Find out if we’ve got your favourite pastime covered in our dedicated special interest vacations travel guide or just search for a few more ideas to help you have a really worthwhile week away rather than just a boring break at the beach. This page is all about what special interest vacations entail and how you can choose between small group and tailor made options to ensure you get the most out of your vacation.
Painting vacations in Greece
“Everyone knows everyone here,” says Camille Marquand, who with partner Iakovos Triantafyllou founded our specialist operator Active Crete to offer painting and walking vacations in Greece. “Our guests stay in a small village by the sea and always talk about the old-fashioned hospitality. There’s the baker who travels around the whole area dropping off his bread, there’s the little family-run taverna that our guests love because of the welcome they get there. And there’s the smiles and conversation on the local buses – you’ve no need for a hire car here and if you want to explore by public transport it’s a lovely experience.”
The poet Homer described Crete as a hospitable and handsome land, and those words are just as true today as they were all those centuries ago. Camille is an acclaimed artist who leads week-long painting tours around Kissamos in northwest Crete and the surrounding Natura 2000 zone: “I think the big attraction of Crete is that it offers such varied landscapes, with lots of themes, colours and shapes to explore, from mountains to boats bobbing in the sea and lovely old churches.” Iakovos meanwhile, who spent much of his childhood on the island, leads walking tours. The two will often combine walking and painting, with morning hikes in the hills and along the coast followed by afternoon workshops. But guests are always encouraged to bring along their sketchbooks when walking because opportunities to capture a scene frequently present themselves.
Their Greece painting vacations take place in one of Crete’s several Natura 2000 zones, nature protection areas set up to preserve biodiversity. Only low-key tourism is allowed – no major developments or resorts, and you’ve got a 6km-long beach that at times can be almost deserted. The endemic plant life on these two peninsulas either side of the Kissamos bay is exceptional, as is the birdlife, with sea eagles, vultures and buzzards common, as well as the occasional falcon. Camille and Iakovos are committed to doing their bit too, regularly organising beach cleans in winter when plastic waste tends to be at its worst, and campaigning on environmental and community issues. It’s a unique part of Crete in which to vacation, and to paint.
Our Painting Vacations
Over the course of a week you’ll wander the area with a small group of like-minded people, selecting views and scenes to sketch or paint at a relaxed pace. Being based on Crete much of the year, Camille and Iakovos are knowledgeable about the locations with the most potential. These might include Ancient Greek jewellery and Roman mosaics at an archaeological museum; Venetian-era water towers; village doorways and streets; glorious coastal scenery with white churches framed against orange cliffs and blue skies and sea, and Byzantine ruins set amid olive trees with gnarled branches.
A typical itinerary might also include an introduction to icon painting using tempera (egg yolk mixed with pigment) – Crete was home to a renowned school of religious icon painters including El Greco, and the tradition continues to flourish today. Another afternoon could be taken up by a tasting session at a local winery, and the leisurely approach to the itinerary means you’ll have plenty of time to swim too.
Painting & walkingPainting and walking is a natural combination on Crete. Inspiration can strike just as easily with a Venetian villa or Minoan ruin as it can from a handful of fishing boats bobbing in a harbour. Iakovos is enthused by the island’s history, as happy expounding on the subject of great Cretan painters and ancient frescoes as he is on the earthquake of 365AD that permanently raised the coastline of western Crete by up to 10m. Walking in the mornings allows you to trace the island’s history before the heat of the day takes hold, roaming old donkey paths between villages, Byzantine monasteries and Roman temples before returning to the studio to collect your materials.
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PracticalitiesA painting vacation in Greece is usually a week-long affair, and will see you joining a small group of varying abilities. Beginners are absolutely welcome. “In fact,” says Camille, “it’s often the least experienced painters that most enjoy the little exhibition party that we put on at the end of the week. Seeing their efforts appreciated and admired.”
The basic materials that you’ll need are provided, including a board, pencils, pastels, a wet box with acrylic colours, and a lightweight collapsible stool. If you prefer to bring your own medium though, it’s encouraged. Camille is always at hand to offer advice, but if you’re content just doing your own thing then you can simply rely on her to escort you around some shaded vantage points.
Camille and Iakovos run their painting trips in late spring and late summer, avoiding the hottest, busiest time of year on Crete. “In May especially you get lovely carnations and a wide range of plant life, and in this area you see few other people. I can only recall once encountering another painting group up in the mountains, so it’s very peaceful.”
Besides Crete, you can also join sketching and botanical painting vacations in Pelion, central Greece. Again, they are led by highly experienced and professional painters, and as with Crete your hosts are basing themselves in idyllic landscapes and aiming to offer financial benefits to the local community wherever possible. That could be encouraging guests to use a family-owned inn or restaurant, or getting involved with organisations that promote local businesses in surrounding villages.
And if you’re planning to combine your walking with painting then expect an easygoing pace, with terrain of light to medium difficulty. Groups can easily be split if some want to walk and others prefer to paint or just do their own thing. There is naturally a lot of flexibility in this type of vacation, where the aim is to paint a picture of complete tranquillity.
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