Cretan Destination Retreats invites you to explore, enjoy, and adventure with them.

A Passion to Empower:
Heidi Palola and Richard Harriman are American educators with extensive histories in youth and adult experiential programing. Our American careers include environmental site-education and expedition learning that empowered participants far beyond classroom walls. During our stateside years we also retrofitted a yacht for offshore sailing, and from that platform created a small school that initiated individuals, couples, and families into the joys of sailing one of world’s most challenging and beautiful cruising grounds: the Gulf of Maine on America’s North Atlantic coast.
In 2002, we wanted to see and to show our children, Margaret & Griffin, more of the world, and that led us overseas. For the next 16 years we lived and worked in Greece and Saudi Arabia—for Anatolia College in Thessaloniki; for the American International School in Riyadh; and then the schools and training divisions of Saudi Aramco, the large, Persian Gulf oil company, where Heidi led classroom and expedition instruction, and Richard designed, executed and evaluated the strategic impact of training initiatives serving from 10 to 1,000 professional employees.
During our overseas tenure we travelled extensively in Europe and the Mideast, with a focus on the Arabian and Balkan Peninsulas and the Aegean Islands. In 2006 we visited and fell in love with the Gulf of Kissamos in western Crete, a region renowned for its beauty and olive harvest. There, a vision took shape; and the idea of hosting celebrations, family gatherings, and strategic retreats surrounded by natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and cultural history found its home.
While still living in Saudi Arabia, we purchased a small olive farm just above the Aegean shore, and the four of us designed three residential homes for the property, constructing them progressively between 2012 and 2018. We named the farm Villa Koukouvayia for the owls (or ‘koukouvayia’/κουκουβάγια) we first saw when camping on the land, and who have stayed with us as we have built and arrived in 2017 to live here full time. These majestic, private birds not only share our home, they serve as apt emblems of Villa Koukouvayia herself: a private place for reflection and celebration, overlooking civilization’s blue heart of culture and history: the Mediterranean Sea.

And now, by directing two organizational partners, we stand ready to join our vision and yours. The first, Villa Koukouvayia Farms can provide an intimate platform that empowers family, friends, and colleagues to celebrate and learn within a community of comfort. The second, Cretan Destination Retreats, can create, support and execute the activities that will achieve those goals, while you relax and join the experience wholly and without stress.

And while the two organizations often form a strategic partnership, their separation allows us to support programs in other areas of Crete, the Mediterranean basin, or internationally; or—for plug-and-perform packages ready for launch—to provide the perfect platform, simply and with a minimum of logistics support.
To those ends we welcome any inquiry seeking to share a specific passion that lacks only the requisite organizational expertise to flourish—on Crete, the eastern Mediterranean, or beyond. And we welcome inquiries from individuals, teaching artists, and corporate facilitators with set programs ready to soar, lacking only a great platform to ensure a successful launch.