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ISSN: 2529-041X

ISSUE #32 | 2018 EDITION

38 - 92


Endowed by nature, rich in history, full of contradictions and yet welcoming to all... The word “island” can’t even begin to describe the Cretan universe.

93 - 116

117 - 186

Home to gods and monsters, heroes and kings, the birthplace of European civilization is a shining beacon that casts its light on the history of humanity.

From its beaches to its mountain peaks, Crete is a myriad of destinations packed into one long stretch of land in the Eastern Mediterranean.



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The culinary tradition of Crete makes the most of even the humblest of ingredients and elevates them to unimaginable levels of deliciousness.



NOT JUST ANY ISLAND How much of Crete can fit into the 200 pages of a magazine? B Y G I O R G O S T S I R O S / E D I T O R - I N - C H I E F, G R E E C E I S C R E T E

Last May, I spent 36 hours in Crete at the invitation of the newly established non-profit organization Branding Heritage, which aims to highlight ways in which cultural heritage and modern entrepreneurship can go hand in hand. At the site of Knossos, we observed a demonstration of Minoan cooking by Jerolyn Morrison, in the presence of Charles, Prince of Wales. The curator at Knossos, Kostis Christakis, and the director of the British School at Athens, John Bennet, gave us a behindthe-scenes look at a collection of artifacts that reveal who the ordinary Minoans really were and how they lived: skulls and bones, seeds, everyday objects. The information contained in them will compose the next chapter in Minoan archaeology. After an afternoon walk to the bustling center of Irakleio, where, coincidentally, a demonstration for world peace was taking place amid filled outdoor cafés (what a vibrant city!), we dined at Kafenes tou Kagiabi with Nikos Psilakis, a great connoisseur of Crete and its cuisine, an author and our collaborator on this issue of Greece Is. The hospitable owner served us his best dishes – among them wild greens, plain fluffy burgers (biftekia) and a stunning omelet with artichokes: the pinnacle of simplicity. The next day, in the crowded auditorium of the Archaeological Museum, fashion designer Sophia Kokosalaki and other “Contemporary Minoans” explained that they consider their Cretan heritage as a permanent point of reference and source

of inspiration for their work. We saw a traditional wooden loom being operated by Klotho’s Alexandra Theohari and a jewelry workshop by designer Voula Karampatzaki, as well as the graphic design creations of young Cretan students inspired by Minoan symbols. This brief exposure to the incredible wealth of Crete brought to mind a legendary cinematic quote from the film Jaws, used when a particular challenge seems insurmountable: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” And I realized we were gonna need a bigger magazine. Crete doesn’t actually fit in a magazine – or even in an encyclopedia, or an entire lifetime. The fact that it is surrounded by sea doesn’t make it an island. Crete is its own universe, filled with contrasts. Its wealth – both natural and cultural – is awesome. Its dialect, its unwritten laws and customs seem mysterious even to other Greeks. We might offend Crete if we began citing numbers, but there is one bit of statistical information I believe is quite illuminating: There exist in Crete 120 kinds of snails, which can be prepared in 40 different ways. Crete can you blow your mind, cause you to change your life, your way of thinking, the way you see the world, and make you realize the true meaning behind the buzzwords of today’s tourist vocabulary, such as “uniqueness,” “authenticity,” “experience” and “hospitality.” With this issue, we have tried to do something more than scratch the surface.

A smile from central Crete, 1939. C R E T E 2 018



n international cosmopolitan seaside resort, Agios Nikolaos attracts thousands of visitors every year. The lake, the town’s jewel, is known for its many legends. According to one, Athena and Artemis bathed in its waters. The lake, which is joined to the sea via a narrow canal, is surrounded by red rock formations and lush vegetation. A stroll through the shops for unique traditional Cretan art artifacts, copies from the local archaeological museums, jewels and impressive embroidery is always a pleasure. They also sell local products and delicacies that will dazzle everyone’s palate. The town is filled with traditional coffee shops that serve local dishes and raki. Agios Nikolaos is equally magical at night. Its numerous bars, with a relaxed atmosphere and loud music, attract the younger crowds. Agios Nikolaos is a beautiful town with open-hearted people.


There are many interesting places along the coast worth visiting, such as the towns of Elounda, Plaka, Sissi, Milatos, Kalo Horio and several small villages, all of which offer a wealth of activities. Scenic beaches, luxurious hotels, rooms to rent, traditional taverns, and tourist attractions are only some of the reasons why these areas are so popular.


Elounda is built on the southern shores of the bay of the ancient city of Olous, from which it derives its name, north of Agios Nikolaos. A world-renowned tourist resort, it offers scenic, wind-protected beaches, crystal-clear waters and a serene ambiance. Popular beaches include Schisma, Hiona, Kolokytha, Diaskari and Alykes. One of the most famous tourist destinations worldwide, Elounda attracts thousands of visitors every year. The area is filled with five-star hotels, while smaller rooms are also available to rent.



Neapoli is located in the northwestern part of the Prefecture of Lasithi, the so-called Epano Mirabello, about 15 minutes away from Agios Nikolaos town. The seat of the Holy Metropolis of Petra and Cherronisos, it is filled with old mansions, scenic alleys and well-preserved Ottoman fountains. The main square with the municipal garden and the church of Megali Panaghia complements the area’s grandeur and serenity. Neapoli Folk Art Museum is located next to the church of Megali Panaghia.


Spinalonga is a significant historical attraction of Crete. This infamous islet was the location for one of the most important Venetian castles of Crete. Also known as the Island of the Lepers, Spinalonga was where lepers from Crete and the rest of the country were quarantined until 1957. For many decades it remained unexploited. However, on the foot of growing tourist interest, the state began the systematic restoration and repair of the old buildings, fortified Venetians walls, old residences and


A tourist resort with a picturesque little port, situated half an hour from Agios Nikolaos. This quaint settlement is blessed with many nearby beautiful sandy beaches, such as Boufos and Avlaki. The area boasts many hotels of all categories, as well as rooms to let.


streets on the islet. The Ministry of Culture has requested the inclusion of Spinalonga in the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Lato is one of the most important Dorian citystates in Crete and is considered the best-preserved city of the classical Hellenistic period. Built in a strategic location between two hills, it was very well defended. It is rumored that its name derived from Leto (in its Doric version of Lato), who was the mother of Apollo and Artemis. The most important goddess of the city was Eileithyia, who was also depicted on the city’s currency. The city was destroyed around 200 BC.


Religion has always played a pivotal role in Cretan life. The monasteries are concentrated around, which is justifiably nicknamed the “Mt Athos of Crete.” Panaghia Kera in Kritsa is one of the most significant religious monuments in Crete. Its incredible frescoes and different styles make this the most important monument of the area. Particular mention should be made of the depiction of Saint Francis of Assisi in the central aisle of the church, as well as of the scenes from the apocryphal gospels on the aisle of Aghia Anna. The Franciscan monastery of Fraro in Neapoli is also worth a visit. Monk Peter Phillarges, who became Antipope Alexander V, lived here.


The coast of the Municipality of Agios Nikolaos is dotted with numerous beaches. Small coves, long sandy beaches, hidden bays with crystal-clear waters are only a few of its attractions. The water-sports opportunities, serviced beaches and scenic taverns by the sea attract holidaymakers. Apart from being safe since they are located in the wind-protected Mirabello bay, all the beaches comply with European standards, with many of them are Blue Flag awarded.



The imposing Mirabello bay is also ideal for those who seek to escape from everyday life through sailing. The wide bay is perfect for a calm cruise along the coast while bolder explorers can head out to the open sea, where they’ll find the right wind without the tiring waves. In August, the winds are stronger, but the bay is protected, allowing for safe sailing. In calm weather, therefore, traffic increases.



A unique experience all year round MUNICIPALITY OF RETHYMNO

Department of Tourism • • • email


The old Venetian harbor is one of Rethymno’s most picturesque sights and a true must-see spot. Its impressive Egyptian lighthouse was commissioned by Mehmet Ali, who ruled as Crete’s governor between 1830 and 1840; it still marks the port’s entrance.


Embraced by imposing mountains to the south and the vast Aegean Sea to the north, Crete’s third largest city offers miles of sandy shores and a myriad of beautiful nature walks, all easily accessible and all just one hour’s drive from the island’s major airports and seaports.


Rethymno’s Old Town has been declared a “protected historical monument.” Within its limits, picturesque alleys and narrow streets are lined with buildings that bear witness to the city’s Venetian and Ottoman past. Important landmarks include the Rimondi Fountain on Platanos Square, the Loggia on Paleologou Street, the Venetian Fortezza (“Fortress”) on Paleokastro Hill, the Guora Gate and the Neratze Mosque on Mikrasiaton Square.


Supporting cultural activities and artistic expression of all kinds, Rethymno has always been the “City of Art and Literature.” The events calendar includes the Renaissance Festival, celebrating the city’s past through art exhibitions and performances of theater, dance, music and more, and the Rethymno Carnival, in which over two dozen floats and 12,000 people take part in a parade through the city’s main streets.


In acknowledgment of Rethymno’s designation as European Wine City 2018 by RECEVIN European Network of Wine Cities, the Cretan Diet Festival, which showcases high-quality Cretan products, is focusing on wine this year. You can follow a wine route, visit a winemaker, try special wine-based cocktails, attend art events and exhibitions inspired by oenology through the centuries and explore the fascinating process of winemaking at seminars, workshops, and conferences.

Foreseeing a new era of growth in the country, Fraport Greece has prepared a comprehensive plan for the modernization and development of the 14 airports whose management and operation the company recently took over. The project concerns the operation, management, development and maintenance of 14 regional Greek airports, three of which are on the mainland (in Aktion, Thessaloniki and Kavala) and the rest on the Greek islands (Crete, Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos, Lesvos, Mykonos, Rhodes, Samos, Santorini, Skiathos and Zakynthos). Some immediate development works for upgrading airport facilities will contribute significantly to improving the overall customer travel experience, while catering



KERKYRA “IOANNIS KAPODISTRIAS” AIRPORT for the expected increase in passenger traffic. In the first four years of the 40-year concession period, major development works to be implemented include building five new passenger terminals – at the airports in Corfu, Kefalonia, Kos, Lesvos and Thessaloniki. Terminal expansions will be completed at Aktion, Mykonos, Samos, Santorini and Skiathos airports while Chania, Kavala, Rhodes and Zakynthos airports will be remodeled. This will result in an increase of 100,000 square meters in terminal size at the 14 airports, bringing the total area to 300,000 square meters. The company will invest a minimum of 415 million euros in development works until 2021. In addition to this amount, Fraport Greece

has paid an upfront concession fee of 1.234 billion euros. Furthermore, an annual fixed concession fee of 22.9 million euros and a variable annual concession fee of an average of 28.5 percent of operating profits (after the completion of the investment program), as well as a 1 euro levy per departing passenger (approx. 13 million euros in 2017), will be paid to the Greek state. Offering tremendous benefits to tourism and the Greek economy, this investment is a multilevel developmental vehicle for Greece, both nationally and locally, and will hopefully open up possibilities for growth in all of the 14 areas.

The construction work has had no adverse effects on traffic. In fact, Fraport Greece’s airports welcomed many new flight connections this summer season – a result of its close cooperation with airlines and the Hellenic Slot Coordinator. Qatar Airways,, British Airways and Germania all introduced new connections to the airports in the spring, including flights from cities like Doha, London, Belfast and Berlin to destinations like Thessaloniki, Kefalonia, Rhodes and Samos. In total the airports are attracting even more airlines both from within and outside the Schengen area.

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INCREDIBLE CRETE Greece’s largest island is also its most magical destination. S T AV R O S A R N A O U T A K I S / G O V E R N O R , R E G I O N O F C R E T E

At the southern edge of Europe and in the heart of the Mediterranean, Crete is a uniquely appealing, safe and welcoming tourist destination. This year, as every year, millions of foreign visitors from America, Europe and across the world will visit the island, keen to explore its outstanding natural beauty. Every corner, every village and every city of Crete, from Zakros to Elafonissi and from Gramvousa to Ierapetra, constitutes a distinctly different experience for the visitor. For centuries now, these places have composed a one-of-akind setting; a multi-dimensional mosaic completed by our culture, our Christian tradition, our customs and our natural landscape. Crete is an unmatched tourist destination with the widest possible range of attractions; there are modern tourism facilities, stunning wilderness areas and a palpable sense of history everywhere that comes to life in centuries-old traditions and in the evocative ruins of the Minoan civilization. Hospitality is perhaps the key element of our national and local identity; the amiability and security that visitors feel on our island completes the sense that they are on the trip of a lifetime. In recent years, many tourists have chosen Crete as their vacation destination. For all of them, Crete is a hospitable place, a place that offers them unique opportunities for relaxation, excitement and adventure. The Region of Crete welcomes you all, hoping that you will enjoy this opportunity to admire everything Crete has to offer during your stay here.


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CONTENTS G R E E C E I S - I S S U E# 3 2 C R E T E 2 018 E D I T I O N

118 216


Welcome 38. AT A GLANCE 40. MILESTONES 42. THE BASICS A photo introduction to “planet Crete.” 62. IDENTITY The Cretan soul laid bare. 70. THE BIG THREE The statesman, the writer and the singer. 76. MUSIC NEVER ENDS Cretan band Xylouris White introduce the sounds of the island.

80. OUTSIDE THE BOX Products, ideas and initiatives that keep this ancient island young. 86. MINOAN CHIC Fashion and jewelry inspired by ancient symbols and motifs.

Discover 94. GODS AND MONSTERS The myths of Crete still spark the imagination.

112. TREASURE CHEST Bronze Age masterpieces of Cretan craftmanship. 116. SITES AND MUSEUMS

Explore 118. Hania 138. Rethymno 158. Irakleio (Heraklion) 176. Lasithi

Gastronomy 188. THE CRETAN DIET Healthy food never tasted so delicious. 194. LIQUID GOLD Olive oil production in Crete, from ancient to modern times. 202. WINES OF CRETE A new generation of winemakers brings ancient varieties to life. 210. THE CRETAN BASKET Delicious products to try or buy.

102. THE INTRIGUING MINOANS All you need to know about Europe’s first known civilization.

216. WHERE TO EAT Around Crete in 28 tables.

ON THE COVER: Bull Hunt Fresco at the North Entrance of The Palace of Knossos. The bull is one of the most recognizable symbols of Minoan Crete. (PHOTO: BERTHOLD STEINHILBER/LAIF)


Exerevnitis-Explorer S.A. Ethnarchou Makariou & 2 Falireos, Athens, 18547, Greece Tel. (+30) 210.480.8000 Fax (+30) 210.480.8202


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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Giorgos Tsiros



Natassa Bouterakou


Tel. (+30) 210.480.8227 Fax (+30) 210.480.8228 E-mails:



is a yearly publication, distributed free of charge. It is illegal to reproduce any part of this publication without the written permission of the publisher.


GET THE PICTURE Some basic facts about Crete


largest island in the world


largest island in the Mediterranean


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of coastline


of tourist beaches


Highest peak (Mt Psiloritis)


sunny days (May 2017-April 2018)

10.7° C

lowest average sealevel temperature (January, Irakleio)

27.5° C

highest average sealevel temperature (August, Irakleio)



population (2011 census)


total workforce

244,272 employed


hectares of farmland in use


hectares covered by olive trees


million international visitor arrivals in 2017 (by air)


of tourism arrivals in Greece


nights spent in hotels and campsites (2016)


GDP (2015)


total tourism revenue (2016)

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MAJOR MILESTONES A relentless quest for freedom and independence marks the Cretans’ winding road… BY JOHN LEONA R D

locations that control the plains and access to and from the sea.

Large Kamares banquet crater, with moulded lily flowers, from Phaistos (1800-1700 BC).

centralized authority exists on Crete; Mycenaeans rule from the mainland. “King Minos’

Throne Room,” reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evans.

7000 BC

First indications of human habitation in Crete. The new settlers make their living as farmers, livestock breeders and fishermen. Seated female

figurine, Lower Village of Ierapetra (5800-4800 BC).

67 BC 1700 BC

The original palaces are destroyed by an earthquake; new ones arise on their ruins. Over the next two centuries, Minoan civilization reaches its apex. Colonnaded North Bastion overlooking the North Entrance of the Palace of Knossos.

1100 BC

Dorians begin arriving on the island. Many native Cretans withdraw to fortified mountain settlements. City-states emerge in the 9th c. BC. Sarcophagus

a wild goat, from the vaulted tomb at Porti Messara (25002000 BC).

AD 395

Theodosius I is the last Roman Emperor to rule over both the Eastern Roman and Western Roman empires; on his death, Crete, in the Eastern Roman Empire, is placed under the rule of Byzantium. Gold solidus of

ca. 1450 BC

All the Minoan palaces, except for Knossos, are destroyed. This is the end of the Minoan “golden age.” Mainland influence prevails; CretoMycenaean elites now rule. Linear B is adopted. Seal ring

depicting the worship of Cretan nature and “Mountain Mother.” Phourni, Archanes.

5th c. BC

217/216 BC

The first palaces are built at Knossos and at other key 40

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1370 BC

Knossos suffers its final destruction. No more local

Theodosius I, who ruled Greeks with an iron fist.

Crete remains in the background during Classical times. More than one hundred cities or towns exist on the island, and clashes between them are frequent. Male

calf-bearer (kriophoros), in hammered gold. Teke tholos, Knossos (7th c. BC).

2000 BC

unknown identity.

with representations of funeral rites, from Aghia Triada (ca. 1350-1300 BC).

3300 BC

Organized settlements are established in many places. Cretan traders cross the seas to neighboring areas; imported metals and other precious materials begin to show up on the island, and craft industries start to develop. Minoan scribes use Linear A text. Figurine of

Quintus Caecilius Metellus conquers Crete and makes it a province of the Roman Empire. Roman portrait bust of

After much dispute among Alexander’s successors for control of Crete, Philip V of Macedon is recognized as “Protector” of Crete.


The Saracens conquer the island and turn it into one of the great slave bazaars of the East. Arab fleet, from

the illustrated 12th-century manuscript by Byzantine historian Ioannes Skylitzes.


unassailable gorge south of Hania. Raising of the Greek flag at Profitis Ilias, Akrotiri, February 9, 1897.



The Byzantines, under Nikephoros II Phokas, recapture Crete, ushering in a period of great prosperity.

Nikephoros II Phokas (ruled AD 963-969). Illumination, 11th century (Marciana Library, Venice)



Europe’s Great Powers proclaim the island an independent “Cretan State,” still subject, however, to Ottoman authority. Interior of

The manmade caves and onetime tombs dug out of the rock-face in Matala are discovered by members of the hippy generation. They become a popular destination among this group and a stop along their travels from Europe and America towards the Far East.

the Firka fortress of Chania, in a postcard from 1900.


1900 1204

Crete is taken over by the Venetians, whose castles and other architectural achievements are still visible today. The Cretans wage some 27 rebellions against their Italian overlords. The main

Excavations by Sir Arthur Evans begin at Knossos, bringing to light the central palace and remarkable relics of the “Minoan” civilization.

Battle of Crete. Heroic resistance by the Cretans against the invading Nazis; numerous villages suffer violent, destructive retribution and mass summary executions. The Occupation begins: German paratroopers land on the island, May 20, 1941.

Archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, holding the now-famous bull’shead rhyton with golden horns.

gate of the Venetian Fortezza (fortress) of Rethymno (16th c.)


The first hotel is constructed in Elounda, which gradually becomes a world-famous tourism destination. It is visited by heads of state, sheikhs and other VIPs. At times, the seaside town’s luxury resorts become the setting for high-level diplomacy, such as the meeting that Greek prime minister Andreas Papandreou facilitated between French president Francois Mitterand and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to discuss an end to hostilities between the two countries.


1950s 1669

Following a 21-year siege, the Turks occupy Chandaka (Irakleio). The Cretans revolt repeatedly – most famously in 1866-69 – and call for unification with Greece. Port of Rethymno, early 17th century, prior to Ottoman occupation (colored engraving).


Crete is united with Greece. Prior to this, Eleftherios Venizelos, rallying for greater Cretan self-determination, had led the Theriso Revolt (1905) and formed a provisional government based in an

Decipherment of Linear B script, which appears at Knossos in some 3,000 texts, mostly written on tablets. In scientific studies of contemporary Cretans, the islanders’ remarkable longevity is attributed by Rockefeller Foundation researchers and others to the now-famous “Cretan Diet.”

Clay tablet, inscribed with stillundeciphered Linear A script. Aghia Triada (1770-1450 BC).


Irakleio Archaeological Museum (founded 1952) reopens its doors following an extensive eight-year renovation. Now one of Greece’s largest, most state-of-the-art museums, it contains the “Holy Relics” of Knossos and the Minoan civilization.

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When you hear the word “island,” you’ll surely think “beach.” But Crete is much more than its coasts. With mountain ranges such as Psiloritis (Ida), Lefka Ori and Dikti rising above 2,000m, Cretans are basically a mountain people. That said, of course, there are hundreds of kilometers of coastline and countless beaches (from secluded little coves to endless stretches of sand) to explore and enjoy. This unique combination of sea and mountains not only defines Crete’s geography, but also guarantees that, no matter how long you stay (a week, a month or even a lifetime), every day will be different.

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The date palm (Phoenix theophrasti) holds pride of place among the rich flora of Crete, which features more than 1700 species. It grows on sand dunes, has multiple thin tree trunks, can reach a height of 15m, and creates some truly exotic landscapes. It is an indigenous species of the eastern Mediterranean and related to the African date palm. The only palm tree forest of Europe is in Vai, in the northeastern part of the Lasithi region. There is also an extensive copse at Aghios Nikitas, in the south of the region of Irakleio, and another on Preveli beach in the southern part of the region of Rethymno. 44

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According to one account, Crete has more than four hundred gorges. To explore them, some require proper climbing gear, such as Ha Gorge, in Lasithi; others can be hiked, such as the biggest of all, Samaria Gorge. Still others feature rivers, such as Kourtaliotiko Gorge in Rethymno, or waterfalls, such as Ambas Gorge in Irakleio. Some are even partly accessible by car, such as Theriso and Topoliano in Hania. Many chapters in Crete’s history have been written in its gorges; they have offered refuge to freedom fighters, been turned into battlefields and inspired myths and songs. C R E T E 2 018




Summering in Crete is not just about exploration, but about relaxation and indulgence too. Its multibillion-euro tourism industry caters to more than five million visitors per year, including many for whom money is not an issue. Over the last four decades, the Elounda coast has been transformed into Crete’s own version of the French Riviera, with world-class, award-winning, ultra-luxurious spa resorts (many of them suites-only, villas-only or even adults-only), and real estate prices to match its global reputation. 46

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Endless stretches of sand dunes, cedar trees and light-blue and turquoise waters to die for: to the South of Crete, not far from its shores, the small islands of Gavdos (to the west) and Chrysi or Gaidouronisi (to the east), are the secret paradises of those who seek a different style of vacation: with camping tents, multicolored fabrics tied in amongst the trees for shade, nights on the sand with guitars, and groups of newfound friends that form on the spot. Both are Natura 2000-protected areas. C R E T E 2 018





The pleasures of Crete are a treat for the senses, but also the mind. Come prepared to explore an island inhabited for more than 9,000 years – as just about everywhere you go you’ll find extraordinary archaeological sites, museums and an eagerness among locals to talk about the past. People here deeply appreciate history, follow timeless traditions or generously share stories passed down from previous generations. This is the land of myths and heroes, and Knossos is the jewel in Crete’s historical – or rather prehistorical – crown. Minoan capital, palace of King Minos, home to the Labyrinth and Minotaur, Knossos is veiled in mystery, color and the intriguing mists of Crete’s still-inspiring Bronze Age civilization. – JOHN LEONARD 48

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As an edifice that strongly resembles a fortress and features disparate architectural elements, Arkadi Monastery reflects Crete’s tempestuous history, which was shaped by invaders and conquerors. As a symbol, it is even more significant, as it evokes the Cretans’ passion for freedom: in November 1866, during the Cretan Revolt, its heroic defenders (among them, women and children) did not hesitate to sacrifice themselves by blowing up the gunpowder store, in order to avoid being taken captive by the Ottomans laying siege to the monastery. – VASSILIS MINAKAKIS C R E T E 2 018




One of the most characteristic locations of Crete, the old harbor of Hania has been loved as few other places in Greece. Images of it have been turned into countless postcards and social media posts; it has left people in awe of its charm at all times of day. It is an ideal spot for a refreshing break, for breakfast, lunch or dinner, for a stroll along the quay and the picturesque lanes around it, or for a visit to its many interesting museums. This beautiful puzzle was constructed stone-by-stone during the four centuries of Venetian (1252-1645) and the two-and-ahalf centuries of Ottoman rule. – VASSILIS MINAKAKIS


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Valor, love, joy, sadness – the entire spectrum of emotions in the Cretan psyche finds its finest expression in the island’s music and local dances. Some say that these derive from Minoan religious rites, others that they represent the untamable sea and Crete’s precipitous mountains. Whatever the case, the sound of the Cretan lyra, the verses of the songs, the constant improvisations and the unique dancing styles constitute the trademarks of Crete itself. Most importantly: none of the above is a mere relic of the past; they are continuously being renewed, have a distinct resonance with the younger generations and with contemporary trends, and reveal an inexhaustible vivacity and charm. – VASSILIS MINAKAKIS 52

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A crossroads of sea routes and a melting pot of civilizations, Crete in the 16th and 17th centuries became the location of an encounter between the Byzantine tradition of iconography, which originated in the East, and the artistic currents of the Renaissance, which came from the West. Thus was born the Cretan School of painting, producing magnificent portable icons, which transcend their mission as objects of religious worship and are internationally recognized for their artistic merit. Pictured here, is the “Adoration of the Magi” (1585-1591), by Michail Damaskinos, on display at the Museum of Christian Art in Aghia Aikaterini Monastery, Irakleio. – VASSILIS MINAKAKIS C R E T E 2 018



Traditional kafeneia are at the center of village life, and across the ages they have performed key social services for communities. This is where the news arrived first, and where disputes between villagers were often settled. In older times, they had multiple functions: they were barber shops, butcher shops and saddle-making workshops (samartzidika). Now you’ll see all the surviving antique equipment lying unused. What is still used is the teziaki – a small, scullery-style kitchen – where bottles of raki (or tsikoudia) and whiskey, as well as all the essentials for coffee-making and for a meze (comprising usually of cheese, rusks and olives) are kept. Sometimes full meals are available, cooked by the owner’s wife, who rarely, if ever, leaves the kitchen to sit with patrons. As a rule, older Cretans would welcome strangers to the kafeneio by offering them a treat – and wouldn’t take no for an answer. – OLGA CHARAMI



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The olive harvest in October, the distillation of raki in November, the sheering of sheep in June, and so much more: all agricultural and animal farming tasks of the Cretans are undertaken communally and provide a pretext for a feast. Not that Cretans really need a pretext: here, as soon as one picks up his lute, all those within earshot will gather around in an instant – whether in a private home, or in a shepherd’s hut up on the mountain, or at a small kafeneio. Together with being larger than life, spontaneity is one of the typical characteristics of the Cretans, leading to all-night gatherings on the slightest whim, during which dozens of liters of raki will be consumed, and simply inconceivable quantities of meat will be eaten. A stranger will always be the guest of honor; it will be hard to get them to let you go and even harder to refuse food or drink. – OLGA CHARAMI

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Crete is justifiably proud of its Foundation for Research and Technology - Hellas (FORTH), based in Irakleio. Among the top 50 research centers in Europe, it has received 27 European Research Council Grants to date, and has taken on groundbreaking projects such as researching innovative ways of treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. With institutes specializing in fields such as astrophysics, biotechnology, lasers, computer science and chemical engineering, as well as Greece’s only DNA lab, FORTH brings us closer to the future. 58

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Cretan music may be synonymous with the pear-shaped, three-stringed lyra, yet, in actual fact, a lyra is never played without some accompaniment. Other instruments, such as the violin, lute, mandolin, tambourine (boulgarĂ­), flute (thiamboli), or local bagpipe called the askomandoura, are also played and made with skill, passion and care. Among the most famous instrument makers is the Papalexakis family in Rethymno. Yiorgos Papalexakis made his first lyre when he was seven years old: the body from a piece of wood, six nails and some wire, the bow from a twig and some horsetail hair. C R E T E 2 018







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Crete’s age-old cuisine is a form of collective memory, a concentrated expression of the Aegean civilization. It is moderate but not poor; let’s be clear, there’s no cucina povera in Crete. Abundance is what best describes it, especially when it comes to olive oil. From salads to fried potatoes and, of course, to ladera vegetable casseroles, it’s olive oil everywhere. They practically wash their hands with it. The Cretans are not stingy with other ingredients as well; their herbs and wild greens, their cheeses and fresh butter and their meats, are all used wisely, but in abundance. This exuberance applies to their hospitality, to their dishes and to their feasts as well. Many years ago, I found myself in a kafeneio in Askyfou, Sfakia: freshly prepared Greek coffee, raki, a plate of sliced mature graviera cheese, a cup of thick honey, another of sunflower seeds. I learned to dip the cheese in honey. At another kafeneio, in Aghia Galini, there was a raw artichoke, a small one, with its leaves opened, served with tomato paste, fish roe, lemon and sea salt, still wet from the rock. I learned to eat raw artichoke with strong condiments. Gastronomically speaking, Crete remains unknown and unpredictable. Not all its graces have been revealed, so you’re in for some surprises. – ANGELOS RENTOULAS C R E T E 2 018


A young shepherd on the Lasithi mountains. The katsouna, a heavy walking stick made from the hard wood of the endemic Cretan zelcova tree, has always been an indispensable companion for the island’s cattlemen and often doubled as a weapon.


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hortly before midnight at the Venetian fountain, in the heart of the city, four young men are walking arm in arm, singing. They’re wearing jeans and button-down shirts; two are wearing black shirts, the color of mourning. They’re obviously villagers visiting the city. A few surprised tourists point the lenses of their cell phone cameras at them; others pass by, indifferent. For the locals, it’s a recognizable sight, if not entirely common. A bit further down, on the road that leads to the port, you’ll find street musicians with drums and guitars, and crowded bars blaring out the international language of music. The city is humming with life. It’s called Irakleio. But it might

also be called Hania, Rethymno, Aghios Nikolaos. What changes? Only the name – not the soul. There are differences, of course, but wherever you go, you’re certain to be surprised. Whether it’s by big things or by details, it doesn’t matter – either way, you’ll encounter the excess called Crete. The young men head off, singing, and disappear down the narrow side streets. The echo of their song still reaches our ears. But it seems to echo across time as much as space. It speaks of love, of forbidden love – and of unbearable separation: How am I to part from you and leave? How am I to live without you when we part?

