Join bestselling author and filmmaker Phil Cousineau and veteran local guide and organic olive farmer Georgios Spiradakis on an exploration of the mythological magic of Crete.
Phil and Georgios will lead you on an adventure through a mythological and spiritual culture that still thrives much as it did 4,000 years ago. Enjoy ancient Cretan cuisine, hike to a mountain top to pay your respects to the Gaian Goddess, ponder archaeological mysteries and discoveries, and immerse yourself in the work of local artists and performers. In daily discussions of the myths, art, literature, and crafts of Greece’s largest island you will become a cultural time traveller on a rare sacred journey. READ MORE
Phil Cousineau is a writer, teacher, independent scholar, documentary filmmaker, travel leader, storyteller and author of over 30 books including the national best-seller The Art of Pilgrimage, The Book of Roads, and Stoking the Creative Fires, winner of the Book of the Year Award from “Spirituality & Health Magazine.”
Georgios was a legendary guide, drawing us into the heart of the fertile land of Crete and seamlessly transitioning from past to present while connecting us with the warm, resilient spirits of the people. My heart is full.Karle Dickerson, Pasadena, CA
It is inspiring to compare the island cultures I've visited with Phil Cousineau. Each having experienced centuries of invasion, has nevertheless retained a deep, unconquerable sense of humanity as expressed in hospitality, art and music. Richard Talbott, Mill Valley, CA
“Whoever sets foot on this holy land touches the soul of all of the gods. No curse shall befall him, his luck will never fail him, spend your days in peace, and when you return home, you will be happy.”–Zeus to a traveller on Crete
After leading more than a dozen tours around the Greek mainland since the late 1980s, bestselling author, filmmaker, and public television host Phil Cousineau, along with his friend Georgios Spiradakis, an official Greek tour guide and organic olive farmer, have created a tour dedicated to the magic and mysteries of Crete.
What will make our Mythic Crete tour special? Phil’s own lifelong fascination with Greek Minoan culture, which began in childhood when he read Homer and Nikos Kazantzakis (author of Zorba the Greek) with his father. Phil will lead morning discussions, which he calls “The Long Conversation,” setting a context for each day’s encounters with the myths, art, literature, and crafts of the island.
Georgios, one of the proud and passionate voices for the glories of this 4,000-year-old culture, says, “We will enjoy our ancient Cretan cuisine, pay our respects to the Gaian Goddess, climbing the rocks of the Asterousian Mountains to reach Kofinas, her temple peak sanctuary, as Cretans have done for the last forty centuries. We will encounter potters, musicians, and dancers. We will relive the ancient life that still thrives in modern Crete - we will be like Minoans!”
Our journey begins in the thriving modern capital of Heraklion, named after the Greek hero, Herakles, where we will visit the newly renovated and expanded Heraklion Archaeological Museum, recently listed as one of the top ten museums in the world.
In the village of Kiparissi we’ll meet famed local potter Vassilis Politakis and be offered a demonstration of his work. We’ll tour the very symbol of Crete, the Minoan Palace of Knossos, its 800 rooms covering several acres, where Georgios will regale us with its history and myths.
We’ll explore famed archaeological ruins at the seaside Palace of Malia, founded by King Minos’s brother, the Trojan hero Sarpedon, and be awestruck by Sitia, with its spectacular 16th century Venetian fortifications and museum where we will see still-undeciphered Minoan clay tablets.
We’ll be dazzled by the magnificent coastal scenery of Kato Zaros and visit a haunting and beautifully preserved archaeological site, the Minoan Palace of Zakros, followed by a hike through the Gorge of the Dead, a Minoan cemetery.
One of the island’s most popular sites is the 15th century Toplou Monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, whom the Cretans refer to as “Mary Panagia.” This many-storied site is famous for its ikon painters, its prize-winning organic olive oil, and its modern history as one of the secret centres for the resistance movement during the World War II Nazi occupation.
