Sustainable Travel. What is it? How to achieve it while meeting consumer expectations and the expectations from locales for low to no impact visits? The travel industry and travelers are all navigating this confusing landscape. Even if the answers aren’t clear, proven, or easy, every step, even backward ones, will help. The terms may be confusing, but the ultimate goal is not. To enable travelers to explore this wonderful world and ensure that their most lasting impact will be the preservation and greater understanding of the differences that make it so perfect. Here is my take on a recent trip that showed me that “what is old is new again”..in Crete.
Vineyards and Olive Groves on Crete
Outside the front door of our Crete Family villa on the mountain outside Heraklion was a fountain. Really just a spigot in a stone hearth bringing water up from the well. The water from this Cretan well was delicious. Perhaps it was the purity or the view to the Aegean Sea while refilling our bottles or just the simplicity of getting sparkling, clear water from an outdoor well. It was perfect in taste and experience. So began my introduction to Crete.
Consumer and Consuming Preferences
Globally, as travelers become more concerned about the environmental and social impact of their travel choices, coupled with the increasing demand for lifestyle-changing experiences, you have the perfect formula for eco-sensitive travel. The rush to Tuscany and villa living in the early 2000s was the beginning. But today it is going further, beyond reducing carbon footprints and not using plastic bottles. Sophisticated travelers are looking for those experiences that will help reset their consumer or consuming perspectives. Is Crete the next step in this trend? The next Tuscany?
I had been to Crete many times, always a one-day cruise ship stop to visit the Palace of Knossos. Then back on the ship to explore other islands. Crowded islands that are touted as blue and white instagrammable oases in the Aegean, as opposed to the “historical’ and somewhat old school Crete.
The Palace of Knossos
The Perfect Meal
This time my visit to Crete was to explore the food, wine, and lifestyle of Crete. What I found was a destination that has always embraced the philosophy of living slowly and more simply. Where you can enjoy the finest food, wine, history and je ne sais quoi of village life while respecting local culture and your impact on the locale. Hyperbole? I don’t think so.
The meal that defined our trip and my perspective of Crete was on our night of arrival. After nearly 20 hours of travel, we walked the 5-minute walk from our villa to the local town square of Pendamodi. It was midnight and the locale ouzeria was closed so we asked if the local bar had anything we could eat. I was thinking of 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 terroir dictates, 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.
A Perfect Meal
During our week on Crete, we explored wineries, wonderful cafes, restaurants and picked vegetables from the villa’s gardens. Everyone we met gave us fresh apricots from their trees, homemade apricot marmalade, and industrial size lemons. Farm or garden to table was the standard, not the exception. 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.
My kind of biodiversity….
Minoans were Ruled by Women
Of course, we visited the Palace of Knossos. I knew the story of its discovery and the now regretted reconstruction of the site. Black and red columns are in many of my past pictures. What I had not fully appreciated in previous visits was the elegance and culture of the peaceful Minoan civilization and how their values permeate present-day Crete. From the little 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. Their rulers were all women; need I say more?
The author walking in the footsteps of the female Minoan rulers.
We were 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 we do know that the Minoans learned to live at one with the land and live well. If you venture just outside the big cities and all-inclusive resorts, you will find that same philosophy today. Not in crafted tourist experiences that shuttle bus loads through wineries and farms, but in little bars, ouzerias, family gardens and hillsides of luscious apricots and olives.
A ” Mamma Mia” Exuberance
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 a type of “luxury” travel.