancient Crete’s religious customs, and first used many generations prior to the Minoans, before returning to Heraklion.
Next, we stop at the Byzantine-Venetian church of Panayia Kera, famous for the lavish frescoes covering every inch of its walls with intricate tales to inspire devotion, a prime example of the island’s Byzantine heritage, here fused with some Venetian influences.
After lunch, we continue to the incredibly well-preserved Minoan town of Gournia, where we can walk along the 3,500-year-old streets and alleyways hugging the flanks of a rocky hill overlooking the sea. House after bronze age house gives us the best impression we can get of ordinary daily life, and above them an impressive public building with clues to the deep religious devotion of the settlement’s people.
We spend the next two nights in the comfort of a modern hotel right set on the curving shore of pretty Ierapetra over the topaz blue waters of southeast Crete.
At Siteia, we tour our first archaeological museum, not very large but offering a superb overview across the material culture of Minoan Crete, with collections of pottery, stone vessels, clay sarcophagi, precious jewellery and much more from many sites in the east of the island, culminating in the famous gold-and-ivory Palaikastro ‘Kouros’, a superb piece of Bronze Age sculpture, painstakingly restored from the hundreds of fragments it was left in after its last time above ground, three and a half millennia ago.
Keen to know more, we stop at the place where the ‘Kouros’ was found: the Minoan town of Palaikastro itself, to learn of its heyday and its violent destruction. Here, we learn about the fate of the “Kouros” and the questions arising from it, but also about the historic cult of Zeus as a boy.
We lunch close to the crashing waves of the perfect beach at Kato Zakros, in an ‘island’ of rich farmland cut off by magnificent bleak hills and the Gorge of the Dead. With this amazingly scenic backdrop, we then tour the Minoan town and palace of Zakros itself, an artistic centre whose craftsmen produced some of the finest masterpieces of Minoan civilisation and whose trading contacts reached out to Egypt and beyond before it was brought down in flames. In the afternoon, we return to our hotel.
Later, we enjoy lunch and a wine tasting in the lush Peza region, the heart of Cretan winemaking since the Minoan era. We continue south into the Asterousia Mountains, towering above the rugged southern coast, where we spend the first of three nights in a picturesque mountain village amid the high peaks.
We’ll have much to remember in the evening as the shadows cast by the enfolding peaks lengthen and we look out across the Libyan Sea in an idyllic evening soundtracked only by the sound of goat bells amid the solitude.
We then continue into western Crete, stopping by the Late Minoan-Mycenaean cemetery of Armenoi, its scores of rock-cut graves scattered in an oak forest. Surrounded by the serenity of the site, we learn about the changes the island underwent during and after the 15th century BC and we learn about the young people that were laid to rest here, before entering the largest and most elaborate of the tombs.
After lunch and a tasting at a famous winery in the most fertile part of West Crete, we end the day at a historic seafront hotel in the beautiful Venetian city of Chania, our base for the next three nights.
We’ll see traces of both at the excellent museum in Kissamos next – the catapult stones of the Roman legionaries at Phalasarna, and the remains of flourishing local communities hit by the catastrophes of earthquake and tsunami. We lunch by more peaceful shores, in the wide turquoise bay of the seafront at Kissamos, embraced by the painterly arms of distant hills.
In the afternoon we visit the historic monastery of Gonia. Its serene, ordered modern state hides its central role in much of Crete’s turbulent revolutionary and wartime past. The beauty of the monastery is matched by the fine icon collection in the superb museum within.
We drive by the magnificent Bay of Souda, where we stop to pay our respects at the island’s British and Commonwealth war cemetery, set in a location central to the tragic events of the 1941 Battle of Crete.
Our next visit is to the vast Classical and Roman city of Aptera, sprawling prodigiously over a mighty eminence with impressive views over the blue bay and receding panoramas of mountain and shore. We’ll take in the grand Graeco-Roman theatre and the huge cisterns that fed its Roman baths, all now watched over by a formidable Ottoman stronghold.
