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Ecotourism in Crete: Cretan Holidays with Purpose

by Crete Locals

  • Posted 9 months ago

Ecotourism in Crete offers a unique approach to experiencing one of Greece’s most beloved islands. In this blog post, we delve into how Crete is not just a destination for those seeking the sun and sea, but also for those who aim to travel responsibly. This majestic island, rich in history and natural beauty, has embraced sustainable practices that cater to the eco-conscious traveller. Here, you can find holidays that combine relaxation with respect for the environment and local culture. Join us as we explore the different facets of ecotourism in Crete, from eco-friendly accommodations and activities to local conservation efforts, ensuring your holiday leaves a positive impact on this enchanting island.

Understanding Ecotourism and Why It Matters in Crete

Ecotourism is defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” This form of tourism is intended to have a low impact on the environment while benefiting the local communities and ensuring that the places and cultures visited are also maintained and preserved for future generations. The main focus of ecotourism is on experiencing and learning about nature, its landscape, flora, fauna, and their habitats, as well as cultural history, traditions, and lifestyles.

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As Crete witnesses an influx of global visitors, the need for ecotourism becomes paramount. This sustainable approach ensures that while travellers immerse in the Cretan experience, they do so without compromising the ecological balance. By adopting ecotourism, we’re not just conserving the pristine landscapes but also enriching our understanding of Crete’s intricate ecosystems and vibrant local cultures.

Sustainability in Crete: A Commitment to Future Generations

Crete, an island of ancient myths, sun-soaked beaches, and rich biodiversity, is deeply conscious of its responsibility to both its natural heritage and its future generations. As one of Greece’s most coveted travel destinations, Crete has made significant strides in intertwining sustainability with its socio-economic progress. From protecting its unique ecosystems to ensuring responsible tourism, the island has launched a range of initiatives that showcase its commitment to sustainable practices. The balance of preserving the age-old traditions while embracing modern eco-friendly approaches has placed Crete at the forefront of the green movement in the Mediterranean. Here are some commendable initiatives that Crete has taken over the years:

  1. Natura 2000 Sites in Crete: The European Natura 2000 network has several designated areas in Crete. These sites are meant to protect the island’s rich biodiversity and ensure the conservation of vulnerable species and habitats.
  2. Green Key Program: Some hotels in Crete have been awarded the Green Key, which is an eco-label for tourism and leisure establishments that are recognized for their sustainable operations.
  3. Agri-tourism and Eco-tourism Initiatives: There are numerous agri-tourism and eco-tourism ventures on the island that promote sustainable travel, local farming, and cultural experiences.
  4. Local Marine Conservation Projects: Given Crete’s rich marine biodiversity, there have been initiatives and organizations focused on marine conservation, including protecting endangered species and promoting sustainable fishing practices. For example ARCHELON – the Sea Turtle Protection Society of Greece.
  5. Renewable Energy Projects: With its sunny climate, Crete has potential for solar energy production, and there have been projects aimed at harnessing this energy source for the island’s power needs.
  6. Water Conservation Initiatives: Due to Crete’s susceptibility to droughts, there have historically been efforts to promote water-saving measures, both among residents and tourists.
  7. Waste Management and Recycling Programs: Efforts to promote recycling and reduce waste, especially in tourist-heavy areas, have been part of Crete’s sustainability goals.
  8. Environmental Education Programs: Various non-governmental organizations have been active in Crete, promoting environmental education in schools and among the community.

Choose the ‘Shoulder Months’ for your Cretan Holidays

ecoturism in Crete
Olive tree plantations in Crete

Visiting Crete during the summer months of July and August might be on many travellers’ bucket lists, but there’s a secret charm to exploring the island in the shoulder season. Crete’s sun-drenched beauty extends its warm embrace well beyond the peak months. Opting for a getaway in May-June or September-October in Crete presents not only a respite from the crowds but also a more intimate and authentic experience. Think of better prices, serene beaches without the battle for sunbeds, and local communities that greet you with an extra dose of warmth. This time of the year lets you relish Crete without the constraints of excessive planning or reservations, allowing for spontaneous adventures and genuine interactions.

