An Archaeobotanical Odyssey of Crete
MAY 27 - JUNE 8, 2024
12 nights/13 days
Participants: 12 max
Cost: $3,600 per person all-inclusive
(excluding airfare to/from Greece)
MAY 27 - JUNE 8, 2024
(*this retreat is fully booked--fill out the form below to be put on the waitlist)
Deeply connect to the history and ecology of Crete through an immersion of this island's unique archaeology & botanical heritage. Archaeo- (old, ancient) + botany (the study of plants): there is an entire subfield of archaeology called archaeobotany, or paleoethnobotany, which is the study of how past humans used and related to plants. Under the right conditions, remains of plants (primarily seeds, charcoal, and pollen) can be found in the archaeological record, which offers information about which plants humans cultivated or wild-harvested for food, medicine, fuel, or textiles. Using plants as a way to connect to the past brings history to life. On this archaeobotanical tour, we will visit archaeological sites and museums to learn how past humans related to plants; we will connect with people still honoring traditional ways of farming, cooking, and healing with the same plants; and we will meet these special plants in the wild. An archaeobotanical tour in a Mediterranean country is the opportunity to meet many familiar plants growing in their natural habitat (where they have been growing alongside humans for thousands of years!)--oregano, thyme, lavender, chamomile, olives, grapes, sage, fennel, saffron, rosemary, and so much more.
Since ancient times, Crete has been the epicenter of the botanical trade, hosting some of the most potent medicinal plants and the most delicious food in the Mediterranean world. This is partially due to the island's unique geology, which creates many different microclimates (there's even a subtropical pocket where avocados, bananas, and mangos are cultivated!). Over the course of two weeks, we will explore the archaeology, people, and plants of each region of Crete with epic hikes, wild harvesting and medicine making, farm tours, traditional cooking classes, museums & archaeological sites. Note that this is an adventurous, eco-luxury retreat, packed with activities and transitions (we will be staying in three different locations). If you like fully immersive and experiential traveling, this trip is for you!
Day 1: Chania
We will begin our adventure in Crete’s most romantic city, Chania. The historic Old Town carries thousands of years of story, from its foundation as a Minoan (prehistoric) palatial center, to its Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, and Ottoman occupations. Wander along the cobblestone pedestrian streets of the Old Town to arrive at our first guesthouse, Hotel Off, which inhabits a renovated Venetian mansion dating to the 13th century AD. We’ll meet each other for a pre-dinner drink on the hotel’s rooftop lounge with sweeping views of the town’s historic harbor, Egyptian Lighthouse, and the Mosque of Kioutsouk Hassan. For our first meal together, we will savor the unique culinary heritage of Crete at the legendary restaurant, Tamam, set in a building that was once an Ottoman hammam (steam bath).
Day 2: Botanical Park & Archaeology Museum
Today we will meet the two main themes of our journey together: plants and archaeology. We will drive shortly outside the city to the Botanical Park and Gardens of Chania and take a leisurely stroll through the collection of subtropical & Mediterranean plants and trees, making new friends as we go. We’ll enjoy lunch with a view at the on-site restaurant, which specializes in traditional Cretan cuisine infused artfully with fruits and herbs directly from the gardens. Following, we will spend the afternoon at the Archaeological Museum of Chania, learning about the earliest human habitation on the island, as well as the pre-historic (Minoan), Classical, and Roman periods of Chania, the western region of Crete. Everyone will have the opportunity to rest or shop before we gather again for dinner in the Old Town.
Day 3: Ancient Lissos
Today we pilgrimage to the ancient healing sanctuary of Lissos on the south coast near the fishing village of Sougia. In order to reach the site, we will hike through a small gorge and mountain path blanketed with wild oregano and thyme, and arrive at the remains of the 3rd century BC Temple to Asclepius, god of healing. In ancient times, people from all over the Mediterranean world would pilgrimage here, seeking healing in the sacred spring that still flows underneath the sanctuary. While there, we will learn about ancient medicine, drink from the sacred spring, and enjoy a leisurely picnic and swim at the beautiful pebble beach (once the harbor of the ancient city). In the late afternoon, we will call upon a local fisherman to ferry us back to town, and then journey up into the mountains for a family meal at Aliki’s friends’ taverna in Lakkoi.
Day 4: Bees,Trees, & Ancient Cities
Today we will learn about the ancient practice of beekeeping and the medicinal properties of honey at a local farm. We will taste many varieties of honey and olive oil before meeting the ancient olive tree of Ano Vouves, believed to be at least 2,000 years old. From there, we will continue the journey to the far west coast of the island to the ancient city of Phalasarna. After the site visit, we will cool off at the pink sand beach, and enjoy dinner at one of Crete’s favorite farm-to-table restaurants, Gramboussa. Back in Chania, everyone will have one more opportunity for a lively night on the town before we move on to the mountains in the morning.
Day 5: Traditional Farming
We depart Chania and head east, driving through the stunning Therisos Gorge to reach the mountain farm of the Ntounias family. There, we will learn about traditional ways of farming and enjoy an unforgettable lunch cooked traditionally in clay pots over fire. On our way further east, we will stop at Maravel Gardens in Spili, an impressive herb garden, apothecary, and cafe, and go on a short hike in Patsos Gorge, where we might meet some rare medicinals in the wild. Then, we will take a scenic drive along the south slope of the great mountain, Psiloritis (Mount Ida), believed to be the birthplace of Zeus. We will make our home for the next four nights at Eleonas Country Village, situated at the base of the magnificent Rouvas Gorge.
