olive groves in southern Crete, 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.

olive groves above Plakias, hills, sea, and sky

As we draw near the small seaside resort town of Plakias, olive groves spread out below us, with silvery green leaves often undulating in the wind. For a particularly striking view, drive up the hill to Myrthios or Sellia, and look down toward the Libyan Sea, the part of the Mediterranean Sea between the island of Crete and Africa.

olive branch closeup against the sea and sky

In a few calm moments between wild wind gusts, I captured these olives and the panoramic sea view they share with guests at the Creta Spirit apartments west of Plakias. This area is as appealing in September and October as it is during the summer, but it can be windy.

closeup of olives growing on a branch against a bright blue sky

Wind-whipped olive branches nicely complement the mesmerizing sea currents blown into ever-changing patterns that push away from shore to reach out for whitecaps. However, I also appreciate it when the olives hold still, so I can admire them against a radiant blue sky.

olive closeup with bright flowers in the background

Or against a colorful mix of flowers, like this young potted olive tree at Iliomanolis taverna in Kanevos, just beyond the picturesque little Kotsyfou (Blackbird) Gorge north of Plakias. This small family business has developed a well-deserved reputation for surprisingly affordable, tasty traditional Cretan food that is well worth a detour.

olive groves in front of rocky hills

Detours in south central Crete are generally enjoyable, since they allow us to appreciate more of the area’s varied views (although the quality of the roads also varies considerably). Sometimes the olive trees contrast with stark gray cliffs.

a large olive tree with stark gray hills and blue sky behind it

Sometimes they extend over gentler hillsides. On the way to the Preveli Monastery east of Plakias, an old arched bridge crosses a clear, cold mountain stream that is bordered by reeds, with olive groves beyond them.

olive groves beyond the top of a stone bridge

There is more to explore as we head north: a path to waterfalls in the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, a church built into the side of the gorge, lion head fountains and shops with traditional products in Spili, and the Maravel Gardens just outside Spili.

olive and other trees in Maravel gardens in Spili

We first noticed the Maravel Shop in the village, with its wide variety of Cretan natural products, including olive oil, herbs, skin creams, herbal tea, honey, and the fragrant soaps I buy every time we are in the area. We later learned that the Maravel herb garden where many of these items originate is also open to the public, alongside another shop and a café.

an ancient olive tree with a pear-shaped trunk near other, younger olive trees at Maravel gardens

We discovered that the garden hosts many olive trees among its more than 100 species of both common and rare aromatic and medicinal herbs, including rosemary, lavender, lemon verbena, mint, and this grand old olive tree. My husband enjoyed a very good espresso and my children appreciated the unusual ice cream flavors at the café, which also offers a unique variety of herbal teas, juices, and smoothies.

olive groves, hills, sea, and sky in southern Crete

Crete is an island that deserves extensive exploration, and its fresh local produce and cuisine offer flavorful, healthy sustenance for its explorers. A lifetime is probably too short for most of us to fully discover all Greece has to offer, small as the country may seem. To get started, check out Hidden Gems of Southern Crete: Cuisine, Sea, and Scenery for more about culinary tourism and beaches in south central Crete, and consider the other suggestions in Greek Liquid Gold’s Agrotourism and Food Tourism section.

All businesses, organizations, and competitions involved with Greek olive oil or agrotourism or food tourism in Greece, as well as anyone else interested in supporting Greeks working in these sectors, are invited to consider the advertising and sponsorship opportunities on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website. With more than 200 original articles and recipes, the only wide-ranging English-language site focused on news and information from the Greek olive oil world has reached readers in 195 countries around the globe.

An incomplete, introductory sample of noteworthy sites to visit