Following a delightful village lunch, we end the day in the grand Venetian city of Rethymno, where we stay in a 16th century palazzo for two nights. In the evening, advised by your tour experts, you can choose your own dinner among the many options available in the picturesque Old Town.
Then, we set out inland to Eleutherna, one of Crete’s oldest and most important ancient cities, set in the beautiful Amari valley and the site of ongoing and superbly productive excavations. Its recently opened archaeological museum is eye-opening, revealing the broad trading contacts and considerable wealth that existed here in the Early Iron Age, just as the city-states began to develop. The rich burials of its warriors and priestesses are an outstanding highlight of this great display.
After a village lunch, we return to Rethymno. We explore some of the Venetian city’s finest features on a pre-dinner stroll.
After a relaxing afternoon, we stroll through the Venetian heart of the city, once known as Candia, passing its main monuments and concluding with a final magnificent dinner.
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Arrival and Departure Information
Arrival Airport – Crete (Heraklion)
Departure Airport – Crete (Heraklion)
Check in time at our hotel in Heraklion is after 13:00 so we recommend choosing a flight that arrives mid to late afternoon. Check out time is 11:00. We will arrange local transfers from Heraklion airport and to Heraklion airport on the first and last day of the tour.
Booking Flights The cheapest way to book flights is directly with the airline online.
If you prefer to book with a travel agent, we are happy to recommend specialists in a number of countries around the world, please contact our office for more details.
Travel Insurance:We consider adequate travel insurance to be essential. You should ensure that you take out a suitable policy, to make sure that your trip is properly covered.
For UK Nationals, travel to the EU will change from 1 January 2021. Please check the current situation regarding visa requirements before you travel. You can find more information online here.
Citizens of European Union or Schengen Treaty member states need no visa for Greece, those from the United States, Canada and Australia do not need to apply for a visa to visit Greece for trips of less than 90 days duration.
Athens, Crete and the Greek islands If you are planning to stay in Athens before or after your tour we have included below links to more information and things to see and do. If you intend to add time on Crete or any other Greek island, we are happy to offer information and advice.
Further Details about our Exploring Crete tour Our Exploring Crete tour aims to be a truly comprehensive and in-depth introduction to the archaeology, history, culture and landscapes of this great and beautiful island, taking in the most famous of the Minoan sites, as well as locations further off the beaten track and derived from all periods of Crete’s long history.
There can be no doubt that the sites on the itinerary are unusually fascinating and that the various landscapes travelled are especially beautiful, but you need to be aware that the trip is an intensive and occasionally physically demanding one. In contrast to our gulet cruises which tend to visit one ancient city per day, and are designed with rest and relaxation as well as history in mind, our Exploring Crete tour visits at least two archaeological or historical sites on most days. Since the island is a large one and we aim to show all aspects of its natural diversity, some days include relatively long driving times, usually through stunning landscapes. We use a comfortable coach with ample space for all of our group and try, as far as possible, to make sure to arrive at our evening destinations with time to spare for refreshment and relaxation. A free day around the middle of the tour is given over fully to relaxation or exploration at our guests’ individual discretion.
With the exception of the final night, we spend two or more nights at each of the hotels/accommodations on the itinerary. Except at Iraklio, where we use a large and modern city hotel, this itinerary features smaller and family-run boutique hotels, two of them agritouristic projects involving the renovation of remote traditional villages, one a 16th century Venetian town house, and one a fine late 19th century urban seaside villa. Each of them has its own distinctive style, character and atmosphere. They are complemented by meals at a carefully chosen and very personal selection of restaurants reflecting the entire breadth of Cretan culinary tradition, as well as by three wine tastings at some of the islands’ best wineries.
The sites themselves often have rough and uneven terrain with loose stones underfoot, so guests must be fit and well to take part in this tour.
Our Exploring Crete tour is a unique archaeological, cultural and gastronomic experience, in a small group and with highly experienced specialised guides. You will complete it feeling a real connection with and understanding of one of the Mediterranean’s most fabled islands.