Greece Travel Secrets visits the Crete Botanical Gardens near Chania and finds a wonderland of colourful plants, trees, and flowers filling a lovely valley.
Visiting the Crete Botanical Gardens - or the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete to give it its full title - was one of the best things we did on our last visit to Crete. We didn't expect such a colourful and fascinating display of plants, flowers and trees from around the world. We should have known better, as our fantastic guide Isi of Go-Crete never steered us wrong.
The gardens actually started because of a disaster, as we found when we spoke to one of the owners, Nikos, after our tour. There's so much to see that it was getting dark by the time we finished, and we had to race to get out before the gardens closed. We decided to stay and eat there, and we're so glad we did as it turned out to be one of their live music nights. I video'd some of it for our YouTube channel:
Nikos told us that the gardens only exist because of an awful fire which devastated his family's olive trees in 2003. They lost over 45,000 trees to the fire, which was obviously a major blow both personally and financially. The land had been in the family since at least the 1930s.
Nikos worked the land with his three brothers, and it was one of the brothers who suggested that instead of replanting the olive trees maybe they could create a botanical park on the land. The brothers and their father agreed, and the park was opened in 2009. Their father died three years later at the age of 85, but lived to see the botanical park become a success.
The gardens are about a half-hour drive south-west of Chania, beyond the village of Fournes, after a very zig-zag uphill road.
As you enter the gardens you have no idea what wonders lie beyond. It's like entering Paradise. From the entrance the path zig-zags down one side of the valley, with the view regularly opening up to show olive groves on the opposite slope. Lizards rustle in the dry leaves on the ground, occasionally appearing to add to all the colour, and birds sing constantly from the trees. To the creatures who live here it probably is Paradise!.
What's impressive is that everything is cultivated organically. It clearly works well as you don't just come across individual examples of plants or trees but often whole terraces of them.
If I listed everything I wrote down it would go on forever, so I'll make do with a few highlights, and some of the hundreds of photos we took.
There was a Peruvian cherry tree, and I was dying to try the ice-cream bean from Central America, but thought I'd better not. The fruit of the Barbados cherry tree contains 30 times more Vitamin C than an orange (yes, there's plenty of information about the plants). I was definitely starting to get hungry, having seen the strawberry guava plant opposite the tropical apricot.
There was a pineapple guava, a Malabar plum, a Japanese raisin tree, wild garlic plants, passion fruit, avocados, and walnut trees. The Mediterranean herb garden section had lovely scents of coriander, cumin, thyme, fennel, rosemary, and oregano. ‘Nature is the largest pharmacy in the world’ says a sign.
We see dozens of beehives across the valley and wonder what their honey must taste like with this feast just a short flight away for them. There's quince, honeysuckle, eucalyptus, mastic, pistachio, pomegranates, white mulberry, aloe, and a huge prickly pear cactus at least 3 meters (10 ft) tall.
The main path is about 1 km (0.6 miles) long and they say it takes about an hour to go round. We took two hours because we were all three constantly stopping to take photos. At the end of this path there an optional extension to add another kilometer, but by the time we got to the divide it was starting to get dark, so we looped around back up to the entrance.
Our dinner in the restaurant after our tour was exceptionally good. It was served buffet-style, with tzatziki, fava, Greek salad, bread, zucchini pie, and vegetable stew. The main course was chicken cooked in orange and lemongrass. It was incredibly zesty and tasty. On top of this was all the red or white wine you could drink. Highly recommended!