It’s strange, but these same verses have been heard on this island for over three centuries. It’s the favorite song here, a sort of peculiar local anthem. It comes from a much longer work, written shortly after 1600 in the dialect of the island (which largely survives to this day) by Vitsentzos Kornaros, a man of Venetian ancestry who was raised in the traditions of Crete. My grandfather, though illiterate, knew the whole epic by heart. All he could write was his signature, which he learned while in prison shortly after the last uprising of the 19th century – and when he held a pen, it seemed to me that he was holding a rifle; perhaps that’s how it seemed to him, too. But whenever he put his beloved on a


SOUL SEARCHING What does it mean to be Cretan? And what does it have to do with that strange Greek word, “kouzoulada,” that describes a combination of craziness, passion and excess unique to this island? © NIKOS PSILAKIS


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Going home from the fields. Kritsa, Crete, 1964. From the award-winning “Greek Portfolio” by the renowned Greek-American photographer Constantine Manos.

horse and they rode from a village down in the plains up to his hideouts in the mountains, six hours away, he sang that epic to her on the journey. Always the same song, no matter how often they traced that same path, he sang it coming and going. The horse was always decorated in ceremonial style, with a woven blanket on the saddle – that’s how people traveled on feast days and holidays back then; it was a mark of nobility. The hours passed, but the song kept going. After all, with 10,000 rhyming iambic lines, how would you ever reach the end? The song is called the Erotokritos. A chivalric romance in verse, thick with dialogue, it’s one of the great epic poems of the European literary tradition. Unfortunately, it is little-known outside of Greece because its linguistic particularities, a language full of charm, make it exceedingly difficult to translate. I wonder what those young men were doing, wandering through the streets at night singing that song. Perhaps they were doing whatever my grandfather, a lifelong revolutionary, was doing when he sang that song astride his horse. An entire century separates those two eras – and a song unites them. There may be not a single Cretan alive today who doesn’t know at least a handful of its lines, who hasn’t sung them at some point. It’s sung in the company of friends, it’s available on CD and on the internet and it’s nearly always heard at festivals and celebrations, accompanied by the lyra, the local string instrument, even if it doesn’t really have a tune one can dance to. Why the Erotokritos? The answer is provided by the lines themselves, which are full of love and war, of discord and serenity, of serenades outside windows, and of the clanging of swords. There’s combat and deadly jousting, but there are tender words, too. It’s a true hymn to beauty, to passion, to love – a hymn, that 64

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is, to life itself, sprinkled with distillations of folk wisdom. It’s possible that this song is an image of Crete itself. A few years ago, I found myself at a village festival in the foothills of western Rethymno region. It was April 23, the feast day of St George, patron saint of mountain dwellers. Cheeses were piled up outside the church – shepherds’ offerings, which the priest would divide up and offer to the crowd. Shortly before, village youngsters on horseback had paraded an icon of the saint through the streets. They were all in local costume,

the sort of clothes very few still wear these days, and only then to promote their local identity. They went down all the streets of the village. A human stream followed this Byzantine icon that depicted the saint as a young man: strong, handsome and armed, grasping his bloody lance. When the procession was over, the young men gathered again beside the church, 15 or 20 people, and began to sing. Here they didn’t sing the Erotokritos; they sang rizitika, ancient songs, the authentic voices of mountain-dwelling Cretans, those who lived brief lives in the badlands of history. They’re plain, austere, robust –



a kind of echo of Byzantium that insists on crying out the fact that it exists. The songs speak of freedom and love and paint perhaps the best picture of the enduring mentality of Cretans, who shape their identities with the mosaic tiles of their long history. Today, in the first decades of the 21st century, many groups of young people in western Crete gather two or three times a week to sing rizitika, and to learn those songs they don’t yet know. So, again, I wonder: how does all of this survive through time? And I answer myself: it is precisely this that is Crete.

I said I would write about Cretans, and I began with song. I don’t know if song calms the souls of these island inhabitants, or if it unsettles them. From end to end, the island is an odd twinning of opposites: high, craggy mountains and cosmopolitan beaches. It is the great journey of history, it is coexistence with the other, it is friendship and conflict, conflict that led to great uprisings. The creator of the cosmos placed this island between three continents, close to other peoples. Africa and Asia are just a short sea journey away. But Crete remains an island, sealed in a world of its own.

Whenever I talk about Crete I always think of its landscape; peaceful and calm, yet wild. And I think of a dearly departed friend, the archaeologist Yannis Sakellarakis, who used to tell the story of how he once managed to condense all four seasons into a single day. He arrived on the island by ferry with a group of young archaeology students one morning. They took a walk, ate bougatsas (custard pies) in the square, and boarded the bus for Mt Ida. Their destination was the mythic cave where Zeus, the king of the gods, was said to have been raised. It was April; snow covered the entrance to the cave, and the cold was biting. It was still winter up on the mountain slopes – there are years when the snow lasts into August. It’s strange for a Mediterranean landscape, bathed in sun, but Crete has three mountains whose peaks are almost 2,500 meters high. On the way back down into the plains, the bus was stopped by two shepherds who had just milked their sheep and were getting ready to make cheese. They asked everyone to get off the bus, and the students watched the milk being boiled in big cauldrons, just the way it must have been done a few thousand years ago on the very same mountain. C R E T E 2 018




Men from the village of Kritsa in Lasithi dressed in traditional costumes, with beautifully embroidered petsetes (towels) on their shoulders, attend a Cretan wedding. The local cultural association helps sustain age-old customs.

In the end, the students were all offered fresh steaming myzithra, a whey cheese. Hospitality, treating strangers to what you have, is law in these parts But the journey wasn’t over yet. Shortly afterwards, they found themselves in a meadow. Countless narcissus plants – called manousakia on Crete – were in bloom, peeking out between the shrubs; white blossoms, like the snow they’d held in their hands just a little while earlier. It was afternoon when they reached the Messara Plain. Here, they found an entirely different landscape: an endless field of strawberries, bright red and fragrant. Another opportunity for hospitality: a treat of these berries was accom66

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panied by raki, Crete’s local spirit and best-known drink. Their last stop that day was Matala, a small harbor to the south, once a poor fishing village, then a paradise for hippies, and today simply a tourist destination full of shops selling souvenirs. The sea was crystal clear, not a wave in sight. It stretched out beneath open ancient tombs and the caves where the hippies once lived. Who could resist taking a dip in the warm Libyan Sea? One of the students looked at his watch. “Two-and-a-half hours ago I was shaking with cold in the snow!” Four seasons in a single day. And many more eras, I’d say. I had to talk about the landscape because I believe it, too, has helped shape the Cretan soul. The land on Crete is at once rough and serene. This is a place where tradition becomes law, and then the law is broken. My fellow Cretans are honest, upstanding and unruly: with their local dances still popular today, with their songs, with the guns they shoot in the

air to express joy, and with their famous Cretan knives, a symbol of the island, decorated with intricate patterns and love songs. Even today, the manufacture of these knives is one of the most important expressions of local folk art. But folk art also seems to me to reflect contemporary Crete. Years ago, the katsouna, a local shepherd’s crook with a curved handle of hard, gnarled wood and an aesthetic that wavers between postmodern and grotesque, was a symbol of an agrarian and pastoral past, and young people rarely carried them. From time immemorial, this walking stick has been the necessary companion of farmers and shepherds, who used it for support on long journeys by foot, and, in periods of conflict, as a weapon. In recent years, it has become something of a symbol of local identity, an expression of Cretan masculinity. You see katsounas everywhere; in shops selling local wares and folk art, at roadside stands where they can be bought from those who make



them, at farmers’ markets, and even at grocery stores. You see them at protests, too, and on the front pages of newspapers. Young farmers are proud to pose with their katsounas. The foundation of the local economy remains agricultural. The gray-green olive tree is everywhere. Crete is perhaps the most densely planted olive grove in the world. But there are also vineyards, gardens, greenhouses and small orchards. Cretans are proud of their products, including olive oil, honey, cheese, wine, and rusks, and of the diet that incorporates such items. Last year I found myself at a farmer’s house, where I was offered some of their homemade wine. I accepted the first glass. They offered a second. When they saw me hesitating, they said, “But it’s holy water.” Which is to say, the best in the world. There are, indeed, amazing wines being produced on Crete today. Of course, their own unrefined wine wasn’t one of these, and they knew it. I knew it, too. But I liked the pride they took in it. And so, again, I wonder: what would this place be without excess, hyperbole? What would these people be? Haven’t all the great moments in their history been moments of excess? From isolated revolutionaries fighting against regular army forces to the men and women of 1941 who picked up their katsounas and pickaxes to fight the German paratroopers, who faced airplanes and machine guns with nothing but walking sticks. But those sticks weren’t only an extension of their hands – they were an extension of their souls. At that moment, the weight of tradition counted for more than the laws of cold logic. Centuries and centuries of Cretan defiance had taught them this. Since the beginning of the 20th century, when the excavations of Minos Kalokairinos and Arthur Evans brought the history of the Minoan civilization to light, names from the world of myth irrevocably entered the life of the island. Minos, Ariadne, Knossos, Phaistos, Kydonia, Europa and Gortyna are now the names of ships, restaurants, tavernas and businesses, small and large. They are, in a sense, also aggressive designations. 68

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The word “Minoan” is often tacked on to goods and services of all sorts. A few decades ago, some learned folk thought of reviving Minoan architecture. They never managed to pull it off. But today, in many hotels, we find “Minoan” columns in that striking terracotta color. Houses in villages and cities on the island mimic the architectural forms that Evans discovered and recreated at Knossos. Today, Crete is a major tourist destination. The alterations it has undergone are so great as to have changed the landscape itself. A Cretan from 1940 or 1950 wouldn’t even recognize the beaches on the northern shore of the island. Back

then, they were deserted; now, they’re packed with more tourists than you might think possible. At the same time, our hypothetical time traveler would feel right at home at a local festival or a social event, such as a wedding. In these realms, changes happen more slowly. The entertainment spots may have changed, but the way people celebrate has stayed the same. Once, all celebrations, even wedding parties, took place in village squares. Today, they’re held in enormous halls that accommodate hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of guests. But they still involve the Cretan lyra, local dances and songs. Whoever wishes to discover the soul of Crete today should know that they won’t find it on those crowded beaches. They’ll find it in the mountains, in the villages, in the wine, in the honey, in the oil and, of course, in the people. I, too, wonder what Crete is. Most likely, it has something to do with what an old monk told me years ago. A shepherd came to his monastery one evening before dark. The monk didn’t recognize him, but he saw the man put a sizeable bill in the collection box and pray before each and every icon, from the smallest to the largest. A few days later, he saw the man’s photograph in the newspaper. He had been caught red-handed trying to steal another shepherd’s animals, a crime that has plagued Crete for eons. At the monastery, he had been seeking the saints’ help in order to commit an unlawful act. There’s an idiomatic word that is still used today, kouzoulada, which I suspect that anyone who didn’t grow up on Crete would have difficulty understanding. Some people translate it as craziness, insanity, but that’s not really right. I prefer to call it passion, excess. Excess in love and in war, in serenity and in storm, in pride and in rage, in joy and in song. What would Crete be without its people? It would certainly be a beautiful place, but there would be no celebrations, no voices raised in song, no dances, no Erotokritos, no guns fired in the air, no katsounas, no knives. There would be, I suppose, no kouzoulada.

Portraits of the statesman Eleftherios Venizelos grace the walls of private homes and public spaces all over Crete.


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THE BIG THREE Eleftherios Venizelos, Nikos Kazantzakis, Nikos Xylouris: three larger-than-life personalities who represent the best (and sometimes the worst) of the Cretan character. B Y PA N T E L I S B OU K A L A S

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hanks to the musicologist Melpo Merlie and her collection, an aural trace, undefeated by the ravages of time, will always remain of Eleftherios Venizelos (1864-1936). Generation after generation will be able to hear his voice singing “Digenis” and “Death,” including the stirring lines from the latter: “Late last night, I passed by Death’s house and heard his wife nagging, ‘Haven’t I told you, Death, time and time again? Where there are five take three, where there are three, take one, but where there are two, don’t take anyone at all.’” It wouldn’t be fair to talk about Venizelos, arguably the most influential Greek politician of the 20th century, without mentioning his extraordinary (and revealing) involvement with Greek folk songs and with the people who continued to create work in this genre. In addition to his own enjoyment of folk music, both as a listener and a singer, 72

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Venizelos also figured in its more contemporary songs: a hero, praised above all in Cretan songs – but also a negative figure, decried in dirges from Mani, where mothers steeped in grief at the loss of their sons at the front censured him with the candor of incurable sorrow. That split in how the folk song tradition treats Venizelos reflects the fact that he is a historical figure. In other words, it separates him from the space of ideal or idealized heroes, of legends which admit no criticism, and depicts him instead as a historical subject, and therefore something that can be controlled. In the case of Nikos Kazantzakis (18831957), too, it would be inconceivable, in the attempt to compose even the most cursory biography, to overlook or underestimate his exceptional relationship with folk song: Kazantzakis apprenticed himself to the genre and drank insatiably from its wellspring, just as he fed insatiably from every spiritual


1864-1936 Hania-born Eleftherios Venizelos left an indelible mark on the political landscapes of both his island and his nation from the late 19th century onwards. The leader of his generation’s struggle for the liberation of Crete from foreign control and its unification with Greece, he served as prime minister for more than 13 years and is considered the man who most shaped modern Greece.

or intellectual realm he encountered. His first substantial contribution to letters, the tragedy “The Master Builder” (1910) was a retelling of the famous folk song “The Bridge of Arta.” His volume “Tercets” and his “Odyssey: A Modern Sequel” (which he insisted on spelling with only one “s” in Greek), which is to say the entirety of his poetic production, is diversified and enriched with words borrowed from rhyming folk compositions (Cretan compositions above all) but also with his



own creations (usually quite complex), which he shaped in the manner of those anonymous lyrics. In the 33,333 15-syllable lines of the Odyssey – one of the longest poems in the world – Kazantzakis, in order to narrate the adventures of his wily and perpetually spiritually thirsty hero (an obvious alter ego of the poet) after his return to Ithaka, pursues with unbridled enthusiasm elements from the folk tradition in general, and more specifically from the oral tradition, from wherever Greek was spoken, in all its many varieties. Kazantzakis worked in a way akin to a writer of funerary epigrams who wishes to immortalize voices and “tongues.” Finally, with Nikos Xylouris (19361980), things are simple. They are, in fact, as simple as an unambiguous mathematical equation: Nikos (or Psaronikos, as he was known) = folk songs, and Cretan folk songs in particular. His interpretations of songs in the folk canon are unparalleled.

With the chords of his soul, he gave new meaning to a song that probably had a bucolic origin, a hunting song called “When Will the Stars Shine Bright,” and, in the underground nightclubs of Plaka during the years of the dictatorship, transformed it into a war song, something like a hymn to the passion for freedom. Is there truly something we might call a “Cretan glance”? Is there a way of conceptualizing and experiencing the things of this earth – in all their aspects, from everyday life to celebrations, weddings or other occasions – which might be claimed to be exclusively Cretan, in addition to being entirely virtuous and good, almost metaphysical? Is there a way of expressing what Dionysios Solomos called the “movements of the soul” – unyielding obstinacy, generous hospitality and pride, which, in the shallowest of characters is transformed into self-adoration – which could also be characterized as exclusively Cretan?


1883-1957 The epitaph on the grave of Kazantzakis atop the Martinego Bastion in his birthplace of Irakleio, reads: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.” This particular phrase is a perfect expression of his personal philosophy, stemming from his Cretan heritage. Adored by his countrymen and world-famous for his works, including “Zorba the Greek,” Kazantzakis was a leading figure in 20th-century literature and remains the most translated Greek author.

Let’s leave genetics out of it, in part because we’re in danger of slipping into hyperbole and, in the end, insulting the entire island and its unique, long-lived intellectual tradition. And yet Kazantzakis, sure of the unique identity of his birthplace, introduced both the term and the hypothesis concerning a “Cretan glance,” a philosophical way of seeing that looks on chaos or on danger without fear or delusions. References to the “Cretan glance” can be found throughC R E T E 2 018




out his extensive and varied writings, while a brief synopsis of the theory can be found in his “Report to Greco,”where he writes: “My personal life has some value, extremely relative, for myself and no one else. The sole value I acknowledge in it was its effort to mount from one step to the next and reach the highest point to which its strength and doggedness could bring it: the summit I arbitrarily named the ‘Cretan Glance.’” For Kazantzakis, man sprouts wings and flies only if he reaches the edge of the yawning chasm. Venizelos, Kazantzakis and Xylouris were three figures of rare quality, each exceptional in his own realms − since none of this triad was one-dimensional. And while the writer-philosopher in the group may have believed that Crete is shaped primarily by its kouzoulous, its screwballs, rather than its family men, none of those three were screwballs in the least. The politician in this group, leader of the Cretan Revolution that began in the village of Theriso and the prime minister of the entire country on seven separate occasions, saw Greece from the vantage point of Crete. He saw a greater Greece – geographically, politically, and spiritually – than the one defined by its borders at the end of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th centuries, and left extraordinarily important marks on the nation’s body, expansive and bloody marks that continue to invite the work of researchers. Kazantzakis, meanwhile, saw the whole world from Crete. At the same time, during his travels all over the globe, 74

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he kept glancing back towards Crete, or perhaps towards the image of Crete he himself had formed. Now, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, he remains the Greek author with the widest international recognition – even more so than CP Cavafy – and his works, including the difficult “Odyssey: A Modern Sequel,” continue to be translated. (For many Cretans, however, their island appears more authentically, less a thing of myth, in the pages of Ioannis Kondylakis.) Xylouris’ glance embraced Athens, and from there all of Greece, all while still keeping his Cretan heritage intact. His greatest accomplishment was that his songs transcended the local folk elements within them to become a part of the national cultural heritage of all Greeks. They belong to us all.


1936-1980 Known as the Archangel of Crete, Nikos Xylouris is the most famous singersongwriter ever to come out of Crete. Born in Anogeia, Rethymno, into a family with a long musical tradition, he managed to combine the traditional sounds of Crete with contemporary popular music and became the symbol of an entire era prior to his untimely death at the age of 44. His brother Psarantonis and his nephew Giorgos Xylouris are both acclaimed international musicians, carrying on from where he left off.


MUSIC NEVER ENDS An introduction to the sounds of Crete, by the co-founder of the acclaimed duo Xylouris White. BY GIORG OS X Y L OU R I S


retan music is part of the natural world of Crete; it’s like a garden full of colorful wildflowers and heady, aromatic herbs. Our music links us together, and it connects to the past and to the future. It’s something we all share in our everyday lives. Crete has been a cultural meeting place between East and West since ancient times, and the island’s musicians have embraced instruments and ideas from all of those who came through here, including Venetians, Turks, Arabs, Byzantine Greeks and others. In general, Cretan music is based on a 4/4 rhythm, unlike on the mainland where it’s often based on compound rhythms such as 7/8 or 9/8. The main instruments are the lyra, the lute, the mandolin and the violin. Inland, where the music has older, deeper roots, they still put bells on the lyra bow and use whistles and the drum called a daouli, as well as bagpipes; these instruments used to be more common all across the island, and today 76

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Giorgos Xylouris and his bandmate, Australian drummer Jim White.

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they’re being revived here and there. In more contemporary Cretan music, you’ll find the usual suspects: guitars, bass, drums and other instruments. Singing is vital to Cretan music, and most traditional tunes have lyrics. Those who don’t understand the words can still feel the landscape and the soul of this place in the rhythm. Traditional music does that − it captures the essence of a place, and all the folk music in the world is related in that it is an expression of a particular people and plays a significant role in their lives. There is perhaps nothing nicer than tears of joy. Music expresses every emotion, and there is a song for every occasion. Wedding songs, for instance, make me feel happy and sad at the same time. Of course, everyone reacts differently to things, so that which causes one person to feel sad might bring someone else joy, but music will stir their emotions one way or the other. Likewise, some may want to dance, while others may just want to sit and listen. As someone who plays a great deal of music in front of crowds, I see a wide range of reactions to the same song. In Crete, music celebrates life. It’s always there in the joyous moments, not really in times of sadness. When you’re in mourning in Crete, you don’t take part in dances or in music. However, when the official mourning period has ended, a Cretan can’t wait to get out there and sing again about the emotions he feels. For me, in the village where I was raised, there was music every night. In the winter, I heard it indoors in the cafés; in the summer, the musicians played in the village square. You couldn’t escape it, and as we were growing up, we learned to play different instruments. I started with the mandolin when I was six or seven and later I’d keep rhythm on the lute for my

father at home when he was experimenting with songs. When I was around 15, he took me to Irakleio and I played with him in public. He liked me to accompany him on the lute. From then on, I began to study music more closely, and now that’s what I do, as well as performing, of course. I discover new things about the same pieces I have been playing for years, and these discoveries, along with the new songs and dances I learn in villages across the island, give me the strength and inspiration to keep on playing with joy. With my bandmate Jim White, we’ve been recording and performing under the name Xylouris White since 2013. We don’t play only Cretan music, and even that we don’t play in a strictly traditional manner. I provide the sound of my culture, and the things that I have in my head, and Jim does roughly the same thing, but from a different musical culture. We’re two bodies, one brain.”Half a brain each,” Jim says, and it often feels that way; there’s a natural connection between us that has lasted all these years, and this connection produces the particular sound that is us, no matter what instruments we’re playing. We’re often categorised as world music, folk music, Cretan music with post-punk influences, Cretan rock music, Free jazz, whatever... We don’t really see ourselves that way. Instead, we just call our music “Goatish.” People seem to like it; we’ve played at many festivals all over the world, including Big Ears, Sydney Festival, Womadelaide, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and the Winnipeg Folk Festival, just to name a few. Crete is full of music events year-round, but summer is the richest season. From the middle of June to the end of August, there are official music events all over the island. Be sure to catch one, and you’ll discover a little more about the Cretan spirit.


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Ideas, projects and initiatives that keep this ancient island young.


B Y E L E F T H E R I A A L AVA N O U , M A R I A C O V E O U , M A R I A K O R A C H A I , A L E X A N D R A T Z AV E L L A


Locating the perfect swimming spot near you in Crete has never been easier. The online app Cretan Beaches includes more than 600 locations, together with historical data, access information, tips and recommendations about nearby sights, available in Greek, English and Russian, with German to be added soon. Its developer is Alexandros Roniotis, a teacher whose hobby was to travel all across the island on motorbike, by boat or on foot, recording every single beach. Invaluable guides to his project were the locals, especially the older generation; without them, Alexandros says, details such as local place names would have been lost forever.


BioAroma produces natural cosmetics based on Crete’s aromatic herbs. Its founder, Manoussos Pediaditis (a chemist by profession), has been traveling around the villages since he was a young man avidly collecting the secrets of local folk medicine. At the same time, and with the help of the Department of History and Archaeology of the University of Crete, Pediaditis set out to trace the ancient history of cosmetics on the island, confirming that 4,500 years ago the Minoans used to distill essential oils and make ointments and creams. BioAroma has about 150 products on its list (from lip balm based on beeswax to toothpaste that contains crushed dittany). Its production plant, which also features an exhibition space and a botanical garden, can be visited by prior arrangement.


Established in 2007 as a non-profit organization, this University of Crete initiative aims to forge closer ties between the academic community and the wider society, applying methods such as student peer teaching, so that young people from urban centers and from villages can get together and exchange experiences. Other initiatives include providing check-ups to residents of remote villages, as well as documenting age-old arts and crafts such as weaving. The photograph is from a recent re-enactment of the sacred Minoan ceremony celebrating the linseed harvest, with the participation of representatives from Emmanuel College, Boston (US). © EFFIE PAROUTSA


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Abandoned until the 80s, this 300-year-old traditional settlement comprising 10 stone houses has been painstakingly restored and transformed by its owners, the alternative tourism pioneer Aleka Chalkia and her daughter, Myrto Botsari, into a unique eco-lodge named “Aspros Potamos” (White River). Photovoltaics cover most of its energy needs, while at night you’ll rely on candles and oil lamps for light, which only adds to the atmosphere of this Flintstone-type acommodation. •


A “white paradise” for ski-touring aficionados, the mountains of Crete are uncluttered by organized ski resorts, with an abundance of fluffy, untrodden snow, as well as view that reach as far as the sea. The good airline connections, in combination with Cretan hospitality, have led to a steady increase in the number of visiting ski mountaineers. Currently, the sequel of the Greek-American production “Frozen Ambrosia” about ski touring in Greece is being filmed in Crete, while since 2014, dozens of skiers from Greece, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Norway have been returning for the race Pierra Creta. 82

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Founded by Jerolyn E. Morrison in 2012, “Minoan Tastes” promotes the culinary history of Minoan Crete through hands-on cooking experiences based on scientific knowledge. “Our method of preparing food in ceramic pots over an open hearth, with ingredients that were available during the Minoan times, replicates as closely as possible the way ancient Cretans prepared and enjoyed a banquet, and allows our guests to engage all their senses and to savor the flavors of slow-cooked food.” This past May, during an event hosted by the NPO Branding Heritage, Morrison had the privilege of sharing some tips on ceramic pot cooking with none other than HRH Prince Charles.




Back in 2004, an informal piano recital at the home of the Norwegian impresario Gunnar Strømsholm, in Makrigialos, Lasithi, would give birth to one of Crete’s most unique music festivals. Aiming to address “the lack of culture some of the tourists bring with them” and to open up the region to an alternative form of tourism, Strømsholm has been hosting the festival almost every year since at his house, in the middle of an olive grove. Visiting pianists play on one of the world’s biggest concert pianos – a Bösendorfer Concert Grand Imperial previously owned by Pavarotti – while concerts are recorded by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). The Casa dei Mezzo hosts renowned classical musicians, personally selected by Strømsholm himself.


In 2011, the mountain guide Luca Gianotti spent a month crossing the length of Crete on foot. Following the E4 (the European long distance path), he quickly realized that this 500km-long stretch of the famous trail was in a state of disrepair. Since then, he has made it his mission to keep it tidy and clearly signposted. In 2016 he published The Cretan Way, an up-to-date hiking guide complete with a GPS feature. So far, approximately 2,000 people have followed this route. “It is not only about nature, but also about culture, about walking through villages and meeting people,”says Gianotti.

A soft, golden capsule holds inside it the beneficial properties of the herbs of Crete, which have been lauded since the times of Hippocrates and Dioscorides. The patented food supplement Cretan IAMA (a combination of essential oils derived from thyme, sage and dittany in a solution of extra virgin olive oil) protects against the flu, possesses anti-oxidizing properties, and is especially beneficial for infections of the upper respiratory system. The idea for the supplement was based on epidemiological studies in several Cretan regions, followed by years of research and clinical trials by a cross-disciplinary team of distinguished professors at the Medical School of the University of Crete. 84

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MINOAN CHIC The rich history, the wild beauty and the handicraft traditions of the island provide all the creative fuel required for these talented artisans and designers. BY ELIS KISS


f you’re visiting Crete, chances are you’ll come across several of the island’s most significant historical figures and monuments splashed across T-shirts and gracing a whole range of other mementos as well. After all, drawing from one’s history is a long-standing tradition in countries like Greece, home to colorful myths and fables. In any case, the notion of creative referencing in the world of fashion and design is no longer a novelty, as designers today often borrow


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elements from various cultures in their efforts to add substance to their moodboards. For certain designers, however, cultural influences can be innate – if not “inside,” at least “around” them. This is the case of the fashion and jewelry designers featured in the following pages: whether natives, frequent visitors or “transplanted” Cretans, they filter their ties to the island through a distinct identity which reflects their own vision. Their aim? To reinvent the past while looking firmly at the future.


Sophia Kokosalaki has spent the last 20 years reinterpreting key figures of the Minoan civilization, including the voluptuous Snake Goddess. The Athens-born, London-based designer, whose parents are both Cretans, visits the island every year. “When your images stem from Crete’s wild, rugged beauty and the role models and standards shaping your life are rooted in its history, you don’t really expect to turn out any other way, do you?” asks the designer who made her mark in the global fashion arena through the frequent use of draped garments, bringing together her Greek heritage with a clear contemporary vision reaching beyond seasonal trends. After establishing her namesake brand, and following design stints at Diesel Black Gold and Madeleine Vionnet, Kokosalaki recently turned her focus to jewelry. Her demi-fine pieces, available from brick-and-mortar and online outlets, include motifs such as Cretan hooks and rams.

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IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY Minoan frescoes and old Cretan weaving motifs are transformed into contemporary patterns on the loom at Klotho, the Rethymno-based apparel and accessories brand established by Alexandra Theohari in 2016. Born and raised in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Theohari grew up treasuring handwoven pieces made by her Cretan grandmother, a weaver. She studied fashion design and art history before moving to Crete, where a visit to the workshop of Aghia Irini Monastery in Rethymno led her down a novel path. The revival of ancient techniques at Klotho, says Theohari, aims to bring “handwoven textiles back to fashion as it is at present.” Meanwhile, Crete continues to be a source of inspiration. “The landscape changes all the time,” she says. “People are hospitable, the energy is positive and there is a wealth of history, culture, art and crafts.” 88

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A 400-year-old technique for creating handmade lace led the husband-and-wife team of Nikitas Almpanis and Akanksha Sharma to found Ariadne’s Thread, a fashion brand firmly rooted in Cretan tradition. Almpanis, an Irakleio native, and Indian-born Sharma met as students in the UK before moving to the Cretan capital in 2012. This is where Sharma, a designer specializing in traditional Indian textiles, came across the laborious lace-making technique of kopaneli. “India has so much to offer, but I’d never seen anything like kopaneli before, and young Greeks don’t know about it,” says Sharma. Ariadne’s Thread hopes to change this. “Our aim is not to make it too contemporary, resulting in a loss of identity, but to inspire the young to find out more about it.” Garments are available by special order, while jewelry is featured in local outlets and online. 90

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Vivid childhood memories of examining bridal trousseaux at Cretan village weddings and of observing elaborate Easter rituals, including the making of flower arrangements for the Greek Orthodox Epitafios procession on Good Friday, laid the foundations for Voula Karampatzaki’s creative universe. Born in Ierapetra, Crete, the designer studied goldsmithery and textile conservation before developing her own brand of handmade pieces: jewelry items that frequently resemble pieces of fabric or embroideries, and that incorporate references to local stories and myths. “I tied my studies to the powerful images I grew up with, and I’m constantly in the process of learning more about women in Greek mythology, such as priestesses and princesses, starting from the Minoan civilization,” notes the designer, who often works with fibers, stones and golden threads. Karampatzaki is currently based in Athens, while her intricate jewelry is on display at museums and in galleries around Greece. 92

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discover CR ETE


When it comes to history, the name “Crete” resonates with meaning, usually bringing to mind images of mythical creatures such as the Minotaur, labyrinthine prehistoric palaces and snake-brandishing goddesses. Knossos, 1995. Acrylic on glass, by Antonios von Santorinios-Santorinakis (c) Bridgeman Images C R E T E 2 018

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n Crete, it ‘s not only the magnificent artifacts and layers of archaeological remains that illuminate the island’s successive waves of human inhabitation and aeons-old culture; it’s also a collection of divine or heroic characters and richly-narrated, locally-born legends, whose origins appear to be rooted, in many cases, back in the darkest depths of Minoan prehistory. More than 2,000 years ago, Crete’s colorful mythology had already spread far beyond its own shores. Today, people around the world continue to find the stories of ancient Cretan gods, goddesses and heroes intriguing and meaningful – a timeless treasure trove to be cherished for all the delightful details and insights they provide about life, religion and the natural world in ancient Crete.

