A ‘return to nature’ through alternative tourism is a unique experience. Visitors have the opportunity to come to contact with traditional life by staying in one of the many agritourism cottages in the hinterland.
Agritourism lodges and several specialized companies provide seminars for traditional cooking, making pastry, kneading bread and collecting of wild greens, herbs, mushrooms, snails and truffle.
Moreover, one can participate in the harvest of olives, the process of the olive oil production, distillation of raki, vintage, honey production, vegetable cultivation, collection of milk and dairy products processing, raising of domestic animals, sheep – shearing, etc.
WINE IS A BASIC COMPONENT OF THE GREEK CULTURE.
There are thousands references from the Minoan times to the cultivation of vineyards for wine making. Minoan varieties are still grown today, in the same fields and sometimes with the same methods.
There is no Cretan meal without wine, which the landlord particularly praises. Almost every house has its own wine. The vineyard needs care after the harvest, starting with a basic trimming. The main trimming takes place, depending on the area and the altitude, in January or February. The vineyard needs of course a lot more works, like disinfection with sulphur.
The ripening and the harvest take place depending on the variety and the altitude of the area in the first ten days of August until the beginning of October. Until then the vine requires constant supervision and work, for the prevention of various diseases.
The social dimension of the grape-harvest gives us a characteristic aspect of agricultural life in Crete. From dawn friends and relatives collect and carry the grapes. When the grape-harvest ends, the grapes are pressed either with the feet or with machines and the grape juice is produced. The sunshine of Crete gives the juice a lot of sugars so we have several high-degree wines.
At this moment the landlady will take grape juice, “boil” it with ashes and serve it with almonds, walnuts, sesame and cinnamon. When the pressing ends, the grape juice is placed in barrels or remains in the press for some hours to obtain colour and tannins. Then it’s time party time. Everybody sits around the rich table with the best wines of the house and gives wishes to the landlord. The fatigue of the day is transformed into song and dance.
THE WINES ARE IN THE BARRELS AND THE BOILING HAS BEEN COMPLETED.
Autumn is already there and the stoves smoke in the villages. Everywhere there is a smell of wet soil. It is the time when chestnuts accompany a glass of tsikoudia. Slowly the preparations for the harvest of the olive begin. The remains of the pressed grapes have been sealed in the barrels and after the completion of the fermentation they are ready for distillation. Tsikoudia, according to the legislation in force, must have 37,5% alcohol and its maximum methanol concentration should not be more than 8 gr. per litre.
The distillation all over Greece is allowed only with a special permit. In all villages there are special cauldrons in which the remains of the grapes and the liquid of the barrels are placed, sealed airtight and boiled until the temperature is proper for the distillation to start. From the cover of the cauldron begins a pipe which is usually cooled externally with water so that the steam produced becomes liquid and then comes out as tsikoudia.
The “protoraki”(=first raki) is the first distillation that flows from the cauldron and is particularly high-degree. In Crete, in many villages, berries are still distilled to make mournoraki (=berry raki). In the past even arbutus berries were distilled.
The host usually invites friends and a barbecue party is organized in the autumn landscape, with coals from the fire of the cauldron, makeshift tables and Cretan snacks: excellent wild mushrooms, chestnuts, cheese pies and greens, all products of this specific season. Even today the tradition continues, showing, through the agricultural activities, how important the gatherings of people are in the Cretan society.
SEVERAL CUSTOMS REVIVE ACROSS THE COUNTRYSIDE DURING CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR’S EVE.
In the past, white animals (sheep and cows) should enter houses in order to keep evil spirits away. Similarly, sea squills are hanged on the doors as a symbol of immortality. One of the most remarkable modern Christmas traditions is the Divine Liturgy inside a real manger in the cave of Marathokefala.
Ancient customs for curing patients are still alive. In Sfakia patients devote dough dolls to Saint Anthony to cure their illnesses and in Psiloritis they devote human shaped breads, lazaropsoma, during memorial services. During the festival of Agia Pelagia, patients bury their aching legs or hands in the sand of the beach. In Achlade clothes are put on the sacred turpentine tree of Saint Fanourios. During the celebration of the Holy Cross at the top of Kofinas revives a dendrolatric custom; the fruits of three trees, which locals call apples of Kofinas are gathered, blessed by the priest and shared to the pilgrims that eat them.
Carnival is another great celebration with roots deep into the past and is enthusiastically celebrated in places like Gergeri in Heraklion, with Arkoudiarides (wild bears) wearing furs and bells, the soiled faces of the Lerades, Siviani which is a special mask made of the roots of American aloe vera plant (known in Greek as the immortal plant) and other typical figures such as the Camel and the Cadi (Turkish judge). Larger cities on the island organize parades and treasure hunts.
Apart from the common Easter customs in Greece, Crete has its own local traditions to show. These include the auction of the Cross, sheep blessing under the epitaph, the burning of Judas, the transferring of the Holy Light at home while remaining speechless and leaving red eggs on graves. Also during the celebration of Saint John the Theologian at Marmaketo, on Lassithi plateau, the dried orchids of the epitaph bloom again. In Agios Thomas and on the Asterousia range ancient habits revive; temples and houses are surrounded with waxed ropes, to keep evil spirits away.
There are more customs, such as Klidonas, celebrated on the day of Saint John the Baptist in late June. During the feast of the Transfiguration of Christ, pilgrims devote the first grapes of the season to bless their vineyards, while on the same day at the top of the peak Afendis of the range Dikti, participants try to find coins in the soil around the church. On November 3rd, on the feast day of Saint George Methystis (“methystis” is the one that makes you drunk) barrels with wine are first opened. The villages Asi Gonia and Karoti in Rethymnon host the celebration of Saint George. Sheep are milked before the priest and milk is shared to the congregation.
