guests sitting at tables for a catered lunch beneath olive trees at Biolea

From the southern island of Crete to northern Chalkidiki, Greek olive oil companies welcome international visitors to learn all about olive oil. In a variety of facilities and settings, tourists can explore the silvery green of olive groves, the health benefits of olives, and traditional and modern ways of getting the flavorful juice out of this fruit.

yellow wood sorrel flowers leading up to two olive trees against a brilliant blue sky

When I first came to Crete, the seasons surprised me. Rather than being adorned with red, orange, and yellow deciduous trees, fall turned the green of a Pennsylvania spring, and winter filled with more blossoms than a Rocky Mountain summer. Autumn rains revived leaves and grasses, and when skies cleared, the winter sun welcomed ever so many wildflowers.

Mixed salad featuring local products, Botanical Park restaurant in Crete

What is agrotourism? How does it overlap with food tourism? What good is it? We can explore these questions with examples from Greece, one of the European countries trying to expand tourism beyond the beaches and the summer. With its wealth of olive oil, wine, and fresh produce, the Greek countryside reveals the secrets of traditional healthy Greek cuisine.

olive groves above Plakias, with hills, sea, and sky

My family and I vacation in southern Crete every year. Initially, the gorgeous beaches south of the city of Rethymno attracted us. Now, as soon as we begin to approach the dramatic gorges, the olive tree covered landscapes also capture my gaze. Olive groves nestle in valleys, climb hillsides, approach stark cliffs, and slope down toward the clear blue sea.

A closeup of the face of Grigoris Kokolakis, peaking through branches full of olives

Last November, a Spaniard who has traveled the world to photograph olive groves visited Greece. Having seen Corfu and Paxos before, Eduardo Mencos Valdes decided to explore Crete, because he believes it “is the origin, in many ways, of our culture. You can trace the cultivation and the importance of olives and olive oil back to the Minoan culture” of Crete.

3D Model created by Manolis Maravelakis, Technological Educational Institute of Crete

(And it is even more fascinating to examine such ancient trees in person, if you can get to Greece to do it!)

The wall of herbs above the produce section and olive bar of the Agora (marketplace) at Ergon House

Greece is an ideal culinary tourism destination. Since many visitors begin their exploration of Greece in Athens, Greek Liquid Gold checked out three popular food tourism spots in the capital where they can discover the secrets of the Greek culinary tradition: the Grocery Store of the Mediterranean Diet, Yoleni’s, and this year’s new addition, Ergon House.

Chicken with orange, kafir lime, and lemon grass at the Botanical Park Restaurant in Crete

These types of tourism deserve the additional development expected in the future, but Greece already offers a rich array of choices to visitors interested in agrotourism (agritourism) and food tourism (culinary tourism). These alternative explorations allow tourists to experience the Greece that lies beyond the archaeological sites and beaches.

snow on olive trees and green sorrel beneath them

In olive oil producing countries such as Greece, tourists can wander through olive groves all year, observing the summer growth of olives, their autumn harvest, the winter landscapes, the new spring branches, leaves, and blossoms, and the cycle’s annual repetition. We can see people and nature working together to make Greek liquid gold in its homeland.

two people moving harvested olives from a net into a crate

How are Greek olives harvested? How is Greek olive oil made? A small international group learned the answers to these questions while enjoying a behind the scenes glimpse of a farmer’s daily life. We participated in the Cretan Gastronomy Center’s olive harvest day, following the Kalligiannis family’s olives from their trees to the village olive mill.

11 blue olive oil tasting glasses, an apple on a plate at the left, bottle of water back right

Terra Creta in Kolymvari, Crete, Greece offers a 3½ hour seminar on olive oil quality and organoleptic evaluation (olive oil tasting) for visitors, chefs, and other related professionals. The seminar is led by Eleftheria Germanaki, international olive oil competition judge, agronomist, and head of the certified organoleptic lab in Rethymno.

Visitors listening to a presentation in Anoskeli's tasting room

Too little time during your vacation in Crete? Can’t decide whether to visit an olive mill or a winery? Come to the village of Anoskeli in the foothills of the White Mountains, where you can do both at once, as well as sampling Anoskeli’s award-winning olive oil and wine in a tasting room overlooking the village’s olive groves and vineyards.

Cluster of purple grapes lit by evening light against a blue sky

Surrounded by olive groves in the foothills of the White Mountains, the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete offers natural beauty, exercise, information, and healthy, tasty food. Overflowing with tropical and Mediterranean flowers, herbs, and fruits, the park surrounds an acclaimed restaurant featuring its own organically grown produce and olive oil.

Olive groves in PDO Kolymvari on a cloudy day

Trivago claims Chania, Crete is Greek tourists’ favorite domestic vacation spot this summer, while Trip Advisor ranks Crete as the 2nd most popular Greek island overall, with 1215 things to do here. Remember that this includes far more than the island’s scenic beaches and fascinating archaeological sites and museums. Don’t forget the olive groves!

A table with olive oil, salad, glassware, and dishes (viewed from the side)

Greek chef Vasilis K. Leonidou was judged the “Best Olive Oil Chef” in the world for 2017 by Flos Olei, the international olive oil guide from Italy. The guide also named the Kapsaliana Village Hotel restaurant where he is head chef 2017’s “Best Restaurant of the Year.” At the hotel in the olive groves near Rethymno, Crete, Leonidou discussed his goals.

Toplou Monastery compound viewed from above

If you are in northeastern Crete, deviate from the beaten track between Sitia and Vai Beach to visit the Toplou Monastery, where religion and culture intermingle with history and tradition. Toplou offers striking scenery, an impressive fortress, rare books and engravings, Byzantine icons, and the monastery’s own local wines, tsikoudia, and olive oil.

Chloe and Eftychis next to Biolea's stone mill

Let’s talk about olive oil, Biolea’s Chloe Dimitriadis and Pamako’s Eftychis Androulakis say to their visitors. They share their experience with all aspects of organic olive cultivation and olive oil production, use, health benefits, and tasting, uniquely comparing traditional production at a stone mill and hydraulic press with the modern process in Crete.

An up-close view of the massive, sculptural trunk of the monumental olive tree of Kavousi

If you visit northeast Crete, venture beyond the resorts of Agios Nikolaos and the unique palm forest next to Vai Beach. Discover an ancient monumental olive tree, a Greek café with a spectacular panoramic view and olive oil history lessons, a shop full of traditional local products, and a historic fortified monastery producing acclaimed wine and olive oil.

Detailed closeup of part of the trunk of the ancient olive tree in Vouves, Crete

This year, the TUI Care Foundation began working with Greeks to help support sustainable tourism in Crete by bringing together the island’s tourism and agriculture sectors. At the same time, the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities continued its ongoing efforts to promote agrotourism activities focused on olive trees and olive oil in Crete.

snowy, icy olive branch

Greek olive groves were hit with a once in a decade storm in some areas in early January 2017, including freezing rain, sleet, and snow on Cretan olive trees on January 8, the day before the long Christmas vacation was to end. Chania students got an extra day of vacation, even where roads were clear. That was unusual near sea level, but you can find beautiful snow in the mountains any winter, so why not visit Greece then, too? Every season is a beautiful season here.

An incomplete, introductory sample of noteworthy sites to visit