Crete’s allure lies in its rich tapestry of culture, nature, and traditions that flourish all year round. With a thriving permanent population, the island boasts an array of establishments that remain operational throughout the seasons. Given its southernmost position in Greece, Crete enjoys a warmer climate, making the spring and autumn months perfect for eco-friendly activities. Whether you’re hoping to witness the island’s unique take on Orthodox Easter celebrations in April or dive into the age-old traditions of olive picking and rakokazana (a raki distillery experience) in the fall, there’s always a cultural gem awaiting discovery. And for those eager to forge a deeper connection, spending Christmas amidst the Cretan hospitality promises memories for a lifetime.

Sustainable Stays: Eco-friendly Accommodations in Crete

Imagine staying in a tranquil lodge powered entirely by renewable energy or in a traditional home refurbished with upcycled materials. Crete’s accommodation options now increasingly embody these principles. With a growing focus on sustainability, many hotels are incorporating energy-efficient practices, recycling programs, and water-saving initiatives. Such lodgings often come with the added benefit of organic meals, local cultural interactions, and experiences that conventional hotels might not offer.

Let’s take a look at five Eco-friendly Accommodations below:

Enagron Ecotourism Village

Location: Main Street, Axós, 74051, Greece

Photo Credit: Enagron Ecotourism Village

Built in the centre of Crete at the foot of Psiloritis at an altitude of about 500 meters, Enagron Ecotourism Village provides you with the opportunity to know, explore, live and enjoy the uniqueness of Cretan nature. Enagron will immerse you in authentic Cretan culture and sustainable practices. Set amidst a 15-acre organic farm of olive trees, vineyards, and aromatic plants, you will experience traditional Cretan “Philoxenia” hospitality. Learn about the longevity-enhancing Mediterranean Diet, partake in local rituals like bread and cheese-making, and join in traditional activities like winemaking and the festive raki (tsikoudia) distillation process. With opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and understanding Cretan agricultural practices, Enagron epitomizes ecotourism and the sustainable celebration of local traditions.

Dalabelos Agro-retreat 

Location: Angeliana Geropotamou, Angeliana, 74052, Greece

Photo Credit: Dalabelos Estate

Dalabelos Estate is your ideal holiday destination if you are looking for an eco-friendly, agrotourism complex and quiet resort in Crete. Dalabelos Estate seamlessly combines eco-tourism with authentic Cretan agriculture. Comprising 10 modern, stone-built studios, each equipped with modern amenities and offering picturesque farm views, this resort is a sustainable haven. Run by the Petrodaskalakis family, its 1,000 olive trees, vineyard, orchards, and vegetable gardens supply fresh produce for the onsite restaurant, where guests savour traditional Cretan dishes, including handmade bread and succulent lamb. Visitors are welcomed into the daily operations, with opportunities to partake in cooking classes, estate work, pottery courses, and eco-psychological activities, making it a serene and holistic sustainable experience.

Kiani Beach Resort Family All-Inclusive

Location: Kalami, Kiani Beach, Kalives 730 03, Greece

Photo Credit: Kiani Beach Resort

As an eco-friendly hotel, it blends in with the natural surroundings and respects the environment not only with its architecture but with its strong philosophy of ecological conscience and daily eco-acts. Because of this, they were awarded the HACCP & TRAVELIFE awards. This exceptional Chania resort, right on the award-winning blue flag beach of Kiani Akti, offers an amazing retreat for families with young children as it has been specially designed to comfortably accommodate both adults and younger guests. You can find more about their sustainability policies here:

Big Blue Studios Myrtos

Location: Main Street, Myrtos, 72056, Greece

Photo Credit: Big Blue Studios Myrtos

Nestled in the picturesque village of Myrtos in southern Crete, Big Blue Studios Myrtos offers a serene view of the Mediterranean Sea. Prioritizing eco-friendliness, these spacious and soundproofed rooms are enveloped by a lush garden filled with citrus trees and aromatic herbs. Committed to sustainability, Big Blue Studios practices conscientious management of water, energy, and waste. They’ve initiated a robust recycling and composting system, and their 10 Kw photovoltaic unit offsets all CO2 emissions, showcasing their dedication to a greener tomorrow.

