Milia Crete: ecology and tourism in Greece

Skål International’s contest awarded Milia as the winner in the category of small enterprises dealing with ecotourism (2003), The New York Times characterized its restaurant as ‘an elegant taverna in the medieval village’ (2004), National Geographic recognized it as one of the top 26 ecolodges of the world (2013), Lonely Planet placed it 12th in Europe’s top 50 secret spots that retain their special character (2014), The Guardian included it in the top 15 off-grid places to stay in Europe (2019) and The Times included it in the 30 best places to stay in Greece after the lockdown (2020).

Location

Milia, the abandoned settlement of the 15th century revives the last 29 years via the project Milia Mountain Retreat. The ecolodge is located close to Kissamos in Western Crete, 550 m. above sea level, surrounded by the mountains Kefali (Head) and Psilo (High). It is 56 km away from Chania (75’) and 30 km from the famous Elafonisi beach (50’).

Access to Milia

The settlement is accessible only by car and so, if you decide to visit it using Google maps I suggest you use the neighboring village “Vlatos” as your station for the avoidance of non-accessible roads.

When you will arrive at Vlatos, the wooden signs will lead you to Milia. Note that the last 4,5 km of the road are slightly narrow, uphill and dirty (2,5 km), however, the view of bearded vultures on the mountains is breathtaking.

Sign of Milia Chania Greece
© Despoina Fostiropoulou, voyagingtheworld.com
The view from the route to Milia Chania Greece
© Despoina Fostiropoulou, voyagingtheworld.com

Arriving in Milia you will have to park your car outside the ecolodge and walk 150 m. to the settlement’s center. These first meters will make you understand that this policy is not random. These first meters are the path from the urban to the rural environment, where dominants are the tranquility, the sound of birds, the green landscape, the clean air and the natural springs. The moment you will realize that you will see the first houses.

Guesthouses

The traditional character of the houses has been respected and during the restoration had been used old well-conserved or new local rocks and wood. The 15 uniquely decorated with antique rooms can accommodate 2-5 guests (cost during high season: 86-170€ per night, including breakfast) and they are so family- as pet-friendly. They include fireplace or woodstove but they do not include air conditioner since the rocky walls’ thickness preserves cool temperature inside. Moreover, for better “connection with nature”, there aren’t televisions and outlets in the rooms (the devices can be charged at the reception area). In the ecolodge’s site, you will find special offers for direct bookings.

Environment

The 1.000 m2 of Milia are included in the Natura 2000 network almost as a whole. It is an endless valley covered by olive, chestnut, arbutus and many other kinds of trees, buses and herbs favored either by schist or limestone. Also, the last 20 years of the ecolodge’s operation have been planted and are watered more than 1.100 carob trees, the fruit of which is used at its best as raw material for the restaurant and at its worst as food for the animals.

Farm

Milia’s farm includes goats, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chicken and turkeys in a wide but fenced natural space so that the animals will have quality in their lives without threatening the area with their pasture. If you stay in the settlement, you may visit the goats asking for an arrangement with Milia’s stock breeder in a morning when he has to milk them. Such an arrangement is essential since the animals live free in their space and they are not familiar with the human presence.

Farm of Milia Chania Greece
© Despoina Fostiropoulou, voyagingtheworld.com

Restaurant

The restaurant is a an other good reason to visit Milia. The cuisine is oriented in the traditional Cretan recipes in a modern approach whereas priority is the raw materials’ high quality. Milia’s biological goods, certified by the Organization of Control and Certification of Biological Products (DIO) as well as the meat production constitute the kitchen’s basis but due to the increased visitation, they are not enough. Thus, the restaurant preserves long-term collaboration with local producers so that the chef will know the raw materials’ origin and quality, boosting in parallel the local economy. The menu is seasonal and in accordance with the locavores’ philosophy for the consumption of goods within 100 miles from the table, decreasing the production in out of range products and transportation costs on the environment. Either you are meat-eater, vegetarian, vegan or you follow a gluten-free diet, the offered choices will not disappoint you. In any case, don’t omit to try Milia’s homemade wine (white or red). You may share your photos on social media after your meal, since free Wi-Fi is available in the restaurant area.

In addition, you can buy own- or locally produced goods which are used in the restaurant’s kitchen like biological olive oil, olives, sweet vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes as well as spoon sweets, marmalades, honey, herbs etc.

© Martin Vlatos, inaxorio.com

Activities in Milia

In Milia, you can do nothing and everything! Although your stay is a great opportunity for relaxing reading in a hammock (you can borrow books from the small library), the ecolodge is not barren of cultural and environmental activities, either organized or experiential. For the friends of gastronomy, cooking courses are offered where you’ll delve into Cretan cuisine’s secrets via theory and practice. In the end, you will enjoy altogether your own creations accompanied by wine around the monastery table (minimum participants: 4, cost: 70€ per person).

Restaurant in Milia Chania Greece
© Despoina Fostiropoulou, voyagingtheworld.com

The settlement is also known for its hiking trails to Lower Milia and the circuit of Milia for the less experienced and to Kastellos, Chalepa, Vlatos as well as Topolia and Polyrinia Gorges for the experienced. The last two trails are organized also as guided hikes (minimum participants: 4, cost: 45€ per person). The trails are signed but you may ask for written information which will orient you even better together with Sifis and his mum Elpida (Hope), the doggies of Milia. It doesn’t matter if you are a guest or a daily visitor, although the area is private, its enjoyment is free to all nature lovers! If you are a daily visitor for hiking, though, I suggest you don’t leave before you try a mountain tea or homemade lemonade in the restaurant’s balcony. These drinks will hydrate you and the view will reward you.

© Tassos Gourgouras
© Despoina Fostiropoulou, voyagingtheworld.com

Energy and waste management

For most people, Milia is famous as “the village with no electricity”. Sorry, this is not true but you will be happy about that! Indeed, in the early 1990s, there were only candles, something which is still preserved in the restaurant’s sala, creating an atmosphere of another era. In 1995, though, the photovoltaic system was installed as an eco-friendly solution for the area’s and guests’ protection, producing electricity for the settlement’s lighting whereas the heating is covered by gas and wood-burning with the allowance of the Forest Service. Interesting is also Milia’s waste management. The settlement has its own biological wastewater treatment where the water is filtered with zero energy consumption. Although the filtered water is not drinkable it is reused for the trees’ watering, saving a significant amount of the valuable good. Furthermore, ashes, leaves, organic leftovers and manure are accumulated in order to be composted and be used as a natural fertilizer for the biological cultivations. Last but not least, inedible for people parts of meat and bones instead of constituting food waste are left to the bearded vultures in a concrete area outside the settlement, contributing simultaneously to their prosperity.

To sum up, Milia is not for all but for ecotourists or contemporary travelers who demand sustainable practices in tourism. The interest in such kind of destinations which offer an authentic experience with low impact on the environment and the society but high economic incentive for their protection, preservation and enhancement will be increased, a theory which is also supported by the United Nations.

By Despoina Fostiropoulou

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