Interior of an Attic blackfigure drinking cup (kylix) depicting the Minotaur, inscribed with “o pais kalos” (“The boy is handsome”). Painter of London, ca. 515 BC (National Archaeological Museum, Madrid).


From wild nature goddesses, divine youths and snake-waving priestesses, to legendary kings, bull-headed monsters, inspired inventors, faux-cows and a gigantic proto-robot, ancient Crete was a land teeming with mythical characters. BY JOHN LEONA R D


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Detail of the now-universally-familiar faience figurine of the Minoan “Snake Goddess,” a nature and fertility deity, or of a priestess in her cult. Knossos, ca. 1600 BC (Archaeological Museum of Irakleio).

POWERFUL FEMALE DEITIES Women in ancient Crete clearly played a central role in religion and society. Modern archaeological museums are filled with extraordinary Cretan art works, produced by master artists in various media, which portray females as figures of particular power and respect. Foremost among these figures is the “Mountain Mother” or “Mistress of Animals,” a Minoan nature goddess, who frequently shows up on small, finely-cut seal stones, gold jewelry and ivory-carved cosmetic cases, often flanked by two lions, griffons or wild goats. A more urban or domestic figure – either a specific goddess (perhaps of the household) or a prominent priestess – is the Snake Goddess (ca. 1600 BC), first discovered by Sir Arthur Evans at the Palace of Knossos. At Gazi, Knossos and numerous other sites, the “Poppy Goddess” and similar figurines with upraised arms and open palms were typical of Mycenaean-dominated (post1450 BC) Crete and may have represented a deity who induced sleep and death. The powers of female fertility and procreation are celebrated in Cretan art from earliest times, with Neolithic figu-

rines of the 5th millennium BC depicting curvaceous, fecund women. Similar female strengths are embodied in the being known as “Eleuthia,” named in a Linear B text discovered at Knossos, who centuries later appears as Eileithyia, the daughter of Zeus and Hera and Homer’s goddess of childbirth. Eileithyia was worshiped in a sacred cave near Amnissos, a port of Knossos, as well as at the Cretan sites of Lato, Eleutherna and Itanos. At Delphi, a stone altar in the small sanctuary of Athena Pronaia is inscribed with



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her name, while in Delos she was said to have aided Leto during the birth of Apollo and Artemis. With the rise of the Geometric and Archaic Greeks’ now-well-familiar pantheon of gods and goddesses by at least the 8th or 7th centuries BC, the identity of prehistoric Crete’s main female deity came to be equated with various figures – including Homer’s Artemis Agrotera (“Potnia Theron”), also a goddess of animals and the wild; Rhea/Cybele, daughter of Gaia and Uranus, originally an Anatolian


mother goddess recognized on Crete as the mother of Zeus, who many believed was born on the island; and Britomartis, whose name (“Sweet Maiden”) may have been an intentional, apotropaic misrepresentation of her otherwise wild, sometimes daemonic nature. Britomartis, also known as Diktynna, was viewed as a distinctly Cretan form of Artemis, a huntress, bestowed with powers of fertility, life, death and resur-

rection. Her temples, reputedly guarded by fierce dogs, were found both in Crete and abroad – in Athens, Sparta, near Delphi and on the island of Aegina (perhaps here, as elsewhere, through the influence of Cretan traders or immigrants), where she was worshiped as Aphaia. In Crete, Britomartis/Diktynna was especially prominent at Olous (modern Elounda), where Pausanias reports there was a wooden cult statue (xoanon), as well as in and around Kydonia (present-day Hania), according to the geographer Strabo. C R E T E 2 018



TALES OF MINOS Supreme among the mythical figures of Iron Age Crete was King Minos of Knossos, who appears in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Following Evans’ early-20th c. investigations of the Palace of Minos, “Minoan” became a standard archaeological term referring to Crete’s tripartite Bronze Age civilization (ca. 3000-1100 BC). Although females continued to feature prominently in art and literature, the male figure of Minos emerged as a central personality linked to many vivid characters and secondary myths. Minos, the son of Zeus and the Phoenician princess Europa (another Cretan connection to the East), married Pasiphae (“All-Shining”), daughter of Helios (Sun). Their offspring included a daughter, Ariadne. Certain details of Minos’ tales seem almost to be shadowy reminders of traditions and beliefs from prehistoric times. Bulls and the double-headed axe (labrys) were distinctive features of Minoan Cretan religion or ritual, but they also appear in Minos’ mythical world. Europa was borne from Tyre to Gortyn by Zeus disguised as a bull, while Pasiphae (Europa’s daughterin-law) was induced by Poseidon to fall in love with an impressive sacrificial bull he had provided to Minos. The strange fruit of the latter pair’s passions was the monstrous Minotaur (a man with a bull’s head), whom the king caged within the central courtyard of his labyrinth-like palace. In considering the inspiration behind Minos’ labyrinth, classicist H. J. Rose comments that, in post-Bronze-Age years, some of Knossos’ architectural remains “were probably above ground long enough to bewilder and puzzle the early Greeks, themselves accustomed to much simpler dwellings…” Pasiphae’s bull, also called the Cretan Bull, became the subject of Heracles’ seventh labor, after the animal, destructively raging around the island, was judged to be a menace. Heracles subdued the bull with his bare hands, then sent it back to King Eurystheus of Tiryns. Cretan relations with Athens may find representation in the figures of Daedalus and Theseus. Daedalus, an Athenian and the “most cunning of all craftsmen,” had fled to Crete to avoid a murder charge. There, he was

Abduction of the Tyrian maiden Europa by Zeus in the form of a bull. Detail of an Attic redfigure wine mixing/storage vase (stamnos), ca. 480 BC (Tarquinia National Museum, Italy).


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employed by Minos and later by Pasiphae, who sought his assistance in attracting her bovine paramour. He ingeniously disguised her inside a faux-cow. Minos, too, had a wandering eye; another myth relates that, to elude his advances, Britomartis jumped off a cliff into the sea (Callimachus, Ode 3). She landed in a fisherman’s nets (diktya), thus earning the Kydonian title “Diktynna” (Lady of the Nets), before fleeing to Aigina. Daedalus was sometimes identified as the designer of Minos’ labyrinth/palace, but he, like the Minotaur, was made a prisoner inside it, along with his son Icarus, either to prevent him from sharing its secrets or as punishment for aiding the queen in her infidelity. To escape, Daedalus invented feather-and-wax wings. Together, he and Icarus flew away, but the son recklessly ignored his father’s warnings and flew too near the fiery sun, only to have his wings melt. He plunged to his death in what henceforth would forever be known as the Icarian Sea. Theseus, the archetypal Athenian hero, also appears in Crete, after Minos’ son Androgeos, a talented athlete, was enviously murdered by his defeated Athenian competitors. Minos, outraged, demanded a compensatory tribute of fourteen male and female Athenian youths be paid to Knossos periodically; these unfortunate youths were devoured by the Minotaur. One year, Theseus, son of King Aegeus of Athens, joined their ranks and journeyed to Crete with the intent of killing the Minotaur. At Knossos, he recruited the aid of Princess Ariadne, who had fallen in love with him. She showed him how, using a ball of thread, he could retrace his steps through the maze-like palace. After successfully slaying the monster, Theseus added insult to injury by escaping from Knossos and stealing Ariadne away, only to later abandon her on a beach on the island of Naxos.

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THE INFANT ZEUS A divine child was another age-old figure of worship for Cretans. Whether direct continuity existed between the “Minoan Young God” or other Bronze Age deities and the gods of subsequent eras remains, however, a much debated subject among specialists. Increasingly, it has been suggested that post-Bronze Age beliefs in Crete developed separately, with only minimal inspiration or influence from previous traditions. Zeus, in the eyes of Iron Age mythographers epitomized by Hesiod (8th c. BC), was born and/or secretly cared for in a cave either on Mt Ida, according to the Theogony, or on Mt Dikti (respectively, SW and SE of Irakleio). Rhea hid baby Zeus from his Titan father Cronus, who,

for fear of being usurped as king of the gods, had already swallowed all of Zeus’ siblings. Present-day archaeologists exploring the Idaean and Dictaian/Psychro Caves have discovered shrines and dedicatory offerings at both sites which date back to the Minoan period. Sequestered in his lofty cave, Zeus was watched over by nymphs, led by the nurturing Amaltheia (some myths depicted her as a wild she-goat instead) who fed him draughts of goat milk from an inexhaustible horn – a purported antecedent for the symbolic Cornucopia (Horn of Plenty). He was also raised on mountain honey, either dripped directly into his mouth by bees or administered by another nymph, Melissa (“bee” in Greek), who was credited in Crete with having

first learned and disseminated the art of bee-keeping and honey production. To further protect Zeus, Amaltheia recruited a band of nine spear-bearing warriors, the Kouretes (or Korybantes), followers of Rhea/Cybele who danced around, rattling their armor and beating on their shields as loudly as possible at the cave’s mouth in order to cover the sound of the infant god’s cries. The Kouretes, like the Mountain Mother, the Mistress of Animals, Rhea/Cybele and the mysterious Idaean Daktyloi, are all mythical reminders of Crete’s ties with the East – evident archaeologically since prehistoric times. The Daktyloi were six giant blacksmiths and magicians, also associated with Rhea, who inhabited Mt Ida and were sometimes said to have sprung from dust thrown by one of Zeus’ attendant nymphs. On reaching manhood, Zeus challenged his father, making him regurgitate his brothers and sisters – Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades/Pluto and Poseidon – and then installed himself as ruler of the Heavens and king, or greatest among equals, on Mt Olympus.

RITES OF PASSAGE AT PALAIKASTRO Zeus was worshiped in Crete in various forms, one of which is revealed by a fragmentary inscription discovered at the eastern site of Palaikastro. The text – a Roman copy (2nd-3rd c. AD) of an earlier text dating back, based on its language, to at least the late Classical or early Hellenistic eras (4th-3rd c. BC) – was the “Hymn of the Great Kouros.” Scholars have concluded it was part of a ritual coming-of-age or initiation ceremony that involved adolescent Cretan males who, through performances involving dancing and clashing of weapons, celebrated the maturing Dictaian Zeus by evoking his mythical guardians, the Kouretes.

The Kouretes, banging their shields, attempt to cover the crying of baby Zeus, held by Amaltheia. Roman relief (Louvre Museum).


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CRETAN “IRONMAN” With all the robot-like characters described in ancient Greek literature, one might wonder if the “aliens-in-antiquity” theorists are right in thinking a race of extraterrestrial robots once visited Greece, passing on their engineering skills and leaving a lasting impression on local legends. Even Homer (Iliad 18.371379) refers to golden-wheeled tripods crafted by Hephaestus that could “enter the gathering of the gods at his wish and again return to his house…” Plato, too, has Socrates repeat an old legend that Daedalus created automatons (Meno

97d), which, if not fastened up, played truant and ran away, but, if fastened, would stay where they were. One of the stranger mythological characters of Crete is the island’s gigantic bronze guardian Talos. Apollonius of Rhodes (Argonautica, 3rd c. BC) writes: “A descendant of the brazen race that sprang from ash-trees, he had survived into the days of the demigods, and Zeus had given him to Europa to keep watch over Crete by running round the island on his bronze feet three times a day.” This automaton, whose creator was either Hephaestus or Daedalus, was known from

at least Classical times, when vase paintings.(ca. 400 BC) depict his death. Talos’ one weak point (like that of Achilles) was his ankle, where a nail closed his single vein. When Jason sailed toward Crete, having obtained the Golden Fleece, Talos hurled rocks at the Argo, but was killed by the sorceress Medea. Through either magic or mendacity, Medea caused the nail to be pulled out, according to Pseudo-Apollodorus (Bibliotheke, 1st/2nd c. AD), and Talos lost all his essential “ichor” (immortal blood). From the perspective of present-day robotics, he suffered a terminal oil leak.

The bronze giant, Talos, robot-guardian of Crete, armed with a stone. The automaton was a gift from Zeus to Europa, later disabled by Medea, who “pulled his plug.” Obverse of a silver didrachm. Phaistos, ca. 300/280-270 BC (Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris). C R E T E 2 018



This ancient people were once described by the historian Will


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Fresco depicting a male bull-leaper with two female attendants. Knossos, ca. 14501400 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).

Durant as “the first link in the European chain.” But who were they?



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The now-mostly-deciphered Phaistos Disk (17th c. BC) may be a prayer to the Cretan Mother Goddess.


fter more than a century of archaeological scrutiny, key questions still remain about the Minoans of ancient Crete, reminding us just how far in the past the surprisingly sophisticated Greek Bronze Age (ca. 3300 BC – 1100 BC) lies – separated from our modern world by so many evidence-ravaging millennia that looking back now seems almost like peering into deep space at some distant planet. The Minoans were great administrators, seafarers and traders, whom present-day investigators have successfully traced throughout Crete, across the Aegean, eastward to Egypt and westward to Italy. Yet, who were these early island people who could exert such influence over their regional neighbors, but who don’t appear to have had any military juggernaut – no bellicose navy or army – to penetrate, conquer and enforce, as their 104

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ships fanned out from Crete, expanding their commercial and possibly territorial interests? Were they simply peace-loving, diplomatic merchants, whose Cretan products and native culture were so attractive and unthreatening that foreign societies welcomed their presence and sometimes – as at Akrotiri in Santorini – emulated their way of life? And if, indeed, the Minoans had no fighting forces, how could they have defended themselves against other seafaring peoples – who would surely have descended upon Crete after learning about its bountiful natural resources and its prosperous, highly developed civilization?

RESILIENT ROOTS Although the prehistoric world of Greece still holds many mysteries, our view of Minoan Crete and its people has become increasingly sharp since the mid-

19th century, thanks to amateur and professional investigators, both Greek and foreign, ranging from inquisitive sea captains and pioneering archaeologists, historians and linguists to today’s growing host of laboratory-based researchers. Where once we focused on the Minoans’ artistic, architectural and technological achievements – attested by the rich assemblage of artifacts unearthed with the spade, and by historical texts and compelling mythological narratives – today we’re also capable of examining their DNA to track their earliest origins. In 2013, a genetic study of skeletal material from Minoan cave burials in Crete’s eastern Lasithi Plateau showed – through the recovery of ancient mitochondrial DNA – that the Minoans were descendants of the original Neolithic inhabitants of Crete who arrived some 9,000 years ago. These first settlers arrived from Anatolia as part



Frolicking dolphins and other vivid sea life adorn the walls of the Queen’s Megaron, Knossos (1600-1450 BC).

of a wave of immigrants who also left a major genetic footprint in continental Europe. Thus, the Bronze Age Minoans, founders of Europe’s first great civilization, had long shared close ties – even on a physical level – with both East and West. More remarkably, the American and Greek scientists involved in this 2013 study also discovered that the modern-day residents of the Lasithi area continue to exhibit prehistoric Minoan ancestry, through their inherited genetic profiles, after more than 3,000 years!

AGE-OLD MARINERS As might be expected on an island, the sea played a ubiquitous role in Minoan life from its earliest days. Crete’s initial Neolithic settlers had had to cross the water, which in itself suggests that later prehistoric Cretans were long familiar with ships and navigation. As the descendants

of Crete’s earliest residents spread out from Knossos (already the island’s major population center in the Neolithic era), they developed ties with other Aegean islands. We know this from their tools made of obsidian, a material imported from Nisyros and/or Milos, and from subsequent imports or imitations of marble Cycladic figurines dating from the Early Minoan period (3300-2000 BC). A more economically and politically advantaged ruling class emerged in this first stage of the Bronze Age, which in the second stage (Middle Minoan, 2000-1750 BC) went on to begin building characteristic palace complexes. Cretan ports at key locations, such as Poros Katsambas east of Irakleio, Mochlos and Palaikastro, steadily grew into busy emporia, dealing in local and imported raw materials and finished products.

AN ADMINISTRATIVE NETWORK The first palaces were erected at Knossos, Phaistos and Malia. Smaller settlements, some with early monumental or palace-like buildings (e.g., Aghia Triada, Kommos and Zominthos), were also established around the island. During Late Minoan times (1750-1490 BC) – after a devastating earthquake struck Crete ca. 1700 BC and the main palaces were consequently rebuilt – Minoan culture reached its brilliant zenith, with new secondary palaces founded at Kydonia, Archanes, Galatas, Gournia, Petras (Sitia) and Zakros. Together, these sites apparently served as a system of collection and redistribution centers for the agricultural crops, craft products, artistic works and other commercial goods that were the lifeblood of Minoan society and its domestic and overseas economy.

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ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXPLORERS Before Knossos became one of the birthplaces of the new discipline of archaeology – like Troy and Mycenae – in the late 19th century, curious local and foreign “sleuths” were already exploring Crete’s timeless landscape, enticed by legendary locales and characters mentioned by Homer and other Greek or Roman writers. King Minos, Queen Pasiphae and the clever inventor Daedalus were just some of the well-known mythical figures that drew Captain Thomas Spratt, for example, in 1851-53, to tour the island and hunt for the exact location of the labyrinth where Ariadne had assisted Theseus to escape the monstrous Minotaur. “Crete’s own Heinrich Schliemann,” the Irakleio-native Minos Kalokairinos, a lawyer, businessman and antiquarian, was the first to confirm the location of the Palace of Minos at Knossos through a brief excavation in 1878, during which he revealed portions of the palace’s West 106

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Wing and West Magazines. With Sir Arthur Evans’ arrival in the 1890s, and the start of his excavations and eventual reconstruction of the Knossos site in 1900, “Minoan” archaeology was born. Over the next three decades, Evans unveiled what was probably indeed the famous labyrinth – the palace itself – and a stunning succession of impressive artifacts. He also encouraged others to investigate ancient Crete – including the intrepid Harriet Boyd-Hawes, now recognized as a great female pioneer of Greek archaeology, who discovered and excavated Gournia in 1901-04. The Minoan past was further illuminated by Greek scholars, including Spyridon Marinatos, Nikolaos Platon and J. A. Sakellarakis. One of Crete’s most inspiring and tragic archaeological figures was John Pendlebury, Evans’ successor at Knossos, serving as curator from 1930 to 1934. A tireless trekker, Pendlebury was reputed by locals to know the entire island inti-

MINOAN PALACE “BLUEPRINT” Knossos stands as the preeminent, archetypal Minoan palace, which in time grew to include over 1,500 rooms – a massive structure rising 3-4 stories and covering an area of about 20,000 square meters. The Phaistos and Malia palaces, in comparison, reached only about 10,000 and 7,500 sq. m. respectively. Meanwhile, the full “capital city” around Late Minoan Knossos occupied an area of some 750,000 square meters. From its initial foundation, Knossos essentially served as a model of distinctive architectural, functional and stylistic features that intriguingly also appear in the smaller palaces and in some country or “manor” houses all across the island. Knossos’ extensive reconstruction by Evans, although initially criticized by Pendlebury and others, has led to sig-

Minoan priestess or aristocratic lady, known as “La Parisienne.” Knossos, 1500-1450 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).


Terracotta nude male figurine, from Petsofa peak sanctuary, wearing a belt, codpiece and dagger, ca. 2000 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).

mately and to speak Cretan Greek like a native. He joined the British military in 1939, but was captured and summarily executed by the Nazis on the third day of the invasion in 1941. His grave can be viewed in the Allied War Cemetery at Souda Bay.


Reconstructed fresco of a “priest-king” or athlete, known as the Prince of Lilies, wearing a papyrus-lily crown with peacock feathers. Knossos, 1600-1450 BC.

nificantly greater “comprehensibility” of the massive, multi-roomed and snakily-corridored palace. A stroll through the fascinating complex reveals its characteristic elements, including the central courtyard; main and subsidiary entrances; a west court; a series of storerooms; grand staircases; light wells; downwardly tapering columns; and a versatile “pierand-door” construction which allowed rooms such as the Queen’s Megaron to be opened for air and light on warm, sunny days, or closed up snugly in inclement weather. Additionally, one finds a northern hypostyle chamber (roofed, with interior columns); lustral basins (perhaps purification or bathing stations), cult halls, sacred-object repositories and craft workshops. Comfort and convenience were further ensured with piped or channeled water systems and drains. Knossos and Phaistos shared similarly stepped outdoor theatrical areas, while only the Knossos palace had a ceremonial “throne room,” in which, perhaps, the real-life Minoan monarch, an inspiration for the post-Bronze-Age mythical King Minos, once received his visitors.

TELLTALE OBJECTS The abundant artifacts recovered by archaeologists at Knossos and other important Cretan sites – impressively displayed in the newly refurbished Archaeological Museum of Irakleio – reveal the Minoans to have been an ingenious, peaceful, proto-literate people who cherished nature, art, vivid colors, religion and commerce. Among these telltale objects, the faience Snake Goddess figurine and variously rendered “Horns of Consecration” sculptures are iconic relics of Minoan culture. Boldly painted Kamares Ware and Marine Style pottery present floral and sea life motifs, while giant storage jars (pitharia) were both functional and ornately decorated with molded patterns. 108

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Smaller treasures include engraved seal stones; clay circle-dancers; the golden-horned bull rhyton (a type of conical cup), the “Harvesters’ Vase” and other carved-stone drinking vessels; and finely crafted gold jewelry – such as the “Bee Pendant” from Chrysolakkos near Malia. Through these artworks, Minoan craftsmen referred to cherished aspects of their society’s spiritual beliefs, daily life, religious rituals and native Cretan environment. Furthermore, ceramic models and painted plaques offer a glimpse of intact palace and house facades, while reconstructed wall frescoes depict finely plumed royals or courtiers; ladies with make-up and elegant coiffures and birds, bulls, dolphins and bull-leaping – the last seemingly a central ceremony in Minoan

both Cretan and mainland Greek sites, including Knossos, Malia, Pylos, Mycenae, Thebes and Tiryns.

THE TRUTH BEHIND THE MYTH? As the Minoans used scripts mainly for preserving administrative information, they have not passed down written details of their religious or sociopolitical ideology. Later myths and legends of the Iron Age, however, seem to contain kernels of truth which reflect, to some degree, certain realities of Minoan life and foreign policy as they have been illuminated archaeologically over the past century. The many bull objects and images discovered at Knossos, for example, and at other sites confirm the significant but still-mysterious role of bulls in the

religion or in the elites’ entertainment. Elaborate burial rites and symbolic bulls, double-axes, horns of consecration, altars and sacred trees are detailed in the paintings of the Aghia Triada sarcophagus. Of particular importance are the many clay tablets bearing Linear A and B writing, which demonstrate the Minoans’ transition from a prehistoric culture based on oral communication and transmission to a literate, record-keeping society. Linear A texts, of the Early through Late Minoan periods and still untranslated, have been unearthed all over Crete (especially at Aghia Triada, Zakros and Kydonia/ Chania); elsewhere in the Aegean; and in Laconia (southeast Peloponnese). Similarly, Linear B script (Late Minoan, after ca. 1450 BC) – deciphered by Michael Ventris and John Chadwick in the 1950s – has also been recovered at

Minoan world, implied by the mythical story of the Minotaur. The unparalleled scale and grandeur of the architectural remains at Knossos, and the palace’s maze-like layout, give credence to the legendary royal figure of Minos and his labyrinth. Far-flung Minoan artifacts around the Aegean point to an imperial or commercial influence, perhaps alluded to in the Athenian hostages-tribute tale starring the heroic Theseus. Likewise, archaeological evidence in Sicily, southern Italy and Sardinia indicate that the Minoans also traveled there – just as King Minos had, according to Herodotus, Apollodorus and others, while pursuing the fleeing Daedalus. On the Minoans’ real-life Western ties, Birgitta Palsson Halagger (1985) writes: “Crete offered luxury goods [ca. 1700-1430 BC] in exchange for needed raw materials, C R E T E 2 018






mainly European and Sardinian metals, and some finished products.”

DECLINE, DISSENSION AND DISAPPEARANCE… In the end, Cretan power waned and the palace at Knossos was destroyed c.1370 BC. During this final “Postpalatial” period (1370-1100 BC), with Knossos in ruins, the island’s towns and villages became conversely more independent, as Crete’s now fully Mycenaean overlords ruled from the distant mainland. Many native Cretans moved inland to defensible, mountaintop settlements, such as Karphi, where they could protect themselves from an increasing inflow of Hellenic immigrants. Despite this changing social and political climate, Homer records that Crete sent a contingent of ships to aid in the Trojan War (13th or 12th c. BC). As individual Iron Age city-states arose on Crete, the island’s communities became increasingly factious. Only centuries later did widespread peace and prosperity 110

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return under the Romans (1st c. BC), with Gortyn assuming the role of the island’s capital. Knossos, still an affluent community marked by Roman villas in the 2nd c. AD, continued to be a coastal center of maritime and military value during late antique and medieval times. Eventually, however, the site’s Kephala Hill was fully abandoned and the dusts of time came to obscure nearly all trace of the once-vibrant Minoans.

MAINLAND INVADERS On two occasions, the great flowering of Minoan culture was abruptly interrupted by cataclysmic events. First came the volcanic eruption of nearby Thera (Santorini), now dated archaeometrically to ca. 1620 BC. To what degree the Minoans were impacted remains largely unclear, but some architectural changes are evident. Better attested is a fiery, destructive event in the early 15th c. BC, which essentially wiped out every secondary Minoan palace and settlement.

Large jars at Knossos, used to store grains, wine, oil and other agricultural products, for the needs of the Palace and redistribution to favored elites.

Somehow Knossos survived this calamity, which may have been a pan-Cretan invasion by foreign forces – specifically, the mainland Greek Mycenaeans. Now began the Third Palace Period (14901370 BC), in which a new elite class or dynasty of “Creto-Mycenaeans” ruled the island without the aid of its subsidiary administrative centers. These previous palaces were all subjugated, while Crete’s Minoan/Mycenaean rulers (perhaps collectively the “Minos” of later myth) led the islanders to new heights, with an increasing mainland influence detectable in their art and religion. The more militaristic Mycenaeans – also renowned, far-sailing traders – seem to have spurred the Cretans to attain their greatest maritime/ naval supremacy during this era.



Minoan artifacts from Bronze Age Crete celebrate the divine power of nature, present symbolic imagery of royal authority and convey through their subject matter and exquisite craftsmanship the wonder of human achievement. BY JOHN LEONA R D


herever you travel in Crete, you inevitably seem to discover yet another fascinating museum; some are large, most are small. The island’s premier such attraction, the Irakleio Archaeological Museum was recently fully renovated (2006-2014) and boasts new and more extensive exhibits. Here, the displays chronicle the rich culture of Minoan Crete and explore the island’s post-Bronze-Age sculptural developments. With increased scope for its exhibits, the museum offers a depth of presentation and excellent information panels covering a wide range of sites and subjects. Much can be learned about royal, religious and everyday life from items recovered at Knossos, but there are also finds from intriguing smaller sites, 112

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Scenes of tree worship beside a stepped shrine (R) and royal skiff, with Crete’s Nature Goddess shown as sovereign of Sky, Earth and Sea. Knossos, 1450-1400 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).

including Katsambas, a Late Minoan cemetery where the dead were buried in blue-painted wooden coffins, and the exceptional shrine at Arkalochori Cave – where a massive hoard of bronze, gold and silver weapons was discovered. The peak sanctuary of Piskokephalo held models of Minoan buildings, with incised ashlar masonry and diminutive roof-top horns of consecration; figurines of male and female worshipers wearing loin cloths, long skirts and elaborately-styled hair; and oversized replicas of rhinoceros beetles.

The museum’s collections range from masterpieces – such as the Harvester Vase, the Knossos Snake Goddess, the Phaistos Disc and the painted Aghia Triada sarcophagus – to stunning gold jewelry; colorful palace frescoes; fine ceramic and stone vessels; inscribed archival tablets; intricately carved seal stones and elephant-tusk cosmetics boxes; copper oxhide ingots; bronze swords and ceremonial double-axes; ordinary iron tools; and a huge variety of votive offerings. Particularly evocative among the small objects are gold signet rings and stone seals depicting aspects of Minoan religious ideology – the epiphany of the nature goddess; animal sacrifice; and daemonic creatures with human, animal and insect features, thought to symbolize the dark side of nature beyond human control. Impressive also are schist molds




A bull vase (rhyton) with gilded horns. Iconic of Minoan civilization, the bull was linked with religious ritual and symbolized royal power. Small Palace, Knossos, 1600-1500 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).

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Figurine of a bullleaper attempting a dangerous jump over a bull’s back. An early artistic work depicting a human form moving freely in space. Knossos, 1600 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).


Fine gold pendant showing two bees carrying a drop of honey to their hive, highlighting the characteristic mastery of Minoan Crete’s goldsmiths. Chrysolakkos necropolis, Malia, 1800-1700 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).


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traditional Cretan society); the Archaeological Museums of Aghios Nikolaos, Sitia, Rethymno and Chania; Rethymno’s Historical and Folk Museum; Hania’s Maritime Museum of Crete (antiquity to 1941); and the Museum-Residence of Eleftherios Venizelos (in Chalepa). Visitors interested in the WWII-era Battle of Crete will find the remote, family-run War Museum of Askyfou (1940-44), southeast of Hania, which offers personal tours of a huge private collection of over 2,000 period artifacts, to be a memorable, uniquely Cretan experience.


Irakleio Archaeological Museum • 2 Xanthoudidou, Eleftherias Sq. • Tel. (+30) 2810.279.000 • Open daily 08:00-20:00 (summer hours) • Admission: €10


Ritualistic beaked libation pitcher (prochus), with elaborately painted “spiky” relief decoration, from the necropolis at Katsamba, port of Knossos, ca. 1400 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).

VOTIVE HOARDS OF ARKALOCHORI Gold double axe with incised decoration. The double axe (labrys) was a powerful symbol in Minoan religion. Sacred cave of Arkalochori, 1700-1450 BC (Irakleio Archaeological Museum).


from Palaikastro, employed in the casting of metal cult figures (e.g., females with upraised arms holding double axes and flowers), as well as an intricate circular device possibly used for predicting eclipses. The large, upper-floor gallery of Minoan wall paintings bring Bronze Age Crete to colorful life. The Procession Fresco from Knossos portrays bearers of precious utensils and vessels celebrating the power of the ruler, while the Ladies in Blue Fresco and the Camp Stool Fresco reveal the luxurious dresses, coiffures and opulent jewelry worn by the palace’s prosperous courtiers. Nature scenes depict idyllic rocky landscapes or lush riverbanks; clumps of papyrus, reeds and other aquatic plants; birds, blue monkeys and leaping dolphins. Also not to be missed for museum enthusiasts are Irakleio’s Historical Museum of Crete (AD 330 to WWII) and the Cretan Museum of Ethnology (showcasing



THE MILLENIA TOUR Museums and archaeological sites at a glance. COM PI L E D BY N I K I AGR A F IOT I








HANIA · ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE OF FALASARNA: Tel. (+30) 28210.944.87, Open MonFri 09:00-15:00, Admission is free. · ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE OF APTERA: Open Tue-Sun 08:0015:00, Admission €2. · ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM

OF HANIA: 30 Halidon, Tel. (+30) 28210.903.34, Open Mon 13:0020:00 & Tue-Sun 08:00-20:00, Admission €4.

· ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF KISSAMOS: Stratigou Tzanakaki Sq., Kissamos, Tel. (+30) 28220.833.08, Open: TueSat 08:00-15:00, Admission €2.