We’ll visit a delightfully curious site of tropical palms on Vai Palm Beach and enjoy a robust hike in the Lassithi high mountains to Kari, an ancient Minoan Mother Goddess worship site. We’ll feast our eyes on the 14th century domed Kera Kritsa church, with its spectacular 12th and 13th century Byzantine frescoes, which we will be allowed to photograph for the first time. Time permitting, we will honour the literary history of Crete by visiting the home of novelist and mystic Nikos Kazantzakis, as well as the studio of Antonio, a master weaver. And at Vivi’s Restaurant, in the traditional village of Zaros, we will share in the cooking!
From the village of Kato Kapetaniana, we will drive to Mount Kofinas. From there we can hike to the 1,231-metre summit of Kofinas, the highest peak of the Asterousian Mountains, where a Minoan sanctuary flourished from 1,700 BCE.
One of the most magnificent Minoan sites of Crete is Phaistos, or Festos, with its palace, built around 3,000 BCE by King Minos and destroyed, by either warfare or natural disaster, around 1,700 BCE.
We’ll revel in the architectural glories of the Venetian palazzos and Ottoman mosques in Rethymnon. There, we cap our magnificent tour with a jaunt to what many Cretans regard as the most significant Cretan national monument, the Arkadi Monastery, symbol of the island’s courageous resistance against the Ottoman Empire.
In the words of our exuberant Cretan guide, if you ask the Greeks on the mainland where they want to go and stay on their holiday, they will tell you, “Kriti!” Crete!
Tue, April 9
Arrive Heraklion (D)Read more
Our tour begins in Heraklion, the vibrant capital of Crete, an urban centre of more than 220,000 people. The city of Herakles has an ancient history dating back to the dawn of Minoan civilization. Over the millennia it was damaged and rebuilt countless times by invaders, enemies, and pirates, most recently after the German occupation during World War II.
You will be met at Heraklion airport and transferred to the charming Lato Hotel, located near the old Venetian Harbour. If you require a pre-night at the hotel, please let us know. After a short rest, we have the option of taking a casual walking tour of the historical centre, followed by an Opening Night Banquet at a traditional Cretan restaurant. (Overnight in Heraklion at Lato Boutique Hotel or similar)
Wed, April 10
Heraklion, Kiparissi, Knossos (B, D)Read more
After a traditional Cretan breakfast at our hotel, we visit the newly renovated and expanded Heraklion Archaeological Museum, recently listed as one of the top ten museums in the world. There, we enjoy such spectacular finds as the faience figurine of the Snake Goddess, bull-leaping frescoes, a bull head rhyton, the mysterious Phaistos disc, and several giant labrys, or double-axes, from Knossos, which inspired our word labyrinth.
After a coffee break, we drive by coach to the picturesque village of Kiparissi for a special demonstration by Vassilis Politakis, a renowned Cretan potter, at an exact replica of a Minoan kiln that he and his father built by hand. Vassilis is the only potter in Crete who has official government permission to handle and replicate original Minoan pottery.
For our benefit, Vassilis will fire his traditional Minoan kiln, which will require a few hours. We use the time for an exhilarating visit to the Palace of Knossos, the site of the mythical labyrinth associated with its inventor Daedalus, King Minos, Princess Ariadne, and Theseus of Athens. Rediscovered by the English archaeologist Arthur Evans in 1901, Knossos is an enormous assemblage of 800 rooms, originally covered with magnificent frescoes, occupying several acres.
After a brief lunch break, we return to Kiparissi to participate with Vassilis in the making and firing of a few Minoan-style votive figurines.
For our evening meal, we will enjoy a traditional Cretan dinner with local wine, while listening to Cretan music. (Overnight in Heraklion at Lato Boutique Hotel or similar)
Thurs, April 11
Malia and Sitia, Transfer to Terra Minoica Villas Hotel (B, D)Read more
After a Cretan breakfast, we depart by coach for a brief drive along the north coast to the ruins of the Bronze Age Palace of Malia, located near the sea. According to the myths, it was founded by Sarpedon, brother of King Minos of Knossos. Unique among all Minoan sites for its impressive kouloures, or silos, Malia dates back to at least 1,700 BCE and was the third-largest Minoan palace on the island. Excavations were carried out by the Cretan archaeologist, Iosif Hatzidakis, and continued under the French school of archaeology, which discovered the famous Bees of Malia pendant.
