` Agro-Culinary Attractions in Crete Span Ages - Olive Oil Times

Agro-Culinary Attractions in Crete Span Ages

Aug. 11, 2015
Lisa Radinovsky

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Agrotourism and culi­nary tourism should be fur­ther devel­oped in Greece to expand tourism beyond the sum­mer and the beaches, so it can con­tribute more to the strug­gling Greek econ­omy, accord­ing to Ioannis Michaletos at Balkanalysis. If the tourism, agri­cul­ture, and food pro­duc­tion indus­tries were more tightly linked, he argues, that could improve prospects for all three sec­tors by increas­ing for­eign­ers’ recog­ni­tion and appre­ci­a­tion of Greek prod­ucts and, if stan­dard­ized prod­ucts were offered, Greek brands. 

In Crete, tourists can start by dri­ving west of Chania on the ole­an­der-bor­dered national road, beside rolling hills full of olive groves with a view of the sea, to a tra­di­tional stone mill, one of the world’s old­est olive trees, a mod­ern olive oil fac­tory, and a botan­i­cal park and restau­rant that rose from the ashes of a great fire.

The scenery is most spec­tac­u­lar near the Astrikas Estate in Kolymvari, with rocky hills and sheer cliffs ris­ing behind the olive trees, in front of the sky and the dis­tant sea. George (Yiorgos) Dimitriadis is the fifth gen­er­a­tion in his fam­ily to own the olive groves he and his wife, Christine Lacroix, reju­ve­nated to pro­duce Biolea extra vir­gin olive oil in the PDO of Kolymvari. 

Dimitriadis is fill­ing a spe­cial niche by focus­ing on high qual­ity, small-scale arti­sanal organic pro­duc­tion and reach­ing out to peo­ple from var­i­ous nations through sus­tain­able agro­tourism and exports. He invested in cre­at­ing not just a fac­tory, but a des­ti­na­tion” for vis­i­tors, with a tra­di­tional three-stone mill, olive press, and bot­tling machin­ery over­looked by the mez­za­nine tast­ing room and store. 

The Astrikas Estate in Kolymvari, producer of Biolea olive oils (Photo: Astrikas Estate)

Much like the mills of Roman times, but adapted to meet cur­rent health stan­dards, Biolea’s may be the only stone mill licensed to sell olive oil in Greece today. Visitors can watch the milling and press­ing from the mez­za­nine dur­ing the win­ter, or see a video about it and tour the mill dur­ing the sum­mer. They can hear about Biolea’s envi­ron­men­tally con­scious use of dust (rather than pes­ti­cides) to repel the olive fly, its low water and energy con­sump­tion, and its burn­ing of olive waste to pro­duce heat. They can learn how whole lemons or bit­ter oranges are poured into the stone mill along with the olives to pro­duce pastes that become unique mix­tures of oil and cit­rus, and how the stone milling pro­duces an unusu­ally mild, excep­tion­ally healthy oil, and they can sam­ple these dis­tinc­tive products.

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Next to the Olive Tree Museum in nearby Ano Vouves is a giant olive tree esti­mated to be at least two thou­sand years old (if not twice that, or more). Its age can­not be deter­mined with radio­car­bon dat­ing, since the tree is hol­low. However, much more remains than bark; attract­ing about 20,000 peo­ple each year, the tree looks like an amaz­ing sculp­ture. New growths have appeared both inside and out­side the trunk’s shell, and some branches have swirled around each other, leav­ing pic­turesque holes in a trunk that still sup­ports large boughs with healthy leaves. Starting with the Athens games in 2004, some of the sprigs cut dur­ing prun­ing have been used to make the wreaths that crown Olympic marathon cham­pi­ons, in a return to ancient tradition.

The Monumental Olive Tree of Vouves, which locals believe to be the world’s oldest (Lisa Radinovsky)

Emmanouil (Manolis) Karpadakis, Marketing Manager of Terra Creta, told Olive Oil Times that his com­pany coop­er­ated with the Municipality of Platanias to have a small olive mill built to extract oil from the 50 kilo­grams of olives pro­duced by the ancient Vouves tree. At Terra Creta’s large, mod­ern fac­tory, a guide explains the olive oil pro­duc­tion process as well as prac­ti­cal things such as health ben­e­fits and how to choose, use and store olive oil. 

Tourists can see the two iden­ti­cal pro­duc­tion lines which enable con­tin­u­ous extrac­tion of both con­ven­tion­ally grown and organic olive oil. They can hear about Terra Creta’s eco-friendly aspects: light comes from solar tubes, with mir­rors to bring sun­light inside; dry pomace, an olive waste prod­uct, pow­ers the mill’s heat­ing sys­tem; farm ani­mals eat the olive tree leaves; and wash­ing water is used for irri­ga­tion or evap­o­rated. In the shop and tast­ing area in the build­ing up the dri­ve­way, vis­i­tors can look through the half walls of office win­dows to the roomy bot­tling plant beyond them, learn about olive oil tast­ing, and sam­ple some of Terra Creta’s award win­ning olive oils.

Terra Creta’s modern mill in Kolymvari (Lisa Radinovsky)

Olive oil tast­ing may stim­u­late an appetite for lunch, per­haps at the acclaimed restau­rant above the Botanical Park of Crete which uses the park’s organ­i­cally grown pro­duce and olive oil as well as other locally grown ingre­di­ents in both typ­i­cal Greek foods such as small pies with greens and cheese or arti­chokes with broad beans, and less com­mon entrees includ­ing chicken with orange, lime, and lemon grass sauce.

The restau­rant and park rep­re­sent a return to the Cretan soil and, at the same time, return to Cretan Tradition and Diet,” accord­ing to their web­site, after a 2003 wild­fire dev­as­tated the area, destroy­ing the orange groves and olive trees that under­pinned its econ­omy. Undaunted, the four Marinakis broth­ers set to work, grad­u­ally trans­form­ing their family’s burnt land into an agri­tourism and culi­nary tourism attrac­tion that drew 32,000 vis­i­tors last year, accord­ing to Kostas Marinakis. 

Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete (Lisa Radinovsky)

Guests walk through the exten­sive park, under banana trees, past trop­i­cal flow­ers, Grecian urns, fra­grant rose­mary, and orange trees to a pond with ducks, geese, and turkeys. They pause at the shaded benches, then admire the roam­ing pea­cocks and the Cretan goats before climb­ing the hill past the kiwi and roses, through the cool grape arbor, past geo­met­ric arti­chokes and bril­liant gera­ni­ums, near sil­very green clumps of herbs under nec­tarine, plum, apri­cot, and pome­gran­ate trees, past a tree hung with farm­ing tools, around and up to the hill­top restau­rant. Tourists pose for pho­tos next to scat­tered antiques and burnt olive tree trunks and gaze beyond them to neat rows of olive trees on sur­round­ing hillsides.


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