HANIA - CRETAN HOUSE: 46 Halidon, Tel. (+30) 28210.908.16, Open Mon-Sat 09:00-18:00, Sun 11:00-18:00, Admission €2.


BYZANTINE COLLECTION OF HANIA: 82 Theotokopoulou, Tel. (+30) 28210.960.46, Open Tue-Sun 08:00-15:00, Admission €2.


Building 13-03, Tel. (+30) 28210.800.90, Open Tue-Thu & Sun 10:00-15:00, Fri 12:00-19:00, Admission €4. Tickets of €6 for: Archaeological Museum of Hania, Byzantine & Post-Byzantine Collection of Hania, Archaeological Museum of Kissamos & Archaeological Site of Aptera.


MUSEUM OF RETHYMNO: Satha & Markellou, Tel. (+30) 28310.230.83, Open MonSat 09:00-15:00, Admission €3.

· ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF RETHYMNO: Chimaras, Tel. (+30) 28310.275.06, Open TueSun 10:00-18:00, Admission €2.


MUSEUM OF RETHYMNO: 2830 Emmanouil Vernardou, Tel. (+30) 28310.233.98, Open MonSat 10:00-15:00, Admission €4.

CRETE: 20 Ioannou Sfakianaki, Tel. (+30) 28210.526.06, Open MonFri 09:00-14:00, Admission is free.



OF PHAISTOS: Tel. (+30) 28920.423.15, Open daily 08:0020:00, Admission €8.

CRETE: Akti Kountourioti, Tel. (+30) 28210.918.75, Open MonSat 09:00-17:00, Sun 10:00-18:00, Admission €3.

· MUSEUM OF TYPOGRAPHY: Hania Park of Local Industies


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GORTYS: Aghioi Deka, Gortyna, Tel. (+30) 28920.311.44, Open daily 08:00-20:00, Admission €6.




·CRETAN ETHNOLOGY MUSEUM: Voroi, Tel. (+30) 28920.911.10, Open daily 10:0018:00, Admission €3.


· PISKOPIANO MUSEUM OF RURAL LIFE: Piskopiano, Hersonissos, Tel. (+30) 28970.233.03, Open Mon, WedSat 10:00-18:00, Admission €4.

OF KNOSSOS: Tel. (+30) 2810.231.940, Open daily 08:0020:00, Admission €15. MALIA: Tel. (+30) 28970.315.97, Open Tue-Sun 08:00-20:00, Admission €6.


MUSEUM: 2 Xanthoudidou, Eleftherias Sq., Tel. (+30) 2810.279.000, Open daily 08:0020:00, Admission €10.

* Tickets of €16 for: Archaeological Site of Knossos & Irakleio Archaeological Museum.



CRETE: 27 Sofokli Venizelou & 7 Lysimachou Kalokerinou, Tel. (+30) 2810.283.219, Open MonSat 09:00-17:00, Admission €5.


OF CRETE: Sofokli Venizelou, Tel: (+30) 2810.282.740, Open Mon-Fri 09:00-21:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-21:00, Admission €7,50.


MUSEUM: Myrtia, Tel. (+30) 2810.741.689, Open daily 09:0017:00, Admission: €5.


MUSEUM: Hersonissos, Tel. (+30) 28970.236.60, Open Tue-Sun 09:00-14:00, Admission €4.


THALASSOKOSMOS: Former American Base in Gournes, Tel. (+30) 2810.337.788, Open daily 09:30-21:00, Admission €9.


Aghias Ekaterinis Sq., Open Mon-Sat 09:30-19:30 & Sun 10:3019:30, Admission €4.


ZAKROS: Tel. (+30) 28430.268.97, Open daily 08:00-20:00, Admission €6.


LATO: Open Tue-Sun 08:00-15:00, Admission €2.


OF AGHIOS NIKOLAOS: 74 Konstantinou Paleologou, Tel. (+30) 28410.249.43, (While closed for works, there is a temporary exhibition of images dedicated to the town’s history), Open Tue-Sun 08:00-15:00, Admission is free.


OF SITIA: National Road Siteias-Piskokefalou, Tel. (+30) 28430.239.17, Open daily 08:0015:00, Admission €2.


OF TOPLOU MONASTERY: 21st km National Road SiteiasVai, Paleokastro, Tel. (+30) 28430.612.26, Open daily 09:0013:00 & 14:00-18:00, Admission €2,50.

explore CR ETE


On this remarkable island (the fifth-largest in the Mediterranean), you’ll find a wide range of amazing landscapes, charming villages, historical sites and museums, and personal adventures, the enjoyment of which you will long remember. Aghios Nikolaos on Crete. By Antonios von Santorinios-Santorinakis (c) Bridgeman Images C R E T E 2 018

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Hania’s Venetian lighthouse was rebuilt by the Egyptians in the 19th century.


SAMARIA GORGE A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this miracle of Cretan nature is accessible from May to October and offers a walking experience of a lifetime. The 18km route starts from the Omalos Plateau and ends at Aghia Roumeli Beach.

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SOUGIA Make sure to take a swim at this beach in the south. It has large, dark pebbles, deep-blue waters and tourist facilities. Be on the lookout for the occasional whale in the open sea.

ANCIENT LISSOS A charming secret situated between Paleochora and Sougia. It was a religious center from Classical to Byzantine times. Visit the ruins of the temple of Asclepius and the Byzantine churches with their mosaics, before taking a dip at the remote beach.

BYZANTINE KANTANOS Discover the dozens of 13thto 15th-century Byzantine churches, each adorned with icons created by local artists, amid olive groves in the Kantanos area.



SFAKIA Rent a vessel or hop on a tourist boat from Hora Sfakion and head to the beaches in the south. The coastline from Ilingas Gorge until Aghios Pavlos is guaranteed to leave you with the most beautiful memories.

HANIA SOUDA FORTRESS The boat from Souda, the modern port of Hania, will take you to the islet of the same name where you can visit the Venetian fortress (1570), the timeless guardian of Hania.

One of the most beautiful cities in the Mediterranean, Hania is a cultural amalgam that seems straight out of a fairy tale. The wider region boasts many more attractions, including Elafonisi, one of the most beautiful beaches in Greece, and the “king” of the canyons, Samaria, a symbol of Cretan nature that, for the world’s hikers, is on a par with Mt Olympus. The majestic Lefka Ori (“White Mountains”), with 50 peaks over 2,000m, rise up like a barrier in the middle of the region, forcing you to travel dozens of additional kilometers to reach places that appear to be within a hair’s breadth on the map. Their slopes and canyons are habitats for wild birds and animals like the Cretan wild goat, and hundreds of species of endemic plants, of which 25 can be found nowhere else – neither on Crete nor the rest of the world. Temperatures vary significantly within a range of just a few kilometers. On the Askyfou Plateau you’ll need a jacket, while on the remote beaches in the south and on the island of Gavdos even a swimsuit is optional.

FRANGOKASTELLO At the 14th-c. Venetian castle on the coast east of Sfakia, the dawn mist in May takes the form of strange, animated shadows. According to local myth they are the “Drosoulites,” the ghosts of heroic warriors killed in a huge battle that took place here on May 17, 1866.

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THE TOWN The “Venice of the East” has so many distinct neighborhoods for you to discover, that one visit is never enough. BY M A R I A C OV E OU


raced with one of the finest and best-preserved “Old Towns” in Greece, Hania is by far the prettiest and most captivating of Crete’s cities. Many even believe it to be one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean Sea, calling it the “Venice of the East.” Evidence of its appeal is its long, millennia-spanning history of settlers and conquerors (Neolithic people, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Dorians, Romans, Andalusian Arabs, Byzantines, Venetians, Genoese, Egyptians and Ottomans), who selected it for its strategic position by the sea and its fertile land, each leaving their indelible mark for all modern-day visitors and settlers to witness. If you’re not sure about which way to go, here are three itineraries with distinctly different characters.


WALK LIKE A VENETIAN When setting out to explore the Old Town, try to resist the charming Venetian harbor, which will pull you towards it like a magnet; it’s best enjoyed as a dessert, preferably in the late afternoon when the scorching sun begins to set. Instead, surrender to the charms of the western, Venetian quarter of Topanas, with its meandering narrow alleys and archways which will shield you from the sun during the day and provide you with © GIANNIS GIANNELOS


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01. Corny or not, a carriage ride in Hania’s Old Town is a fitting way to experience it.

02. Side view of the monumental Dominican Church of Aghios Nikolaos in Splantzia.

03. Exterior of the jazz bar Fagotto, a historic haunt on Angelou, the Old Town’s perhaps most atmospheric street.

04. The Turkish Yali Tzamisi (Mosque by the Sea) at the harbor nowadays hosts exhibitions and other events.

05. The picturesque Venetian harbor just after sunset on a busy summer day.

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countless routes past picturesque façades and inviting entrances that, no matter how many times you stumble upon them, will always seem new. To paraphrase Heraclitus, you can never step on the same street twice. Even though it may feel counterintuitive to use a map when the idea here is to surrender yourself to serendipity, do make a point of locating Angelou, Theofanous and Moschon streets to get a sense of how Hania would have looked like under Venetian rule and Theotokopoulou Street to see the remains of the Venetian fortifications as well as a fine example of Ottoman architecture at No. 62. The rectangular stone building with the red shutters just across from it is the Venetian gunpowder magazine after which the Ottomans chose to name the district: Tophane (which evolved into Topanas), meaning “armory” in Turkish. When the afternoon does arrive, make your way down to the Venetian harbor with its colorful, grand homes. To enjoy it in panoramic mode, take the long stroll past the 16th-century Venetian dockyards 122

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where the ships underwent maintenace over the winter, and all the way to the landmark lighthouse that looks like a minaret. Originally a 16th-century structure, it was rebuilt by the Egyptians in the 19th century, and adds to the charm of the harbor, especially at night when it is lit up. End your day on a sweet note at the charming little pastry shop Sketi Glika (18 Isodion, off the harbor) that is ready to seduce you with its colorful rustic décor and its delectable desserts.

ALLA TURKA Should you decide to get away from the bustling crowds, head east to the more low-profile quarter of Splantzia, inhabited since Minoan times and the city center under Ottoman rule. The area was once synonymous with neglect, but in recent years many of its old houses have been renovated and fresh new businesses have sprung up, transforming it into the most indie quarter of the Old Town. Start your day here with a coffee under the old plane tree on Splantzia Square (aka 1821 Square), which witnessed brutal hangings

01. Section of the breakwater leading to the lighthouse. | 02. The farmers’ market on Minoos Street is a joyful affair. | 03. Top Hanac, the colorful store on Angelou Street, has been selling blankets and kilims for the last 40 years.

during Ottoman rule but nowadays offers shade and an ideal setting for friendly encounters. Don’t head off without first taking a look at a most unusual church that is, in a sense, an emblem, accidental or not, of religious tolerance: the Church of Aghios Nikolaos, which once formed part of the 1320 Dominican monastery and which, since 1918, has featured both a Christian Orthodox bell tower and a Turkish minaret. There’s plenty more to see as you stroll through the neighborhood’s inviting backstreets and, if you happen to be there on a Saturday, don’t miss out on the colorful farmers’ market on Minoos Street. In the afternoon, stop by Ride (52 Daskalogianni), the epitome of the neighborhood’s laid-back and alternative vibe, for a cup of coffee or a craft beer. Here


An explosion of color on the corner of Theotokopoulou and Zampeliou Streets in Topanas.

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you can also rent a bike and/or plan a bike tour with some helpful input. (You can get help with bike repairs here, too.) From Ride, make your way to Kastelli Hill, where the center of the ancient city of Kydonia (on which modern-day Hania was built) was located. The area has some wonderful surprises, like the Venetian Rector’s Palazzo (17th century) at the end of Lithinon Street and a marvelous, high-angle panoramic view of the harbor from the “Balcony of Hania” at the end of Aghiou Markou Street. The balcony is, in fact, the enclosed courtyard of a neoclassical edifice that once housed the headquarters of the Great Powers (Britain, France, Austria-Hungary and Russia) at the end of the 19th century, and has been occupied since 2004 by a radical political group called Rosa Nera. For dinner, head back down to Splantzia and pick a table in the atmospheric courtyard of “The Well of the Turk“ (1-3 Kallinikou Sarpaki), which features an actual well and serves delectable Mediterranean and Turkish-Moroccan dishes. 124

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Bustling Hatzimichali Daliani Street, on the quarter’s southern border, will give you a taste of the local nightlife, and a chance for a nightcap.

NEOCLASSICAL FLAIR Don’t leave Hania without first having ventured outside the eastern fortification wall towards the Halepa district which, from the mid-19th century, developed into an aristocratic suburb of European glamour, housing the consulates of the Great Powers, rich merchants and prominent citizens of Hania. Eleftherios Venizelos, the leader of the Cretan liberation movement and later prime minister, lived here. His house, built in 1880 and renovated in 1927, was turned in 2015 into an exemplary museum ( Royalty also resided in Halepa; the neoclassical palace of Prince George of Greece, built in 1882 and located next to Venizelos’ mansion, is still standing and can be admired from the outside. Prince George was also responsible for the

01. Ride “Cycle-culture Café” with its retro décor in Splantzia. | 02. Michalis Pahtikos, proud knife maker and owner of Armenis. | 03. Interior of the gift shop Canea.

quirky, Russian-style Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, which he commissioned in 1901 (it was completed in 1903), during his time as high commissioner of Crete, in honor of his sister Maria. It stands within a beautiful garden.

FAREWELL SHOPPING On 7 Angelou, Carmela is inspired by old motifs to make pottery and jewelry, often using traditional techniques – they are veritable works of art. At the gift shop Canea (45 Zampeliou), the Old Town’s most recognizable landmarks decorate a variety of mementos, from T-shirts to tote bags. For the quintessential Cretan souvenir, head to Armenis (14 Sifaka), where Michalis makes traditional Cretan knives with mantinades (small poems) engraved on their blades.

Bullet-ridden road signs are a common sight all over western Crete.


The long and winding road to Hora Sfakion.



There’s no place in Crete like Sfakia, and here’s why. In this unique place of rough beauty, nothing is easy. It’s hard to reach and it’s hard to traverse. There are no roads – transportation is done mostly by boats. Nonetheless, you’ll fall for the place so hard that it will hurt to leave it. Sfakia is its people. The men, described by the historian Vasilios Psilakis as “living statues of the gods” are generally tall, with blond hair and blue eyes. Back in the day, they wrapped black kerchiefs around their heads, wore black shirts and leather boots, carried guns in their pockets and age-old blood feuds and codes of honor in their hearts. Some still do. They’re unruly, rebellious descendants of the most renowned freedom fighters of Crete. The Sfakian women are known to be tough, proud and kind; they’ll invite you into their homes and feed you the traditional honey-drenched pies. Sfakia is unreal. It has the Lefka Ori (White Mountains), with dozens of peaks over 2,000m and mountain plateaus where shepherds take their flocks in the summer and make the famous Sfakian graviera cheese from their milk in primitive

rock dwellings. It has the eerie Mountain Desert with basins where hundreds of species of wild plants grow. There are the gorges, the deep scars that terminate in the Libyan Sea, such as Aradena, with its winding cobblestone passage and its bridge, a famous bungee jumping spot, and Samaria, the UNESCO-listed national park that attracts hiking enthusiasts from all over the world. There’s also a network of mountain paths connecting villages and beaches. On the coast is Hora Sfakion, the area’s main town. Hop on one of the boats departing here for the village of Loutro, with its restaurants and tourist shops; for Marmara Beach, with its amazing sea caves and the famous Chrysostomos taverna, serving amazing food; and for Aghios Pavlos, a beach with pinetrees, a taverna and a charming 11th-c. chapel. Aghia Roumeli Beach, at the end of the Samaria Gorge, is your reward for completing the 5-hour trek. Iligas, Glyka Nera, Foinikas, Likos, Domata and Trypiti are other beaches worth exploring, with varying degrees of seclusion. © PERIKLES MERAKOS


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The chapel on Aghios Pavlos Beach.



Glyka Nera Beach.

The late Yiannis Votzis, a proud Sfakian.

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From the olive groves of the north to the sand dunes of Europes southernmost island, this show-stealing part of Crete has something for everybody. BY OLGA CH A R A MI

NORTH THE ARTISTS’ NEIGHBORHOOD: Not far from the city of Hania is Verekynthos, a village where dozens of artists and craftsmen work and exhibit their creatins. You’ll find everything from silversmiths and music instrument makers to ceramists’ and painters’ studios. (Open Mon-Sat 10.00-16.00; times may vary). THE HOLY GORGE: A breathtaking experience is in store for you in the Akrotiri area. In Avlaki Gorge, one can witness the evolution of religious customs across the centuries. You can easily access the Aghia Triada (Holy Trinity) Tzagarolon Monastery, built in the 17th century by a family of Venetian and Cretan origin. It’s still a functioning monastery, and its rich heritage spans several centuries (Tel. (+30) 28210.635.72). Close by is Gouverneto Monastery, or Our Lady of the Angels, built in the 16th century in the style of a Venetian fortress (Tel. (+30) 28210.278.07). There, you can admire the impressive 18th-19th c. narthex, which is full of carved reliefs and grotesque pagan masks. This is where the path through the wild gorge begins. You’ll pass by the chapel of Panaghia Arkoudiotissa, at the © CLAIRY MOUSTAFELLOU


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same site where the goddess Artemis was worshiped in antiquity, then by the cave of Aghios Ioannis Xenos, or Erimitis (St John the Foreigner or the Hermit), where evidence of an ancient cult has also been found, and arrive at Katholikon Monastery. The last is a derelict monument, incorporated into the rock-face. Built in the 16th century, it is said that the site was already being used by a monastic community since the 10th century. Cross the massive stone bridge of the gorge and you’ll quickly reach the craggy shore for a refreshing dip (walking time: 30 mins). UNUSUAL GAVALOHORI: Over the years, hundreds of western European visitors have arrived in the Apokoronas region and decided to stay for good. The tranquil landscape with olive groves and beautiful villages, as well as the easy access to the sea and to the cities of Hania and Rethymno, was reason enough. In the village of Gavalohori alone, 40 of the 200 residents are from abroad. Walk along the narrow lanes of this protected settlement, admire the old, colorful houses and, in the afternoon, join the locals at the cafés in the large main square. For the complete Gavalohori experience, visit the well-designed Historical and Folklore Museum (Tel. (+30) 28250.232.22); get acquainted with the traditional embroi130

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dery technique of kopaneli at the local women’s cooperative; and have a look at the 24 Venetian wells with their stonebuilt domes, situated in a verdant stretch of land a little ways out from the village. VAMOS! When a group of young men with roots in the village of Vamos decided to transform it into an agritourism destination back in 1994, the rest of Greece didn’t even know what sustainable tourism meant. The village, the former capital of the Sfakia region, already had public offices and beautiful grand mansions. The men began by restoring their family homes, transforming them into guesthouses, and building a taverna. None of them took the matter too seriously, and this is possibly the reason for their success. They did everything themselves: even doctors and civil engineers ended up being tasked with peeling potatoes! The young men grew up and each now has his own business, while new members are being added all the time. Today, Vamos is a beautiful village with guesthouses for every budget, the same taverna with excellent lamb roasted in a wood-fired oven, and an agency for agritourism activities. Every year, the famous Jazz in July Festival takes place, while the restored factory of the village, Fabrica, hosts cultural events and courses.

UPCYCLING: In his workshop in the village of Kokkino Horio, Andreas Tzombanakis creates works of art out of recycled blown glass, using empty bottles as raw material. Although his output has dropped as he has advanced in years, the objects he has been making during an entire lifetime continue to travel across the world (Tel. (+30) 28250.311.94). AMAZING RUINS: Originally a Minoan settlement mentioned in Late Bronze Age Linear B tablets, Aptera lay within the domain of the more-powerful Kydonia (Hania), 12km to the west. Reestablished in the 7th century BC, it grew into an enormous, fortified city whose walls extend more than 3km. Aptera flourished in Classical and especially Hellenistic times, eventually becoming a Roman and Byzantine town. Set on a prominent hill overlooking Souda Bay, the site today offers breathtaking views in all directions, with the Ottoman castles of Aptera and Itzedin lying just to the east. Mythologically, Aptera (“wingless”) gets its name from a musical contest in which the Muses defeated the Sirens, who, stunned by their loss, fell into the sea and became the white islands visible in the bay. Although quarried for building material, the site still impresses,




with its fortifications, temples, theater, baths, vaulted cistern, chapels and disused monastery. – JOHN LEONARD PEDAL BOATING: The only natural lake in Crete, Lake Kournas constitutes a point of reference for Hania, since almost every visitor will pass through here to pedal boat on its waters and to eat at the tavernas on its banks. Covering 579 hectares, and with a maximum depth of 22m, it is surrounded by verdant slopes. The mere sight of the waters will stun you. NATURAL PRODUCTS: Lavender, Cretan dittany, oregano, spearmint and other aromatic herbs are cultivated in mountainside fields without fertilizers, and are then dried and packaged, or used in other preparations at the Cretan Feast workshop, in the village of Macheri. The Kokolakis family will tell you about the small, controlled production, which guarantees a high-quality product, and will show you the impressive method of distilling essential oils. You can find natural beeswax creams, soaps, essential oils, balsamic vinegar infused with essential oils, and more (Tel. (+30) 28250.417.74). 132

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THE SCARS OF WAR: Close to the most touristy part of Hania, with the big hotels and the beach bars of the fashionable strands of Aghia Marina and Platanias, is Maleme, the site of heavy fighting during the Battle of Crete (May 1941). The nearby German Cemetery is the final resting place of 4,465 German soldiers, most of them paratroopers. If you’re wondering how the local people can tolerate a cemetery for onetime invaders, then you might like to know about the legendary grandmother of Maleme, who’d come here to light votive candles, in the hope that some other grandmother would be lighting a candle for her own son, whose body was never returned to her. The Allied Cemetery, located near the port of Souda, contains 1,527 graves of Allied soldiers from the UK, New Zealand, Australia and other countries. Both cemeteries are open to the public. ARCHAEOLOGISTS FOR A DAY: If you have children, or even for your own interest, do make a stop at the village of Kasteli in Kissamos to visit the Archaeolab, a unique workshop that simulates

an archaeological dig. It was created by the archaeologist Koula Borboudaki, and is patented as a global innovation. It has programs aimed at children of all ages, as well as adults and archaeology students. The excavations, and the classification of the finds reflect real archaeological techniques and are performed using real tools. The finds are always related to a specific historical period, which also forms the basis of the relevant discussion. Learning can be fun! (Tel. (+30) 6939.305.668).

SOUTH ASKYFOU PLATEAU: On the way to Sfakia, you will pass through the Askyfou Plateau, with extensive farmland and highly developed livestock farming. On its slopes there are four villages, including Kares, where you can visit the War Museum (Open 09:00-21:00), and Ammoudari, where you can find Ieronymos Gialedakis, a bootmaker specializing in the local stivania (the tall, black, fitted boots of the Cretans); Nektarios’ nice kafeneio, for grilled meat from his own



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herd; and Lefkoritis Hotel (, which organizes hiking events, biking excursions and horseback tours. NO MORE EUROPE: Welcome to the southernmost boundary of Europe, the island of Gavdos. They say that this is where Calypso kept Odysseus as her captive. The southernmost point is the craggy headland next to Trypiti Beach (accessed by boat or via a path) and it is marked by the sculpture of an oversized chair made by a group of Russian scientists who chose Gavdos as their retreat. Hundreds of people return to the island year after year, on the ferry from Sfakia or Paleochora, for bohemian vacations on what feels like a place on the very edge of the world. The island has seen some development in recent decades, boasting an organized network of paths and several shops. In wintertime there are no more than a 100 inhabitants, yet in the summer many thousands visit, with most of them spending the night in tents on the beaches of Aghios Ioannis and Sarakiniko (bathing suits optional). Life on the sand dunes requires no more than good company, and this 134

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is available in abundance on the island. Tune in to Gavdos 88.8 FM to support Vassilis Tzounaras, who broadcasts determinedly from this remote island, and visit the lighthouse, with its little museum and café. It was built in 1880 and it was the second brightest in the world! The sunset here is also amazing. THE WITCH OF THE SOUTH: The sun, the sense of relaxation, the enchanting Libyan Sea, the feeling of freedom: it is for these reasons that people from all over the world have moved permanently to Paleochora. The small town with 1,500 inhabitants is built on a peninsula with two popular beaches within the settlement and many more further afield. Gialiskari (a sandy stretch) and Krios (a beach of fine shingle) are among the most impressive. Inside the town, visit the small Venetian Fortezza and walk through the narrow lanes. Tavernas, small bars and shops add to its cosmopolitan aura. The best thing you can do is to spend the evening at Aghios Bar, in a space that housed a kafeneio since 1900. Jams, fruit purées, several types of eau de vie from herbs and fruits that they have distilled

themselves are mixed with various kinds of aged raki, Greek wines and cognac to make unforgettable cocktails.

WEST POSTCARD-WORTHY BEACHES: Crete’s western coastline is famous around the world for its sand dunes, turquoise waters, its mastic and arbutus trees, which offer precious shade, and its stunning sunsets. Balos is the star beach, more so perhaps because of the panorama that unfolds before your eyes as you walk the 20-minute path to get to it; there, you can see hundreds of people moving on the blindingly white sand like restive insects and Cape Tigani jutting out into the sea. You can also come here from the port of Kissamos by a caïque that also stops at the superb sandy beach of the uninhabited islet of Gramvousa, with its Venetian castle that is thought to be the first place in Crete to have been liberated from the Ottomans. Further south, at Falasarna, the waters are light blue and crystalline, and the sand pink from the thousands of seashells (please refrain from taking any as souvenirs, as their numbers are


dwindling dangerously fast). It is relatively developed, with shops and rooms to let, and at its northernmost tip you can see the archaeological site of the ancient city of the same name which flourished in the 4th and 3rd centuries BC and was one of the most formidable naval powers of ancient Crete. Last but not least, the beautiful Elafonisi, at the southwestern tip of Crete, is a small island with sandy beaches, cedar trees and waters so shallow you can walk to it. A fragile, Natura 2000-protected ecosystem, it is currently under strain from the large numbers of people who flock here in the summer. THE GOLDEN STEP: A little before Elafonisi you’ll come across Chrysoskalitissa Monastery, a beautiful complex with well-maintained gardens, built in the 19th century on the edge of a cliff. Climb the 98 steps, the last one of which, according to legend, was made of gold and had to be sold by the abbot during Ottoman rule in order to pay the land tax levied on non-Muslims. The view from the forecourt of the church is exquisite. 136

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CHESTNUT VILLAGES: Rising above the western coastline is the famous chestnut forest of Crete and the so-called Kastanochoria (“chestnut villages”). The local sweet chestnut, which the locals call maroni, became in times of hardship a basic food source for the villagers, who would grind it to a flour, and who still continue to cultivate it meticulously. During September and October, in the villages of Elos, Rogdia, Vlatos, Limni and others, you can see people collecting the fallen chestnuts to use for cooking, or to offer to guests raw or roasted, with or without an accompanying glass of raki. You can obtain them directly from the locals, or from the “9 Villages” (Ennia Horia) Development Company at Elos (Tel. (+30) 6959.400.237, (+30) 6974.405.586). BACK TO BASICS: In 2009, National Geographic included Milia among the 50 best resorts with an ecological focus. Before that, the people who had revived this 17th-c. village by transforming it in its entirety into an agritourism resort had been looked upon as being out of

their minds. They had reconstructed the stone-paved streets and rebuilt the old houses, taking care to change as little as possible and to use local craftsmen. Hidden in slopes that are verdant with chestnuts and oaks, on a site accessed by a dirt road from the village of Vlatos, Milia continues to be, since 1993, a real refuge. During your stay you’ll learn about life in the village and the self-sufficiency that every household needed to have. Electricity is produced by solar energy, while the restaurant only uses candles at night. The tasty dishes are prepared strictly using fresh, local ingredients (as is breakfast); all vegetables, meat, wine and raki are the village’s own produce, while most dishes are cooked in a wood-fired oven. Events and cookery seminars are organized in the village’s facilities, while further afield there are nature activities that include visits to wineries, beekeepers and more (Reservations essential: Tel. (+30) 6945.753.743,





A drink or a meal at one of the cafés lining the Venetian Harbor of Rethymno is a must for any visitor.


A SYMBOL OF FREEDOM Arkadi, the best known monastery in Crete, is inextricably linked to the Cretans’ 19th-century struggle for liberation. The narthex is an important monument from 1587, with an impressive Renaissancestyle facade.

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TRACES OF HOMER The newly opened Museum of Ancient Eleutherna will introduce you to one of Crete’s most important ancient cities that flourished during the years when Homer’s epics were composed.

RENAISSANCE AURA The old city of Rethymno is a charming world of palazzi with intricate doorways and Venetian coats of arms, stone-carved fountains and lovely courtyards. The Crete of the European Renaissance is very much alive in these narrow streets.


MT IDA (PSILORITIS) A land full of myths, impressive gorges, caves, historic villages and a stunning plateau dotted with the stone-built huts of shepherds, Psiloritis is Crete’s most spectacular mountain, and has inspired many songs.



ETHYMNO HISTORIC CAVES From Sfendoni in Zoniana, with its massive stalactites, to Gerontospilios in Melidoni, which was the scene of a massacre perpetrated by Ottomans, or the Ideon Cave, where Rhea gave birth to Zeus, the caves of Rethymno have their own stories to tell.

SOUTHERN COMFORT At Aghios Pavlos, Triopetra, the shores of Akoumiani Gyalia and the beach of Finikas in Preveli, you’ll find some of the most distinctive and exotic (although not entirely unknown) swimming spots of the island.

Apart from the charming Venetian town of Rethymno and the extensive beaches next to it, the historic Arkadi Monastery and the seaside village of Aghia Galini to the south, the rest of this region is, to a large extent, unknown to most travelers. It is perhaps for this reason that it has preserved its gentle beauty and authenticity. From Ancient Eleutherna to the beautiful valley of Amari, from the slopes of Mt Ida to the the exotic sandy beaches of Triopetra, Rethymno holds many rewards for those willing to explore it. Don’t miss on the opportunity to taste the new wines from Gerakari and Fourfouras; speak with the elderly ceramists at the village of Margarites and see how they make their big jars in the tradition of the ancient pithoi; wander around the mitata, the shepherds’ stone huts on Nida, and sit with them by the fire for a glass of raki. Your experiences in this part of Crete will become memories for life.

AMARI VALLEY An area surrounded by mountains and packed with attractions: you’ll see beautiful villages, Byzantine churches and Venetian mansions, ancient cities and Minoan settlements, stone bridges, olive groves, vineyards and plenty of springs.

