Beyond the Backstreets: Small Group Adventure Tour to the Island of Crete (May 24 - June 6, 2018)

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Beyond the Backstreets: Small Group Adventure Tour to the Island of Crete (May 24 - June 6, 2018)

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TOUR PRICE:  $2999.00  land only per person based on double occupancy. The single supplement is $439.00.  Please note that because the number of rooms are limited in Kato Zakro and Alonia, singles may have to share a room for those few nights.  And in Kato Zakro two couples may have to share one large apartment (separate bedrooms).  

Airfare is separate and can be arranged on your own or with the help of ArawjoTours, LLC.  Contact us for more information.

AVAILABILITY:  SOLD OUT.  WAITING LIST ONLY.   

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Beyond the Backstreets: Small Group Adventure Travel to the Island of Crete

This small group adventure tour to the majestic island of Crete will be a total life-affirming experience for anyone fortunate enough to participate.  Guided by none other than George Spiridakis, you will be led to some of the most remote and inaccessible parts of the Island, places of such beauty and splendor that you will be left utterly speechless.  You will visit ancient Minoan palaces, breathe fresh mountain air while taking in vistas of sublime beauty, hike through gorges and other spectacular terrain, eat the freshest and healthiest organic food, sleep in charming quarters in small villages and cabin-like guesthouses, swim in some of the clearest and cleanest azure waters in the Mediterranean and Libyan Seas, meet friendly, brave and proud people who will overwhelm you with their hospitality, and relax in a beautifully insular environment where life seems to function at a much slower and more meaningful pace.   George and I are confident that you will love this unique journey into the soul of an island and its tough but loving inhabitants.  You will not find anything like this from other American tour operators. 

Day 1 - Departure from USA to Athens with a connection to Heraklion, Crete

Day 2 - Arrival in Heraklion.  Heraklion is the capital of Crete and is a bustling urban center of some 170,000 people.  Upon arrival, we will check into the charming Lato Hotel which is located near the old Venetian Harbor.  In the evening, we will take a stroll through the old part of town and enjoy a group dinner at a local restaurant.  

Day 3 - After breakfast, we will travel to the ancient Minoan Palace of Malia which is located in a wonderful setting near the sea.  The palace is the third-largest Minoan Palace in Crete.  The excavations were started by a Cretan archeologist, but the work was soon delivered to the French school of archeology. This palace - the seat, according to myth, of Minos’ brother Sarpedon - was first constructed circa 1900 B.C. This first palace was destroyed circa 1700 BC and rebuilt circa 1650 B.C.. It is the area where the famous Bees of Malia pendant was discovered.

After visiting the palace, we will drive to the town of Sitia to explore the Archaeological Museum there, after which we will have some free time for lunch. The Sitia museum was recently renovated and redisplayed and is famous for its many incredible Minoan artifacts, including the recently-discovered  statue of the gold and ivory kouros (young man).

We will then continue to Kato Zakros where we will stay for the next two nights.  Zakros is a seaside town on the eastern coast of Crete and is simply spellbinding.  It is famous for the Minoan Palace of Zakros, the beautiful coastal scenery and the so-called Gorge of the Dead.  Group dinner included at a special place.  Overnight at the Zakros Palace Hotel and/or the Terra Minoica Villas.

Day 4 - After a light breakfast on your own on your balconies overlooking Zakros, we will drive to the Toplou Monastery, which is one of the most significant monasteries in Crete and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  Founded in the mid-fifteenth century, the monastery has an incredible and tragic history as it was attacked by numerous foes and became a shelter for resistance fighters against the Nazis.  After our visit to the monastery, we will drive to the famous Vai Palm Beach for lunch and some swimming.  The Vai Palm Beach features the largest natural palm forest in Europe.  It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in eastern Crete.  In the evening, we will enjoy a group dinner in Kato Zakros.  Group dinner included. Overnight at the Zakros Palace Hotel and/or the Terra Minoica Villas.  (Please note that breakfasts are not available at these hotels, so we will stop at a supermarket for you to buy some groceries.)

Day 5 - After breakfast on your own, we will visit the stunning Minoan Palace of Zakros (circa 1450 B.C) followed by an optional hike through the Gorge of the Dead.  The finds at  Zakros Palace are considered to be among the most important discoveries with regards to our understanding ofancient Minoan civilization (they are displayed in the Sitia museum). Zakros Palace was the main Minoan import–export Minoan Palace center, built very near to the sea water. As Zakros Palace was unearthed much later than other Minoan palaces, the work conducted at this site made us of more advanced methods of archaeology.  The palace is very well preserved and has been untouched by robbers.  The Gorge of the Dead takes its name from the fact that this is believed to have been the place where the Minoans where buried. It is n impressivewalk of about one and one-half hours.

