I’d heard word of a quaint little town where the flowers bloom like a summer meadow and the landscapes are bursting with natural produce and an excellent spirit and zest for life hidden amongst its cafes and locals. Archanes is one of Crete’s prettiest villages, traditionally preserved and holding onto its atmospheric mountain town vibes. It sounded like the kind of place that fills my heart with joy. The scent of flowers by day and the delicious aromas of wine at night.
Being the biggest of all Greek islands, the Cretan coastline has all kinds of shores. From pebbles to fine sand and crystal waters, beaches are one of the favourite activities for visitors. Yet, not everything is seaside! The vastness of the landscape also allows for visits to inland traditional Cretan villages: Archanes is one of those settlements. A place where to experience the most authentic local culture. The small village of Archanes sits at the foothill of Mount Giouchtas, and it is relatively close to the capital of the island, Heraklion. Its history extends back over 5,000 years, which makes it one of the most traditional settlements in Crete. The village retains the mountain atmosphere of the island thanks to restoration works carried out with European Union funds. Respectful of its original characteristics, these recovery works have earned it an award as the second best-restored village in Europe. Moreover, the settlement also won first place in long-term development with its newly stone-paved streets. Blooming trees and kafenia (traditional local cafés) are part of its unique landscape. The attractive village of Archanes is famous for its fine wines and numerous PDO wineries in the region.
What to do in Archanes
I had chosen the perfect day to visit if there ever was an imperfect day when you’re in Crete! The little streets and alleyways are overflowing with charm and beauty. Especially in spring and summer when the flowers are in full bloom. Wandering through the streets of Archanes is truly enchanting. Each corner invites a new colourful experience. Greeting you vibrantly painted houses and the enticing smell of many flowers, fruit trees, and plants that hang from every balcony and spill from every square. It is a hidden gem in the Cretan countryside. I found myself just weaving in and out of the houses for almost an hour, building a collection of pretty viewpoints. A blush coloured house with glorious cascading wisteria. Another one in yellow, it’s walls peppered with vibrant ivy. Hiking, local food tasting, gorging, touring the vineyards, and family picnic are some more activities nearby this amazing village!
Ploumi – Art space and Cafe
Whilst the flowers bloom in beauty, local cafe and workshop space ‘Ploumi” blooms creatively! The cafe and art space is named after the ploumi flower, endemic to Crete. That flourishes with fabulous pink and lilac flowers between April and June. Ploumi is run by five creatives who found common ground in the wake of the economic crisis through their passions for music, the arts, and ideology. They wanted to create a space that inspired and cultivated artistic expression, and so Ploumi was born, or grown! They’re a huge part of the community, offering free music classes for children for a year. All of the workshops are absolutely free, and the project is funded by the coffee shop. I was intrigued by the story of the cafe and thought it only right to visit for an afternoon coffee and a chance to soak up a piece of my own story. They play traditional Cretan music and there’s always the hustle and bustle of something different going on every day. What better way to soak up a piece of traditional Cretan culture than to get directly involved in the local creative scene. The creatives at Ploumi want to hold on to traditions and know that passing down skills and knowledge is the key to a thriving future. So they arrange classes to teach knitting, bread making, and old classic recipes like Maggiri; a traditional pasta dish, and of course, a glass of raki with the locals in the cafe.
As they say, do as the locals do! Another star of Archanes is the Tavern Lycastos (Likastos) in the village square. An authentic Greek restaurant offering some of the best-homecooked Greek traditional recipes by chef and owner Mrs Keti. If you want the best advice, try a little of everything. That way you can sample a little of each of the different flavours and textures. From the perfect classic dolmades to the interesting “ink fish” with fennel. If you want a taste of traditional Crete on a plate, there’s no better place than Mrs Keti’s menu, and the warm and cosy hospitality from Lycastos made it shoot straight up the list of my favourite food experiences in Crete.
Many significant finds of the Minoan era came from the surrounding area. These are in the local Archaeological Museum (8.30 – 14.30).