Candia Park Village

Location: Havania, Agios Nikolaos, 72100, Greece

Photo Credit: Candia Park Village

Boasting a waterfront location, Candia Park Village features 4-star accommodation overlooking the Mirabello Bay. Candia Park Village, champions sustainable hospitality in Crete by emphasizing local hiring and providing extensive training for its staff. The village supports local communities through partnerships with suppliers and offers authentic Cretan experiences for guests. Environmentally, Candia Park Village employs water and waste management strategies, uses local building materials, and incorporates energy-efficient systems. Their commitment to preserving the environment is further evidenced by their beach’s consistent ‘Blue Flag‘ recognition since 1993. Through these initiatives, they foster an eco-conscious culture within the resort community.

Check for more eco-friendly accommodations here.

Engaging Activities for the Eco-conscious Traveler

Discover the Hiking Paths & Gorges of Crete

Hiking is as eco-friendly as it gets, especially when you venture into one of Crete’s 22 Natura 2000-protected locations or the extensive E4 pan-European trails. Often referred to as the ‘King of Gorges’, Crete boasts over 400 breathtaking gorges, each uniquely shaped over time by the persistent flow of rivers.

Topping the list of must-visit hiking spots is the Samaria Gorge, a UNESCO-protected Biosphere Reserve stretching 16km. It’s a sanctuary to 450 types of flora and fauna, with 70 of them unique to Crete, like the wild goats and the snake eagles. The E4 trail also includes the picturesque Agia Irini Gorge leading to Sougia beach, serene coastal paths from Sougia to Agia Roumeli and Paleohora to Sougia, and the trail from Chrysoskalitissas Monastery to the enchanting Elafonisi. Not to be missed are Imbros, Crete’s third-most frequented gorge, and Aradaina, its deepest, which doubles as one of Europe’s premier bungee jumping sites at 138m deep. While these gems lie in western Crete, the eastern side isn’t lacking with treasures like Sarakina Gorge, Kritsa Gorge, Richtis Gorge, and Mylonas Gorge, among others. A comprehensive map of Cretan Gorges awaits you here.

Dive into Crete’s Culinary Magic and Savour its Authentic Flavours

Not only can you indulge in Crete’s delightful dishes, but you also get the chance to uncover the Mediterranean culinary mysteries with the island’s finest in an eco-friendly manner. Enroll in an enriching cooking class, like the one at Authentic Cooking Class set against the backdrop of the majestic White Mountains. Here, it’s not just about cooking; it’s an immersive journey into the heart of Cretan flavours, with fresh organic ingredients, including the golden touch of extra virgin olive oil, local meats, and freshly harvested herbs and veggies. Alternatively, immerse yourself in the Cretan Cooking Lesson held in the enchanting Arolithos Traditional Cretan Village. Dive hands-on into making delicacies like ntakos, tzatziki, stuffed vine leaves, and more, culminating in a feast paired with exquisite local wines. For a rustic touch, consider the Cooking Class at a Family Olive Farm, where every dish is a testament to the farm’s fresh and pure produce.

Delve Deep into Crete’s Olive Oil Traditions

olive tree Vouves
Ancient Olive Tree of Vouves – It is confirmed to be at least 2000 years old based on tree ring analysis, but it’s claimed to be between 3000–4000 years old

Ever wondered about the rich notes in Cretan olive oil? Dive into its origins by visiting an olive oil farm. Witness the enchanting process of turning olives into the very elixir of life and savour the taste of time-honoured tradition.

Experience it first-hand with an Olive Oil Tasting amidst a 2,000-year-old olive grove, perfectly complemented with curated Cretan food pairings. Venture to Terra Creta, a pioneering and eco-friendly olive oil institution. Embark on a captivating hour-long journey to discover the full journey of olive oil, from the tranquil olive groves to your dining table. Visit Melissakis Olive Mill – A family-owned press in Tsivaras village, producing olive oil since the 1890s. To top it all, indulge in the Olive Oil Festival, dance the night away with local performers, and discover the art of making olive oil soap and honey production during your visit to a quaint farm in the village of Sissi. It’s not just a trip; it’s a taste-filled adventure!

