Crete’s economy once relied on fertile plains and mountains. Now these areas attract those looking for a dose of country living; agritourism is on the rise, with farm stays and hands-on rural experiences popping up all over the island.
Open to members of the public for day visits, farm tours and dinner, Agreco was created in 2002 by Nikos Daskalantonakis, founder of the Grecotel hotel chain, as a tourist attraction and to encourage local farmers to use organic methods to grow produce for the area’s hotels.
Depending on the season, wannabe farmhands can tread grapes in an old stone vat, harvest wheat, help make olive oil, bake bread in a wood-burning oven and pick vine leaves for dolmades. Down below, on the main drag of Rethymno town, tourists mill, postcards gather dust and the sea laps the sand. Up here, where I’m “working”, tiny Byzantine monasteries cling to the mountains, thyme and mint sway in the breeze and birds twitter.
The Association of British Travel Agents reports that tourism to Greece – specifically its islands – is up 2% since last year, though Crete’s robust farming sector means it doesn’t rely on tourism as much as some other islands.
At Agreco, everything is organic: duck droppings are used as fertiliser and old feta cheese tins reused for growing herbs. It’s the kind of place where one feels meditative, separate from everyday life. In one afternoon I watch goats’ milk turn to cheese with the addition of hot water and lemon; bite into wild artichokes fresh from the ground, knead bread at the watermill and learn how to shear a sheep. We then sit down for a 30-dish meal in which everything from the boiled eggs and chicken to the plump tomatoes, honey and wine was produced just metres away.
Rural, sustainable Crete is flourishing, proving that tourism and the simple life can live side-by-side.