A shop designed to echo the wildly rugged beauty of its surroundings, Crete's Bioaroma experience store in Agios Nikalaos deserves to be as much a place of pilgrimage for eco-skincare devotees as the Greek island's Minoan temples are for archaeologists.
Founded in 2007 by native son Manousos Pediaditis, who combines a chemistry degree from the University of Crete with a reverence for the therapeutic powers of his island's wild herbs, the pioneering label distils 40 centuries of Cretan heritage into its organic, vegan and cruelty-free products, none of which contain water. Ancient methods of preparation and preservation - some of which were figured out in collaboration with historians - are behind the small-batch production of everything from a smoothly strokeable Cold Process Mint and Olive Oil Soap to the Theangēlis 24h First Wrinkles Facial Emulsion - cosmetics that are, as the company's catchphrase goes, "so natural you can eat them".
Cretan skincare products made on site, left, and a handful of dried rosehips.
Drawing beauty junkies from near and far to a verdant oasis where facilities include an oil distillery, herbal extractor, seed press, fragrance laboratories, museum and butterfly-favoured botanical garden, the 240sq m interactive concept store was designed by a team of architects at the Athens-based KAAF and opened in 2019. Just a few months later, it scooped up Golden Novum's Most Sustainable Design of the Year award and, in 2020, was named Project of the Year at Greece's Interiors Awards.
Visitors can expect a cutting-edge space: clean, contemporary lines; filigree metal panelling in shades of honey and treacle chosen to mimic those that pepper the landscape outside; tactile, undulating raw-stone walls; warm wooden flooring; and acres of shelving that, for any space-poor city-dweller, is highly covetable in itself.
A garden packed with medicinal flora surrounds the Cretan store.
But it's the products you're here for, spanning a beeswax bruise balm for toddlers to sun protection, dedicated ranges aimed at a stable of different skin types' needs and the bite-beating natural mozzie repellent that is citronella essential oil. The glossy wrapping might look like plastic, but is actually made from sugar cane sourced from responsibly managed farms, with all other packaging made from recycled paper. The products' ingredients are harvested from the 150 different species of plants and herbs cultivated on Bioaroma's 40-hectare farm, around a 20-minute drive away.
A hero of these is dittany. Traditionally seen as a symbol of love and gift from the gods, the king of Cretan herbs is packed with healing and anti-ageing properties.
"It's an antioxidant and it's great for healing and energising the skin," explains sales associate Constantina Doudoulakis. "Injured animals will instinctively eat it and then lick their wounds... It's powerful. Nature is very wise."
Details from the arid gardens, left, and the dramatic shop entrance.
As well as retail therapy, visitors can watch a video presentation narrated by a hologram Minoan beauty and take part in a selection of workshops, allowing them to create a bespoke fragrance, concoct a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin face cream or craft a stack of olive oil soaps.
"While our technology might be new, our recipes are not," says Doudoulakis. "They're collected from the older people on the island, from the grandmothers, and they've passed through generations. All that knowledge goes into our products today."
Trust us, it's a knowledge you're going to want in your armoury. The Mālaxis Relaxing Feet Oil with horse chestnut, juniper and mint? The Kirós Cold and Muscle Rub Ointment with arnica and eucalyptus? Souvenirs that keep on giving.
For more skincare saviours, head to bioaromacrete.com