Trekking to the majestic cave
I was filled with anticipation as we drove down the winding dirt road from Thalori to the coast - not worried about the road - but wondering what awaited us below in the cave overlooking the Libyan Sea, the water we could see from high above at the village.
In a hamlet reconstructed like a resort, in the mountains of Crete 800 metres above sea level, almost precipitous but not quite, there was nothing but goats, sheep, shepherds, and the occasional small blue and white church scattered on the mountains.
The cave is located at sea level along a walking track more than a mile from the a car park, the drive to the car park takes 45 minutes down a dirt array of switchbacks with precipitous drop offs. The walk takes 50 minutes at sunset, usually guides overestimate the difficulty of such, but not this time.
As we turned the bend in the walking track and saw the cave illuminated it was a wonderful sight. We thought perhaps we could have arrived a little earlier as it was getting dark for the last part of the walk, but then we wouldn't have seen the spectacular sight of the cave lit by the fires against the darkening sky.
A big fire and a long table, we are enjoying an ancient Minoan feast
Beautiful night filled with dreamlike events
The cave is magnificent, it is 85 feet high, its opening is the shape of cathedral. The scene inside the cave was equally enchanting, with the tables set so beautifully with candles around the central fire and the lamb cooking around it. We were even more charmed when we saw the church at the back of the cave and the limestone water pools from which we drank.
A big fire is alighted in the middle ready to cook the sheep Paradilla style. Two smaller fires on the side are boiling the goat and the pasta, the stock from the goat is used to cook the pasta. The cave is adorned with tables alight with candles.
The whole night was perfectly orchestrated, from the bowls of dried fruits, yoghurt, honey and olives set on the table with loaves of bread when we arrived, the jugs of red wine and water and the courses of pasta and boiled goat and roast lamb and mountain green salad which followed. The only utensil provided is a knife, the shepherd's way, only ours is about tenth of the size of a shepherd's.
The local shepherds along with a band of Greek male minstrels joined and sung, more of a chant and retorting ballads with the occasional dance. The music was wonderful as was the traditional Cretan dancing. It was great to see the shepherds enjoying each others' company with such great camaraderie and celebrating their culture through music, song and dance.
Feasting and dancing into the night, we felt extremely privileged to have been there
Going back with precious memories
The singing, eating, drinking and chanting continued until the guests started falling asleep in the very balmy evening about 1 o’clock in the morning. We made our way back with torches - a testing experience retuning to Thourli at 2.30 a.m.
We felt extremely privileged and honoured to be there with the local shepherds who are all strong and as fit as the mountain goats they tender. Arriving back at the village at 2.30 am my senses were still reeling from the experience, taking in and absorbing all that I had seen, heard and enjoyed.
I thought about the planning and effort that had gone into the cave dinner and everything that had been carried in to make it such a great event. This was a night to remember and well worth the slow drive from the Thalori village to the seaside at Agios Ioannis and the walk along a coastal track to the cave. This is a rare Cretan experience not to be missed!
Delicious ancient Minoan food and a wonderful time with our gracious hosts
Ian went to this cave dinner in September 2013. This review was written by Ian Ho and has been edited by permission. Porto Club Travel Services invites you to create this magnificent experience for your special event. Share with us your culinary travel and experiences with BookCulinaryVacations.com readers. Send us a message if you want to contribute an article.