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Instead of braving the baking heat of Greece in the summer, why not visit in the spring when the climate is reliably mild and temperate? Factor in the manageable travel time, delicious food and discounted accommodation rates, and you have a perfect combination for a crowd-free escape.
Expect luminous landscapes animated with trees in bud, wildflowers in bloom and clear blue skies.
Our base for a week of gently guided trekking is Arosmari Village Hotel on the outskirts of Vamos, an unspoilt 18th-century village set against the backdrop of the snow-capped White Mountains. Arosmari’s group of lovingly converted stone and cypress cottages consists of kitchenettes, open-plan living rooms, beamed bedrooms and shaded terraces.
However, the focal point is the beautiful garden. Roses and lavender bushes surround a small chapel and an old stone shepherd’s hut. There’s a huge pool, but even prettier are the garden’s secret spots, where calico-cushioned loungers are shaded by lemon and orange trees.
With slightly throbbing feet from the guided day hike, you can easily spend an afternoon here. However, mornings are all about activity. After a delightful breakfast buffet we have a series of fairly easy hikes led by expat Jonathan Peat. On our first day we head west to the flower-covered plateau of Megala Chorafia near the Minoan city of Aptera.
This is by far my favorite hike of the week, not only for the panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and the fascinating archaeological ruins, but also for the lush flora underfoot: Jerusalem sage, tiny wild orchids, and blue tigerheads.
At times it feels like we’re wading through a giant salad bowl, and as we zoom through green meadows along ancient trails, Jonathan entertains us with local stories and herbal potion recipes. Later we return through citrus groves full of sweet and bitter oranges, tangerines and grapefruits.
Each daily walk includes a fabulous lunch at a taverna you would never find without the help of insider knowledge. At Taverna Moustakas in Stilos we feast on endless mezze, salty lamb chops and strong local wine.
Inland from the coastal town of Chania we admire a perfectly preserved Hellenistic bridge from the 5th century BC. as we drive through fields of wild asparagus and cyclamen en route to tiny Maza.
There are even more treats at Maza’s only tavern – a traditional Cretan wedding feast of artichokes and broad bean puree and mountain vegetables in puff pastry. We eat al fresco under a 600-year-old olive tree and later visit a pretty church dedicated to Saint Nicholas, with rare frescoes by the famous 14th-century Cretan artist Ioannis Pagomenos.
Unforgettable picnics are arranged by Jonathan’s wife Myriam – especially welcome after a strenuous walk along ancient Venetian paths on the Omalos plateau. The landscape here is barren. Goats cling to craggy rock faces while griffon vultures and buzzards soar overhead. Equally dramatic is our walk in Akrotiri, where we crawl down a vast gorge dotted with abandoned monastic churches and hermit caves. The air is rich with the pungent smell of wild thyme and mercifully we have this dreamy piece of the island all to ourselves.
Walk this way
Three exciting off-season walking holidays in Greece
Island hopping between Naxos and Santorini On this trekking holiday you have the bonus of trekking on two fabulous islands along routes that take you far from the crowds. Both islands are very beautiful in the spring before the peak tourist season. The self-guided walking holiday includes all transfers, directions, maps and B&B accommodation in characterful hotels (macadventure.com).
Hidden Corfu Enjoy the lesser-known parts of Corfu’s popular west coast on this self-guided hotel-to-hotel walking holiday. Each moderate daily hike follows the Corfu Trail and takes you from the south of the island to the north following ancient footpaths above the coast. Luggage is transported daily, dinners, picnics and maps are included, and the eclectic mix of three-star country hotels are set in tranquil surroundings (inntravel.co.uk).
Autumn on Pelion Peninsula Discover this little-known corner of mainland Greece on an idyllically situated, guided walking holiday along medieval stone paths below dramatic Mount Pelion. In this hiking week with half board at a moderate level, you have a day at leisure and hikes with rest breaks on deserted beaches (hfholidays.de).
Simpson Travel offer a range of week-long guided walking breaks from £1,395 pp B&B, including flights and transfers, welcome dinner and a minimum of five guided walks with lunch included (simpsontravel.com/walking-holidays-in-crete)