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THE TOWN With its lively atmosphere and its photogenic mix of Venetian and oriental elements, Rethymno has many loyal fans. BY A N TON I S IOR DA NOGL OU


his is the only city in Crete which is built on a cape, and more specifically, “on the boundary between calmness and fierceness,” as the location is eloquently described by local writer Pantelis Prevelakis. To the east stretches a vast sandy beach, while the coastline is rocky to the west. Unlike Irakleio or Hania, Rethymno never had a large port that would have made it a center of trade. But it does have a wonderful old harbor, full of color, lined with Venetian and Ottoman buildings that have for centuries been reflected in its calm waters. The best time to explore the city is very early in the morning, when the light is perfect and the tranquility a sheer delight. The cool air of morning is also propitious for making your way up to the Venetian citadel, the Fortezza. When it was built (1573-1580), on the hill once occupied by ancient Rithymna, it was the largest fortress on Crete. High up

01. The Mosque of Sultan Ibrahim (originally the Cathedral of Aghios Nikolaos) in the Fortezza. | 02. The narrow streets of the Old Town are lined with restaurants, cafés and shops. | 03. The Rimondi Fountain.


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01. Rush hour in the old Turkish neighborhood. 02. One of the beautifully carved stone lintels that adorn many courtyard and building entrances in the Old Town.





03. The Neratze Mosque with its 27m-tall minaret, a local landmark.


on the battlements, you will feel the salty breeze from the Sea of Crete; you can walk along the old defensive trenches, between the towers, bastions and gates, among the solitary palm trees. Here, too, is the Erofyli open-air theater, which hosts the celebrated Renaissance Festival every summer. During their 436-year rule, the Venetians turned Rethymno into one of the most important cities on the island and created its strong association with the Renaissance. They erected splendid public buildings, churches and mansions, and they founded schools and literary societies, bringing a slice of European culture to Crete. Indeed, it is said that the Academy of the Vivi, established by Francesco Barozzi in 1562, was the first manifestation of organized cultural life 142

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on the island. The city fell to the Ottomans in 1646. The churches became mosques, while Ottoman trelliswork, wooden bay windows and covered balconies appeared above the elaborately carved entrances of the mansions. Contact with the rest of Europe was severed, but the general appearance of Rethymno did not change dramatically. What one still senses today when strolling through the enchanting labyrinth of the Old Town is primarily the Venetian legacy. First stop is the 16th-century Venetian Loggia, a splendid Palladian-style architectural masterpiece where the city’s nobles once convened. A short walk in a westerly direction along Konstantinou Paleologou Street will bring you to the Rimondi Fountain (1626), which supplied

Rethymno with cool water from Mt Vrysinas. This is the top rendezvous point in the Old Town and, while you are waiting for your loved one, you can admire the fluted columns with Corinthian capitals, and the lion-head spouts. Heading south along Ethnikis Antistaseos, a shopping street that ends at the imposing Porta Guora (“Great Gate”), you will pass two of the city’s landmarks. The first is the well-preserved Neratze Mosque, with its three domes and 27m-tall minaret. The impressive building was originally the katholikon (main church) of an Augustinian monastery; it was turned into a mosque in 1657 and renamed in honor of Gazi Hüseyin Pasha, who had taken the city. Today, it is also known as the Odeon of Rethymno and hosts concerts (Tel. (+30) 28313.413.01).


The harbor of Rethymno from above. A walk to the 19th-c. Εgyptian Lighthouse is a good option for a little peace, if it gets too crowded.

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01. A classical music concert at the Odeon. 02. Handmade sketches of the Old Town make for popular souvenirs.

The second is the striking 16th-century Church of St Francis, that today houses the Archaeological Museum of Rethymno (Open Tue-Sun 10:00-18:00), which has a relatively small but important collection of finds, from stone age tools dating back 130,000 years to a gold coin minted in 1646 during the rule of Doge Francesco Molin. Directly behind is wide-open Mikrasiaton Square, one of the most attractive contemporary urban planning interventions in the medieval settlement. On the western side of the square you will find the celebrated Makry Steno (“Long Alley”), otherwise known as Nikiforou Foka Street. This is one of the most enchanting alleyways in Rethymno, with Venetian houses, stone fountains and the charming Church of Kyria ton Angelon (“Our Lady of the Angels”). Keep an eye out for the elegant stone lintels. Rethymno boasts over 700 such architectural gems, which often combine 144

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different architectural styles (Corinthian, Ionic, Doric, Composite) and are impressively decorated. A visit to an authentic Venetian palazzo is a must. One fine example, dating back to 1609, with a leafy inner courtyard and carved stone stairs, houses the Historical and Folklore Museum (28-30 Vernardou, Open Mon-Sat 10:00-15:00), where you can see, among others, a large collection of Cretan weapons and battle standards. The Old Town of Rethymno is not just a colorful labyrinth of Venetian mansions, exquisite courtyards, historic churches, minareted mosques, elaborate fountains and ornate doorframes; it is also full of life. Walking around, you'll smell flowers and freshly prepared food and see children playing in the streets, women of all ages sitting, sewing and chatting on doorsteps, and students filling the cafés and bars. The Old Town may be a travel destination, but tourism has not yet driven away its residents.

INSIDER TIPS For relaxation and sustenance, consider: morning coffee at Cul de Sac (7 Titou Petychaki) or at Living Room (5 Eleftheriou Venizelou) with a sea view. Traditional small dishes and good raki at Manousos (35 Titou Petychaki). Late afternoon coffee or an aperitif at Fraoules

(62 Eleftheriou Venizelou) and Cavo (13 Akrotiriou) for the sunset in a dazzling setting overlooking the sea. You'll find modern-design souvenirs at Greek Unique (3 Vosporou) and exquisite jewelry at the store of Hara Theodoraki in Govatzidaki Street in the Old Town. For handmade leather goods, visit Karras (46 Varda Kallergis) and for ceramic items, make your way to Artifacts by Omodamos (6 Himaras) or the workshop of Frosso Bora (25 Himaras). Don’t leave without trying some local treats: sweet tarts and ice cream made from fresh sheep's milk at Mona Lisa (36 Konstantinou Paleologou), crispy sourdough biscuits and barley rusks at the bakery Apostolakis-Artoza (9 Kapodistriou), small savory pies and hand-shaped pastries at Sampson (3 Dimakopoulou) and delicious aniseed-flavored bread at Michalis Spanoudakis’ bakery (93 Nikiforou Foka). Lastly, at grocery stores around the city, don’t hesitate to inquire about the region’s famous cheese products, such as Gasparakis graviera, the delectable and light Tzourmpakis goat cheese, Maris' fresh myzithra and dry cottage cheese, and fresh, creamy cheese from Amarino. For tsikoudia (Cretan raki), honey and exceptional extra virgin olive oil, visit the AgrecoFarm store on the coastal road (33-35 Sofokli Venizelou).



RETHYMNO REGION From the mythic Psiloritis to the sublime beaches of the southern coast, this region is everything you imagined about Crete. BY A N TON I S IOR DA NOGL OU & A L E X A N D R A T Z AV E L L A

NORTH THE BEACHES OF THE NORTH: Rethymno Beach is the longest beach on the island, with a length of more than 12km. It extends to the east of the city and all the way to the village of Skaleta. On the Adelianos Kampos stretch you can enjoy water sports, while at Pigianos Kampos there are some peaceful rocky coves. At Bali, east of Rethymno Town, there is a series of small bays that are ideal for swimming. At Panormos you’ll find two small sandy beaches with shallow waters, while Geropotamos, at the estuary of the river of the same name, has pebbles, fine sand and deep waters. Small and pebbled, Tou Maliou to Ryaki Beach is shaded by steep, towering rocks. At Gerani, to the west, you’ll lie on fine shingle. Further west, you can swim at Episkopi, which has white sand, lush vegetation and waters that get deep very close to the shore.


MIGHTY TOWER: Just 10km outside Rethymno, Maroulas is one of the most unusual villages in Crete. About 450 years old, it features houses dating back to the times of Venetian and Ottoman rule, old olive presses, churches and narrow lanes. Two stone towers loom over this architectural ensemble, one of which is 44m tall. Note the embrasures, murder-holes, stone guard posts and rose windows. VENETIAN MANSION: If you’re curious as to what the interior of a Venetian man© EFFIE PAROUTSA


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sion is like, make sure to visit the village of Chromonastiri and stop by Villa Clodio, one of the most beautiful historic residences in Rethymno’s countryside. It was built in the 16th-17th century, and it appears to have served as the summer residence of the aristocratic Clodio family. Today it houses the village’s Military Museum. Besides the exhibits, however, you’ll also be able to wander around the spacious rooms and admire the view from each floor as well as the stone fireplaces in the bedrooms. In the stunning inner courtyard, keep an eye out for the family’s coat of arms, the cisterns, the wells and the hammam – the Turkish baths; the last is a remnant of the time when a pasha used to reside here during the period of Ottoman rule (Tel. (+30) 28310.751.35). HOPE AND SACRIFICE: The best-known monastery on the island and an iconic monument, inextricably linked to the Cretan struggle for liberation. Here, during the Cretan Uprising (1866-1869), the defenders of the monastery blew up the gunpowder store and themselves in order to not surrender to the Ottomans, which is why the Cretans say that their liberation began at Arkadi. The building complex is a true work of art, with an impressive narthex and several elements that show a Renaissance influence. At the old altar, you’ll see intricate icons from the 16th and 17th centuries – one in particular, Panaghia Elpis ton Apelpismenon (“Mother of God, Hope of Those in Despair”), is superb (Tel. (+30) 28310.831.35).



TIMELESS ELEUTHERNA: In the countryside southeast of Rethymno (25km), ancient Eleutherna holds clues that reveal the elements of truth behind Homer’s epic poetry. Here, one can enjoy a well-organized and informative archaeological park, as well as Eleutherna’s new (2016), state-of-the-art museum. Distinctive architectural remains and artifacts confirm the Iliad’s descriptions of funeral rites, the pyre of Patroclus and Achilles’ ornate shield as accurate reflections of life, death and art in pre-Classical Greece. Flourishing mostly during the Geometric-through-Archaic (9th-6th centuries BC) and Hellenistic (323-68 BC) eras, Eleuth-








erna continued to be inhabited during the Roman, Byzantine and Venetian eras, up until modern times. The site’s main stops can be approached by car, including the Orthi Petra necropolis, areas containing public buildings and private houses, a 2,200-year-old stone bridge and a traditional water mill. Additional sights – temples, tombs, fountains, reservoirs, quarries, several Byzantine chapels and a defensive tower – are reached by footpaths and the E4 European hiking trail. THE VILLAGE OF THE CERAMISTS: Even though the village of Margarites was destroyed several times by the Venetians and the Ottomans, it remains one of the most beautiful old villages in the heartland around Rethymno; it boasts fine Byzantine and post-Byzantine chapels, such as the chapel of Aï Yiannis the Theologian dating back to 1383, and old Venetian houses with inner courtyards, stone drinking fountains, arched doorways with sculpted lintels and coats of arms. You’ll also see numerous large ceramic storage jars, called pitharia, as well as other ceramic objects, as Margarites is one of the two largest centers for pottery in Crete. If you want to see the work of a traditional local potter up close, visit Keramion.


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A MOUNTAIN ROUTE: If you are in the mood for exploring, drive up the ragged slopes of Mt Kouloukonas, setting off from the village of Doxaro. You’ll pass through landscapes of imposing rocks and low vegetation, and after several bends, you’ll reach a plateau featuring the impressive Vosako Monastery, surrounded by jagged peaks. In addition to the narthex, which was built in the 19th century on top of an older one, you can see the old monks’ cells, intricate doorways, sculpted drinking fountains (one dating from 1673), as well as the old workshops for the extraction of honey, candle-making and the distillation of raki.

EAST ANOGEIA: This is one of the most famous villages in Crete, not for its architecture (the old settlement was torched by the Germans in 1944) but for its people. Having lived for many years according to the strict traditions of mountainous Crete, they have developed a particular mindset: they are welcoming hosts and rambunctious revelers, with a very strong commitment to friendship, but also very touchy when it comes to questions of honor. Sit down at a café and prick up your ears: this village is the home of some of the most important instrumentalists in Crete, and the chances that you may

be treated to some very fine Cretan music are quite high. If you wish to wander about, visit the church of Aghios Ioannis in the Armi neighborhood – it is the oldest church in Anogeia, with wall paintings dating back to the 14th century. SHEPHERDS’ HUTS: The legendary mitata of Anogeia in Psiloreitis Natural Park, the shepherds’ stone huts built using slabs of slate, and reminiscent of domed Minoan and Mycenaean tombs, have been used during the summer months for centuries. Most of them lie within the wider region between Anogeia and the Nida Plateau. If you’re lucky enough to run into any shepherds, you’ll likley experience some unforgettable moments. (Contact the Anogeia Centre for Environmental Education, Tel. (+30) 28340.316.62). WHERE ZEUS WAS BORN: The Ideon Cave on Mt Psiloritis was one of the most important places of worship in Minoan Crete. During the Minoan period but also later, crowds of Cretans would ascend to the Nida Plateau (elevation 1,498m), where the cave is situated. Here, according to myth, Rhea gave birth to Zeus. The baby was fed with milk from the goat Amalthea, while at the same time the Kouretes, seven (or five) benevolent giants (or demons, according to



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some sources), would clang their bronze shields so that Kronos would not hear the wailings of little Zeus and swallow him whole, as he had done with his previous children. Evidence that the cave was used as a place of worship dates back to the latter half of the 2nd millennium BC; the highest attendance by pilgrims, however, appears to have been during the Geometric and the Archaic ages (10th-6th centuries BC). THE SFENDONI CAVE: One of the most beautiful and best developed caves in Crete, Sfendoni is close to the village of Zoniana. Shepherds had been using the first two chambers for centuries as a shelter for their animals, yet archaeological investigations have shown that there were even more ancient users of the cave, since shards of pottery dating back to the Early Minoan and the Late Minoan periods have been found, as well as a Roman coin from the 4th or 5th century AD.


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SOUTH ROLLING SAND DUNES: A thrilling geological adventure lies in store if you ascend the path that starts at the westernmost tip of Aghios Pavlos Beach. Ten minutes later, enchanted by the beauty of the multicolored rocks, you’ll be awestruck at the sight of a landscape that looks as if it has been borrowed from Africa: imposing grey sand dunes, approximately 25m high, terminating in the stunning Alatsogremnos Beach. At sundown, the hills are dyed red and look as though they are dissolving into the sea. This is the ideal moment to be there – alternatively, come very early in the morning, when the sand is cool enough to walk on. Equally impressive are the sand dunes of Pachia Ammos Beach, which can be accessed from Aghia Foteini Beach at Kerames via a 20-minute walk along the coast.

trees on its banks. Place this scenery at the mouth of a gorge, and you have the postcard-worthy landscape of Preveli. The lake of the same name is formed by the waters of Megas Potamos (“Great River”), which runs through the last section of the Kourtaliotiko Gorge and flows out into the Libyan Sea. Come by way of the dirt road that starts at Drymiskiano Ammoudi Beach (7 mins walk) and explore the palm-tree forest with the rare Cretan date palm, either on foot or by pedal boat. One of the highlights is to jump into one of the natural pools formed by the river – the sound will resonate across the gorge. Before leaving, take a photo of the heart-shaped rock that rises from the sea. Preveli attracts hundreds of tourists each day, so come early in the morning or later in the afternoon, as the tourist boats are about to depart. At that time of the day, the gorge fills with swallows.

THE EXOTIC PREVELI: Imagine an ash-colored beach, a light-blue sea, an emerald lake, a river with a forest of palm

A HISTORIC MONASTERY: The Holy Monastery of Preveli is renowned for the part it played in the struggles for


Kids Love Greece is a US-based boutique travel agency offering travel-planning services exclusively to families who wish to visit Greece. Created by parents for parents, the aim of Kids Love Greece is to help families create amazing memories in Greece. The services of Kids Love Greece cover, destinations, Athens, Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos and Paros and Peloponnese, among other places. All activities are handpicked and centered around history and mythology, culture, food, sailing and other outdoor activities. Crete, the largest island in Greece, is one of the top destinations for families with kids of any age, budget and interests. Beaches, such as Elafonisi, with its crystal-clear, turquoise waters, are definitely a compelling reason to visit Crete with kids. Food also plays a big part of a family vacation to Crete, with Cretan cuisine considered one of the healthiest in the world. Kids Love Greece offers food tours as well as cooking lessons where families learn how to cook mouthwatering Cretan specialties. Crete is home to the Palace of Knossos, an ancient

city, where the myth of the Minotaur and Theseus originated, which inspired books like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. Cretans are famous worldwide for their hospitality, which you will experience the moment you visit any of the quaint towns and villages. Last but not least, Crete is a paradise for any active family who loves hiking, sailing, biking as well as water sports. The services that Kids Love Greece offers in Crete include guided mythological tours in Knossos and other archaeological sites and museums, Cretan food tours and cooking lessons, outdoor activities including sailing and hiking, pottery, dance and art-related workshops as well as family-friendly accommodation. One of our top-selling activities are the Mythological Tours inspired by Percy Jackson, catered to kids who are fans of the books. All tour guides are family-friendly and experts in engaging children of all ages. Kids Love Greece believes in learning though play and the use of modern technology.






liberation during Ottoman rule, and later during the German occupation. It includes two building complexes, the derelict Lower Monastery of Saint John the Baptist and the Rear Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, a 16th-c. monastery that admits visitors and is amphitheatrically built with a view over the Libyan Sea. This is where the museum of the monastery is housed, featuring a collection of a hundred 17th-c. icons and relics (Open June to October: Mon-Sun 09:00-13:30 & 15:30-19:00). ENDLESS BEACHES: The 55km-long coastline of southern Rethymno has more than 30 beaches, washed by the crystal-clear waters of the Libyan Sea. At the easternmost end is the popular Aghia Galini Beach, while on the region’s western boundary is Aghia Marina, with fine shingle, pebbles and small rocks that make for ideal fishing spots. Starting from the east, one of the most beautiful beaches is Triopetra, with three large rocks at one end. It could easily accommodate thousands of bathers, but it usually only has about 100. There are beach loungers, but you’ll also find plenty of room to roll out a straw beach mat on the coarse, grainy sand. On the sandy Ligres Beach, you’ll come across a small waterfall at its westernmost end, and you’ll be able to enjoy it in peace even in August. Do 152

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not fail to stay until sundown to enjoy the sunset at the small taverna. Skinaria Beach, with its superb crystalline waters and craggy seabed, is a key attraction for snorkelers and scuba divers. You need to be an early bird to get a spot at the tiny, sandy Kleisidi Beach, which can barely hold three separate groups. If you have children, opt rather for the family-friendly Damnoni Beach, which has loungers and emerald, shallow waters. To swim in deep waters, head to Pirates’ Fjord, a narrow cove below the Kalypso Cretan Village Resort Spa. Grab a beach lounger on the smooth, flat rocks, go canoeing, and cross the suspension bridge connecting the two sides of the cove. If you prefer some seclusion, seek out a place under the shade of a carob tree at stunning Peristeres Beach.

of 25 sculpted lion heads. Take a stroll through the stone-paved streets and visit the restored 19th-c. grand mansion which houses the Folk Museum. You’ll see a replicas of the rooms of a traditional Cretan house, such as the bridal bedchamber adorned with lacework, but also workspaces such as the stivanadiko, a traditional bootmaker’s workshop (Open 10:00-18:00).

THE LAND OF MYTHS: Take a boat from Aghia Galini for a trip south to the rugged islets of Paximadia – the Greek word for rusks. As you swim in the blue waters of the five pebbled beaches, have in mind that according to one version of the myth, this is where Apollo and Artemis were born.

A PUZZLE OF URBAN CONSTRUCTION: Argyroupoli, built on the site of the ancient city of Lappa (which, according to myth, was founded by Agamemnon), is, if nothing else, unique. You’ll see remains of Roman mosaics, old churches and beautiful houses with Venetian and Ottoman architectural elements, as well as an abundance of ancient materials (spolia) incorporated in its walls, such as burial caskets, columns, capitals and marble fragments. Refresh yourself at its famous natural springs and, next to

A BREAK FROM THE SEA: As you arrive at the picturesque village of Spili, you’ll be refreshed by the cool waters of Mt Ida’s springs, which flow from the mouths

SADDLE UP: Even if you have no horse-riding experience, you can traverse olive groves, beaches and small rivers on horseback in the Plakias region (Plakias Horse-riding Center, Tel. (+30) 28320.311.96, (+30) 694.201.1620).


Founded in Irakleio by graphic designer Sofia Maraki and photographer Vassilis Goumas in 2011, “White Cover” specializes in the conceptualization and development of contemporary visual communication projects by offering a range of print and digital services, with expertise in photography, videography and graphic design applications. At White Cover, we are committed to delivering distinctiveness in the concept and design of each project. Working with inspiration, creativity and new technologies, we focus on every little detail to meet our clients’ needs and

achieve the desired, quality result. Understanding the importance of teamwork, White Cover brings together professionals from the fields of photography, graphic design and media, providing a creative hub where gifted individuals can exchange ideas and work in unison. United by a common vision, our ultimate goal is to bring fresh ideas and innovation to each project, in order to highlight the original and unique character of each visual communication project. Find out more at






them, visit the Roman-era tomb and its five chambers inside the cave of Aghia Dynami. The local villagers, who believe that this was the tomb of the Five Virgin Martyrs, built the small chapel nearby in their honor.

CENTER ENCHANTING AMARI: The great verdant valley between the mountains of Psiloritis and Kedros is one of the most enchanting secrets of the prefecture. Here, you’ll find some of the most beautiful villages in all of Crete: Monastiraki, Thronos, Klisidi, Gerakari, Nithavri, Vistagi, Vizari and Amari, all of them hidden in a veritable sea of olive, plane, cherry, fig and apricot trees, and surrounded by innumerable rivulets and streams, where most of Crete’s stone bridges are to be found. All of the villages have Venetian and Ottoman houses with superb doorways, and old Byzantine churches with outstanding wall paintings. The ancient city at Sivritos, the Minoan 154

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settlement at Apodoulou and the Minoan palace at Monastiraki bear witness to the fact that people came to cherish this paradisaical valley from very early on. FOCUS ON AMARI: Amari’s must-see is the stunning village of Meronas, site of the Church of Panaghia (“Holy Mother of God”), dating from the 1300s. Still in use, it was the first building in the village, around which the settlement developed over the years; according to local lore this is where the Virgin “found peace” (merose in Greek). Take the time to contemplate the murals, the work of some of the most important artists of Constantinople who were brought here by the Byzantine Kallergis family, who financed the building of the church. The portable icon of Panaghia Hodegetria (“Our Lady of the Way”) is a work of the Cretan School, from the beginning of the 14th century. In contrast, the small Venetian monastery of Aghii Asomati, at the heart of the Amari valley, lies derelict. You’ll come here for the tranquility and the stunning vege-

tation, which includes olive, mulberry and massive plane trees, vineyards and more. This was the base of the Hortatzis family during the rebellion of 1273 against the Venetians, while since 1927 it has been used as an agricultural school. PARDI FOREST: Towering holm oaks and maples that grow to a height of 15m, with tree trunks as wide as 1m: this used to be the natural landscape all over Mt Psiloritis up until many centuries ago. Today, you can take pleasure in this miracle of Cretan nature in Pardi forest, which you can easily access from the village of Kouroutes. From the picturesque chapel of Aghios Titos located in the forest (note that a festival is held here on August 24), the view over the shores of the Libyan Sea is staggering. It is worth continuing for a further 5km in order to reach the Toumbotos Prinos mountain refuge (1,500m) at the heart of this legendary mountain and which is part of the wider network of the Rethymno Mountaineering Club (Tel. (+30) 28310.577.66).



YOUR TRUSTED DOCTORS IN CRETE Having treated more than 40,000 patients over the past 12 years, RMA offers personalized, high-quality, hassle-free medical services for all types of emergencies, from sunburn to heart attack.

A tourist destination ought to provide a variety of services, including international patient management, a complex but necessary service. Tourism is growing rapidly despite the crisis and, as a dynamic industry, it continues to make a significant contribution to the economy. Statistics indicate not only a general increase in arrivals, but also a significant increase in the average age of those traveling the world: in particular, vacationers over 55 have increased by at least 23%. This means that the medical care system needs to be ready to face potential incidents ranging from potentially life-threatening heart attacks, strokes, allergic shocks and accidents to more common holiday emergencies such as food poisoning, asthma attacks, colds and sunburn. Providing medical care to tourists requires strong organization skills due to the patients’ high expectations, expectations which the Public Health System cannot meet. Access to both primary and secondary healthcare isn’t easy, especially during a crisis where staff shortages and technical limitations are evident even in tourist areas. This, in short, is the situation, and all of us who work in the first line of response to emergencies on islands and tourist areas

of the country during high season must be ready to deal with it. Rethymno Medical Assistance is staffed with experienced healthcare professionals in both the medical and paramedical fields. They provide primary healthcare and medical tourism services to the wider area of Rethymno. Our facility is certified by the German Organization, TEMOS, which ensures that services are secure and sufficient and meet quality standards. Tourists expect quick and effective services in a comfortable environment which they trust, preferably in their place of residence. RMA treats more than 4,000 patients per season (April to October) and has been in operation for more than 12 years.


WE OFFER • 24/7 services in the patient’s place of residence by multilingual staff • Medical diagnostic devices and trained personnel • High-quality secretarial services in a digital environment • Links to secondary care • Collaboration with all international travel insurance and medical assistance companies • A network of colleagues throughout Crete.





Nikos Daskalantonakis’ support for the site and the museum of Eleutherna is an expression of his passion for Crete and its heritage.

he story of Greece’s largest hospitality enterprise began in Rethymno back in the mid-1970s, a time when many Cretans were abandoning their homeland in search of better fortunes elsewhere. Going against the tide, brothers Nikos and Takis Daskalantonakis, anticipating the prospects of the local area, and inspired by their love for their place of origin, and also by the Rethymniot hospitality as taught to them by their mother, envisioned a Crete that would evolve into a global destination. Thus, they decided to stay put. Taking a risk – but with their vision acting as their guide – they made the leap from olive oil processing to tourism, initially participating in the Rethymniot consortium behind the construction of the El Greco hotel. In parallel, they established their own hotel, Rithymna Beach, one of largest resorts on Crete, which ultimately provided them with the impetus to found Grecotel in 1981, in cooperation with tourism giant TUI. Almost four decades later, the Grecotel Hotels & Resorts Group, with 32 luxury resorts throughout Greece, 12,500 beds, 3 thalassotherapy centers, 200 restaurants, 10 conference centers and thousands of international awards and accolades for the quality of its services and its contribution to the upgrading of the Greek tourism product, stands as the undisputed Greek hotel market leader. At the same time, it also serves as the sector’s largest employer, with 6,100 staff, The archaeological site of Eleutherna still has many secrets to reveal.


A CRETAN STORY How the vision of two brothers gave birth to Greece’s hotel market leader. BY M A R I A C OV E OU


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AgrecoFarms’ vineyards and olive groves are a soothing sight.

Young “Farmers for a Day” enjoy working with dough at AgrecoFarms.

GRECOTEL Amirandes Exclusive Resort, Irakleio

GRECOTEL Lux Me White Palace, Rethymno

GRECOTEL Creta Palace Luxury Hotel & Resort, Rethymno

80% of whom are Cretan. This year alone, the group has invested more than 42 million euros in the extensive renovation of five of its resorts, thus creating 630 new jobs. And in the near future it will proceed with the upgrading of additional properties, which, of course, will lead to the creation of even more jobs. And though one might expect that a huge company like this would have lost touch with the vision of its founders and with its roots, Grecotel continues to be inextricably linked to its homeland and its people, its traditions and its products. “From the local ingredients used at the restaurants to the themed nights that recapture scenes from bygone days, Grecotel resorts are associated with Crete and Cretan culture,” notes Grecotel General Manager Vassilis Minadakis. Moreover, at AgrecoFarms – the innovative model farm cultivating organic crops that was created in Rethymno in 2002 – Cretan traditions are transformed into a living experience. Visitors gain first-hand insight into age-old practices, such as sheep-shearing, grape harvesting and grape stomping, all of which bring them closer to Cretan tradition. Grecotel continues also to be synonymous with the Cretan hospitality, that so inspired its founders. In fact, employees take it upon themselves to make hotel guests feel at home, by showing them around town, taking them to local events and treating them like friends. As for Nikos Daskalantonakis’ love for his native place, it has remained undiminished. Tangible proof of this is the recent establishment of the Nikos Daskalantonakis Foundation (NDF), a not-for-profit philanthropic and cultural foundation, which, among others, will support cultural projects and activities, beginning with the attempt to help the archaeological site of Eleutherna in Rethymno gain recognition and become an international cultural destination. The NDF will also award scholarships to young people to help them advance their studies unhindered. “Some people refer to ‘giving’ as a ‘social obligation.’ To me, it is a sacred duty towards those heading to tomorrow,” Daskalantonakis says. C R E T E 2 018



Knossos, the heart of Minoan civilization, is one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece.


KNOSSOS AND PHAISTOS A visit to the Minoan palaces is a must. You can see the impressive finds from these excavations at the Irakleio Archaeological Museum. Ask at your hotel what times are best in order to avoid long lines.

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MATALA The caves that were used as burial grounds up until the Roman times became the “homes” of the Flower Children of the 1970s and a symbol of the hippie movement. Look for phrases and names carved into the soft rock.

CITY PLEASURES From modern raki bars and old kafeneia to vegetarian eateries and cocktail bars in lovely courtyards, the historical center of Irakleio has it all. If two musicians start playing, stick around – a full-blown party might just develop.

ARVI Arvi Gorge, to the southeast, is one of the most striking in Crete, 2km in length, with stunning waterfalls. Just outside one end is the 19th-c. Monastery of Aghios Antonios. The area is famous for its delicious little bananas.




ARCHANES The most colorful village of the Regional Unit of Irakleio, Acharnes was redeveloped in an exemplary manner, reaping international awards. Right in the historic center of town, you can visit the archaeological site of the Minoan palace there.

VORI Make sure you pay a visit to the village of Vori, close to ancient Phaistos, so you can see the awardwinning Museum of Cretan Ethnology: it’s a window into the history, customs, culinary habits and culture of Crete.

This is Irakleio: the birthplace of the Minoan civilization, with archaeological sites such as Knossos and Phaistos, as well as museums that attract millions of visitors each year from around the world; the administrative center of Crete, the very gateway to Crete, with the biggest airport and seaport on the island; and an agricultural center, with vast olive groves, vineyards and stretches of cultivated land. Its vast planes are interrupted to the west by Mt Ida, the natural boundary with the Regional Unit of Rethymno, and in the south by the Asterousia Mountains: wild mountains, “scored” by dirt roads and gorges, with a strong pastoral tradition and villages that preserve age-old customs. The plains end at the clear waters of the Libyan Sea, in mystical beaches that are the secret spots of locals. The most famous beaches are to be found in the southwest, at Tymbaki, and in the north, at Aghia Pelaghia and at Hersonissos – an immense “playground” famed for its nightlife.

AGHIA TRIADA This is the ancient headquarters of an affluent estate. Visible are the ruins of a Minoan villa complex, a Mycenaean agora and shops. Note the “polythyra” (pier-and-door all-weather apartments), light wells, storerooms, shrines, and welltrodden staircases.

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Koules Fortress, the foremost landmark of Irakleio.


