Locating the perfect swimming spot near you in Crete has never been easier. The online app Cretan Beaches includes more than 600 locations, together with historical data, access information, tips and recommendations about nearby sights, available in Greek, English and Russian, with German to be added soon. Its developer is Alexandros Roniotis, a teacher whose hobby was to travel all across the island on motorbike, by boat or on foot, recording every single beach. Invaluable guides to his project were the locals, especially the older generation; without them, Alexandros says, details such as local place names would have been lost forever.
BioAroma produces natural cosmetics based on Crete’s aromatic herbs. Its founder, Manoussos Pediaditis (a chemist by profession), has been traveling around the villages since he was a young man avidly collecting the secrets of local folk medicine. At the same time, and with the help of the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Crete, Pediaditis set out to trace the ancient history of cosmetics on the island, confirming that 4,500 years ago the Minoans used to distill essential oils and make ointments and creams. BioAroma has about 150 products on its list (from lip balm based on beeswax to toothpaste that contains crushed dittany). Its production plant, which also features an exhibition space and a botanical garden, can be visited by prior arrangement.
UNIVERSITY OF THE MOUNTAINS
Established in 2007 as a non-profit organization, this University of Crete initiative aims to forge closer ties between the academic community and the wider society, applying methods such as student peer teaching, so that young people from urban centers and from villages can get together and exchange experiences. Other initiatives include providing check-ups to residents of remote villages, as well as documenting age-old arts and crafts such as weaving. The photograph is from a recent re-enactment of the sacred Minoan ceremony celebrating the linseed harvest, with the participation of representatives from Emmanuel College, Boston (US).
Abandoned until the 80s, this 300-year-old traditional settlement comprising 10 stone houses has been painstakingly restored and transformed by its owners, the alternative tourism pioneer Aleka Chalkia and her daughter, Myrto Botsari, into a unique eco-lodge named “Aspros Potamos” (White River). Photovoltaics cover most of its energy needs, while at night you’ll rely on candles and oil lamps for light, which only adds to the atmosphere of this Flintstone-type acommodation.
A “white paradise” for ski-touring aficionados, the mountains of Crete are uncluttered by organized ski resorts, with an abundance of fluffy, untrodden snow, as well as view that reach as far as the sea. The good airline connections, in combination with Cretan hospitality, have led to a steady increase in the number of visiting ski mountaineers. Currently, the sequel of the Greek-American production “Frozen Ambrosia” about ski touring in Greece is being filmed in Crete, while since 2014, dozens of skiers from Greece, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Norway have been returning for the race Pierra Creta.
Founded by Jerolyn E. Morrison in 2012, “Minoan Tastes” promotes the culinary history of Minoan Crete through hands-on cooking experiences based on scientific knowledge. “Our method of preparing food in ceramic pots over an open hearth, with ingredients that were available during the Minoan times, replicates as closely as possible the way ancient Cretans prepared and enjoyed a banquet, and allows our guests to engage all their senses and to savor the flavors of slow-cooked food.” This past May, during an event hosted by the NPO Branding Heritage, Morrison had the privilege of sharing some tips on ceramic pot cooking with none other than Prince Charles.
THE CASA DEI MEZZO CHAMBER MUSIC FESTIVAL
Back in 2004, an informal piano recital at the home of the Norwegian impresario Gunnar Strømsholm, in Makrigialos, Lasithi, would give birth to one of Crete’s most unique music festivals. Aiming to address “the lack of culture some of the tourists bring with them” and to open up the region to an alternative form of tourism, Strømsholm has been hosting the festival almost every year since at his house, in the middle of an olive grove. Visiting pianists play on one of the world’s biggest concert pianos – a Bösendorfer Concert Grand Imperial previously owned by Pavarotti – while concerts are recorded by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The Casa dei Mezzo hosts renowned classical musicians, personally selected by Strømsholm himself.
THE CRETAN WAY
In 2011, the mountain guide Luca Gianotti spent a month crossing the length of Crete on foot. Following the E4 (the European long distance path), he quickly realized that this 500km-long stretch of the famous trail was in a state of disrepair. Since then, he has made it his mission to keep it tidy and clearly signposted. In 2016 he published The Cretan Way, an up-to-date hiking guide complete with a GPS feature. So far, approximately 2,000 people have followed this route. “It is not only about nature, but also about culture, about walking through villages and meeting people,” says Gianotti.
A soft, golden capsule holds inside it the beneficial properties of the herbs of Crete, which have been lauded since the times of Hippocrates and Dioscorides. The patented food supplement Cretan IAMA (a combination of essential oils derived from thyme, sage and dittany in a solution of extra virgin olive oil) protects against the flu, possesses anti-oxidizing properties, and is especially beneficial for infections of the upper respiratory system. The idea for the supplement was based on epidemiological studies in several Cretan regions, followed by years of research and clinical trials by a cross-disciplinary team of distinguished professors at the Medical School of the University of Crete.