The countryside south of Knossos is dominated by the bulk of Mount Yiouhtas (811m) which rises alone from a landscape otherwise characterized by gently undulating agricultural country. Seen from the northwest, the mountain has undulating human profile, and was traditionally identified with Zeus. The ancient Cretans claimed that Zeus lay buried underneath the mountain.
When you leave Knossos behind, the nature of the journey south is transformed almost immediately: the road empties and the country becomes greener. Almost any of these roads makes a beautiful drive, past vineyards draped across low hills and through flourishing farming communities. Just a couple of kilometers from the archeological site, at the head of the valley, an extraordinary aqueduct arches beside the road. This looks medieval and was built on the line of an earlier Roman aqueduct, but is in fact less than 200 years old, having been constructed during the brief period of Egyptian rule (1823-40) to provide Heraklion with water. A little further on, the junction where you turn right towards Arhanes seems a singularly unthreatening spot today, yet it was here, on April 26, 1944, that General Kreipe was kidnapped. The site is now marked by a lofty modern monument. Much of the interest in this region centers on Arhanes, where there’s an Archeological museum and easy access to three fascinating Minoan sites at Fourni, Anemospilia and on the summit of Mount Yiouhtas itself. Nearby at Vathypetro the remarkable remains of a Minoan vineyard can be seen, at the heart of what remains one of the island’s chief wine-growing areas: many a winemakers open their doors to the public, especially at Peza. Houdhetsi has a music school and museum, while the village of Myrtia boasts a museum devoted to Crete’s most famous literary name, Nikos Kazantzakis. East of Peza, a road runs through hilly farm country well inland from the big resorts, a region known as the Pedhiadha. There’s an important pottery centre at Thrapsano, and other diversions include the ancient site of Lyttos and some notable frescoed churches around Kastelli.
Locals claim, with some justification, that wine sas been being made in the area around Peza for four thousand years, probably using grape varieties not far removed from the Kotsifali and Mandilaria (for red), Plyto and Vilana(white) that are extensively cultivated today. Cretan wines, traditionally very much vin ordinaire, are increasingly sophisticated, and a number of wineries open their doors to visitors, through most require appointments. The following are some of the wineries you could visit.
Paterianakis winery Organic wines http://www.paterianakis.gr/ It is a third generation family company, the first in the island of Crete who introduce the organic grape cultivation and one of the few wineries in Greece with a vertical organization of its production process! They cultivate six unique indigenous and five first class international varieties using the latest organic techniques, and they can inspire through a series of products with a strong personality. Winery: Melesses, Muncipality of Archanon Asterousion, Heraklion, Crete, Greece | Premises: 7, Zografou str. 71201 | P.O. Box: 1125 | Τ: +30 2810 226674 | F: +30 2810 226673,
Lyrarakis winery http://www.lyrarakis.com Brought up in this environment, in 1966 the founders of the company decided to become professionally involved with the production of wine. The founding of the company was accompanied by planting some of the best local wine varieties, namely the white Vilana, and the reds Kotsifali and Mandilaria. The winery is situated in one of the most noteworthy vineyard regions of Crete, namely at Alagni, Heraklion, the most mountainous village of the appellation area (AOC) of PEZA. Winery :Alagni, Arkalochori, 70300, Alagni, Heraklion, Crete 703 00
Boutari winery www.boutari.gr Skalani, on the Myrtia road some 4km beyond Knossos . Modern estate with state-of-the-are facilities and fancy multimedia show. Boutari is a big, national company with an excellent reputation, though this Cretan operation is still in its early stages.
Miliarakis Vineyard House www.minoswines.gr Sabas, about 10km east of Peza on the Kasteli road . The fine wine label of Minos wines. Tasting takes place in aroom furnished as a traditional kafenio, with expansive views over the surrounding countryside. You can also stroll, or take some more challenging hikes, through the local vineyards.