- Flower of the month | December| Crocus cartwrightianus
- First winter snow – 5th December 2013
- In the news | Links to current news articles about Crete and Greece
- Flower of the month | October | Colchicum macrophyllum
- Alternative “all-inclusive”
- Flower of the month | September | Crithmum maritimum
- In defence of all-inclusive resorts
- Flower of the month | August | Bupleurum kakiskalae
- John Shepherd on Winter tourism in Crete
- muzzy on First winter snow – 5th December 2013
- melanie on Favourite Chania restaurants
- Christine Clayton on Alternative “all-inclusive”
- Jill on Winter tourism in Crete
- Alex on Favourite Chania restaurants
- DavidA on Favourite Chania restaurants
- DavidA on A meal with a view – Best locations in West Crete
Daily photo of Crete
The spectacular Crocus cartwrightianus is the wild ancestor of the saffron crocus and flowers in November and December. So far it has only been found to grow on the peninsulas of Akrotiri and Gramvousa and at Falasarna.
It is said to grow near sea level but I recently found quite a few of them on Gramvousa growing at up to 560m (the flower in the photo above was taken at an altitude of 500m) so there is still plenty of scope for discovering new habitats for this beautiful flower.
The first snow of the winter has finally fallen. There were huge local variations. For example the South of Crete got very little rain (and very little snow higher up). The mountains around Apokorona (Spathi, Grias Soros, Agio Pnevma, Mavri) seem to have a good quantity. It’s hard to judge without going there but I’d say close to one meter. The mountains further to the West (Kallergi, Volakies, Gingolos, Psilafi) are showing a lot less snow.
Today the weather is sunny but very cold weather with heavy rains is predicted for next week so we might get “proper snow” all over the mountains soon.
Colchicum macrophyllum is one of the few autumn flowers of Crete and can be found in the eastern Aegean.
I have just finished working on a small project for a friend in Agia Roumeli which illustrates perfectly how Cretans could and should respond to the wave of impersonal all-inclusive packages sweeping the island.
Roussos Viglis put together a short “all-inclusive” 4 days package to present the area of his roots, the gorge of Samaria and Agia Roumeli. A short personal introduction to life, past and present, in one of the last wild places of Europe.
Take a look at The Samaria Experience. It is the perfect antithesis of what we generally understand under all-inclusive. And I believe that many more Cretans will move away from mass-tourism to offer well-thought small offerings of quality tourism for discerning people who want more than somewhere warm by the sea for a week.
Crithmum maritimum or Rock samphire always grows near the sea, in rocks, cliffs and sand. It flowers from August to October.
The continuous growth of tourism in Crete and the rest of Greece in the 1980s and 90s was driven by the fact that Greece was a cheap holiday destination. As Greece got wealthier prices rose and by the time the Euro came into existence it had lost its price advantage to places like Turkey and “new” holiday destinations in eastern Europe and growth either slowed, stopped and for some places turned into decline. The people looking for cheap were looking elsewhere.
I have been saying for a little over 10 years that tourism in Greece needs to reinvent itself. My thinking was that if Greece can’t sell “cheap” any more it had to increase quality and provide better service to match higher prices. More importantly it needs to make use and develop what is attractive about the place apart and away from cheap prices. There is a huge potential in activity holidays (walking, sea sports, botanical tours, culture) as well as the whole culinary side (you don’t even need to market it! The Cretan diet is already a well-known brand!).
Crete is THE perfect place for agrotourism and community based tourism. There are more and more initiatives by individuals and small businesses and there is a huge potential for growth to attract discerning visitors.
What I had not expected was that “cheap” could reinvent itself in the form of “all-inclusive” packages that are becoming hugely popular with tourists who are looking for a sun & sea holiday for the lowest possible cost. They are not interested in where they go, they don’t want to get to know other cultures so they could not care less where they are as long as the sun, warm weather and sea are there (and maybe a pool and cheap or free booze).
I see it a little as the tourism equivalent of fast-food vs home-cooked dishes or gastronomy.
This is not due to a conspiracy by tour operators to kill small family businesses. Tour operators respond to what people want and the increase in people wanting all-inclusive has prompted them to offer it more and more.
It is undeniable that the growth of all-inclusive holidays has many negative effects (the comments section of that link also makes an interesting read) but I don’t see it as all negative.
In defence of all-inclusive resorts we need to consider that:
- They fulfil a demand
- Despite what some say they create jobs – even if it is mainly low paid jobs, it’s better than no jobs at all in the current crisis.
- It keeps the tourist masses in specific places and leaves other areas free for us to roam in peace
- A stay at an AI resort could give people a glimpse of Crete and make them want to come back in order to see more of it.
Obviously the shift in markets is damaging for many businesses and it is hard for these people but they are being caught in the location shifts of specific markets – a little like grocery shops which were decimated by the emergence of supermarkets or small retail stores driven to bankruptcy by online shopping.
Legislation against all-inclusive holidays will do nothing positive. There is already far too much legislation in Greece. If you make life hard for this market they will just go somewhere else. After all Turkey next door offers plenty of them.
In my view the best answer is to concentrate on making the more individual and higher quality markets better known and accessible so that they become an attractive holiday option for more and more holiday makers. People who look for quality will quickly move away from AI because cost-cutting cannot sustain quality.
It is time for the people affected by the emergence of all-inclusive holidays to act with creativity and flexibility and maybe become the ones who create these new alternatives.
August is not a great month in Crete for flowers but you can find some interesting ones in the mountains. One of the rarest flowers in Crete (listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List) goes by the weird name of Bupleurum kakiskalae and is found only in two places in Crete, both within the boundaries of the Samaria National Park.