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The capital of Crete is a lively university town with outstanding historical landmarks and an engaging and energetic atmosphere. BY OLGA CH A R A MI

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t’s a gateway, a capital and Crete’s university town, with all the advantages and a few of the drawbacks of a city proper. It’s vibrant, outgoing, accessible and culturally rich; it’s also not a “classical beauty.” Nonetheless, Irakleio has built up a good reputation over the past decade and, as of last year, it was Europe’s fastest-growing tourism destination. The city has made well-targeted efforts to improve its image with a series of initiatives that includes facelifts to key monuments, the coastal front and the historic center, and a complete revamp of its Archaeological Museum. It has also invested in technological innovations geared towards enriching the visitor experience, such as interactive screens at museums and the municipal Info Point, all developed by the University of Crete and the Foundation of Research & Technology - Hellas (FORTH), one of Europe’s leading research centers. The city’s harbor once served as a port for Knossos, the Bronze Age capital of the Minoan civilization, and later, in ancient times, for a city called Irakleio. The port was fortified in the Middle Ages, when the city came under the control of Saracen pirates who chose it as their base in Crete, calling it Chandakas. Next came the Byzantines and then the Venetians, who maintained the city’s identity as a capital, renamed it Candia and endowed it with some beautiful buildings and fortifications that are still visible. Under the Ottomans, it was known as Megalo Kastro (“Big Castle”), only to become Irakleio again once the free Cretan State was established in 1898. The entire island became a part of the state of Greece in 1913. Today, with a population of 174,000 residents and some 15,000 students, Irakleio is a proud and vibrant city; you feel its energy from the moment you first step foot in it. Crowds, cars, shops, open-air markets, street peddlers and tourists from all over help provide this city with its characteristic lively temperament. The first thing you’ll see, no matter how you arrive, will probably be the Venetian Harbor, where today small fishing boats dock, across from the old dry docks. But what




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01. The Venetian Loggia, in the very center of the city. | 02. The fountain on Eleftheriou Venizelou Square, affectionately called “The Lions,” is the city’s most popular meeting spot. | 03. The Phaistos Disc, one of the most important exhibits in the Irakleio Archaeological Museum. | 04. Τhe restored Gate of Jesus hosts a permanent display on the life and works of author Nikos Kazantzakis, Irakleio’s most prominent son.

will really catch your eye here is Koules (Open 8:00-20:00), the small castle out on the pier, built by the Venetians in the 16th century, which recently underwent restoration. The 2.5km concrete jetty that starts at Koules is a popular afternoon promenade. From the port, the human river will carry you up 25 Avgoustou Street – past neoclassical buildings and souvenir shops selling bronze Minotaur statues, cheap Phaistos Disc replicas and T-shirts printed with “Cretan” motifs – to the city’s historic center. Once you’re in the Old Town, you’ll spot the Church of Aghios Titos, built in 961 by the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas and renowned for its stained-glass windows. It served as the island’s metropolitan see before being transformed into a mosque during Ottoman rule. There’s also the Loggia, arguably the most beautiful building in Irakleio, built as a private club for Venetian nobles, and today the City Hall. The Venetian Church of Aghios Markos, which dates from the 13th century, currently plays host to all sorts of cultural events. All of these monuments are a stone’s throw from Lions’ Square (officially called Eleftheriou Venizelou), with its famed fountain, part of an aqueduct built by the Venetian Doge Francesco Morosini. The square, which is flanked by cafés and restaurants, is a good example of one of the things that makes Irakleio special: the way in which its historic monuments are incorporated into modern life. This is also the case with the fortifications outside the historic center where you can walk atop the old city walls (they run for 7km, but the footpaths only cover 4km). The entrance gates can be reached










01. The cafés of the historic center are full of life, day and night. | 02. Midday break for raki and snails at the charming kafeneio Sarantavga (“Forty Eggs”), at the 1866 Market. | 03. Aghios Titos Church.

from Plastira Street: at Saint George’s Gate on Eleftherias Square, you may come across an art exhibition or a bazaar by local artists, while Jesus’ Gate hosts a permanent exhibition on the life and work of writer Nikos Kazantzakis (Open 09:00-17:00). The two open-air theaters beside the walls host concerts and plays over the summer. Irakleio has many museums worth visiting, foremost of which is the Archaeological Museum (2 Xanthoudidou, Eleftheria Square; Open 08:00-20:00). Housing such wonders as the Phaistos Disc and the Knossos Palace frescoes “The Prince of the Lilies” and “La Parisienne,” it is one of the most important 164

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museums of its kind in the world. The Historical Museum of Crete (27 Sofokli Venizelou & 7 Kalokerinou; Open Mon-Sat 09:00-17:00), showcases life in Irakleio from early Christian times to World War II; the most popular exhibits are two paintings by the 16th-century Cretan artist Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco): “The Baptism of Christ” and “View of Mount Sinai and the Monastery of St. Catherine.” The Museum of Christian Art (Aghia Ekaterini Square; Open Mon-Sat 09:30-19:30, Sun 10:30-19:30) is in the 13th-century Monastery of Saint Catherine of Sinai and displays priceless heirlooms and icons. The Museum of Natural History (Sofokli Venizelou, Dermata Bay; Open Mon-Fri 9:00-21:00, Sat-Sun 10:00-21:00) uses technology to great effect and offers a very special interactive experience for children. Wherever you are in the city, around 2pm do as the locals do and head to the closest kafeneio for raki and meze; the best are Kagiabis (12 Monofatsiou) and

Sarantavga (1866 Street). For sweets and desserts, look for Aretousa (19 Kosmon) or for Queen Boutique Desserts (Agiou Titou & 13 Evropis). For breakfast, try the famous bougatsa custard pie at Kirkor (32 Venizelou/Lions’ Square). You can pick up great local products and deli foods at Alati tis Gis (4 Giannitson), Cretan music CDs at Aerakis (14 Korai Sq.) and souvenirs at Zalo (2 Papa Alexandrou), where they also sell the locally made Nivo natural soaps and an excellent cultural city map published by Staridas Geography. Come nightfall, stroll around the historic center: Korai, Dedalou, Perdikari, Androgeo and all the pedestrian streets east of Lions’ Square are packed with small bars and raki joints. For cocktails, head to Parko 240 (Milatou & Ideou Androu) and Halavro (10 Milatou). The steps of the Loggia are a popular hangout for people watching and socializing. Look around, and you’ll notice plenty of smiles. In Irakleio, it’s always about having a good time.



World-renowned Minoan palaces, towering mountains and tourist hotspots make Irakleio unmissable.

cave of Aghia Paraskevi, otherwise known as Skotino Cave. Walk down the short footpath until you reach the imposing entrance. Offerings found in the cave suggest it was a sacred shrine dedicated to Britomartis in Minoan times and to Artemis in the Classical Greek and Roman periods. Although you can’t explore its entire length of 126 meters (the cave hasn’t been fully prepared for visitors), you can descend into the main chamber and see the stunning rock formations.

CRETAQUARIUM: Roughly 15km east of the city of Irakleio, in the area of Gournes, lies one of the largest aquariums in Europe, covering an area of 5,000 square meters. It’s an underwater world with evocative lighting designed to simulate Crete’s rich marine environment. All around you, in massive tanks, live more than 2,000 sea creatures from 200 species, including sharks and sea turtles (, Open 09:30-21:00).

ROUND-THE-CLOCK PARTYING: The most famous resort area of Crete is one of the top Greek destinations for travelers from Scandinavia, Britain, the Netherlands and Russia who arrive by charter flights to party around the clock. At Hersonissos and Malia, you’ll find all-inclusive hotels, restaurants and fast food outlets, along with countless bars where almost anything goes. Although excesses of previous years have been curbed, this part of Crete is still the number one area for nightlife. There are large water parks, too, such as Acqua Plus, which provide hours of fun during the day, and other family attractions including the Labyrinth theme park and the Lychnostatis openair museum, a recreation of a traditional Cretan village. The 18-hole course of The Crete Golf Club, considered one of the best in Europe, is here as well.

CAVE SANCTUARY: Road signs outside the village of Skotino will lead you to the

THE PALACE OF MALIA: The third-largest Minoan palace, Malia is distinctive for




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its more rural setting and its administrative role; it stood on level ground amid arable fields, yet also close to the sea for shipping. Its eight grain silos indicate the importance of cereals in Crete’s Bronze Age economy, while workshops in what’s known as the Mu Quarter produced seals with hieroglyphs and pictographic images, molded pottery, stone vases and bronze goods. Malia is well-shaded, covered with impressive roofs that protect stone and mudbrick remains, some of which still stand more than two meters high. A number of architectural features, including doors, windows, cupboards and wooden beams, have also survived (Open Tue-Sun 08:00-20:00). – JOHN LEONARD

EAST CELEBRATED CERAMICISTS: Head for the village of Thrapsano, famous for its ceramics. While there’s evidence of pottery-making here in Roman and Byzantine times, the art reached its height in the early 20th century, when the potters of Thrapsano would move for months to different parts of Crete, setting up temporary workshops to cover the demand for large clay vessels for storing wine, oil or other products. Today, at the MINOS Potters Cooperative in the village, you can watch potters produce exquisite clay vessels, all created by hand and finished in wood-fired kilns (






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HISTORY, RELIGION & ART: Located near the village of Potamies, the Church of Panagia Gouverniotissa is an outstanding Byzantine monument and a popular place of pilgrimage for Cretans. Once the main church of a now deserted monastery, it was restored and opened to the public thanks to local efforts. The monastery was built in the 14th century, while the splendid paintings that adorn the interior of the church are among the most important works that date to the final period of Palaiologan Byzantine art (Open Tue-Sun 09:30-17:30). LINK TO THE PAST: As you head from Hersonissos towards the Lasithi Plateau, you’ll spot the Aposelemis Dam, created for irrigation purposes, outside the village of Potamies. When the water level falls, the sunken village of Sfendyli reappears. Nearby is the beautiful village of Avdou, which only comes to life in the summer. The old shops have all closed, but the attractive buildings have been preserved and the local cultural association has put up signs to remind people what was here. Enjoy a snack at one of the coffee shops or discover the nearby caves and Byzantine chapels. The August 15th celebrations here are a must. A PLANE TREE AND A MONASTERY: In the village square at Krasi stands one 168

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of the largest and oldest plane trees on Crete, said to be almost 2,000 years old. The trunk is so huge that 14 men can link arms around it. A café-restaurant stands nearby, and opposite it are the water spouts with running water from Mt. Selena and the stone troughs where village women once washed clothes. Close by is the village of Kera and the 9th-c. Kera Kardiotissa Monastery, one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Crete.

SOUTH PHAISTOS: This is where archaeologists discovered the mysteriously-stamped Phaistos Disc (early 17th c. BC), whose hieroglyphics, now partly deciphered, may spell out a prayer to prehistoric Crete’s Mother Goddess, a nature-mountain-fertility deity. One of three cities said to have been founded by the mythical King Minos, Phaistos has its own character – appearing less as a massive labyrinth and more as a grandly styled palace. With its archive of seals, repositories of sacred or valuable objects, multiple storerooms and external granaries, Phaistos was also a collection-redistribution station for the surrounding town and region. Set on a naturally defensible hill, the site was repeatedly inhabited from earliest Neolithic times onwards – flourishing in the Minoan, Mycenaean and early Iron Age eras,

reaching another peak in the Hellenistic period, then being eclipsed in the mid2nd c. BC by its neighbor Gortyn (Open daily 08:00-20:00). – JOHN LEONARD GORTYN: Remembered today mostly for its extensive ancient law code (ca. 525400 BC) meticulously inscribed on large stone blocks, Gortyn succeeded Phaistos as the Mesara Plain’s post-Bronze-Age regional power. Known to Homer as a walled city, with two ports (at Leben and Matala), Gortyn increased its influence in Classical times, clashed with Hellenistic Knossos in the 3rd century BC, and then became the booming provincial capital of Crete and Libya (Cyrenaica) under the Romans. It was later an important early Christian center and bishopric; today, the site, a sprawling archaeological park bisected by the road to Phaistos, lets visitors explore a Hellenistic/Roman/ Byzantine cityscape, complete with a governor’s palace, two agoras, baths, a stadium, two theaters, an amphitheater, a music hall and temples, including a shrine to Egyptian gods. Christians built the grand cathedral (6th c. AD) of Saint Titus (Open daily 08:00-20:00). – JOHN LEONARD

FLOWER POWER: Matala, the ancient port of Phaistos and later of Gortys, is one of the most famous beaches of



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Crete, thanks to the hippies who took up residence in its cliffside caves in the late sixties, forever changing the destiny of the locals, who set aside their fishing nets to set up tourism businesses. Matala still retains the charm of a traditional fishing village, while the beach itself and the archaeological site there are further reasons to visit. At a short distance lies the beach of Kommos, backed by gorgeous sand dunes. GREAT STOP-OFFS: At the village of Siva, stop for a glass of raki and a meze at the traditional kafeneio with the green façade on the main street. In the nearby village of Kouses, you’ll find the delightful shop Botano, which stocks a huge variety of therapeutic herbs and spices, soaps and essential oils. On the store’s small patio, you can sip a refreshing herbal beverage while taking in the amazing view across the Messara Plain. ASTEROUSIA MOUNTAINS: Shrouded in mystery, these mountains had begun attracting ascetics from before the 7th century, individuals who chose to live in mountain caves and on remote slopes. It’s no surprise, then, that the area has a number of historic monasteries, including the 14th-c. Odigitria. The terrain here is bleak and barren. Rough, winding dirt paths lead down to the coast, which is punctuated by small settlements with summer homes and some wonderful beaches.

VILLAGE-GUESTHOUSE: The village of Kapetaniana is the most beautiful in the Asterousia Mountains and serves as an ideal base for exploring this part of southern Crete. Most of the houses have been lovingly restored and now, as Thalori Guesthouses, they offer not only accommodation but also an overall travel experience. The view over the Libyan Sea is majestic, and so is the sight of the imposing peak of Mt. Kofinas. The complex has a swimming pool integrated into the natural setting and a restaurant serving Cretan cuisine (www. CONQUER THE SUMMIT: Follow the footpath that begins at the small church of Panagia Kera outside Kapetaniana. A 15-minute walk up staircase-like rocks will bring you to the highest peak of the Asterousia mountains, Kofinas (1,230m). From there you’re looking out over the Libyan Sea on one side, and across the Messara Plain and Mt. Psiloritis on the other. The Minoans had built a peak sanctuary here, in the place now occupied by the tiny church of Timios Stavros (the Holy Cross). If you are here on September 13, you’ll witness an ancient rite of tree-worship; from the “Little Apple Trees of Kofinas,” as the three trees on the north side of the summit are called, miniature fruits are gathered, blessed, carried in procession around the summit and then eaten by the faithful.



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REGENERATION: The village of Ethia, in an amazing location in the Asterousia mountains, was gradually abandoned during the 1960s. However, in the last decade, its former inhabitants have been making efforts to revitalize it. Carrying out most of the work themselves, they have created a water supply system, planted trees, repaired roads and restored the houses. Your visit will give today’s residents great pleasure and afford you the opportunity to enjoy a glass of raki and some tasty snacks in their company. BELOW THE ASTEROUSIA: Almost all the beaches here are covered with pebbles, washed by deep blue waters and accessed by dirt roads. If you’re looking for isolation, head for Vathy and Martsalo, which you can reach after a 30-minute walk from the area of the Odigitria Monastery. One of the most beautiful beaches is Aghiofarago, although it does tend to attract a lot of boats in August. You can reach this beach after a 20-minute walk through a gorge. Lendas is easy to reach, on a narrow paved road, and for this reason is more developed. It’s worth taking the dirt road to Aghios Nikitas 172

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Beach below the village of Ahendrias; there is a delightful palm grove nearby. On the east side of Asterousia, you’ll find the lovely beach of Listis, reached by descending a short footpath, as well as that of Keratokambos, which offers a number of amenities but also has quieter sections. There, you can enjoy horseback-riding on the beach or visit the unexpectedly impressive Gallery “Savvas Petrakis“ which houses the works of celebrated Greek artists (Tel. (+30) 28950.514.59). OMALOS PLATEAU: After a stroll through the historic village of Ano Viannos, where German troops carried out mass killings of civilians during World War II, and a coffee break at one of the small cafés in the square in the shade of the large plane tree, head for the village of Kato Symi on the border with the Lasithi region. From there, make your way along the rough 10km dirt road up to the Omalos Plateau to the south of Mt Dikti, at an elevation of 1,300m. One of the least known and most remote areas of Crete, its landscape is bare in summer, snowclad in winter, and verdant in spring. There is no cell phone signal and the

only signs of life are the shepherds with their goats and sheep, who spend their summers up here in stone huts known as mitata. Nikos Stavrakakis and his nephew, Kostis Fragiadoulis, will be happy to show you how they milk the animals and make cheese.

WEST MAGICAL ZAROS: It’s worth visiting the village of Zaros, in the foothills of Mt. Psiloritis, for many reasons. First of all, here you’ll find the workshop of Antonis Stefanakis, where you can learn all about the lyra, the lute and many other traditional Cretan musical instruments ( If you make your way up to the upper neighborhood, you’ll soon reach the small artificial lake of Zaros (or Votomos), a great spot for a walk. This is the source of “Zaro’s” natural mineral water, which in 2017 received an award for the best bottled water in the world. From the lake, continue on the footpath along the Aghios Nikolaos Gorge and after a 5km walk, you’ll come to the forest of Rouvas, the largest holm-oak forest in Europe. The courtyard of the small church

of Ai Yianni, is a great spot to rest and even have a picnic; locals even use it for feasts from time to time.

CENTRAL KNOSSOS: The most important of Cretan archaeological sites, Knossos is a great starting point as you begin to acquaint yourself with the extraordinary history of ancient Crete. This was the Middle/Late Bronze Age Minoans’ central palace (ca. 1900-1375 BC), first excavated by Sir Arthur Evans in 1900, containing more than 1,000 rooms and winding corridors in a maze-like layout that may originally have inspired the myth of the labyrinth and the Minotaur. Although Evans’ extensive reconstructions have been criticized, nowhere else does one get such a strong feeling of being in an actual Minoan palace – complete with wall paintings, lustral basins, grand staircases, colonnaded light wells, a throne room, a queen’s private suite with decorative dancing dolphins, central and external courtyards, a theater and a battery of storerooms once equipped with floor safes and filled with precious objects, olive oil, wheat and many other Minoan-produced or imported riches (Open daily 08:00-20:00). – JOHN LEONARD TIMELESS VILLAGE: Winner of a European Award for Village Restoration, Epano 174

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(or Ano) Archanes is a destination in its own right. In Minoan times, there was a palace here considered equal in splendor to the celebrated one at nearby Knossos, a section of which you can see in the old neighborhood. Walk along the narrow, stone-paved streets between brightly painted houses and colorful displays of blooming flowers; visit the Archaeological Museum (Open daily, except Tuesday, 09:00-15:00); and relax at one of the inviting coffee shops or tavernas. Particularly recommended is the cooperative café Ploumi, which serves small dishes featuring fresh, local products and organizes Cretan music evenings and workshops; you can also buy local products and artworks made by its members. THE UNDERWORLD: The village of Aghios Thomas would appear to have a special relationship with the Underworld; according to legend, this was the site of the “Hole of Hades,” the gateway to the realm of the dead. In Roman times, there was an extensive necropolis dug into the imposing rocks, and much earlier an ancient sanctuary dedicated to chthonic deities (Demeter, Persephone). These were later replaced by the cave chapels you can still see today. Keep an eye out for one very unique chapel, hewn into solid rock and dedicated to a certain Saint Joasaph (from India!), as well as the Church of Aghios Thomas, built on


the site of an ancient temple. The stone pathway above the square will lead you to the most impressive rock tombs. It may all sound a little macabre, but your visit will certainly be a memorable one. DEDICATED TO KAZANTZAKIS: Myrtia is a charming, vibrant village, ancestral home of the Greek literary giant Nikos Kazantzakis. A museum dedicated to the writer stands in the main square (Open daily 09:00-17:00), an amazing place that makes use of digital media to inform visitors about the life and work of the author of “Zorba the Greek.” Also on display are some of his personal items, along with priceless documents such as the manuscript of “Saviors of God,” Kazantzakis’ spiritual testament. Take a walk around Myrtia with its flower-bedecked courtyards and chat with the proud, welcoming locals. MUSICAL LABYRINTH: In the village of Houdetsi you’ll find Labyrinth, the music workshop founded by Irish musician Ross Daly, who has dedicated much of his life to preserving traditional Cretan and world music in general. In summer, in the workshop’s enchanting gardens, seminars are held with a focus on modal traditions, playing styles and particular instruments, as well as concerts and other events which are open to the public. (






ELOUNDA Since it first welcomed tourists in the 1970s, the erstwhile settlement known for its salt lakes and stone quarries has been transformed into one of the most famous luxury destinations in Greece.

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VAI PALM FOREST Swim in turquoise waters at the edge of the largest natural palm grove in Europe or walk in the shade of thousands of Cretan date palms, a rare species endemic to the Aegean.

TOPLOU MONASTERY One of Crete’s most admired religious sites, Toplou dates from the 15th century. Built in a remote area and boasting a 33m bell tower, it has an amazing collection of icons and artifacts and produces its own organic products.

SELAKANO FOREST The European E4 path leads hiking enthusiasts into this pine forest on Mt Dikti, which is part of the Natura 2000 network. The rest can come by car for a walk in the woods. The forest itself is considered the “capital” of Cretan beekeeping.

E XPLORE L ASITHI The Lasithi Plateau is not a tourist destination per se, but there is plenty to explore, including many little villages and the Dikteon Cave where, according to Greek myth, the goat Amalthea nurtured the infant Zeus.



HA GORGE The imposing gorge to the west of Mt Thripti is thought to be the most impressive in Lasithi. Passing through it is difficult and requires climbing experience and proper equipment. It’s a miracle of nature, but only for the fortunate few.

MAKRY GIALOS A seaside resort on the Libyan Sea where you eat well and enjoy the waves, this town is home to a Minoan mansion that’s more like a miniature palace. It’s also an event destination − every summer it hosts the classical music festival Casa di Mezzo.

The easternmost regional unit of Crete is world-renowned for Elounda’s luxurious, award-winning resorts. It is also the only region on Crete that has three well-developed urban centers – its capital, Aghios Nikolaos, in the northern part, Ierapetra in the south (the largest in terms of population), and Sitia, which has an airport and a seaport. Those who come to explore will discover dozens of beautifully preserved villages with sweet hospitable people, as well as. many abandoned villages with visible traces of the authentic local architecture. The Lasithi plateau, the “Orchard of Crete,” with its windmills (a local landmark) as well as the Katharo plateau, a wild, beautiful landscape where fossils of dwarf hippopotamuses have been found, are here as well. There are also plenty of beautiful beaches with wonderful waters; this year, Lasithi received 41 Blue Flags, including one for the marina at Aghios Nikolaos.

ANO MIRABELLO Drive through a part of the island that’s off the beaten track to find traditional villages with crumbling stone windmills and small monasteries. Here more than anywhere, you’re likely to stumble across a local celebration that’s not in any of the guidebooks. C R E T E 2 018





The capital of Lasithi Regional Unit has a special feel and an atmosphere all its own. B Y E L E F T H E R I A A L AVA N O U


he charming little town of Aghios Nikolaos, built on the site of the ancient city of Kamara, where Eileithyia – the goddess of childbirth and midwifery – was worshiped, overlooks Mirabello Bay on the northern coast of Lasithi. The present-day town was built in the 19th century and was originally known as Mantraki, but it later took the name of the delightful Byzantine chapel of Aghios Nikolaos, which is located 2.5km to the north. In 1904, the town replaced Neapoli as the capital of Lasithi. One of the main attractions of Aghios, as the locals affectionately call the town, is little Voulismeni Lake, which is connected to the sea by a narrow channel. Voulismeni is not just a wonderful natural attraction, it’s a place where you can feel the pulse of the town: quiet in winter, full of life in summer. Indeed, at the start of each summer for the past three years, the lake has been the venue for an international cliff-diving competition and show, where athletes from all over the world have the chance to demonstrate their skills leaping from a height of 20 meters. Four establishments offering wonderful views of Lake Voulismeni are: Migomis for coffee and ice cream (20 N. Plastira), Zygos Urban Garden for traditional skoufichta pasta made with carob flour (1 Ethnikis Antistaseos), Chez Georges for refreshing Negronis (2 Vitsentzou Kornarou) and Peripou which operates as a café-bar-library (No.25, 28 Oktovriou). It

is also worth dropping in at Mesostrati (a grocery store specializing in traditional products) for cheese pies made with myzithra, and fresh almond cookies (2 Roussou Koundourou). If you want to get another vantage point from which to examine the intriguingly amphitheatrical layout of Aghios, walk up its long series of public steps. Should you get tired, comfort yourself with the thought that you’re walking up a civic landmark, one of the unique architectural features of the town. In fact, the municipality, in collaboration with local art curators, is making plans to highlight the steps with a series of art events. For shopping, head to 28 Oktovriou Street and its surrounding alleyways; there, you’ll find everything from herbs and extra virgin olive oil to souvenirs in the form of replicas of ancient Greek busts. Stroll over to the Horn of Amalthea, a popular open-air meeting place dominated by an impressive modern sculpture of the same name depicting the horn from which the wetnurse of the infant Zeus fed him with a self-replenishing abundance of milk and honey. Continue on to Kitroplatia (“Citrus Square,” named in honor of the town’s once flourishing fruit trade) with its lovely shops and pebble beach. Swim here or at sandy Ammos; both beaches were awarded Blue Flag status this year. In fact, the pristine town beaches of Aghios Nikolaos are one of its leading attractions. © NIKOS KOKKAS


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01. Kitroplatia is the town’s most popular beach and has been awarded a Blue Flag. 02. Above Voulismeni Lake, a cave entrance was given an ornate façade by the late film director Nikos Koundouros. Even though there’s no church inside, it’s a popular spot among locals and visitors alike. 03. A modern sculpture, inspired by Amalthea’s Horn, on the town’s pier. 04. A view of the lake, from the top of one ot the town’s many public staircases. C R E T E 2 018







From ancient ruins to beautiful beaches and palm forests, this part of Crete is full of surprises. B Y E L E F T H E R I A A L AVA N O U

NORTH LEGENDARY ELOUNDA: At the beginning of the 20th century, Elounda was a simple village where locals fished and worked in the salt pans and the whetstone quarries. In 1948, the New Elounda Hotel (aka the Megaron) was established. In 1963, Disney’s “The Moon-Spinners” was filmed in the area. That same year, in what was a happy coincidence for the development of Elounda, the opening of Minos Beach – the first luxury hotel in Crete – in Aghios Nikolaos placed Lasithi firmly on the tourism map. In the early 1970s, it was Elounda’s turn to 180

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welcome its first luxury hotel, the legendary Elounda Beach. Other resorts followed, and within a decade, Elounda was transformed from a fishing village into a cosmopolitan destination – hosting all sorts of VIPs, from Saudi princes to Hollywood movie stars. Its development may have cost the village its tranquil air and a great part of its beauty, yet there is still a charm to the place, clearly visible in the picturesque Upper (Ano) Elounda quarter with its stone-paved streets, where you’ll see local women sitting outside their homes, greeting passers-by. SPINALONGA: One of Crete’s most deeply moving historical monuments, Spinalonga Island is increasingly becoming a focal point of cultural interest and creativity. In antiquity, Spinalonga helped protect Olous (now Elounda) in northwestern Mirabello Bay, from the open sea. (Olous, a sunken Dorian town at the bay’s southern end, prospered in the 4th/3rd centuries BC as a strategic maritime center.) Spinalonga’s massive existing castle, skillfully adapted to the landscape, was constructed by the Venetians (16th century). Later a haven for Christian refugees and Chainides (“fugitive rebels”), the island succumbed to Ottoman rule in 1715, afterwards becoming a thriving port, then an isolated




leper colony (1903-1957). Today, Spinalonga is a popular archaeological site with pending UNESCO World Heritage status that has drawn the interest of historians, authors, artists and politicians. Most recently, composer Nikos Xydakis and poet Dionysis Kapsalis collaborated to produce a powerful tribute to Spinalonga (“Apokopos or Spinalonga”), inspired by the 16th-century Veneto-Cretan literary tradition and by the island’s timeless story of struggle, pain, love and death. – JOHN LEONARD

CRETE’S EASTERNMOST TOWN: The small coastal town of Sitia, 70km from Aghios Nikolaos, has developed a remarkable level of self-sufficiency. It has both an airport and a seaport, while Aghios Nikolaos, the capital of the Regional Unit of Lasithi, has neither. In terms of architecture, it does not differ greatly from the rest of Crete’s contemporary urban centers: apartment blocks abound. Nevertheless, despite the somewhat unappealing first impression it may create, Sitia is pleasant and lively, with hospitable inhabitants who like to interact with one another and their foreign visitors. Just drop in at any of the raki-serving establishments on Eleftheriou Venizelou Street – such as the Oinodeion or Rakodikeion – and you’ll see for yourC R E T E 2 018




self. The city’s most beautiful monument is the Kazarma, a Venetian fortress so well-preserved you’d think it was built yesterday. The Archaeological Museum is also noteworthy, as it features the Palaikastro Kouros, a chryselephantine statue dating to the Late Bronze Age (both open Tue-Sun, 08:00-15:00).

tamarisk trees. On account of its prevailing winds, Kouremenos is a magnet for fans of windsurfing, kite-surfing and SUP (you can find out more about lessons and equipment rentals from Gone Surfing Crete,

CRETE’S OWN PALM BEACH: Up until the 1980s, Vai served as a haven for the counter-culture; since then, the area has changed considerably. Today, Vai stands as one of the most touristy spots in eastern Crete. It is the location of one of the largest natural palm forests in Europe (and consequently has been designated a protected area); the trees are of the species Phoenix theophrasti, commonly known as the Cretan date palms. This is a rare species endemic to the Aegean, which flourishes in wet, sandy soil, reaches a height of 15m and can possess more than one trunk. A large sandy beach spreads out in front of the palm forest. Here, you’ll find the Vai Restaurant, which has been certified by the Agronutritional Cooperation of the Region of Crete and awarded their Cretan Cuisine quality label; the restaurant serves fish and other seafood, local raki and organic wines from Toplou Monastery. Just 7km to the south of Vai lies Kouremenos, a 1.5km-long beach with fine sand and

A REMOTE GEM: Kato Zakros is way off the beaten track, but well worth the journey that takes you through the inspiring eternal landscape of easternmost Crete. At this archaeological site, you‘ll get a better understanding of the scope of Minoan influence as you explore a small, intricate palace/town complex (ca. 1900-1450 BC) and pick up on key trans-Cretan characteristics that connect this settlement with the Minoans’ larger socioeconomic network. The site’s own treasures include its architecture and rich artworks – among the latter are a bull’s head with golden horns; a gold-covered libation vessel (rhyton) depicting a mountaintop sanctuary; and luxurious vases of rock crystal and colorful veined marble, some with bold, upward-sweeping handles, all now in the Irakleio Archaeological Museum. The harbor and the presence of imported artifacts indicate thet Zakros was a gateway to the eastern Mediterranean. Inland lies the “Valley


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of the Dead” – Crete’s answer to the Grand Canyon (Open daily 08:00-20:00). – JOHN LEONARD

SOUTH IERAPETRA: The atmosphere in Greece’s southernmost town is different from the feeling you get in the island’s other urban centers, and the weather is, too. Here, the temperatures are higher so, when autumn swings around and you’re not sure about swimming in places like Aghios Nikolaos, you’ll still able to go for a dip in Ierapetra. The town is famous for its abundance of tomato-producing greenhouses – a cornerstone of the local economy, but its best-known attraction is the Kales Fortress (open Tue-Sun 08:0015:00), situated in the old port. This 13th-century Venetian stronghold – subsequently leveled by an earthquake and also damaged by raids – was restored by the Ottomans in the 17th century. A stroll through the lanes of the town will reveal the Old Town’s mosque and, next to it, the Turkish Fountain. Follow the locals heading for Stratigou Samouil Street or for pedestrianized Michail Kothri Street in the waterfront area and enjoy a tsikoudia with some meze, or even a bout of bar-hopping till the wee hours. Two of your most interesting options for drinks are Koubares and Dipla.







