Outside the front door of our villa on the mountain was a fountain. Really just a spigot in a stone hearth bringing water up from the well, but the water from this Cretan well was the best I have ever tasted. Perhaps it was the purity or the view to the Aegean Sea while filling our bottles. Or more likely it was the utter simplicity of getting sparkling, clear water from an outdoor well. It was perfect in taste and experience. So began my introduction to Crete. And the culinary experience extended well beyond the well.
The global economic shifts of 2009, coupled with environmental threats and specter of mass tourism, are changing the way many choose to travel.
Manufactured experiences in large crowds are becoming unacceptable to many of today’s travelers. The rush to Tuscany and villa living was the beginning. But it is going further, beyond just “carbon footprints.” Luxury for many sophisticated travelers is not about price but about looking for those experiences that will help reset their “consumer” and lifestyle perspectives. Is Crete the next step in this trend? The next Tuscany? Or is the culinary traveling public now rediscovering the real roots of culinary tourism?
I had been to Crete many times, always a one-day stop on a cruise ship to visit the Palace of Knossos. Then back on the ship to explore other islands. Islands that are touted as blue and white oases in the Aegean, as opposed to the “historical’ Crete.
But this time my visit was to explore the food, wine and lifestyle of Crete. What I found is an island that I predict will be the new hot spot. Crete will become the place to go to learn the philosophy of living more simply. Where you can enjoy living at one with the land and enjoying the finest food, wine, history and je ne sais quoi of village life. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.
The meal that defined our trip and my perspective of Crete was on our night of arrival. Around midnight, after nearly 20 hours of travel, we walked the 5 minute walk from our villa at Crete Family Villas, to the local town square of Pendamodi. The Ouzeria was closed so we asked if the local bar had anything we could eat. I was thinking peanuts and pretzels. Little did we know that Carlos, the owner, walked to his own home and asked his wife to fix us a meal. What we got were the freshest tomatoes, greek salad, fava beans and bread I have ever tasted. The wine, olive oil and cheese were local and as usually happens, perfectly complemented the entire meal. (My husband and I had recently attended an elegant dinner at one of Paris’ Palace hotels, champagne, duck, caviar etc. and we both agree, our dinner in the Pendamodi bar was far superior.) I knew we had found someplace special.
During our 4 days on Crete, we explored wineries, wonderful cafes, restaurants and picked vegetables from the villa’s gardens. Culinary travel at it’s best. Everyone we met gave us fresh apricots from their trees, homemade apricot marmalade and industrial size lemons. Farm/Garden to table was obvious. You saw the farm from the table at every turn. Oregano never tasted like this and this is the way feta cheese was meant to be spiced. We were fortunate to meet with Nikki Rose, an early leader in the field of sustainable travel (though she now suspects the term) and someone who perfected the rationale for and teaching of culinary travel. Check out her website for some wonderful insights.
Of course we visited the Palace of Knossos. I knew the story of the discovery and the now regretted reconstruction of the site. Black and red columns are in many of my past pictures. What had not sunk in before was the elegance and culture of the peaceful Minoan civilization. From what we know they were closely attuned to living with the land. No deities, but respect for the inner forces of the earth. No wars or armies, and do you know why? They were ruled by women. Many mysteries remain surrounding the Minoans. We were also honored to meet with Dr. Minas Tsikritsis, a leader in deciphering the enigmatic Linear A and B scripts found on the island. There is much left to learn but this could be the original civilization that learned to live at one with the land, and live well.
Greek island life has always been depicted with a “Momma Mia” exuberance. That is still there, in spades. But sitting in a bar, in a small mountain village at midnight, eating tomatoes from the bar owner’s garden while looking at the lights over the Aegean, offers a chance to capture another type of travel “exuberance.” One that I find many are looking for today. Experiential seems too trite a term. Maybe “Minoan” will become the new most searched for type of “Luxury” travel. I would bet on it.
Plan your trip to Greece and consider Crete as the ultimate destination.