In the afternoon, we will drive take a beautiful drive through the mountains of East Crete to the town of Agios Nikolaos via Karidi, Voila and Ierapetra. 

A group lunch will be included at a very special placein Ierapetra, the beautiful town of South Crete, right by the sea water of the south coast!   We will end our day at the Hermes Hotel in Agios Nikolaos, where we will spend two nights. The lovely serene little town of Agios Nikolaos is the cosmopolitan capital of the prefecture of Lasithi with 20,000 permanent residents. The town is built  on the west side of the Gulf of Mirabello, but the current name comes from the Byzantine church of Saint Nikolaos located west of the city.  The local landmark of St. Nicholas is the picturesque Lake Voulismeni, a small lagoon in the center of the town, used as a small harbor where fishing boats stop. Lots of legends are associated with it, mainly because of its very deep waters. At the bottom of the lake the Germans disposed of all their war material before leaving Crete in 1944. A walk around the lake is a very nice experience indeed. And our hotel, is just 5 min away of it!  (lunch and dinner included)

Day 6 - After breakfast we drive towards the beautiful Lassithi Mountains, where we will hike to Karfi, which is a magnificent late Minoan town.   Have your cameras with you!!! The views are amazing!!!

Karfi (the nail) is a big rocky hill on a top of the Diktaean Mountains, (or Lassithi Mountains),  with incredible views to the north coast of Crete and the Lassithi Plateau, near the Monastery of Kera Kardiotissa. On top of it, at an altitude of 1200meters,  traces of a Minoan peak sanctuary have been unearthed.  Peak sanctuaries like this were used by the Minoans to worship the Mother Earth Goddess some 4000 years ago...

Near this arid and inhospitable place, several Minoan refugees settled after the arrival of the Dorians in Crete (circa 1200 B.C.).  They built a small town on the north-eastern slopes of Karfi, at a point protected from wind. However, extreme weather conditions in winter seem to have forced the residents to look for a new place of settlement around 1100 B.C., after only 100 years in Karfi.

After our hike, we will enjoy lunch at the Seli Ambelou Taverna, known for its very tasty food,   we will return to Agios Nikolaos for our second night. (lunch and dinner included)

Day 7 - After breakfast, we will have some free time in Heraklion, the biggest city of Crete. We will have a short walking tour towards the Agora and the Historical center,   before driving to the lovely Cretan village of Zaros where we will spend one night at Katerina's hotel with wonderful locals.  Zaros is a particularly attractive, refreshingly unspoiled village famous for its spring water, which is now bottled and sold all over Crete. It is also well known for its hospitable population and its significant participation in resistance activity during the WW II.  In this village, one can also see the weaving art in the workshop of Maria, and the beautiful instruments of the traditional musical instrument maker,  Antonis.

In Zaros, we will enjoy a group dinner at Vivi's restaurant.  Vivi is a magnificent cook and a wonderful person.  She will put a smile on your face.  (dinner included)

Day 8 - After an award-winning breakfast (Greek Culinary Institute) prepared for us by Katerina,   we will visit the organic farm of Michalis, son of Katerina.  We will need to wear our work clothes today, as we will be busy milking goats, producing cheese and bread and cooking all of our food in an olive wood oven.  We will spend about five hours at the farm. In Michalis's own words: " In our family Farm you will have the chance to be a farmerfor a day..the cretan way! You will learn about the herbs and wild greens, taste fruit from our trees, feed the animals, milk the sheep, and have a ride with Louiza the donkey! Learn and make cheese and traditional cretan pies fried on the trivet! Then relax with raki and delicacies hearing the natural farm sounds inpeaceful scenery!" This will be a very special experience. Keep in mind that we will need to use a 4x4's to approach Michalis 'sorganic farm.

After our farm experience, we will drive to the Thalori Hotel in the Kapetaniana Village.  We will spend the next two nights in this incredible restored village.  Lunch and group dinner included.

Day 9 - After breakfast, we will hike to the top of Mount Kofinas, which is the highest peak of the Asterousian Mountains at a height of 1231 meters. Its name was introduced because of its shape resembling an inverted basket (kofini in Greek). At the top of the mountain, the Minoansbuilt a peak sanctuary that flourished from  1700-1600 B.C.  About 100 years ago, just on top of the Minoan Shrine, a Chapel of the Holy Cross was built, where an ancient tradition takes places during the religious festival on September 14.  The position at the top offers marvelous views to the southern coast of Crete.  It is just spectacular.