ECOTOURISM IS A FORM OF TOURISM ASSOCIATED WITH VARIOUS FORMS OF TOURISM ACTIVITY IN NATURE.
These are activities that do not necessarily contribute to the protection of the natural environment, but include all those activities organized in the natural environment. The rich natural environment of Crete is suitable for a variety of activities.
VISITORS OF CRETE CAN PRACTICE SOME OF THEIR FAVORITE SPORTS OR BE INTRODUCED TO NEW ONES.
Every year, navy clubs organize open-sea sailing races such as J24, Regatta and Laser. Moreover, modern basketball and soccer courts host international matches. Associations of martial arts host world class events. Athletics, marathon and trail running are also very common.
Apart from common sports, for which facilities are available all over the island, there are less known sports to practice. Paintball is very popular in major cities. Similarly, there are shooting, archery and fencing clubs. Towns and some hotels house bowling centers that organize national and international tournaments. There are also many tracks for kart and unmanned vehicles. A 9-hole golf course operates in Elounda, while the 18-hole course at Hersonissos is soon expected to re-operate.
CRETE IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR HOLIDAY DESTINATIONS IN THE WORLD.
Surrounded by crystal clear waters, it is a paradise in the heart of the Mediterranean. Diving tourism in our country did not take its first tentative steps until the early 90s. The majority of diving centres and diving training centres are located in Crete, Corfu or Athens and Piraeus.
Generally speaking, Greek waters are among the most important archaeological sites in the world. In their depths lie sunken cities, prehistoric coastal settlements, a myriad collection of towers, shipwrecks, and ancient harbours. One of the most well-publicised and remarkable efforts to locate and discover shipwrecks in Greece was that conducted by the world-renowned French explorer Jacques Cousteau, with his famous ship, the “Calypso”.
In 1975 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Greek Tourism Organisation invited Cousteau to Greece to shoot a series of documentary films entitled “Calypso’s Search for Atlantis”. Greek archaeologists and a multi-member research team from the newly established Institute of Marine Archaeology (HIMA) participated in the mission. Cousteau explored several areas of the world, and in Crete they included Heraklion, the islands of Dias and Pseira, Kavo Sidero and Agia Pelagia Bay. The findings of the mission were particularly important as they provided much information on the Neolithic period, the Archaic period, and reached as far the World War 2. Off the uninhabited island of Dias, opposite Heraklion, they found four ancient shipwrecks, Venetian anchors, and an underwater harbour 3000 years old.
One very important discovery was the “relic” of the French fleet’s second flagship “La Therese” which sank 344 years ago. The ship’s secrets remained sealed for centuries on the seabed until 1976 when Jacques Yves Cousteau and his group (including a number of Cretan divers) pulled up 129 everyday objects, as well as coins and ammunition (mostly shot). But what led to the identification of the “La Therese” was a bronze cannon bearing the emblem of Charles IX of France, and the personal belongings of the Duke de Navaille. Today the larger portion of these findings are housed in the Koules Fortress at Heraklion harbour and in the Historical Museum of Crete.
It should be noted that current legislation grants Greek Archaeological Service the ability to restrict access to every inch of Greek waters and to allow diving only at specific locations limited in area and number. Furthermore, according to the Article of the law pertaining to underwater area legal protection and management, the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities categorises any wreck of more than 50 years old as “historically significant”, and diving is forbidden within 300 meters of it.
Most divers disagree with this decision, however, and have asked the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities to indicate which areas of the sea and the seabed specifically constitute archeological sites, leaving the rest free for exploration by devotees of the aquatic element and the life that lies hidden within it. Apart from these submerged cities, however, any ordinary swimmer can easily discover the beauty of the deep and its rich underwater life from almost any of the beaches of Crete.
THE MEDITERRANEAN CLIMATE OF CRETE, THE MODERN HEALTH STRUCTURES AND THE INNOVATIVE SERVICES THAT ARE OFFERED, MAKE THE ISLAND A COMPETITIVE DESTINATION, COMBINING VACATIONS AND TREATMENT HARMONICALLY.
Medical tourism has been an upcoming power over the last few years. Nowadays, many illnesses are caused by psychological causes, such as stress, intense everyday life, modern demands, human relations, the lack of social cohesion, lack of close friend and family bonds and so forth.
The climate, the nature, the sea, walking, adventure, sports, asceticism, historical and cultural heritage, discovery, wellness, cruises, nutrition, participation, the change of environment are all contributing to the mental health. Crete is an ideal destination that combines all of the above.
Moreover, patients who could not go on a trip to another city or another country than the one covering them medically until now, can now enjoy all the benefits that Crete provides, while using the medical services that are offered throughout the island.
Also, the climate of Crete is characterized by sunshine with many refreshing qualities, contributing to the fact that Greek thalassotherapy and spa facilities offered by luxury hotels are among the best in the world. This makes the island an ideal destination for spa hotels, wellness spa hotels, healing and medical tourism generally.
Smells from kneading and vintage, agricultural works in olive groves and vineyards, wandering in the whitewashed streets and through the village squares, voices of children playing around, bleating animals. Pictures that today are like distant memories. Yet the visitor of Crete can still come in contact with this traditional way of life, while staying in one of the rural villages or one of the many agritourism cottages scattered all over the island, which can offer similar experiences.
Agritourism lodges and some specialized companies provide seminars for traditional cooking, pastry, kneading bread and collecting wild greens, herbs, mushrooms, snails and truffle. Moreover, one can participate in the harvest of olives, the process of olive oil production, distillation of raki, vintage, honey production, vegetable cultivation, collection of milk and processing of dairy products, raising domestic animals, shearing sheep, etc.