One of these spots is quite easily accessible as it is located on the way to the summit of Gingilos, less than an hour’s walking time from the start of the walk. Just after passing through the big arch you will notice an information board. From there (stay on the path, the slope that leads to the foot of the cliff is steep and very slippery) look towards the cliffs to the North and you might see some of the tall Bupleurum flowers. It helps if you have binoculars.
In some years (like now in 2013) there are almost no flowers, in other years you can see quite a few. The photo above was taken in 2008.
The last article about winter tourism in Crete discussed the steps needed to make winter tourism possible, or at least more accessible. In this one I’d like to list a few reasons for coming to Crete in winter. I am sure that I’ll miss some so if you have been to Crete in winter or live on the island please add your views in the Comments section.
What seems to me to be the most attractive aspect of visiting Crete in the winter is not the warmer weather but the amazing contrast between Crete and northern Europe: as autumn progresses and northern countries slide into a world of grey and white, in Crete the first heavy rains that usually occur around October or November clear the air of the summer dust and make grass sprout within days. December brings the first spring flowers, snow capped mountains and emerald fields whilst the wind in the olive trees turns them silver. By February and March Crete is at its most colourful – and in a sense its most powerful .
The warmer weather is of course another very attractive aspect. I don’t want to bore you with weather statistics but suffice to say that when the sun shines it is strong and warming and you could easily sunbathe on a good day. Even the sea doesn’t get that cold. The lowest temperatures (in late February) are just above 15°C.
And when it rains (which happens around 60 days of the year in the North-West of Crete where it rains most) it generally pours – none of this never ending drizzle and greyness – then it passes and the sun comes out again.
What you will also appreciate in the winter is that there are no crowds. It’s a perfect time to visit museums and famous archaeological sites. You can actually enjoy strolling and dreaming of the past through the empty alleys of Knossos instead of having to elbow your way through throngs of tourists in the baking summer heat.
Winter is also a great time to go to places like Elafonisi or Balos that are nowadays best avoided in summer. And of course, if you like walking, winter is a wonderful time: green, cool and full of flowers. But you’ll have to accept that the weather, unlike the period from May to September, can be unstable (and sometimes really vile).
A very pleasant side-effect of the lack of tourists in winter is that you will be noticed and treated as a visitor, a guest, and not a faceless number in the crowds.
Of course if winter tourism ever takes hold in Crete there will be more people and you won’t be able to spend a whole day in, say, Elafonisi and only meet two or three other human beings but I am sure that it will always remain a low key and relaxed affair for people who look for more than generic sea and sun.
Before any significant winter tourism occurs I suggest that it is best to avoid staying in the purely touristic resorts because they shut down in winter. Even if you find accommodation there won’t be much life, maybe no restaurants open, possibly not even shops. It is probably best to stay in towns such as Chania where life goes on in winter and hire a car (you can get really good deals in winter) to go around.
Someone very recently started a petition to Easyjet and Ryanair for year-round flights to Crete. Whilst I think that chances are very slim that either of these companies will base their flight schedules decisions on an online petition I also believe that it can’t hurt to make our wishes known to them so I’d encourage anyone who flies (or would fly) to Crete in winter to add your name to it.
The petition also brings back the subject of winter tourism in Crete or, more to the point, why there isn’t any winter tourism in Crete.
I have seen people argue that the sea is too cold or that it rains too often. This is completely beside the point: yes, the climate of Crete (or anywhere in Europe for that matter) is not appropriate for winter beach tourism – the nearest place for this is the Canary islands - but Crete in winter still has much to offer*.
A lot of people take winter holidays in southern Spain and the climate of Malaga (rainfall, average temperatures and days of rain per month) is almost the same as Crete’s climate**.
So why do people go to South Spain for a winter holiday and not to Crete?
Very simple: South Spain is sold and marketed as a winter destination. There are regular charter flights to Malaga in winter and people know that it is a pleasant escape from the cold and grey of northern Europe.
Crete on the other hand can only be reached by scheduled flights via Athens (contrary to what many people think they can be quite cheap if you avoid the Christmas peak), most known seaside resorts shut down for the winter (because there is no demand for them to stay open) so that it only attracts a very small number of visitors who know Crete well, know that it is also very nice in winter and are willing to travel independently.
The average punter who wants a short break from the dreariness of a northern winter goes to Spain.
Starting any kind of viable winter tourism in Crete is a “chicken-and-egg” problem: there won’t be a demand for winter flights to Crete unless relatively cheap direct flights exist. But airlines have no interest in providing flights to a destination that is not popular. Therefore you need availability of flights (supply) and marketing (demand) to happen concurrently to make the whole thing viable. Once this is there you also need to brand Crete as a winter destination. I believe that with careful orchestration it would be quite easy to jump start Crete as a winter tourism destination, but who will be the conductor?
We can immediately dismiss EOT (the Greek National Tourism Organisation) as the only thing they have managed well since their creation (apart from squandering tax-payers money) was to be consistently useless at promoting and branding Greece. If anyone could do it I’d put my money on the Region of Crete (Περιφέρεια Kρήτης) who have made a valiant effort to promote their island with their own web site and interesting promotional short videos. Someone seems to have good ideas and the will to work at promoting and branding Crete.
So, why not a second petition to the Region of Crete to help start year-round flights and some winter tourism to Crete ?
* I will list the attractions of Crete in winter in the next article I write because it would make this one too long.
** The climate of Crete shows huge variations between different parts of the island. Chania and the North-West of Crete is the wettest (coastal) part of the island and this is what I was comparing to Malaga.