The picturesque Archanes sits at the foothills of the Giouchtas mountain range. Making for a landscape of rolling hills and endless nature that begs to be explored. the Giouchtas region offers superb options for hiking and cycling routes. Conveniently, there are many loop routes than run from the village. The E4 hiking path goes through the village and leads to the summit of the mountain Giouchtas. On the mountaintop lies the chapel of “Afentis Christos” with an important celebration on August 6th. Pay a visit to the Koroneiki olive mill to learn about the local extra virgin olive oil. I ended up trekking there by accident. Following the lovely side streets and meandering so far into nature that I was halfway through the Chapel on the Youchtas route. An easily accessible path that loops out of the village taking in lovely sights of churches, painted murals, and the wonderful mountain views. After a while, the intermediate hike raises slightly into the mountainside. Ending in sweeping views of the surrounding vineyards. Incredible sight of the legacy of wine culture spread out before you crisscrossing the lands. The very picture of this fruitful place. I’m no painter, but I could have sat here for hours and painted the postcard-perfect scene below. Wild birds sweeping in and out of view and the sounds of nature surrounding me. There are a few migratory bird species in the region, including the spotted flycatcher (Muscicapa Striata) and the hoopoe (Upupa epops epops).
Nearby Knosano Gorge is also the perfect choice for a day out in the area. Pack a fresh picnic, and head to the starting way at Epano Archanes. It’s a moderate walk of 2.5 hours featuring views of the serene small gorge, the Karydaki Bridge, an old Venetian bridge over the aqueduct that used to provide Heraklion with the fresh spring waters from Archanes. Along with a wooden observation point that provides lovely views over the dense greenery in the gorge which is also known as ‘Paradeisos’ (Paradise). You can carry on from there to Forni and tackle the fun bike trails there, or pass the little prehistoric cemetery back to Epano Archanes. Another ideal place nearby for pic nic would be Aria Eirini!
For the adrenaline lovers, there’s a couple of thrilling bike trails through the Giouchtas region. The Giouchtas DH#1 is a gnarly downhill trail through rock gardens and features a lot of steep technical trail sections. The track entrance is by the church at the top of the mountain. There’s also the Fourni trail on the Northside of the village that can be ridden both ways and easily joined with the Knosano Gorge walk.
Wine, Staple Product of Archanes
Wine lovers rejoice. Wine is number one here, and Archanes has some of the finest PDO vineyards in the world. PDO means Protected Designation of Origin, which means these carefully cultured wines are exclusive to their environment. The PDO Archane zone stretches over the landscapes of Ano and Kato Archanes, Agios Syllas, Vasilies, Kyparissi, Profitis Elias and Skalani. Viticulture here dates back to the Minoan era, and one of the oldest wine presses ever found in Crete (3500 years old) was brought to light in the nearby Vathipetro. Of course, it is possible to pay a visit. As you can imagine, the winemaking skills here have been perfected over centuries! PDO Archanes zone wines are namely dry red. Nowadays, these local wines are part of the menu in the most exclusive local restaurants of Heraklion. The co-vinification of Kotsifali and Mandilari – two indigenous grape varieties – produce many of the local labels.
There are many typical wine and food tours offered around Archanes around the celebrated wineries such as Lyrarakis – known for the award-winning Lyrarakis Red with great vintage credentials. Paterianakis – 100% organic wines with strong personalities, and Boutari, one of the largest wine producers in Crete. A typical tour will take you on a whirlwind day adventure discovering the secrets of Cretan winemaking. Viewing the fertile countryside, the unique and expansive vineyards that craft the countryside into neat lines of vibrant green grapevines. As well as wine production from start to finish, a trip around the wine cellars, including the tasting of course. Ending in a perfectly cultivated bottle set right upon your dinner table. Of course, I was very excited to be taking my local wine tour in Heraklion very soon, but for the rest of my evening in Archanes. I settled for a glass or two of local wine in the taverna Lycastos.
How to Get to Archanes
For those driving, drive past the Archaeological site of Knossos and turn right at the Archanes sign-post; once there, drive for 5 km more. From the centre of Heraklion, the drive time is about 30 minutes. If you prefer public transport, there are regular buses that reach the village every hour. Therefore, just head to the local bus station if you want to pay a visit.