From Malia we venture on to the pre-Minoan town of Sitia, which takes pride in being the home of Myson, one of the Seven Sages of classical times. Sitia is renowned for its medieval Venetian fortifications and its recently renovated and redisplayed Archaeological Museum. There we will encounter one of the oldest wine presses in existence; several undeciphered Linear A clay tablets, used for writing the Minoan language; and the gold and ivory statue of kouros, or young man.
Free time for lunch, and then we travel by coach down the eastern coast to the magnificent seaside town of Kato Zakros. The town is famous for the Minoan Palace of Zakros, the beautiful coastal scenery, and the Gorge of the Dead, which was used as a Minoan cemetery. Tonight, we enjoy a traditional Cretan dinner. (Overnight in Kato Zakros at Terra Minoika Villas or similar)
Fri, April 12
Kato Zakros, Vai Palm Beach, Transfer to Mistral Bay Hotel (B)Read more
After breakfast at Terra Minoica Villas, we travel by coach to the haunting Minoan Palace of Kato Zakros. The palace, built around 1,450 BCE, is a beautifully excavated and preserved archaeological site, largely undiscovered and unplundered. This was believed to be the principal Minoan import-export centre.
Afterwards we’ll enjoy a 1.5 hour impressive hike to the the ominously named Gorge of the Dead, a haunting Minoan cemetery.
We then drive to the isolated 15th century Toplou Monastery, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and one of the most beloved and significant sites in all of Crete. Toplou suffered numerous attacks by pirates in medieval times and served as a shelter for Cretan resistance fighters during the Nazi occupation. Toplou features a world-class ikon school, a museum, and a farm producing prize-winning organic olive oil. From the monastery we drive to Vai Palm Beach, the largest natural palm forest in Europe.
After a local lunch, time permitting, we will enjoy a swim in the sea. Then, we drive two-and-a-half hours along the coast to the west side of the Gulf of Mirabello, to the lovely town and 10th century church, Agios Nikolaos, situated on picturesque Lake Voulismeni, ringed by atmospheric tavernas and cafes. Here, we’ll check in to the picturesque, four-star Mistral Bay Hotel, which is a one-minute walk to the spectacular beach. (Overnight in Agios Nikolaos at Mistral Bay Hotel or similar)
Sat, April 13
Sanctuary of Karfi (B, L) Read more
Today, we drive by coach to the beautiful Lassithi high plains mountains and hike to the rarely-visited, late Minoan peak sanctuary of Karfi, “The Nail,” which rises to an altitude of 1,200 metres. The sacred site is now believed to have been used to worship the Mother Goddess over 4,000 years ago. The sanctuary offers a sublime panoramic view of the Diktaean Mountains and the north coast of Crete.
After our hike, we enjoy lunch at the Seli Ambelou Taverna, famous in Crete for its traditional country fare, or at Kourites, also wonderful. Evening back in Agios Nikolaos. (Overnight in Agios Nikolaos at Mistral Bay Hotel or similar)
Sun, April 14
Kera Kritsa, Myrtia Village, Zaros (B, D) Read more
After breakfast in our hotel, we take our coach to a gem of Greek Orthodox Church architecture, the 14th century domed Kera Kritsa church, which features spectacular 12th and 13th century Byzantine frescoes. Beginning in 2019, for the first time, it will be permissible to take photographs of the frescoes.
Afterward, we will drive on to Myrtia Village, where we will visit the museum dedicated to the famous Cretan novelist and mystic, Nikos (“Zorba the Greek”) Kazantzakis.
We’ll spend the night in the attractive Cretan village of Zaros, noted for its popular spring water. Time permitting, we will enjoy the workshop of Maria, a master weaver, and the music studio of Antonio, a master musical instrument maker.
