The Cretan monastery farm that became a guest house-cum-organic orchard

Spacious rooms 300 years old and 2 hectares of organic orchards greet the visitor to Metohi Kindelis at Perivolia, Hania, on the island of Crete. Through the heavy double gates, the courtyard paved with stones from a nearby river is flanked by small houses once inhabited by the families who worked the fields. Palm trees and huge cacti contrast with the burnt orange of the walls. Once the abode of Venetians, Turks and Greeks, the metohi or monastery dependency, is now the home of Manolis Kindelis, who grew up there and has now restored the building once occupied by his parents and grandparents. There are three guest houses that have incorporated traditional elements of stone, timber, archways and curved window frames. The metohi was one of many such farms scattered around Perivolia, about 3 kilometers from the town of Hania; the rest have given way to shops and warehouses near the national highway. Metohi Kindelis is an oasis where farming is still very much a part of life, with 2 hectares of organic crops, mainly fruit – strawberries, mandarins, oranges, apricots, plums, berries, peaches and nectarines. Each of the three guest apartments is different. Two are housed in the old olive press, the other on the floor above overlooking the courtyard. Manolis Kindelis decided to switch over to organic farming four years ago. «The crops are doing very well. To be honest, I didn’t expect it. I had my reservations. In the end, organic crops produce the same yield as conventionally grown ones, without the added problem of chemicals.» Nearly all the crops are destined for the Hania market. «People are turning more and more to organic food,» said Kindelis, adding this was largely due to the efforts of the local cooperative, Gaia, and its two retail outlets selling organic food at very competitive prices. «The main problems are in the field itself. There is not much experience to go on, and know-how is imperative. But farmers aren’t properly informed,» said Kindelis, who studied in Italy and speaks four languages. «We also have to overcome consumers’ skepticism. They often wonder if the food really is organically grown. The inspections are objective, but they should be carried out more frequently,» he said.