5 chefs standing in front of the arched doorway of a stone museum building

In certain upscale restaurants in Greece (some in five-star hotels), extra virgin olive oil is now being elevated to the level of fine wine. So at the 2nd International ELIA Lesvos Confest in Greece, chefs discussed recent trends in the use and presentation of olive oil in gastronomy, such as olive oil menus, olive oil bars, and even olive oil sommeliers.

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.

BYU students kneading bread

Fourteen U.S. students have been exploring the Greek version of the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle and their health benefits on a three-week experiential learning trip in Greece. Part of the Global Health Internship program at Brigham Young University, this journey combines tourist cruises, hikes, and destinations with traditional activities and classes.

the ancient olive tree of Vouves, Crete (as much of the trunk and crown as the space for the photo allows)

Locals claim the ancient olive tree of Ano Vouves, Crete is the oldest olive tree in Greece. This may be an exaggeration, but at 3,000 to 5,000 years old, it is one of the oldest and most impressive. Although its huge trunk is now hollow, this tree still produces olives and entices tens of thousands of tourists to admire its sculptural beauty each year.

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.

the white stone foundation walls remaining for an ancient room, with a gorge and hills beyond it

My first encounter with the archaeological site of Ancient Rokka took place at night, accompanied by my two small children, a crowd, and an orchestra. It was the night of the August full moon, when Greece celebrates the summer with special events, including a live outdoor musical performance on a steep, rocky hillside above a village in northwestern Crete.

Two people sitting on a stone wall, looking at a wide expanse of olive groves below them

“Authentic and local experiences are now the major trends in the travel industry,” reports Greek tourism consultant Dimitris Palaiogiannis. In Greece, he adds, agrotourism and food tourism offerings in various parts of the country combine “the quality products of the land with a unique cultural heritage” to reward explorers with unforgettable experiences.

four people sitting at a table in an olive grove, tasting olive oil

Greece's rich culinary heritage arose from millennia of agricultural tradition. Today, visitors can explore Greek agrotourism and food tourism offerings from Corinth and Mount Pelion to the Cycladic islands. Tourists can choose from olive grove tours, olive oil tastings, farm adventures, cooking lessons, feasts with traditional local cuisine, and more. 

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 some popular food tourism spots in the capital where they can discover the secrets of the Greek culinary tradition: the traditional Grocery Store of the Mediterranean Diet and the new, centrally located Ergon House.

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.

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.

View of river, palm trees, beach, sea, and hills at Preveli, Crete

Come to south central Crete for a holiday among gorges and rivers, valleys and hillsides full of olive groves, and beaches bordered by cliffs, hills, or a palm forest, with striking views of islands and hills across bays in the Libyan Sea—plus restaurants featuring fresh, traditional Cretan food in the birthplace of the Mediterranean diet.

The 3 columns of the Tholos remnants at the archaeological site of Delphi

By driving around the Corinthian Gulf, we can sample the various types of tourism available in Greece: beaches from Xylokastro to Nafpaktos, archaeological sites from Corinth to Delphi, endless olive groves, spring wildflowers, rivers, mountains, outdoor activities, gastronomic experiences, castles and bridges—all within a few hours’ drive of Athens.

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.

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.

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!)

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.

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!

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.

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.

An incomplete, introductory sample of noteworthy sites to visit