Day 6: Eleonas
After so much adventuring, today we will rest and rejuvenate in the serene setting of Eleonas. While there, you can enjoy your time at the pool, in the sauna, reading a book with a view of the south coast in the distance, or walking around the many trails surrounding the village. In the afternoon, we will take a short walk to the spring-fed Votamos Lake, wild harvest some herbs, and gather back at the village for a medicine making workshop. We will enjoy our dinners these days at Eleonas’s own restaurant, giving everyone the option to turn in early or stay up late drinking krasi (wine) & raki (Cretan digestif).
Day 7: Minoan Palaces
From 1900-1450 BC, the Minoans, an emerging complex culture of people living on Crete, began constructing elaborate architectural complexes that early archaeologists identified as palaces. Today we’ll explore the Minoan palace of Phaistos and the neighboring settlement of Agia Triada and learn about how the Minoan civilization organized their wealth of agricultural surplus and engaged with the natural world. In the late afternoon, we’ll reach the ancient harbor town of these cities, Kommos. We’ll relax at the beach until sunset and enjoy dinner at a traditional taverna in Vori.
Day 8: Rouvas Gorge
Our last full day in the mountains at Eleonas, we will go on an epic hike through Rouvas Gorge, meeting rare plants, plenty of goats, and forest nymphs as we go. We’ll be rewarded at the top of the mountain with magical spring water and the shade of ancient oak trees. We’ll nibble on summer fruits and cheese pies while reciting ancient Greek nature poetry. The afternoon will be free, but those inspired by the honey’d tongues of the ancients will be encouraged to compose a poem to share as we dine together under the wild mountain stars.
Day 9: Knossos & Wine
This morning we’ll head to the big city of Heraklion to experience the most impressive archaeological museum on the island, followed by a visit to the Minoan Palace of Knossos, the legendary home of King Minos and his labyrinth. We’ll enjoy a leisurely lunch in the countryside while we learn about one of the most important plants of the Mediterranean: the grape. Lyrarakis Winery specializes in natural winemaking using ancient varietals of grapes that have been cultivated on the island for thousands of years. Then, we’ll head east for our last home on the tour, Istron Luxury Villas.
Day 10: Minoan Cooking
We will wake up to the majestic view over Istron Bay and enjoy a free morning to take a morning dip, get a massage, or walk along one of nearby paths to find a secret beach. When we gather in the afternoon, we will learn about Cretan archaeobotany (or paleoethnobotany), the study of past human-plant interactions through the analysis of organic remains recovered in archaeological excavations. In the afternoon, we’ll have a special guest (an archaeologist and Minoan culinary expert) come to teach us how to cook in Minoan-style ceramic pots over an open hearth fire. We’ll prepare and enjoy a three course meal paired with a local wine and Cretan tea.
Day 11: Boat Tour, Elounda, & Spinalonga
Today we are going on a private boat tour of Mirabello Bay! Departing from the beautiful beach town of Elounda, we will stop first to learn about the interesting history of the island of Spinalonga, and then find beautiful coves to swim, or perhaps snorkel among the ruins of the sunken city of Olous. We’ll enjoy lunch together on the boat, and then dinner at one of the seaside taverns in Elounda.
Day 12: Kritsa & Lato
Our last full day together, we will drive toward the Lasithi Plateau to the quaint village of Kritsa, where traditional weaving arts are kept alive. While there, we will visit Rodanthi Museum of Rare and Endemic Plants of Crete. After lunch in one of the village tavernas, we will take a short drive to the ancient city of Lato, one of the most prominent cities and sanctuaries of the region in the 5th-4th centuries B.C. Then, we’ll head toward the region’s capitol city, Agioa Nikolaus, and take a short tour of Bioaroma, an organic essential oil and cosmetic company. Everyone will have the opportunity to pick up last minute souvenirs before gathering for our last memorable dinner together.
Day 13: Closing Circle
After breakfast, we will gather for a final walk around Istron Bay, maybe taking a final dip together and sharing our favorite memories of our time together. We will journey together to depart from Heraklion. Participants can decide whether to be dropped off at the Heraklion Airport or the town port, if they plan on island hopping by boat. Those staying behind can have one last lunch together at Peskesi, one of the best farm-to-table restaurants on island. Kalo taxidi—safe & happy journeys til we meet again!
Travel Information for Participants:
It is usually more economical to purchase a round trip ticket to Athens (ATH) and then separate tickets through Aegean Airlines to/from Crete. You might also consider a 2-3 night stay in Athens before or after the retreat. Aliki can give recommendations.
Everyone will purchase 2 one-way tickets to arrive and depart from Crete, because we are arriving into Chania airport (CHQ) on May 27th and departing from Heraklion airport (HER) on June 8th.
Suggested arrival: A3334, Aegean Airlines, 27 May 2024
ATH 13:15 —> CHQ 14:05
Suggested Departure: A3315, Aegean Airlines, 8 Jun 2024
HER 15:00 --> ATH 15:50
A $1200 non-refundable deposit is required to secure your place. This is an intimate, small group retreat, so register early!
After initial deposit of $1200, you may pay the remainder in 2 installments.
Payment 1: $1200 Due Feb 1st
Payment 2: $1200 Due May 1st