Rather than braving the furnace heat of Greece in summer, why not visit in spring, when the climate is reliably balmy and temperate? Factor in the manageable journey time, delicious food and reduced accommodation rates, and you have a perfect combination for a crowd-free escape.
Expect luminous landscapes enlivened with trees in bud, wildflowers in bloom and cloudless blue skies.
Our base for a week of gentle guided walks is Arosmari Village Hotel on the fringes of Vamos, an unspoilt 18th-century village set beneath the backdrop of the snow-draped White Mountains. Arosmari’s cluster of sensitively converted stone and cypress-wood cottages including kitchenettes, open-plan living rooms, wood-beamed bedrooms and shady terraces.
Centre-stage, however, is its wonderful garden. Roses and lavender bushes encircle a tiny chapel and ancient stone shepherd’s hut. There’s a huge pool, but lovelier still are the garden’s secret spots, where calico-cushioned loungers are shaded by lemon and orange trees.
With your feet mildly throbbing from the day’s guided walk, you can easily while away an afternoon here. Mornings, however, are all about activity. Following a splendid buffet breakfast, we have a range of fairly easy treks led by expat Jonathan Peat. Our first day sees us heading west to the flower-covered plateau of Megala Chorafia near the Minoan city of Aptera.
This is by far my favorite walk of the week, not just for its panoramic views of the Mediterranean and fascinating archaeological ruins, but equally for the lush flora underfoot: Jerusalem sage, tiny wild orchids and blue pimpernels.
At times it feels as if we are wading through a giant salad bowl, and while we swish through verdant meadows along ancient pathways, Jonathan entertains us with local stories and recipes for plant potions. Later we return through citrus groves full of sweet and bitter oranges, tangerines and grapefruits.
Each daily walk includes a fabulous lunch at the sorts of taverna you would never find without the help of insider knowledge. At Taverna Moustakas in Stilos we feast on never-ending meze, salty lamb chops and a punchy local wine.
Inland from the coastal city of Chania, we admire a perfectly preserved fifth-century BC Hellenistic bridge as we pass through fields peppered with wild asparagus and cyclamen, on the way to tiny Maza.
There are more treats at Maza’s only taverna – a traditional Cretan wedding feast of artichokes and fava bean mash and mountain greens in filo pastry. We eat alfresco under a 600-year-old olive tree, and later pop into a pretty church dedicated to St Nicholas, with rare frescoes by the celebrated 14th-century Cretan artist Ioannis Pagomenos.
Memorable picnics are laid on by Jonathan’s wife, Myriam – particularly welcome after one strenuous walk along ancient Venetian pathways in the Omalos plateau. The landscape here is sparse. Goats cling to craggy cliff-faces, while griffon vultures and buzzards circle above. Similarly dramatic is our walk at Akrotiri where we scrabble down a vast ravine dotted with abandoned monastery churches and hermit caves. The air is rich with the pungent odor of wild thyme and mercifully we have this dreamy slice of the island entirely to ourselves.
Walk this way
Three exhilarating off-season walking holidays in Greece
Island hop between Naxos and Santorini On this trekking holiday, you get the bonus of walking on two fabulous islands along routes that take you well away from the crowds. Both islands are lovely in spring, before the main tourist season. The self-guided walking holiday includes all transfers, route directions, maps and B&B accommodation in characterful hotels (macsadventure.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-level daily walk traces 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, dinner, picnics and maps are included, and the eclectic mix of three-star country hotels are all set in quiet surroundings (inntravel.co.uk).
Autumn in the Pelion peninsula Discover this little known corner of mainland Greece on an idyllically scenic, guided walking holiday along medieval stone paths beneath dramatic Mount Pelion. Included in this half-board moderate-level walking week is a day of leisure, alongside hikes with downtime on crowd-free beaches (hfholidays.co.uk).
Simpson Travel offers a range of week-long guided walking breaks from £1,395pp B&B, including flights and transfers, welcome dinner and a minimum of five guided walks with lunches included (simpsontravel.com/walking-holidays-in-crete)