When it comes to holidays, you usually have to choose your camp. Sun and beach or lush vineyard landscapes? But Crete blurs the dichotomy. This ray-drenched, breeze-tickled Greek isle, hovering above the north of Africa, has the lot.
Sands lapped by warm blue surf, and hills striped in vines. Lazy lounger days under reliable blue skies and calm nights sipping wine made just down the road. And, a winery with rooms. Boutari’s Scalani Hills, just southeast of the island’s gateway city Heraklion.
In comparison to the Greek Cycladic island of Santorini – which made its name internationally with indigenous variety Assyrtiko – the wines of Crete fly somewhat under the radar. (In fact, Boutari, founded in Naoussa in 1879, has had a Santorini winery since the 1980s.)
But there is serious vinous history on Crete. One of the world’s oldest grape presses, dating to about 1,600BC, was unearthed at Minoan complex Vathypetro – just a 15-minute drive from Scalani Hills.
These days, island producers such as Alexakis, Stilianou and Michalakis are making eclectic wines from white grapes such as Vilana and Thrapsathiri, and red ones like Mandilaria. Among the established names, Boutari blends Greek favourites with well-known international varietals such as Chardonnay and Syrah.
Sleep among the vines
Of all the wineries with plots in the Archanes region near Heraklion, Boutari’s Scalani Hills outpost has an enticing USP. It boasts a clutch of charming, contemporary rooms. Three suites open to prime views over 7ha of knobbly old olive trees and vines.
The two-person suites are named after star local grape varieties: Liatiko, Malvasia and Kotsifali (a particular Archanes specialty). Set in a centuries-old former cottage, they are dressed in soothing neutral decor.
A private terrace is your setting for devouring a breakfast of Cretan favourites (think sticky grape jams and moreish must biscuits). Plus there are as many Boutari wines as you care to drink. That is, if you haven’t already had your fill sipping through flights in the winery’s glass-lined tasting area.
Kotsifali, the two-storey maisonette, has a particularly wow-factor fireplace set under its soaring white wood-panelled ceiling. While cosy Liatiko looks out over a shady pergola. Ideally, you’d come as a crew of six, and take all three suites for the ultimate, private Greek vinous hideaway.
This isn’t a sprawling resort, so you shouldn’t expect loads of amenities. For that, the beachfront hotels of Crete’s north coast have more to offer. Rather, you’re here to bask in the rural tranquillity of it all. Kick back with a book while draining a bottle of easy-drinking, cherried Kotsifali and Mantilaria red. When bellies rumble, tuck into platters of dolmades, nutty Cretan graviera cheese and estate-grown olives.
Out and about
There is sightseeing, too. The ancient ruined Palace of Knossos – the mythical home of the half-man, half-bull Minotaur – is less than 10km away. There are hiking trails up soaring Mount Juktas and the haunting Minoan cemetery at Phourni. Heraklion, the capital of Crete, is there if you fancy seeking out an urban buzz.
But you may just want to hang ultra-local and explore the surrounding Archanes wine region, with its aromatic reds hewn from limey-clay soil. Meanwhile the neighbouring village of Peza, cooled by sea breezes, has high altitudes and delicate white wines ready to discover.
And of course – as we’ve said, thanks to the magic of Crete – the island’s nearest beaches are just 15 minutes away. So after you’ve exhausted tasting options in the surrounding area, you can simply flop on golden sands at a secret cove. And feel smug for getting two holidays in one.
For more information visit scalareaestate.gr