Sip and Savor: Wine Tasting Adventures in Cretan Vineyards

Crete vineyard
A Cretan Vineyard

Crete boasts a winemaking heritage that reaches back to the Bronze Age and the times of the Minoan civilization, presenting a diverse array of native grapes that thrive in the island’s distinct environment.

A significant factor contributing to Crete’s exceptional wines is its unparalleled terroir. This includes the rugged terrain of the White Mountains, intertwined with verdant olive orchards and kissed by the saline winds of the Mediterranean. Such a combination bestows upon Cretan wines a flavour profile that’s truly incomparable.

  • Visit a family-run winery, founded in 1993, and sip on the award-winning local wines like Vidiano, Muscat of Spina, and other international varieties such as Grenache rouge, Syrah, and Mourvèdre that take on a distinct twist thanks to the Cretan terroir.
  • Embark on a Vinous Journey in Chania with a stop at the esteemed Dourakis Winery. Here, delve into a 30-minute guided exploration tracing the rich legacy and craft of Cretan winemaking. Conclude your tour with a sensory delight, savouring five distinct Cretan wines.
  • Explore a family-run vineyard renowned for its sustainable and organic practices. Meander through verdant rows, tour the winery and indulge in a curated tasting of four handpicked wines.
  • Experience the essence of Cretan viticulture with the Cretan Wine Tasting Guided Tour. Dive deep into the region’s enological history and savour wines crafted from native grape varietals.
  • Venture to the Douloufakis Winery, a gem nestled near Heraklion. Immerse yourself in an insightful tour of the establishment, unravelling the art of wine creation. In the ambient tasting chamber, relish their exquisite wines while gaining insights into the iconic grape varietals that define Cretan vineyards.

Eco-friendly Water Activities in Crete

Snorkelling in Elafonissi beach
Snorkelling in Crete

Eco-friendly water activities prioritize minimal disturbance to aquatic ecosystems and marine life, and they often promote conservation awareness. Here are some eco-friendly water activities:

  1. Snorkelling: Crete’s diverse coastline offers a plethora of snorkelling opportunities. Its crystal-clear waters, teeming with marine life, make it an ideal destination for snorkelling enthusiasts. Whether you’re hopping on a boat to explore hidden coves and secluded spots away from the hustle and bustle or simply strolling to a nearby beach, there’s always a chance to immerse yourself in the underwater wonders of Crete. Remember to keep a safe distance from marine life, and avoid touching corals or rocks.
  2. Eco-Friendly Scuba Diving: While regular scuba diving can have an impact on marine ecosystems if not done responsibly, there are eco-diving initiatives that emphasize conservation and responsible interactions with marine life. With Eco Diving Center you can participate in organized underwater cleanups or coastal cleanups, you can participate in eco-diving workshops, you can learn to be a responsible diver and expand your personal knowledge of marine life.
  3. Stand-up Paddleboarding (SUP): An increasingly popular activity that’s not only a good workout but also an eco-friendly way to explore lakes, rivers, and coastlines. Nearly every organized beach in Crete has a water activities centre that offers SUP rentals. Whether you’re paddleboarding along the coastline, exploring hidden caves, or simply enjoying the tranquillity of the sea, SUP provides a unique perspective of Crete’s scenic beauty.
  4. Kayaking and Canoeing: Stand out as sustainable ways to explore Crete’s stunning coastlines and serene lakes. Embracing these eco-friendly water activities allows you to navigate through hidden coves, venture into secluded beaches, and witness marine life up close, all while minimizing environmental impact.

When engaging in any water activity, it’s essential to be mindful of your surroundings, avoid disturbing wildlife, and leave no trace behind. This ensures that you have a minimal impact on the environment and that the beauty and health of our waterways are preserved for future generations.

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In conclusion, Crete, with its rich tapestry of history, culture, and pristine natural landscapes, beckons travellers to tread lightly and embrace eco-conscious choices. By opting for eco-friendly accommodations and partaking in sustainable activities, visitors can immerse themselves in the island’s authentic charm without compromising its delicate ecosystems. Each sustainable choice made while on the island amplifies the collective efforts to protect and preserve Crete’s unique heritage. Let us remember that travelling is not just about witnessing beauty but also about ensuring its longevity. By championing eco-tourism, we don’t just experience Crete’s splendour – we help sustain it for future generations.

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