South of Iraklio, past Knossos, the urban sprawl segues into an unhurried landscape of undulating hills, olive groves and rows of vineyards clambering up hillsides. It’s all lorded over by the proud silhouette of Mt Yiouhtas (811m). Several Minoan sites are scattered on and around the mountain. These were once affiliated with ancient Arhanes, the main town in the area and the gateway to the Iraklio Wine Country, where you can sample the local product at several estates. Also of interest is the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum in Myrtia and the pottery town of Thrapsano.
Wine also grows near Dafnes and Venerato southwest of Iraklio, along the main road to Matala and the south coast. A wonderful detour takes you west to the southern slopes of Mt Psiloritis, where Zaros is a charismatic mountain village known for its spring water and trout.
You’ll need your own wheels to explore this region properly.