Crete & Santorini
The Minoans are best known for their incredible labyrinthine palaces - the greatest of which, located at Knossos, was supposedly where Theseus slew the Minotaur. Our journey across these two beautiful islands will demonstrate the impressive architectural and artistic skills of this Bronze Age civilisation.
We begin on the stunning island of Santorini, buried suddenly during the cataclysmic eruption of Thera, which signalled the beginning of the end of Minoan civilisation. In Crete, we continue to trace the story of the Minoans, whose writing, organisation and ambition had a profound influence on the development of ancient Greece - and, thus, the western world.
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Day 1 - London - Santorini
We depart from London and fly to Santorini and transfer to our hotel, where we stay for two nights.
Day 2 - Fira - Akrotiri
Our first full day begins at the Prehistoric Museum in Fira, home to dazzling wall paintings from the Minoan buildings at Akrotiri, as well as a large number of artefacts found in various island excavations. Don’t miss jugs depicting elegant birds, dating from the Middle Cycladic period of 1800 to 2000 BC, and the statue of the golden goat, discovered in Akrotiri in 1999.
This afternoon we continue to Akrotiri itself. Destroyed by a catastrophic volcanic eruption in around 1500 BC and buried in ash, the city is reminiscent of Pompeii, and has retained some impressively well-preserved houses. The drainage systems and complex buildings indicate a once prosperous society, with many successful trade links. We admire the delightful ‘Fresco of the Monkeys’ and the ‘House of the Ladies’, with its striking central light well.
|Meals included||All meals included|
Day 3 - Thera - Heraklion
After breakfast, we journey up winding roads to the ancient city of Thera, located on a ridge of Messavouno Mountain, some 360 metres above sea level. The site has been under excavation since 1904, and findings from the city have contributed immensely to our understanding of Minoan culture and history. We imagine the people whose lives were centred around Thera’s 800-metre long main street; who attended performances in the city’s enormous theatre; and who worshipped Hermes and Heracles within the walls of the sacred grotto.
This afternoon we visit Panagia Episkopi, a Byzantine cathedral containing many beautiful frescoes, before a catamaran ride takes us to our next destination: historic Heraklion. We arrive in Crete’s largest city in time for dinner.
Day 4 - Palace of Knossos - Vathypetro
The fourth day of our holiday begins with a trip to the world-renowned Palace of Knossos, a majestic complex erected in Greece’s Bronze Age, and the largest Bronze Age site in the country. The intricate, multi-storeyed layout of the palace has led to its connection with numerous myths and legends, including that of the Minotaur and the labyrinth. We take in the royal quarters, with their decorated Throne Room, as well as noting the axe stands within the House of the High Priest. We continue on to the Minoan country house and outbuildings of Vathypetro, the surviving remnants of a settlement that stretched across three hills. Here we observe an elaborate shrine as well as a wonderfully preserved wine press – one of the oldest in the world.
Following this we return to Heraklion to spend time at the exceptional Heraklion Museum, with its exquisite jewellery and brightly-coloured wall paintings. Within this peerless collection of artefacts from the Minoan age is the iconic bull’s head ‘rhyton’, or ceremonial drinking vessel, brought here from Knossos Palace.
Day 5 - Palace of Phaistos - Gortyn
We enjoy a morning at the columns and courtyards of Phaistos to visit Ayia Triada, a grand but ruinous Bronze Age villa that has yielded more examples of Linear A tablets than any other site of its kind. After this we travel to the the magnificent Palace of Phaistos. Famous finds here include thousands of documents, some inscribed with the earliest known occurrence of the still undeciphered writing of the Minoans – a script also known as ‘Linear A’.
We resume our adventures at the important Greco-Roman site of Gortyn in the verdant Messara Valley, a gem of the archaeological world since its discovery in 1884. Thought to have once been populated by over 300,000 people, the site is best-known for its collection of 5th century stone blocks, inscribed with the law codes of classical Greece – the oldest and most complete example of coded ancient Greek laws ever found.
Day 6 - Palace of Malia - Gournia
Our day starts with a trip to the Palace of Malia, a huge Minoan complex just north of the Lasithi Mountains, significant not only for its size, but also its strategic port and grand facades. We then proceed to the well-preserved late Minoan town of Gournia, one of the few sites in the region to have been fully excavated. The remains of Gournia cluster around cobbled streets on the side of a hill and are crowned by the now-ruined palace. Traces of some 50 houses are in evidence here, as well as a court and cemetery.
This afternoon we have the option of a boat trip to the haunting and evocative island of Spinalonga, location of a former leper colony, which was still in use right up until 1962. It is believed that the island was cut off from the mainland by occupying Venetians in the 16th century in order to strengthen their defences.
|Meals included||All meals included|
Day 7 - Mochlos
This morning, if the weather permits, we have the option to journey by fishing boat across the turquoise Gulf of Mirabello to the tiny island of Mochlos, on which an important Minoan town once stood – a hub of trade and industry. A number of pit graves and tombs have been unearthed here, and the excavations, begun in 1908, continue to this day. This afternoon is free for us to enjoy our spectacular surroundings at our leisure. Stroll along the splendid coastline, doze in the sunshine or plunge into the warm and welcoming waters near our hotel.
|Meals included||Breakfast, Lunch|
Day 8 - Sissi - London
This may well be our last morning in Crete, but the discoveries aren’t over yet. Before we make our journey to the airport, we drive to stunning Sissi to visit the excavations on Kephali Hill, where evidence for Early Minoan mortuary activity has been found near Crete’s latest Minoan palace to be discovered.
Alas, it is now time to say good bye to the Minoan world, and our fabulous group, as we make our way back home.
Tour dates & prices
Included in your cost:
- Expert Guide Lecturer
- Professional Tour Manager
- Local travel aboard a private air-conditioned coach
- Meals as per the itinerary, wine and tea or coffee with dinner
- Entries to all sites as per the itinerary
- All taxes & gratuities
- Field notes
|Tour Departure||Tour ID||Departure date||Return Date||Guided by||Price||Deposit||Single supplement||Offer||Availability|
|21 September 2021||ACRE210921||21 September 2021 (Tuesday)||28 September 2021 (Tuesday)||Dr Sandy MacGillivray||£2,745
|12 October 2021||ACRE211012||12 October 2021 (Tuesday)||19 October 2021 (Tuesday)||Dr Rita Roussos||£2,645
|12 April 2022||ACRE220412||12 April 2022 (Tuesday)||19 April 2022 (Tuesday)||Dr Christina Hatzimichael-Whitley||£2,775
|10 May 2022||ACRE220510||10 May 2022 (Tuesday)||17 May 2022 (Tuesday)||Dr Sandy MacGillivray||£2,745
|20 September 2022||ACRE220920||20 September 2022 (Tuesday)||27 September 2022 (Tuesday)||Dr Sandy MacGillivray||£2,765
|11 October 2022||ACRE221011||11 October 2022 (Tuesday)||18 October 2022 (Tuesday)||Dr Rita Roussos||£2,745