Sample the wine routes of Heraklion
It’s hardly surprising that Heraklion is attracting ever-greater attention as a wine destination. More than two-thirds of Crete’s vineyards are found here and the region accounts for some 80% of the island’s wine production.
After all, the growing conditions – cool winters and long, dry summers accompanied by rich Mediterranean sunshine – would have been just as ideal when the first vines were cultivated here, an incredible 4,000 years ago.
Rolling down hillsides and meandering through valleys, the vineyards of today are interwoven into the Heraklion landscape every bit as much as the region’s history, food and traditions.
There are four Protected Designation of Origin areas in the region forming two wine routes – Archanes (reds) and Peza (whites and reds) on the road south-east beyond Knossos, Dafnes (reds) on the road southwest towards Phaistos, and Chandakas-Candia / Malvasia (whites) found in wineries along both routes.
Walking around the vineyards, wine tasting, meeting producers and, of course, bringing home a bottle or two… you’ve got it all to look forward to. And don’t forget to visit the abandoned village of Vathypetro (near Peza), in which there is a Minoan Megaron with what is believed to be one of the oldest wine presses in the world.
Where there’s culture, there’s wine … and vice versa. So while you’re visiting the vineyards, make sure you explore other highlights of Heraklion.
Koules Fortress and Venetian Walls
Once protecting Heraklion’s harbour, Koules is one of Crete’s most impressive Venetian fortifications. Dating from the 13th century, it was used as everything from a storehouse and officers’ quarters to a prison by the Ottomans. It is a classic example of Venetian architecture, with vaulted ceilings and thick walls that acted as a breakwater within the harbour.
The Morosini Fountain
There’s a double pleasure in heading to Lions’ Square – or Leondaria, as it’s colloquially known – to see the four water-spouting lions built by the Venetians in 1628. As well as once serving as a principal water source for the city’s residents, the detail of the stone carving is sublime, with figurines from Greek mythology, nymphs, sea monsters and dolphins. But so too is this square, right in the heart of the Old Town, a wonderful place to grab a coffee and just take in Heraklion’s special atmosphere.
The Archaeological Museum of Heraklion
Visiting the city’s world famous Archaeological Museum takes you on a journey through 5,500 years of history – all the way from Neolithic to Roman times. Recently renovated, it has gathered exhibits from all over Crete, most notably from Knossos and other Minoan palaces. Amongst the treasures are the Bull Leaper’s fresco and Figurines of the Snake Goddess, found at Knossos, and the Phaistos Disc.
You can’t visit Heraklion and not head to the Minoan Palace of Knossos. This was the largest palace of the oldest civilisation in Europe. Enough said! Indeed, the first palace on this site dated from around 1700BC, eventually replaced by the current structure whose elaborate design reflected the great Minoan civilisation at the height of its power.
There are many wineries in Heraklion, so it’s best to plan your trip in advance. Distances by car from Heraklion Airport to a selection of wineries (and the villages in or near which they are situated) are given below:
- Lyrarakis Winery (Alagni): 25km (30min). More info
- Boutari Winery (Skalani): 11km (15min). More info
- Domaine Gavalas (Vorias): 38km (45min). More info
- Mediterra Wineries or Creta Olymbias (Kounavi): 16km (20min). More info
- Domaine Paterianakis (Melesses): 22km (25min). More info
- Douloufakis Winery (Dafnes): 22km (25min). More info
- Minos-Miliariaki Winery (Peza): 20km (20min). More info
- Many of the wineries are open to visitors all year round (some upon request).
- The best experience is to visit during April-May, when the vineyards come to life and the weather is often ideal for walking and picnics. Or from mid-August to September during the harvest period.
- To visit all the wineries mentioned (and the cultural bonuses) takes 3-4 days.
- The experience at each winery, including wine tasting and touring the vineyard and cellar, will take 2-3 hours. It’s worth contacting each winery before visiting.