For dinner we will enjoy a traditional Cretan group meal at Vivi’s Restaurant; Georgios assures us Vivi is a magnificent cook guaranteed to put a smile on your face. She has invited us to cook alongside her! (Overnight in Zaros at Studios Keramos or similar)
Mon, April 15
Kato Kepetaniana (B, D) Read more
After an award-winning breakfast prepared for us by Katerina from the Greek Culinary Institute we visit the enchanting village of Kato Kapetaniana, where we will pile into 4x4 vehicles and drive to Mount Kofinas. From there, we have the option of hiking to the 1,231-metre summit of Kofinas (“Inverted Basket,” in Greek), the highest peak of the Asterousian Mountains, where a Minoan goddess sanctuary flourished in 1700 -1600 BCE. In the early 20th century, the Chapel of the Holy Cross was constructed, which celebrates a religious festival every fall. The peak offers a spectacular panoramic view of the southern coast.
Dinner in Zaros at the Keramos Hotel. (Overnight in Zaros at Studios Keramos or similar)
Tue, April 16
Palace at Phaistos (Festos) (B) Read more
After breakfast at our hotel, we visit Phaistos, or Festos, one of the most magnificent Minoan sites of Crete, where we see its palace, built around 2,000 BCE by King Radamanthis and destroyed by either warfare or natural disaster around 1700 BCE. Here was discovered the still mysterious Phaistos Disk, and the Agia Triada, a beautiful Minoan Villa festooned with frescoes and stone vases. Then we’ll transfer to the Hotel Menta in the scenic town of Rethymnon, featuring some of the most luxurious Venetian Palazzos, as well as Ottoman period mosques and markets.
Dinner on our own tonight. (Overnight in Rethymnon at the Hotel Menta or similar)
Wed, April 17
Arkadi, Eleftherna, Margarites (B, L) Read more
Today, we visit what many regard as the most important national monument on Crete and the very symbol of Cretan freedom, 14th century Arkadi Monastery. Arkadi was the site of resistance against the Ottoman Empire. In 1866, more than 1,000 locals died in the fight for independence.
Afterward, we head to Eleftherna, one of the 100 ancient cities of Crete, as described by Homer. At the Eleftherna Archaeological Museum we’ll enjoy a demonstration of an ancient pottery workshop, owned by George, a local expert potter from Margarites village.
We’ll drive to the village of Thronos for a great traditional Cretan lunch prepared for us by a local family, where we will enjoy a grand view of Mount Ida, where some scholars believe Zeus was born. (Overnight in Rethymnon at the Hotel Menta or similar)
Thurs, April 18
Fodele, Departure (B)Read more
After breakfast, we offer an optional visit to the village of Fodele, birthplace of the world-renowned painter, El Greco. Transfers will be provided to Heraklion airport for your departure flights back home. Please let us know if you require an extra night in Heraklion.
Mythic Crete with Phil Cousineau and Georgios Spiradakis
April 9 - 18, 2019
One bus arrival transfer for the group based on the majority of arrivals. Others will take a taxi to the hotel (inexpensive)
9 nights hotel accommodation
17 meals: Breakfast daily, 2 lunches, and 5 dinners
Transportation by air-conditioned coach or 4 x 4 vehicle as per itinerary
One bus transfer for the group from Rethymnon to Heraklion Airport on Day 10
Travel with bestselling writer & filmmaker Phil Cousineau
Morning discussions with Phil on Cretan and Greek mythology, art, literature, and crafts
Historic and cultural site interpretation by veteran local guide George Spiradakis
Visits to archaeological sites, churches, and sacred temples
Studio visits with and demonstrations by renowned Cretan artisans and craftspeople
Mountain and forest hikes
Tours of famous palaces
Viewing of renowned archaeological artefacts
Ability to photograph 12th and 13th century frescoes for the first time
Tour Does Not Include:
Airfare to and from Heraklion, Crete, Greece
Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for a quote)
Meals and drinks not specified
Tips and Gratuities (approx. USD $140-$170 total)
Cost to obtain valid passport
Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks and telephone calls
Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website
Greek Government Overnight Stay Tax. All visitors are required to pay this directly to the hotel on arrival. It cannot be paid by our land agent. Approx. costs per room, per night in Euro: Lato Hotel 1.50, Terra Monoika 0.50, Mistral Bay 3.00, Zapoe 0.50, Menta Hotel 1.50