The Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete

On our fourth day in Crete, my sister and I paid a visit to the Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete. What a special place!

In 2003, a fire in this region killed about 100,000 olive trees, and the Botanical Park & Gardens of Crete grew out of the ashes when the founders decided to create something new where the olive groves once stood. There are still burned-out trunks throughout the garden that stand witness to the devastation.

This botanic garden is spread out over nearly 20 hectares (almost 50 acres). A 2.5 kilometer dirt trail takes you down and then up through the plantings (there’s a shortcut that cuts out the lake if you don’t want to walk the full length). A diorama at the entrance maps out the path.

The garden is set into the mountainside, so as you can see from the pictures above, there’s a hill involved here. I wouldn’t call it difficult walking, but the terrain means that it’s also not an easy stroll. Fortunately, the garden gives you a map that indicates each “place to rest,” and signs encourage you to take your time as you go through each section.

The garden is roughly divided into seven areas: tropical, Mediterranean plants, cherry trees, animal farm, Mediterranean fruit trees, citrus, and wine. For a garden that’s not very old, the plantings are impressively well-developed.

There are flowers everywhere, of course.

Oleanders and bougainvilleas provide the most dramatic color.

There are also many wonderful plants without obvious blooms, from palms and ferns to this Norfolk Island pine and dessert spoon:

You walk beneath all sorts of fruit and nut trees, though you are strictly forbidden from picking anything.

Many of the plants are well signed; for example, here’s what we learned about capers:

We did wish that there had been a bit more specific information about the flora of Crete, since we’d been wandering around the Cretan mountains for several days and wanted more information about what we’d been seeing. But the Mediterranean section did give us some glimpses into what grows on the island.

In the animal kingdom, we saw insects including bees …

… and butterflies …

Many peacocks (and peahens) roam the lower grounds…

… and you might also stumble on a cat or two.

The least appealing section of the park for us was the animal farm, which includes ducks, geese, deer, a donkey, and kri-kri (Cretan wild goats).

The baby kri-kri was awfully cute, but as with many small zoos, the animal enclosures felt a bit small (not to mention dry and dusty). So we made our way through this section quickly.

What we really appreciated about the gardens is that the owners seem to have a sense of humor. Throughout the park you’ll find all sorts of quirky things, including a throne, a bed, this llama …

… a random door …

… and a clipper-headed swan:

We also smiled at this DIY drainage system…

… and the entrance mural:

When you’re done with your walk, you can quench your thirst with a fresh orange juice or homemade iced tea at their restaurant, which has a terrific view.

They also have an expansive gift shop with lots of local products — I’d recommend setting aside some time to peruse the wares.

If you’re in the area, we can’t say enough about Taverna ΤΟ ΚΕΦΑΛΙ, which is about 15 minutes up the road from the botanic garden. From their outdoor seating, you have a view all along the northwest coast.

Their sfakianopita (a Cretan honey and cheese pie) is pure heaven.

What a place to sit and relax!

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