We will then drive on 4X4's to visit Agios Ioannis and the cave Monastery of the Hermits, unique in all of Greece, due to its outdoor Byzantine frescoes.  We will then have time for a swim at the Eligias Beach, one of the most wild and secluded beaches on Crete! Overnight again in splendid Thalori, enjoying a group dinner! (dinner included)

Day 10 - After breakfast, we will visit one of the most magnificent Minoan sites on the island of Crete, Phaistos Palace (circa 1950 - 1400 B.C.).  Phaistos is located on a hill in south central Crete on the Messara plain.  It is the second largest Minoan Palace in Crete after Knossos.

We will then continue to the lovely village of Spili for a coffee break and lunch stop before heading to the region of Sfakia to stay in the charming Alonia Guesthouse in the village of Ai Yiannis in the mountains of south western Crete. Although today's drive will be long, we will witness some spectacular landscapes and we will be sure to stop at Frangokastelo in order to discuss the mysterious shadows of Cretan Warriors.  Also en route to Ai Yiannis we will cross the famous "Bridge of Terror" which crosses the Aradena Gorge.   (Please note that for these two nights at the Alonia Guesthouse, singles will have to share a room with other members of the group because of limited space.) The guesthouses are small but charming and are nestled in the mountains of Crete where the only thing you will hear at night are the bells of the goats and sheep.

In the evening , we will enjoy a wonderful dinner, prepared by Anna, the Sfakian lady that keeps Alonia anditspeople very happy! (dinner included)

Day 11 - After breakfast, we will hike the amazing Aradena Gorge. Get your cameras ready!! The deepest gorge in Chania is the gorge of Aradena. The 138 meter gorge is ideal not only for sightseeing or hiking but for bungee jumping as well. The hike will take approximately 3 1/2 hours and will end on the southern coast of Crete on the majestic  Marmara ("Marbles") beach.  There we will have a light lunch or snack (don’t miss the Cretan omelet!!) at a wonderful small tavern, before one more 20 min. hike, to a dirt road, where 4x4's will be waiting for us!   ( Group dinner included.)  

Day 12 - After breakfast, we will go on a short hike on an ancient path (kalderimi) to a promontory overlook called "the balcony."  There we will have amazing views ofthe vertical drop to the sea and  the Sfakian coastline.

We will then drive for a few hours to the Milia Mountain Retreat, where we will spend the next two nights.   "Milia is an authentic 17th century mountain settlement which has been transformed into and eco-friendly tourist complex; it seems to have sprouted from the lands of Crete. A glorious location boasting exceptional rugged beauty in the area of Kissamos. Placed among plane trees, chestnut trees, and mountain tops reaching the skies, the area overwhelms visitors with its unique diversity" (from www.milia.gr). The food in Milia is all organic and absolutely delicious.  Dinner on your own in the candlelit dining room.  

Day 13  - After breakfast,  we will have a free day in and around Milia.  Some suggestions of things to do are listed below.  This will be our last overnight in Crete, and we will enjoy one last farewell dinner! (dinner included)

Suggestion 1.  Walking around the Milia village district and enjoying the scenery (two hours).

Suggestion 2.  Driving towards the sacred cave of Agia Sofia. It is located on the western side of the Topolia Gorge, and was used in the remote past, as a sacred temple of Gaia, - Goddess of the Earth. There is a 20 minute uphill hike (steps) to get to the cave sancuuary.

Suggestion 3. Driving to the exotic beach of Elafonisi.  Only one and one-half hours drive from Milia,  Elafonisi has been awarded the best beach in Greece.  Enjoy swimming for 2 hours!

Suggestion 4. Pick up a book , ask for a Raki and some small meze, and choose one of 26 roofs or terraces of Milia to relax.  You will wish you could stay there forever.

Day 14 – Drive to the airport in Chania and return to USA

TOUR FEATURES:  Round trip air transportation from the USA to Heraklion with a return from Chania;  a comprehensive sightseeing program as outlined above and all entrance fees;  twelve nights in simple but comfortable accommodations throughout Crete;  24 meals, including 11 dinners, 3 lunches and 10 breakfasts;  the use of a full time 20 passenger motor coach and private driver;  the services of a full time tour manager and guide (George Spiridakis); and a pre-departure orientation sponsored by Kevin Arawjo of ArawjoTours, LLC.