GREAT SWIMS: Though Ierapetra has beaches right by the town, it’s worth exploring other swimming spots (which are even prettier) a little further out, in the southern section of the Regional Unit of Lasithi. Head east to Megali Paralia, a tranquil, seemingly endless sandy beach with tamarisk trees near the village of Koutsounari. Aghia Fotia Beach, with its fine pebbles and sun loungers, is nice, too. If you can spare the time, head as far as Xerokambos, 70km from Ierapetra, on the eastern coast. The road is long and full of curves, but it’s worth it. The wild landscape is alive with the scent of thyme, and there are beaches for every taste – some with small pebbles, some with sand and even one with clay, like a natural spa. DAY-TRIPPING: For even more exotic swimming destinations, take the little boat that crosses over to Chrysi and Koufonisi, two enchanting islands in the Libyan Sea opposite Ierapetra and Makry Gialos, respectively. The more popular is Chrysi (or Gaidouronisi), with its sand dunes, cedars and fantastic waters. Formerly an informal camping destination, it now has beach umbrellas, sun loungers and food stands. The island’s best-known beach is Belegrina, to the north; there are, however, many other beaches to be explored, including Kataprosopo and Vagges to the east. Koufonisi (or Lefki) is a lower-key destination that does not attract large numbers of visitors. This island features sandy beaches, white rocks and low vegetation; an ancient theater dating to the 2nd century AD and the remnants of a settlement have been discovered here. Both islands are included in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas. (



WEST A PLACE OF WORSHIP: Finish your trip through Lasithi with a visit to the Byzantine church of Panaghia Kera (Open © CLAIRY MOUSTAFELLOU


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Tue-Sun, 08:00-15:00). This place of worship, erected in the 13th or 14th century, stands just a stone’s throw from the village of Kritsa and a relatively short distance – 8.5km – away from Aghios Nikolaos. The first thing you’ll notice is its rather austere façade, formed of three triangles; however, it is the murals in its interior that are of greatest importance. They were created during different periods and depict the Feast of Herod, the Massacre of the Innocents, the Last Supper, the Weighing of Souls and other religious scenes. After your visit here, take a walk through Kritsa or nearby Kroustas, two of the best-known villages in the area. TIME TRAVEL: The ruins of the city of Lato capture all the romance of the ancient history of Crete. In a saddle between two hills, once-mighty Lato looks down on Mirabello Bay and the town of Aghios Nikolaos, formerly Lato’s port. Founded in the 7th century BC, this was the birthplace of Nearchos, Alexander the Great’s admiral. The sea and maritime trade must have been vital to Lato, as it possessed little arable hinterland. On entering the fortified gate, with its three successive entrances, and scaling the steep, stepped street to the Agora, one begins an unforgettable experience. Most ruins here belong to 186

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the late Classical and Hellenistic eras. The main street, lined on one side with slope-hugging houses and on the other with shops or workshops, terminates at a small square in, around and near which one finds a deep cistern, a council house (Prytaneion) with a stepped entrance/assembly area, a stoa (colonnaded shelter), an exedra (statue niche), a temple and a theater (Open Tue-Sun 08:00-15:00). – JOHN LEONARD

PLATEAU GEMS: A trip to the Lasithi Oropedio (“plateau”) reveals a different side of Crete. It encompasses a series of villages (Tzermiado, Avrakontes, Aghios Georgios, Psyhro, Lagou and others), built in a circle around a large, fertile plain full of dilapidated windmills once used to irrigate the fields. In the main, the Oropedio’s residents make their living through livestock farming and agricultural production; it’s quite possible, as you walk around one of the villages, that you’ll come across a family or two seated on plastic chairs by the roadside trimming string beans for the local market. Most of these villages offer the same sights: two-story dwellings with wooden doors and faded window frames, shops selling traditional handwoven textiles, and kafeneia where the older men chat away, sipping tsikoudia.

A CAVE OF MYTH: The most popular sight to see in the Oropedio is the Dikteon Antro (or Dikteon Cave). According to one version of the myth, this is the place where Rhea sought refuge in order to give birth to Zeus, whom the she-goat Amalthea raised, with the help of the Kouretes (mythical male protectors). It is absolutely worth a visit (Open daily, 08:00-20:00), as is the complex made up of four small museums (with exhibits related to Cretan traditional homes, 20th-century neoclassical homes and other subjects), located in the village of Aghios Georgios (Open daily, 10:0016:00). COOL IN MANY WAYS: Before departing from Lasithi, be sure to pass by another plateau – that of Katharo, which is most easily reached from the village of Kritsa. This area is composed of pastureland with huge Kermes oak trees and a few small tavernas. Way off the tourist itinerary and cool even in summer, it’s an ideal place for hiking or cycling. Fossils of dwarf hippopotamuses dating back 550,000 years have been found in the area – a discovery that renders Katharo an important source of information about Paleolithic Crete.

gastronomy CR ETE


The very essence of what is now called the “Mediterranean Diet,” Cretan cuisine has been evolving for millennia and is widely renowned as the healthiest in the world. Plus, it’s delicious. Harvesting the olives, Crete, 2008. Glass painting by Antonios von Santorinios-Santorinakis (c) Bridgeman Images C R E T E 2 018

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THE ORIGINAL MEDITERRANEAN DIET It is said that Crete’s greatest treasure is to be found in its cuisine – and rightly so. But what are the secret ingredients of this world-famous culinary tradition? BY N I KOS P SI L A K I S


he Cretan dietary archetype is known today all across the world. Scores of medical studies have found it to be of significant benefit to human health, while dishes inspired by the island’s traditional cuisine are served in many cosmopolitan restaurants in big European and American cities. And yet, it seems that contemporary Cretans took some time to discover it for themselves. It was associated with the frugality of agricultural life, and even with the privations that accompanied Cretan society for many centuries, and were due, primarily, to the complex paths of history, to wars and to the consecutive conquests by foreign powers. Strange as it may seem, Cretan cuisine only began to be talked about seriously in the early 1990s – when the results of the medical studies started to become available and more widely known. Today’s 60-year-olds grew up eating plenty of greens and vegetables, a lot of pulses and very little meat (only every Sunday and on major holidays). This was how the island’s diet was described by the American researchers at the Rockefeller Foundation, who compiled a ground-breaking study on the island’s society and economy shortly after World War II. This was followed by the seminal Seven Countries Study, the brainchild of another American, Professor Ancel Keys. To a great extent, the Cretan diet owes its international fame to him. The island’s inhabitants had to rely on their land for almost the totality of their alimentary products, and their food did not come in great abundance – yet they lacked nothing. They were the healthiest of all the population groups in the study. Cardiovascular diseases were almost unknown, cancer was even more scarce; the island’s local population consisted in its majority of poor farmers, yet

01. Cretan herdsmen still practice the ancient art of cheesemaking.


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02. Hohli (snails) is a favorite food for locals. Our author has recorded 40 different recipes across the island.

they lived their days happily in a beautiful natural environment; they worked their fields, enjoyed the most delicious fruit, as well as one or two small glasses of wine with every meal. Several more recent studies, as well as the statistical data provided by international organizations, have confirmed Keys’ findings. It is worth, however, mentioning this study, which began in the early 1960s. Specialist researchers studied population groups from two Greek regions, Crete and Corfu, as well as from six other countries: Yugoslavia, Italy, Holland, Finland, Japan and the United States. The age of the people selected ranged from 40 to 60 years old. Approximately 30 years later, in 1990, all (or almost all) of the participants from the other groups had passed away. In Crete, more than half were still alive. In 2004, 154 people from the 620 in the original group were still living. This data comes from the Medical School of the University of Crete, which in 1990 took over the observation of these people. Newer data has not been published. Who knows, some could be perhaps centenarians, and still with us.

CRETAN OR MEDITERRANEAN DIET? Cretans sometimes get upset if someone today speaks to them about the “Mediterranean” diet. Academics, researchers and local community representatives believe that the term is too generic and does not accurately express the important distinctive features of their island. Only one term is acceptable here: the Cretan diet. They do, of course, acknowledge that every Mediterranean country has developed its own distinctive diet with several shared elements between them; the differences, however, are not negligible. A particular people’s diet is not only

03. More than 120 species of edible plants have been recorded in Crete. Wild greens with meat is another local classic.

04. Before foraging became a gastronomic trend, it was a way of life for Cretan women and men.


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the result of what is produced locally. It is also shaped by the socioeconomic conditions, the cultural idiosyncrasies, the microclimate, the historical background and, also, in a significant way, the religion. In Crete, those who follow the Orthodox way of life do not consume foods derived from animals for more than a third of the year! The term “Mediterranean diet” is perhaps a concept and a construct devised by scientists, yet it essentially describes the Cretan way of life in the 1960s. Many ask what the much-talked-about Cretan dietary prototype really is. The answer is simple: it is the diet of the island’s poorer farmers, of the people who lived mostly in the countryside until the late 1970s. At that point, they began to be influenced by the modern way of life, to consume more and more meat, to use processed foods and more sugar in their cooking.

THE SECRET OF CRETE One might well ask how such a notable culinary tradition could have evolved in a place where the diet of those who lived there depended almost exclusively on the local agricultural production. The underlying principle behind this entire culture, behind the techniques and the different ways of food preparation, is necessity: different flavors – that is to say different dishes – had to be created from the same ingredients. Wild greens at lunchtime and wild greens in the evening, and yet on the Cretan family table there was always a real wealth, a feast of aromas and tastes. In our book, Traditional Cretan Cooking, we record more than 40 ways of cooking snails; snails are to be found in great abundance on the island, and have always constituted a favorite food for locals. There are dozens of culinary processes for wild greens, for vegetables and pulses, devised to make the most of all the different aromas nature could offer. The famous Cretan wild green pies, for example, are prepared using multiple combinations of wild greens (self-seeded and non-cultivated) depending on the season and the local flora, so that the aromas can emerge



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Preparing the xinohondros, a traditional, slightly sour type of pasta made from fermented milk and cracked wheat grains.

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EXCLUSIVELY OLIVE OIL! If one of the great secrets of Cretan gastronomy lies in the harmony of the produce used, the simplicity of the finest dishes and the ingenuity of the local people, the other great secret goes by the name of virgin olive oil: no other cooking fat is used in the traditional diet of the Cretans. Even their desserts are most often

prepared with olive oil, and very rarely with butter. What’s more, the entire island is effectively a vast olive grove, with 30-40 million trees. According to official international statistical data, each Cretan consumes more than 35 liters of olive oil annually – more than any other population group. In Italy and Spain, the predominant olive oil-producing countries of the Mediterranean, the average is just 10.5 liters! For visitors today, the exploration of the island’s local cuisine is an additional journey of discovery and a significant culinary experience. Unfortunately, it is not always readily available, and one needs to search in order to discover the island’s authentic flavors. There are certified restaurants that make a dedicated effort, yet even these are not enough. In most cases, the dishes prepared only draw their inspiration from traditional cooking. Thankfully, the drive to make the best use of the local gastronomy has been making major strides over the past few years. Several small hotels, small tavernas, restaurants and even cafés have become leading examples for others to follow. An important role is also played by a number of local cultural associations, which since the mid-1990s have been organizing yearly festivals, mostly in the summer, in some of the villages. At these festivals, the women of each village cook together and offer tastings of the local dishes. The quantities, however, are far too low to satisfy the ever-increasing demand.

IN CONCLUSION… There is a saying among neighboring lands: if you possess a fine field, make sure to keep both cows and… Cretans at bay. I feel that it expresses well the philosophy that evolved on the island regarding dietary habits. The experience gained over many centuries led to an interesting culinary tradition that made the most of the resources of the land. Because, when all is said and done, the traditional diet of the Cretans is their true wealth – material and immaterial. Material since it has to do with food; immaterial since it carries the weight of a long historical trajectory, the experiences of the human journey.



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naturally. If one were to ask a local woman how many different types of wild greens she needs to make a pie, she would probably laugh. As many as nature can provide. Yet, not all will do. Those that have a powerful scent will be used in moderation, and those that have a bitter taste will never be used in a pie, where sweet, mild-tasting wild greens dominate; it is from these that the harmony of a simple, yet ever so important and prized dish will emerge. And just so there may be no misunderstanding: bitter tasting wild greens are highly sought after in Crete – but for different dishes. Wild greens constitute perhaps the greatest capital of Cretan cuisine. No one knows exactly how many different species of plants are used for human consumption. More than 120 have been identified and counted. And they grow everywhere, from the coastal zones to the higher mountain regions. One of the great advantages of Cretan cuisine is its simplicity, the purity of its flavors. Spices and aromatics are used very sparingly, heavy milk creams almost never, so that each ingredient can maintain its distinctiveness. The most common ways of preparing meat and fish on the island offer a prime example of how to make the best use of natural resources. They are often combined with wild greens or pulses. Even the traditional Easter dish of the Cretans used to be lamb or kid goat together with artichokes, or sometimes with lettuce, with chicory or other spring greens. It must, however, be noted that beef is very rarely used. In Crete, they mainly use ovine and caprine animals (which still graze freely on the island’s mountains), poultry, rabbits and pork (the latter mainly at Christmas).



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Of all the crops that are part of the great agrarian tradition of this island, the most important by far is the amazing olive, thanks to the priceless oil it produces. BY L I SA R A DI NOVSK Y


t might seem strange t o d a y, ” G e o r g i o s Glentousakis admits as he explains that he has been an olive farmer since 1949, when he was 12. He started by helping his family harvest the ripe black olives, beating the branches with sticks to make the fruit fall onto the nets below. Then, he helped bring what they’d gathered up to an old four-stone mill, powered by the family horse, where the olives were crushed. At the village press, he watched as fresh streams of oil were squeezed out of the layers of olive paste spread over goat hair mats. As a teenager, Glentousakis borrowed a magnifying glass from an agronomist and taught himself how to monitor the life cycle of olive flies in order to determine when best to take action against the pest. The old-

er farmers followed his lead. Over the decades, as his grandfather and father planted more olive trees and Glentousakis transformed vineyards into olive groves, he was witness to a transformation in the Cretan olive oil world. In his lifetime, Glentousakis has seen a progression from the less effective old ways of the past to the cleanliness and efficiency of the bright, stainless-steel machinery he appreciates at modern mills like that of Terra Creta, in the northwest of the island. Today, he’s the oldest of a team of farmers working with Terra Creta to learn how to better protect crops, prune trees, transport olives, save time and resources, and achieve higher yields and better quality extra-virgin olive oil. Of course, the Greek olive oil tradition extends back much farther than

Harvesting olives using long sticks, a technique still seen today. Attic black-figure amphora, 520 BC (British Museum). C R E T E 2 018




Glentousakis’ own memories. For thousands of years, the silvery-green leaves of olive trees have stretched across valleys and hills and reached up into the mountains. Throughout recorded history, olive oil has been crucial to the Cretan diet and economy, and central to its art, literature, traditions and religion. AN AGE-OLD TRADITION Food traces from a bowl found in Gerani Cave in Rethymno show that Cretans were using olive oil as early as 4500 BC, starting with oil from wild olive trees. Systematic olive tree cultivation seems to have begun around the 3rd millennium BC, in the early Minoan period. Paul Faure has argued that Cretans were the first in the world to cultivate olive trees. Anaya Sarpaki and Nikos Michelakis contend that the Minoans also created the earliest written records and artworks about olive trees and olive oil in the world, such as the tablets, frescoes, vases, amphorae and gold olive-leaf jewelry on view in archaeological museums on Crete and 196

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elsewhere. The island’s mild climate and dry, sunny summers enabled continuous olive cultivation over the centuries. Olive oil’s growing importance, starting around 2000 BC, has been revealed by numerous archaeological finds, including tools, lamps, seeds, olive groves, olive oil mills, art works and ideograms on clay tablets. Olive oil was consumed as a food, used as medicine, preservative, fuel for lamps, body rub, lubricant and perfume, as well as in witchcraft rituals, religious ceremonies and the care of the dead. Olive oil exports were well-organized when Crete was under Venetian rule in the 17th century, and olive oil was particularly crucial to the Cretan diet during the difficult years of Ottoman rule (17th to 19th centuries). By the 19th century, with the development of the commercial soap industry, olive oil production again became central to the Cretan economy. Today, monumental olive trees testify to the lasting importance of this liquid gold in Crete. Cretans claim to have two

Giant nets are spread beneath the olive trees to catch the fruit knocked off the branches during the harvest.

of the oldest olive trees in the world: the sculpture-like Olive Tree of Vouves in western Crete (probably 2,000 to 3,000 years old) and the ancient Olive Tree of Kavousi in Lasithi, eastern Crete, near the archaeological site of Azoria (believed to be more than 3,000 years old). The internal cavity of the olive tree of Grambela near Kandanos made its own contribution to history as a hiding space for Christians during Ottoman rule and for islanders fleeing German troops during World War II – a period during which, some say, olive oil saved lives by staving off starvation. NATURAL ENERGY BOOSTER Proponents of olive oil insist it does far more than alleviate hunger. “Olive oil is the best for people,” Glentousakis says,



and this energetic, white-haired octogenarian appears to be living proof of the claim. Calling for a glass of olive oil as we talked, he explains that he eats rusks with olive oil, honey and graviera cheese every morning, and this gives him the strength to work in the olive groves all day. His doctor, he says, told him this olive oil-rich diet is why he can dance, sing and carry on like a much younger man. Many recent scientific studies have provided evidence that a diet rich in olive oil provides wide-ranging health benefits – especially extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), the tastiest and healthiest grade, which Cretans estimate comprises about 90 percent of the olive oil produced on the island. Emmanouil Karpadakis, export manager at Terra Creta, believes “the olive oil culture of the island is stronger than in any other producing area in the world,” which he considers “obvious, since EVOO consumption is the highest in the world, and EVOO uses are far more advanced and are part of our everyday

life.” Estimates of Cretans’ current annual use of olive oil range from 22 to 34 kilograms per person. Elidia Olive Oil’s Dimitris Chondrakis calls this liquid gold the “backbone of the rural economy in our region and the most important ingredient in Cretan cuisine.” He likens it to salt and pepper as “it is found in any dish, regardless of whether it is fried, cooked or baked.” THE PRODUCTION Where does all this olive oil come from? It is believed that 55 to 65 percent of the cultivated land on Crete is given over to olive groves, which contain approximately 30 million trees, so that the groves cover one-fifth to one-quarter of the island. The small, hardy Koroneiki olive, which yields a high quality, well-balanced, fruity oil, is the most common variety for oil. Tsounati olives are also traditionally popular for oil in Crete, especially at higher altitudes, since they can withstand lower temperatures. In some parts of the island, Chondrolia (or

The sculptural nature of Crete’s ancient olive trees make them eminently photogenic.

Throumbolia) olives are grown for both oil and table olives. Proud of their olives whichever variety they grow, Cretan olive oil producers like Eftihis Androulakis show great respect for nature, and it is this respect, together with tradition and the rugged landscape in many olive-growing areas, which prevents intensive cultivation. Typically small-scale family farmers, most Cretan olive growers use hand-held mechanized harvesters to collect olives. This labor-intensive method is kinder to the environment than highly mechanized harvesting. Androulakis must also climb a mountain to reach his older trees, then clamber up into them to pick the unripe olives he uses in his Pamako EVOO brand. While most Cretan olive mills are busiC R E T E 2 018





Many Cretan specialties, including dakos (pictured here), are incomplete without the liberal application of olive oil.

Crete produces a wide variety of top-quality extra virgin olive oils.

est in November and December, working with olives brought to them in jute bags or in plastic crates packed into pickup trucks, Androulakis has convinced one mill owner to open earlier and work with him on dozens of experiments exploring innovative oil extraction techniques. For example, he has taken the unusual steps of inventing machines he needs, refrigerating olives before extracting their oil, and using the inert gas argon during oil production as well as during storage. An olive oil lover who has attended seminars and done his own research, too, Androulakis is clearly passionate about his work, but many other Cretan olive oil producers are also embracing the latest scientific developments that can improve

their product. The result is some of the world’s healthiest, tastiest extra-virgin olive oil, according to international olive oil competitions around the globe. These conscientious producers’ efforts make a difference. According to the Association of Cretan Olive Municipalities, the average annual olive oil production in Crete is approximately 80,000 metric tons. As Alkiviadis Kalabokis, president of the Exporters’ Association of Crete, confirms, “Olive oil and its exports have a very important role in Crete’s economy.” In 2016, olive oil exports brought Crete €190 million, amounting to 41.5 percent of Cretan export income and 66 percent of its food and drink export income.



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WHAT LIES AHEAD However, three-quarters of Crete’s oil export is in bulk, mostly to Italy where it is mixed with other olive oils and bottled. Major players in the Cretan olive oil market have called for more standardization before export, so that consumers worldwide can appreciate the unique flavor and high quality of the island’s olive oil, and Cretans can benefit from the added value of packaged olive oil. Gradually, this call is being heeded, as educated producers like Androulakis help give award-winning, bottled and branded Cretan EVOOs a more prominent place on the world’s stage. As Kalabokis says, “Crete is distinguished for two sectors; tourism and agri-food.” More and more, the two are being linked in agritourism and in culinary tourism ventures. Impressive monumental olive trees have been mapped, and olive oil museums displaying old tools, machines, containers and photos have opened. Olive mills offer tours, seminars and tastings, restaurants serve Cretan specialties made with local extra virgin olive oil, and shops stock Cretan EVOOs for tourists to take home. On top of that, archaeological finds have revealed secrets from Crete’s ancient olive oil heritage. Increasingly, visitors are discovering that the history of olive oil and the unique stories of its producers are a vital part of the Cretan experience.

Biolea’s small traditional olive oil production center is set in a stunning location.




offers award-winning olive oil experience tours and tasting seminars at its modern, innovative mill in Kamisiana, near Tavronitis ( BIOLEA provides free tours and organic olive oil tasting sessions at its hydraulic olive press and renovated traditional stone mill in Astrikas, south of Kolympari (

• ANOSKELI combines a restored village olive mill with a boutique winery, so visitors

can arrange for double tours and wine and olive oil tastings in Anoskeli, south of Kolympari ( Attracting thousands of visitors each year, the beautifully sculptural ancient olive tree of ANO VOUVES, south of Kolympari, stands between an interesting little olive oil museum and a café. Among hills full of olive groves near Fournes in the foothills of the Lefka Mountains, the BOTANICAL •


striking variety of local and

exotic plants and organic fruit trees. Their own fruit, vegetables, olive oil and herbs are creatively used with other local products at their deservedly popular hilltop restaurant ( The MONASTERY OF AGHIOS GEORGIOS in

The VASSILAKIS ESTATE in Neapoli, Lasithi, offers free, year-round olive mill and bottling plant tours and tastings, explaining the transformation of the original 1865 family olive press into a modern factory (

Karydi, south of Vamos, is an intriguing little complex, especially for the now roofless 12-arched, 19th-century olive oil factory with remains of mills and millstones in varied stages of picturesque dilapidation.

The monumental olive tree of KAVOUSI is located northeast of Ierapetra in Lasithi, near the archaeological site of Azoria. •

Visiting hours for all the establishments listed above can be checked online. More about olive oil, agritourism and culinary tourism in Crete is available on the Greek Liquid Gold: Authentic Extra Virgin Olive Oil website ( 200

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The new generation: Owners and winemakers of some of the most innovative wineries of Crete, enjoying the fruits of their labor.


f there’s one place in Greece that has truly managed to reverse its own fortunes when it comes to wine, it is undoubtedly Crete. A new generation of winemakers with excellent skills and knowledge is taking full advantage of the island’s rich wine tradition, tackling its reputation for low-quality and rewriting its wine history. The exceptional terroir of the uplands and the mountainous areas is being recognized, and the potential of the island’s autochthonous grape varieties is being maximized. Both Greek and international wine experts are already talking enthusiastically about a new success story, and the best is still to come! More than just the largest island of Greece, Crete is like a world of its own, with an exceedingly ancient history, incredible geographical diversity, a unique food culture and distinct viticultural traditions. The five million visitors who came in 2017 and who, for the most part, became fans for life know that the island maintains a cultural identity, reflected in its customs and in the people who keep them, that’s clearly different from the rest of Greece. Crete’s deeply rooted wine history goes back thousands of years. There are indications that wine was part of everyday life in Minoan culture. Archaeological excavations in a Minoan villa in Vathypetro, Irakleio, have brought to light the most ancient carved wine press ever found, dating to approximately 1500 BC. Nowadays, Crete is one of most dynamic wine regions of Greece, not only in terms of quantity – the island’s 58 active wineries produce more than a tenth of the country’s total domestic output – but also as regards quality, which has been greatly improved over the last decade. There are a few reasons behind this impressive upswing. A main factor is the work of the new generation of Cretan winemakers, who are building on the remarkable efforts of their predecessors and on their own know-how to take the quality of the wine they produce a step further. Credit must also go to the hidden potential of the native grape varieties, as well as to the island’s special topography and climate. As expected in such a warm climate in the southern part of Europe, the vineyards with the best terroirs are located at relatively high elevations, mainly between 400 to 600 meters, on the slopes of the mountains that rise up from the plains throughout the island: Lefka Ori to the west, the Lasithiotika


B Y Y I A N N I S K A R A K A S I S , M W * / P H O T O S : E F F I E PA ROU T S A

Winemakers with skill, passion and vision are revitalizing the ancient wine tradition of Crete and winning worldwide praise for local varieties. The best is yet to come. C R E T E 2 018





range to the east, and legendary Mt Ida in between. Up there, the mild temperatures and the large fluctuations between day and night temperatures enable the production of more structured wines with pure, complex flavor profiles and greater retention of natural acidity. Despite its great diversity, the soil in most viticultural areas is made up of clay and limestone, the latter being associated with superior quality in white wines because it imposes a gentle water stress on the plants. The naturally high-yield Vilana variety, which covers a fifth of the total area planted with vineyards, is undisputedly the queen of the whites. When cultivated at higher elevations and with lower yields, it expresses all its virtues, producing fruity wines with a balanced structure and the complex taste of ripe fruit and herbs. Some winemakers, seeking a more refined product, have adopted the single vineyard approach. The production of creamy Vidiano, the rising star of Cretan grape varieties (with a distinctive flavor and subtle aroma reminiscent of Viognier), is only half that of Vilana. The wine producers Miliarakis, Lyrarakis, Idaia, Douloufakis, Karavitakis and Diamantakis, among others, all produce sound examples of this grape. Marked by depth of fruit, freshness and clear floral and apricot aromas, its character is winning over ever more wine lovers. Indeed, 204

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many producers who see the potential in this variety are investing in it outside Crete as well. Assyrtiko also seems to be making a dynamic appearance on the island, with the wineries Lyrarakis, Manousakis, Oikonomou, and Paterianakis achieving exciting results. The array of white grapes is completed by the aromatic Spinas Muscat, a clone of the small white Muscat grape, the equally aromatic Malvasia Candia and, in limited plantings, the varieties Dafni and Plyto. Special mention must be made of Dafni’s unmistakable aromatic profile of laurel and fennel, expressive of great individuality and character. Moving on to darker wine varieties, which make up the majority of the grapes grown in Cretan vineyards, the late-ripening Mandilaria and the Kotsifali, both high-yielding, are dominant. They produce wines of a somewhat more rustic character and often appear together in a blend, each one compensating for the weaknesses of the other. The more refined (and paler in color) Liatiko yields both dry and sweet wines. The dry wine, with its aromatic expression, moderate tannins and acidity, appears to have many of the qualities of a Pinot Noir. Excellent examples with aging potential are produced by Nikos Douloufakis in Dafnes, and by Idaia Winery and Domaine Econ-


01. The cellar at the Lyrarakis Winery in Alagni, awarded a Certificate of Excellence by Tripadvisor. 02. Maria Tamiolaki and Dimitris Mansolas, of Rhous Winery. 03. Full of apricot and peach aromas, round and rich in the mouth, Vidiano is a Cretan gem that is fascinating in all its manifestations.



The Boutari Fantaxometoho Estate, near the archaeological site of Knossos, whose name means “Field of Ghosts” in Greek – in order to scare off marauding pirates the former owner had spread a rumor that the place was haunted. C R E T E 2 018






01. Mediterra Winery vineyards; Apellation of Origin Peza, near Irakleio. | 02. Nikos Douloufakis | 03. The Lyrarakis Winery tasting experience can easily turn into a Cretan feast. | 04. Bottling at the Douloufakis Winery.

omou in Sitia, the last of which has already found a cult following in premium markets, including the US in particular. Of the international varieties, those which have adapted best are mainly the Rhone varieties; Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Roussanne. Exceptional wines from these varieties are produced by the Manousakis Winery as well as by Rhous Winery – its Syrah is outstanding – while Douloufakis’ Aspros Lagos is the leading Cretan Cabernet Sauvignon. The island’s protected designation of origin (PDO) areas are concentrated mainly in the Regional Unit of Irakleio with Archanes, Peza and Dafnes (the most 206

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distinguished of all PDOs on the island) being the most popular. The Regional Unit of Lasithi also has some PDO areas, including Sitia. Recently, sweet Malvasia has also earned PDO status. The huge jump in quality over the past two decades is, indeed, impressive. White wines lead the way, demonstrating what Cretan vineyards can achieve. The reds are following behind, but with clearly a lot of room for improvement. It is, of course, a difficult path when you consider that, in Crete, most red wine is produced in bulk and is a weak-colored, tired and oxidized product. It’s usually the village wine, served enthusiastically at local celebrations and in tavernas and homes. What’s worse is that it’s consumed enthusiastically as well. In the last decade, Cretan wine has charted its own course, choosing to emphasize both quality and its indigenous varieties. The establishment of the Wines

of Crete network and the activities it has carried out have played an important role in this rapid development. Bringing the island’s leading producers together, the network has managed to highlight the virtues of Cretan wines, collectively marketing them in Greece and beyond. At the same time, tourism is another important factor contributing to this success. The millions of visitors to the island every year are a significant boost to the local economy and to the total domestic consumption. What’s more, they often serve as promoters for the wines in their home markets, recommending them to friends and asking for them at wine merchants.


Yiannis Karakasis is a consultant, educator and wine writer who regularly promotes Greek wine abroad. His personal blog is


VISITING THE SOURCE One of the most active wine networks in Greece, Wines of Crete (winesofcrete. gr) was established in 2006, uniting more than 20 wineries all over the island. The goal is the effective promotion of Cretan wine, not only domestically but to international markets as well.

