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Unique Wine Tourism Trilogy on the Island of Crete

by Liz Thach, MW
November 26, 2019

There are many examples of innovative wine tourism experiences around the world, such as dog-walks in the vineyard, river-rafting with wine picnics, and bathing in wine at a spa. However, on the ancient island of Crete, the 33 wineries that make up the Wines of Crete association have developed a trilogy of wine tourism experiences that capitalize on the unique aspects of their island.

Vineyards and Church on the Island of Crete

The Cretan Trilogy
Wine tourism researchers have reported for years that one of the best ways to continually attract tourists to a wine region is to link it with other tourism offerings. It appears that the Cretans have done their homework, because they have combined three distinct specialties for which they are known and have created routes across their island in a design that could be said to resemble their legendary labyrinth. The three specialties are:

Famous Archeological Sites: With a history dating back to 5,000 B.C., Crete is blessed with many archeological sites, including the Palace of Knossos, Vathipetro – home of the oldest wine press in the world, the Labyrinth Cave, as well as multiple ancient cities, monasteries and museums. All together there are 35 different cultural places to visit on the island.

Cretan Cuisine: The Cretan diet is considered to be one of the healthiest in the world, with experts stating they have some of the lowest mortality rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as some of the highest longevity rates. The cuisine focuses on fresh natural herbs from the hillsides, fruits, vegetables, legumes and potatoes, as well as abundant olive oil, flatbreads, cheeses, and a small amount of fresh fish from the sea and goat from the hills. All of this is accompanied by Cretan wine, which is primarily organic. On the island of Crete there are 39 restaurants that have been officially labeled as serving Cretan cuisine using all local ingredients.

Wine from Crete: The grapevine has been systematically cultivated in Crete since 4000 B.C., and wine was traded by the Minoans (who settled on Crete in 3000 BC) across the Mediterrean. Today Crete specializes in unique indigenous varietals, such as the perfumed Vidiano white grape with notes of apricot, jasmine, and chamomile, and the red Mandilari grape that produces wines tasting of plum, fig, and anise. Other Cretan white grapes include Vilana, Plyto, Thrapsathiri and the bay-leave scented Dafni grape that pairs well with snails, as well as red grapes: Liatiko, Kotsifali and Romeiko.

Cretan Wine, Cuisine and Archeological Sites

Ten Routes Through the Labyrinth
The Island of Crete is only 161 miles in length, but is very hilly with winding roads and mountains soaring over 8000 feet (2438 meters). The sea wraps around the island, creating a perfect Mediterrean climate of warm dry summers and cool wet winters, and providing many beautiful beaches, especially on the south side of the island. Because of this typography, and the fact that the wineries, archeological sites and restaurants are spread across the island, ten tourist routes were created – each offering visits to 2 to 3 wineries, several cultural sites, and restaurants in different parts of the island. Each route is designed to be completed in one day, according to different themes:

1) A Dive in the Authentic Rural Life
2) The Real Face of Cretan Villages
3) Taste of Mountains and Coasts
4) Perfect Amount of Nature and Culture
5) Organic Treasures Among Mountains
6) Deeper into the Islands Soul
7) A Flavor of History
8) Explore the Mysteries of the West
9) Wild Mountains, the Feeling of Holiness
10) Secrets of the East

All ten routes have been packaged as a set of cards with the symbol of the labyrinth on the front and the saying “Don’t get lost: just follow the wineries.” Visitors to Crete can stop by the local tourist information center in the capital city of Heraklion to pick up a complimentary copy.

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