DOULOUFAKIS A third-generation vintner, Nikos Douloufakis produces wines from native Cretan and international grape varieties. Try the Vidiano in the popular Aspros Lagos (White Hare) line and the charming Femina, made from Malvasia di Candia Aromatica. Tastings are held in an elegant space and are coordinated by the estate’s oenologist, while the winemaker himself is also often present.

LYRARAKIS With the Lasithi mountains as a backdrop, this estate treats its visitors to wines made from popular Cretan varieties as well as some from rarer ones, among them a few revived by the Lyrarakis family itself. Try agourida, a traditional Cretan verjuice. The tasting experience here is warm and friendly, and may include some delicious Cretan snacks if you order in advance.

Tel. (+30) 6949.198.350, Tastings cost €3-5, with or without snacks.

INFO Dafnes, Irakleio, Tel. (+30)

INFO Alagni, Irakleio, Tel. (+30)

KARAVITAKIS Visitors here can taste Romeiko, the traditional red variety of Hania, in a wonderful outdoor setting. The chapel of Aghios Tryfonas on the estate is a house of worship dedicated to the patron saint of vine growers.

DOURAKIS At this beautiful winery, tours start at a 500-year old pressing basin and take in the production facility and an exhibition space with old tools. Visitors and try sun-dried wine from the red Romeiko variety, or the white Malvasia.

INFO Pontikiana, Hania, Tel.

INFO Alikambos, Hania, Tel. (+30)

STRATARIDAKIS BROS Visitors here are treated to a selection of the wines produced by the amiable Strataridakis brothers at Europe’s southernmost winery. Among the options is the excellent Moschato Spinas; this is the wine that put this winery on the map. Visitors can try two or three wines and local meze at no charge.

IDAIA Right at the center of one of Crete’s largest wine-producing zones, in the PDO Dafnes region, Idaia presents some excellent wines. Its stars, however, are the single-grape Vilana, the Vidiano and the spicy dessert wine made with Liatiko. The couple that runs the winery – both trained oenologists – are deeply knowledgeable and passionate about what they do.

DIAMANTAKIS Located southwest of the city of Irakleio at an elevation of 450 meters, this friendly and welcoming facility produces distinguished wines from local and international varieties. The best selections are the 100 percent Vidiano and the two Diamantopetra wines, the blend of Vidiano and Assyrtiko, and the full-bodied and complex Syrah and Mandilaria blend. INFO Kato Asites, Irakleio,

(+30) 2824.023.381, (+30) 697.432.3852, karavitakiswines. com. Open Apr-Oct. Tours and tastings of six wines with a cold platter €7 per person. Customized packages also on offer.


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2825.051.761, Prices for tours and wine tastings range from €7 to €60 per person. (by appointment).

2810.792.017, Visits by appointment; the €5 price includes local delicacies.

INFO Aghii Apostoloi, Ano

Kastelliana, Irakleio, Tel. (+30) 28910.713.40, Visits by appointment only.

2810.284.614, Open Apr-Oct and by appointment the rest of the year. Tastings €8-20. Private Premium Cellar Experience €60.

INFO Venerato, Irakleio, Tel. (+30)2810.792.156, Tastings €5.



RHOUS French-taught oenologists Maria Tamiolaki and Dimitris Mansolas draw on their knowledge of viniculture, the particular terroir of the area and the local varieties to produce stylish wines. Erudite and always eager to share their knowledge with visitors, they and offer a pleasant tasting session, which includes their stellar Skipper, a white made from Vidiano and Plyto grapes. INFO Houdetsi, Irakleio, Tel.

SILVA DASKALAKI The Daskalaki family’s small winery, located right below their paternal homestead, produces organic wines from grapes grown on its own vineyard. You will be shown around the pristine facilities and talk them through the wines served at the tasting table; these include the white Enstikto, made with Vidiano and Chardonnay, or older vintages of sweet red Emilia from 100 percent Liatiko.

SCALANI HILLS BOUTARI A visit to this state-of-the-art winery is like a trip through Crete’s wine history. Perks include the opportunity to sample limited-production wines such as the Iouliatiko, made from the native red Liatiko variety which dates back to ancient times. You can also stay at the Scalani Hills Residences, a member of the Aria Hotels group, housed in the fully renovated onetime rectory on the estate’s property. The archaeological site of Knossos is just 4km away.

ZACHARIOUDAKIS Located in a wonderful spot on the 500-m. summit of Orthi Petra Hill, north of the archaeological site of Ancient Gortyn, this winery is an architecturally and technologically modern facility, built right in the middle of lush vineyards planted with Greek and international varieties on a succession of terraces. The view here is amazing, and the tasting session is a wonderful experience, particularly at sunset.

(+30) 2810.742.083, rhouswinery. gr. Visits by appointment only. Tastings €7-10.

INFO Siva (17th km Iraklio-Moires Road), Tel. (+30) 2810.792.021, Tours and wine tasting from €3; there is an extra charge for local delicacies.

INFO Skalani, Irakleio, Tel. (+30)

INFO Plouti, Irakleio, Tel.

MANOUSAKIS One of the oldest wineries in Hania, Manousakis produces impressive wines from 13 different varieties, many of them aged. Popular selections include the Syrah and the Mourvèdre; there are two tasting packages and you can also enjoy a meal at extra cost.

PATERIANAKIS The emphasis here is on local grapes, resulting in wines such as the excellent Moschato Spinas, an extremely fragrant white, and their equally fascinating take on Assyrtiko. Tours are often conducted by one of the owners; tastings take place in an elegant hall or outside with a view over the entire Pezon PDO zone.

MINOS-MILIARAKIS This family-owned winery with a history spanning four generations blends local and international varieties to produce excellent wines such as the “Dyo Faraggia.” The winery tour includes a short film on the history of the company, and there’s a great tasting experience at Vineyard House just 10 minutes away.

KLADOS WINERY Manolis Klados and his son Stelios produce wines from four Cretan and three French grape varieties at their boutique winery 23km outside Rethymno. An additional reason to book a tour is their experimental sun-dried Liasto wine made from the Liatiko variety.

INFO Melesses, Irakleio, Tel.

INFO Peza, Irakleio,Tel.

National Road, Panormos, Tel. (+30) 28340.515.89 and (+30) 6973.654.840, Tastings €3-5.

INFO Vatolakkos, Hania, Tel. (+30) 2821.078.787, manousakiswinery. com. Open by appointment. The “Terroir tasting” (5 wines) costs €8 and the “Premium tasting” (7 wines) €15.

(+30) 2810.226.674 and (+30) 6977.681.727, Tasting €7.50; full meal prices vary.

2810.731.899 and 2810.731.617,, Open AprOct. Tours and tastings from €6.

(+30) 2810.741.213 and (+30) 6944.577.488, Tastings €3-15.

(+30) 6972.992.488. Open by appointment Apr-Oct. Tastings from €5-60.

INFO Rethymnon-Irakleio

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The Cretan Food Basket Instead of picking up the usual souvenirs, keep some room in your luggage for the finest products from the island’s countryside. BY NENA DIM ITR IOU


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CHEESES Without a doubt, you‘ll find the tastiest cheeses in the mitata (shepherd’s huts), not only in Rethymno (the region that lays claim to some of the finest cheeses on Crete) but throughout the island. Left to mature in the cool dry-stone interior of the huts, these simple creations are first formed in a cauldron. Usually unpasteurized, they have the delicate fragrance of fresh milk. Cheeses in this category include tyrozouli and kefalotyri. Unfortunately,

their production is limited, so to find them you’ll have to go to the source, that is, up to the mountain huts. Most shepherds will be willing to provide you with some, and may even offer you a shot of fiery raki by way of a welcome. While on Crete, there are several fresh cheeses worth tracking down.Too delicate to travel, these aren’t exported; they include xinomyzithra (the sour variety), glykia myzithra (the fresh, or sweet variety) and xygalo Sitias. You should also make room in your lug-

gage for some graviera , generally considered to be the queen of Cretan cheeses. This can be sweet or peppery, depending on how long it has been aged. If you’re in Hania, Flemetakis in the covered market offers a wide selection of long-aged graviera from Mylopotamos and the Amari Valley. We recommend graviera from the dairy Gasparakis in Koumi, Rethymno (Tel. (+30) 28310.410.72); goat cheeses from the Tyrokomio dairy in Karines, Rethymno (Tel. (+30) 28320.223.60);

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or the dry anthotyro whey cheese of the Vogiatzidakis dairy in Roustika, Rethymno (Tel. (+30) 28310.912.09). You can purchase all these cheeses directly from the dairies or look for them in grocery stores throughout the region.

BREAD RUSKS The best-known Cretan paximadi (bread rusk) is called a dakos and is made with barley. In many villages, traditionalists still make this double-baked bread with a combination of barley and wheat flour from a recipe they keep secret, because they believe that if they reveal it, subsequent attempts to make it will end in failure. You’ll find lots of paximadia in the regions of Irakleio and Lasithi. The most delicious we’ve tasted are in the village of Kroustas in Lasithi, at the Kroustas Taverna. For a more wheaty flavor, try paximadia from the bakery Mystraki in the village of Atsipopoulo, Rethymno. Kneaded by hand and formed into a ring shape with a hole in the middle, then baked in a wood-fired oven, these paximadia are as fluffy and tasty as freshly made bread. You’ll find them at grocery stores and restaurants all over the island. Ask for them by name, or visit the bakery itself, just 6km from Rethymno. In recent years, paximadia made with carob flour have become all the rage. This particular variety has an earthy flavor that many liken to cocoa. OLIVE OIL Now we come to the secret behind the exquisite cuisine of Crete – olive oil. The main olive variety is the Koroneiki, although some producers also make oil from Tsounati olives, which are wonderfully flavorful but have a low yield per

tree. There are dozens of brands of bottled olive oil that have won awards in international competitions. It’s definitely worth looking out for the olive oil from the Vassilakis Estate (Tel. (+30) 28410.336.53) in Mirabello, Lasithi. The estate also sells delicious Mouratolia olives, an outstanding product prepared in small batches and sold in little glass jars, soaked in a special brine of herbs, local vinegar and sea salt. At Pamako (Tel. (+30) 28210.514.21), in Lentariana outside Hania, you’ll find organic, ultra-premium, extra virgin olive oil that’s a delight for the taste buds and that, thanks to its high phenolic content (higher than the EU threshold for health products), can be sold abroad as a food supplement.

HONEY Foraging bees collect nectar from herbs and other plants considered by many Cretans to have medicinal properties, such as thyme, ironwort (Cretan mountain tea), sage, oregano, heather and white thyme, as well as from acacia and pine trees and strawberry plants. Ask about local small-scale producers in village coffee shops and taste the product before buying. You’ll also see plenty of honey in labeled jars or tins; look out for Cretan Zelkova honey from the Irakleio-based producer Marousis (available at the grocery store Alati tis Gis, 4 Giannitson, Irakleio), or the pine and thyme honey of the Meligyris apiary at Arkalochori, Irakleio (Tel. (+30) 28910.290.66). XEROTIGANA These fried pastry strips, soaked in honey and sprinkled with nuts, are served at weddings and other celebrations. You’ll find them at bakeries and



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pastry shops. If you’re in Siteia or Irakleio, try these sweet treats at Aretousa (23 Eleftheriou Venizelou and 19 Kosmon, respectively).

HERBS AND PLANTS The Cretan mountains are blessed with an abundance of herbs and aromatic plants. Ironwort, dittany, sage and pennyroyal have long been identified as natural remedies, with antioxidant, antiseptic and other beneficial properties. They can be used either to create fragrant infusions or as ingredients in numerous recipes. Go for the packaged varieties, since the herbs and plants come from certified producers who, by cultivating them, are helping to preserve the island’s biodiversity. Many people on Crete, especially the elderly, know how to identify and collect them in the wild. HOMEMADE DELICACIES Baby artichokes and tassel hyacinth bulbs are pickled in a mixture of olive oil, salt, and vinegar or water and stored in glass jars. These slightly bitter, salty or acidic delicacies – often hard to find – are widely considered to be the best meze to serve with raki. In the small villages of the island, ask where you might find some; your best bet is probably the women sitting and chatting outside their homes. RAKI/TSIKOUDIA Poured cold into tiny glasses, it is served as a welcome drink, raised to mark an agreement, clinked at celebrations, and refilled before leaving. Served alongside bread rusks and cheese, it’s an aperitif, and with watermelon, a perfect digestif. The locals consider it a remedy against aches and disease – pretty much anything can be cured with tsikoudia – and when distillation takes place in October or November, professional distillers and amateurs throw days-long celebrations. To bring raki home, buy it bottled from licensed producers. We especially recommend the tsikoudia from Toplou Monastery in Lasithi, Vassilakis Estate in Mirabello, Kedria distillery in Hania and Manousakis winery (made with the Roussanne grape variety), also in Hania.













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tata ata

xygalo xygalo


skordoulaki skordoulaki xynohondros


tyroz tyroz lade

paximadi or sheep’s milk and is low in fat. Xygalo Sitias enjoys PDO status.


ANTHI HOHLI anthoi Zucchini flowers stuffed with Snails arepaximadi a popular ingredient kochlioi rice anthoi and herbs, either cooked in Cretan cuisine. They are paximadi with lemon juice in a pot or tyrozoulioften cooked in a frying pan roasted in the oven. with rosemary and vinegar, a recipe known as boubouristi, xygalo but they are also added to red-sauce vegetable dishes. One skordoulaki very popular dish is bulgur with snails and potatoes.



ANTIKRISTO Lamb or goat cooked “facing the fire.” This technique was used by shepherds who, in the past, did not have grills or pots up in the mountains where they anthoi spent much of their time. They would instead cut the animal into four parts (goulidia), season the meat with plenty xygalo of salt, pierce it with wooden skewers and place the parts around the fire, supported by a rudimentary frame. Nowadays, the meat is cut and roasted the same way, the only difference being that metal supports are used for the cooking process.

paximadi EFTAZIMA These delicious rusks or breads are made using ground chickpeas as a starter dough. Each household creates their own variation and does not skordoulaki reveal the recipe, on account of the superstitious belief that doing so would mean the dough would never rise again. The rusks are only made on certain days, usually religious feasts or during particular lunar phases.


kapriko skordoulaki





ASKORDOULAKI skordoulaki KAPRIKO kapriko The scarce bulbs of the Slow-roasted pork, generally wild blue tassel hyacinth are served at local festivals. The consideredskordoulaki a delicacy, but must hours-long cooking process undergo a certain process to results in a crispy, crunchy outer remove their natural bitterness: crust and very tender, melt-inafter being scored, they are the-mouth meat. left to soak in water for many anthoi paximadi mitata ladera days, then stored in glass jars in vinegar or brine. It’s the ideal accompaniment to raki paximadi (aka tsikoudia) and a favorite ladera ingredient in roast lamb. 214

ladera ladera

LADERA Loosely translated as “[olive] oil-based,” some of the bestkapriko known dishes of Greek cuisine are cooked this way. The recipe usually calls for vegetables cooked with onions, garlic, grated tomato, herbs and copious amounts of olive oil. Whether cooked in the oven or a pot, these basic ingredients create a truly delicious red sauce. Dishes in this category include yemista (stuffed vegetables), imam (stuffed eggplant) and green beans.



antikristo SKIOUFIKTA Handmade tubular pasta, usually cooked in a meat broth and served with a topping of grated dry anthotyro cheese.

kapriko mitata

MITATA xygalo These are architecturally skordoulaki distinctive stone huts used as seasonal residences by shepherds in the mountains. The circular, dry-stone structures not only provide good shelter from often harsh weather conditions, but are also used for aging cheese made tyrozouli TYROZOULI immediately after milking. xynohondros anthoi Produced in shepherds’ huts paximadi


and in homes, this is made from

sheep’s or goat’s milk,antikristo which tyrozouli


antikristo XYGALO Traditionalxygalo cheese spread with a refreshing sharpness and slightly sour taste. It is antikristo usually made from goat’s and/

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XINOHONDROS Traditional homemade pasta made from fermented milk and cracked wheat grains (bulgur). antikristo It has a slightly sour taste and antikristo strong milk aroma. This dish was often seen as fare for the poor; even in poverty-stricken Cretan homes, there would usually be some wheat and milk. With a little onion, tomato tyrozouli and potatoes, xinohondros provided a filling meal for the entire family. For a special treat, snails are added.


is curdled with the help of vinegar, lemon juice or some tyrozouli other acidic agent. The curd is poured into molds – plastic or straw baskets and left to drain. It’s extremely tasty when soft and fresh, especially with honey.



dros ros


kapriko kapriko




The island’s culinary heritage is majestic in scope if often understated in presentation. Its best eateries draw on simple ingredients and traditional methods of execution to create genuine gastronomic glories. BY NENA DIM ITR IOU



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LASITHI REGION FERRYMAN Right by the sea at Schisma in Elounda, noted Greek chef Yiannis Baxevanis celebrates local products and ingredients, sourced from cottage industries and women’s cooperatives. He makes his own bread and forages for the area’s best herbs and greens. If you’re looking for a sophisticated version of traditional Cretan cuisine, this is where you need to book a table. There’s also an excellent wine selection. Elounda, Aghios Nikolaos • Tel. (+30) 28410.412.30

HIONA Hiona Beach is on Crete’s easternmost cape, in an important archaeological zone that has yielded, among other finds, a splendid Kouros statue and Minoan-era ruins reputed to be the summer palace of King Minos. The taverna on this beach specializes in seafood dishes, foremost of which is the

kakavia (fish soup) made with scorpion fish or dusky grouper boiled in their own juices. The parrotfish are fried and served with a tomato sauce in what is a local delicacy, while the organic wines (both bottled and by the jug) are from Toplou Monastery and other Cretan vineyards. Hiona Beach, Sitia • Tel. (+30) 28430.612.28

KALIOTZINA The story of this taverna, which is named after the Kaliontzis family, began 60 years ago when it opened as a small seaside café for fishermen. It expanded into a taverna in the 1980s, with various daughters, daughters-in-law and granddaughters of the original owners working in the kitchen. From the xygalo (a type of creamy cheese) and stuffed vine leaves and zucchini blossoms, to the beef stew and the succulent roasted suckling pig, it’s all about good, honest food. The relaxed dining area is cool and shaded, and there’s often live

music in the evenings to get the party started. Koutsouras, Makrys Gialos, Sitia • Tel. (+30) 28430.512.07

KROUSTAS Penelope and Konstantinos Stavrakakis have been cooking proper local fare in their taverna since 1968, using just a handful of ingredients to best effect. The slow-cooked lamb is tender and incredibly tasty, while the homemade skioufikta pasta is boiled in a meat broth and served doused in hot butter and sprinkled with dried myzithra cheese. Penelope also makes myzithra pies that are served warm, with or without honey. Kroustas, Aghios Nikolaos • Tel. (+30) 28410.513.62

MONASTIRAKI On the road between Pachia Ammos and Ieraptera, at the entrance of Ha Gorge, there’s a village called Monastiraki and a kafeneio-meze taverna of the same name, where Sofia

prepares delectable snacks on a simple gas-fueled cooker using whatever ingredients she can get from her garden. Grab a table under the mulberry tree and order the sfougato (a type of omelet) with zucchini and potatoes. Monastiraki • Tel. (+30) 6972.847.432

SOFIA Overlooking the tranquil harbor of Mochlos, this taverna serves classic Greek island food with quality ingredients, the kind of meals a good mother is happy to give her brood. The menu consists of four or five stews, a few casseroles and a couple of grilled meats. The wine comes from Toplou Monastery. Mochlos • Tel. (+30) 28430.945.54

IRAKLEIO REGION STAVROS Maridaki is a tiny seaside village in southern Irakleio that can be reached by a dirts road,





by a footpath from Tsoutsouras (walking time 30min) or by boat in 3 minutes. At Stavros’ taverna inside the village, Vaso cooks the kind of food she serves her family, using only seasonal products, many of which she grows herself. You’ll find delicious meat dishes, garden-fresh salads, and incredible handmade ice cream. Maridaki, Irakleio Tel. (+30) 28910.233.22 •

THALORI Kapetaniana, a small village below the Kofinas ridge on the Asterousia range, was given a new lease of life thanks to Markos Skordalakis, who restored 15 homes there and turned them into traditional guesthouses. With a view over the Cretan Sea and the coast’s green bays, his restaurant serves delights like wood-roasted kid goat, pilaf rice, and mini-pies with homemade cheese or wild greens. Markos’ wife, Popi, is the perfect hostess. Kapetaniana •

Tel. (+30) 28930.417.62


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IRAKLEIO TOWN KAFENES TOU KAGIABI This old-school kafeneio is an experience, if only for the décor, which consists of wallto-wall photographs of famous Greek rebels and rebetiko singers and songwriters. The food includes tender green beans, rooster in wine sauce, wild greens, egg dishes and pies. The wine is poured from a barrel and the cheeses are good, with selections of young and mature graviera cheeses that pair well with raki. Ask if they have anthogala, a deliciously creamy cheese with a strong milk flavor. 12 Monofatsiou •

Tel. (+30) 2810.226.286

VOURVOULADIKO Named after the Greek word for “hubbub,” this taverna is a lively and friendly kind of place, with a pleasant outdoor seating area shaded by trees. The specialty here, rarely available outside church festivals, is the pork dish kapriko. You’ll also find stuffed zucchini blossoms

and vine leaves, as well as a delicious dessert of handmade pasteli (sesame snap) with ice cream, which is served with a shot of ice-cold raki. 71 Monis Kardiotissas, Irakleio • Tel. (+30) 2810.335.323

RETHYMNO REGION GOULES Follow the signs for Goulediana, south of Rethymo Town, to find Goules, a classic taverna with tables set in the shade of a climbing vine in the eatery’s courtyard. Menu highlights include syglino (cured pork) with wild greens and eggs, sfougato, the pork with xinochondros (a sour fermented wheat dish) and other traditional dishes. Goulediana • Tel. (+30) 28310.410.01

ILIOMANOLIS You’ll most likely pass by here when returning from a beach on the southern coast, but Iliomanolis is a great reason

to visit Kanevos. Maria Iliaki puts her food on display so you can choose from among the 25 or so dishes she prepares every day. There are quite a few vegetarian options, and rarer treats like the pickled artichokes and askordoulaki (tassel hyacinth bulb) cooked with meat. Kanevos • Tel. (+30) 28320.510.53

LIGRES BEACH This is a family-run guest house right on Ligres Beach that serves breakfast and simple meals to its guests and other patrons, mostly folk who have come for a swim. With dishes like ladera, casseroles, fish of the day and lovely omelets, you’ll feel like you’re at the kitchen table in someone’s home. Ligres Beach, Kerame •

Tel. (+30) 6974.234.509

NIKOS POLOPETRAKIS’ KAFENEIO At the traditional kafeneio on the main square of Roustika, the owner’s wife, Eleni, cooks a range of typical local dishes







ranging from stuffed tomatoes to xinochondros with snails, pies and ladera – and all of it is fresh and good. Enjoy some excellent myzithra and graviera cheeses from Vogiatzidakis, the local dairy, and a few wild tales from Nikos. Roustika • Tel. (+30) 28310.913.00

TA SOUVLAKIA TOU GAGANI Popular among locals for its high quality and fast service, this grill house is just a 10-minute drive from the town of Rethymno, on the main square in the suburb of Atsipopoulo. Tender souvlaki meat, wrapped in a cocoon of pita bread and served with to-die-for fries, is the highlight. The Greek salad comes with special rusks called mystraki, baked in a wood-fired oven just a few meters from the square. Atsipopoulo • Tel. (+30) 28310.313.05

RETHYMNO TOWN 1600 RAKI BA RAKI A modern raki joint in the style of an old grocery store, with delicious meze, this eatery’s deli-style menu includes some very well-made staples such as pickled vegetables, grilled sausage, pickled askordoulaki, boiled octopus salad and roasted eggplants – all simple cooking with clean flavors. There’s a wide selection of spirits as well. 17 Arabatzoglou • Tel. (+30) 28310.582.50

AVLI “A kitchen and a courtyard make a house,” says the woman who has owned and run this gourmet restaurant since 1987. The food is new Cretan cuisine, which draws on the island’s culinary traditions and is executed using French techniques. The wine list, separated by region and producer, comprises more than 60 selections from

different parts of Greece. 22 Xanthoudidou & Radamanthous • Tel (+30) 28310.582.50

CAVO Creative Greek and Cretan is the best way to describe the food at this impressive, blueand-white seaside restaurant. Their taramosalata (roe dip) is an excellent appetizer, the sea bass with fricasséed greens is quite special, while the desserts are also very good. There’s a long list of cocktails, spirits and wines, with an emphasis on Greek wineries. Tip: Start the evening with a cocktail while watching the sun set. 13 Akrotiriou • Tel. (+30) 28310.367.00

LEMONOKIPOS Cretan/Mediterranean is the style of the food served in this pebbled courtyard, adorned with lemon trees that attract plenty of cicadas in the summer. In the kitchen, there’s a fondness for lamb, which is presented in six variations, including roasted in vine

leaves which is our favorite. The salads are unusual, and the wine list comprises around 25 Greek options, several of which are organic. 100 Ethnikis Antistaseos • Tel. (+30) 28310.570.87

PRIMA PLORA This is one of the town’s top restaurants, located right at the water’s edge. It serves fusion dishes showcasing top-quality local products. The grilled octopus served with fava (split-pea) dip from Santorini, and the dusky grouper with an ouzo sauce and lemony mashed potatoes are perfect. The wine list is quite extensive, with a leaning towards local wineries, and good prices. 4 Akrotiriou • Tel. (+30) 28310.569.90

HANIA REGION MARMARA BEACH You’ll either need to take a short boat ride from Hora Sfakion, or walk a part of the E4 trail to reach the mouth of C R E T E 2 018





Aradena Gorge at Marmara Beach, where this taverna is located. In an impressive landscape of smooth, white rocks that gave this beach its name (which means “marble” in Greek), you’ll find delicious food straight from the wood-fired oven: crackling bread, pastry filled with layers of zucchini and cheese, stuffed tomatoes and peppers, moussaka and briam (a vegetable casserole), as well, of course, as meat-and-potato options. Marmara Beach, Sfakia •

Tel (+30) 28257.722.99

DOUNIAS Stelios Trilyrakis pays homage to the local cuisine not just in his recipes but also in his cooking technique: everything is done over wood coals. This means that you’ll have what are arguably the best fried potatoes in the world, real slow food, casseroles with farm-fresh vegetables, amazing fresh bread and crispy rusks. The gardoumakia (a meze made from lamb intestines) are a must. Drakona • Tel (+30) 28210.650.83 220

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KYPROS This is the real deal when it comes to traditional meat tavernas, with a very warm welcome from the owner, and good-quality meat cuts that are grilled in the way that’s customary in Greece: well done, and a little charred. The sausages and fries are also very good. Mournies • Tel. +30

drink or digestive. Askyfou • Tel. (+30) 28250.952.28


Theriso • Tel. (+30) 28210.740.95

CHRYSOSTOMOS A high-quality entry on the city’s gastronomic scene, the restaurant Chrysostomos serves dishes typical of Hania and the villages of Sfakia to both seasonal visitors and the locals who patronize it throughout the year. They make their own fresh bread every day, baking it in the wood-fired oven that is used to cook nearly all of their casseroles and other slowcooked dishes. A top choice among them is the lamb cooked ofto-style with potatoes. Local cheeses, rusks and olive oil from the Sfakia region are among the must-tries. Deukalionos

NEKTARIOS’ KAFENEIO The epitome of rustic Cretan cuisine is this café’s seared, diced meat with pilaf rice or orzo cooked in broth and homemade cheese. The cold raki serves as an aperitif, main

GINGER CONCEPT Decorated with a flair for the exotic − think “Bali meets Brazil” − this all-day caférestaurant-wine bar serves


LEVENTOGIANNIS After driving through a lush wooded area, you’ll find Leventogianis in Therissos waiting for you, with hearty portions of simple yet wellexecuted local staples like eggs with a staka roux, syglino, good local cheeses and meat done ofto (“in the coals”) and antikristo (“across the fire”).

and Ikaron, Hania • Tel. (+30) 28210.57035.

breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner,. It also stocks a large selection of local wines: there are 16 by-the-glass and 65 by-the-bottle options to go with appealing menu items like the tuna tartare with avocado. 36 Kallinikou Sarpaki • Tel (+30) 28210.575.90

SALIS Salis serves modern Mediterranean food in a lovely bright setting at the Venetian harbor. The wine list is worth perusing, as it contains more than 700 selections from Greek and foreign wineries. The staff is skilled at making pairing recommendations. 3 Akti Enoseos • Tel. (+30) 28210.437.00





Founded in 2013 with the ultimate goals of boosting the tourism sector and becoming the principal regional airline headquartered in Thessaloniki, today, Ellinair flies to and from 42 destinations across Europe and Asia. In just four years since its first flight, the company has grown to employ a large team of experienced personnel and to operate a fleet of 10 Airbus and Boeing aircraft in compliance with international flight safety regulations. The “Makedonia” International Airport of Thessaloniki is still the main base for the airline, which is helping to make not only the city but all of Northern Greece more accessible to visitors. •

Tel. (+30) 2311.224700 •


This new beachfront hotel, the second hospitality venture of the Karatzis Group, was created to complement its sister property, the Nana Beach Hotel. Located on the northern coast of the island, it boasts a private sandy beach as well as a health club and spa with an indoor pool. The six different bars and restaurants offer a wide range of dining experiences. The 112 luxury suites and villas, extending over 40,000 square meters of five-star amenities, offer ideal accommodation for singles, couples and families. Most rooms feature private pools, and some come with saunas, steam rooms or restorative spas designed by the award-winning Italian company StarPool. •

Tel. (+30) 28970.269.00 • •


For more than half a century, ANEK LINES has been the leader in Greek passenger shipping. Its contemporary fleet serves Crete, the Cyclades Islands, the Dodecanese Islands and the Adriatic Sea! Reliably and consistently, ANEK LINES has improved and developed its fleet, as well as the expertise of its staff and the services and traditional Greek hospitality it offers. Every trip becomes an unforgettable experience thanks to the impeccable service provided to passengers, whose unwavering preference for the line encourages ANEK to continue its journey into the future. •

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Offering vacation planning services exclusively for families, Kids Love Greece is the only travel company of its kind with a focus on Greece. Created by parents, for parents and kids, each trip is planned with one principal objective: to create amazing memories for the entire family. At present, the destinations for these family adventures include Athens, Crete, Mykonos, Santorini, Naxos, Paros and the Peloponnese. All activities have been carefully selected, revolving around key themes such as history and mythology, culture, food, and sailing. The company believes in learning though play, using modern technologies. Crete is one of the most popular destinations, thanks to the island’s healthy food, kid-friendly beaches and fascinating history. • •


There’s perfect accommodation for everyone at Bluegr’s three sea-front properties in Aghios Nikolaos. The boho-chic Minos Beach Art Hotel, with wicker, wood and minimal black furniture, is perfect for the young and stylish. The Minos Palace Hotel & Suites is ideal for couples: all luxury, adults-only and with sea views in every direction. Meanwhile, the Candia Park Village, resembling a picturesque Cretan village, with a central square featuring a clock tower and a traditional kafeneio, is family friendly. Guests at all three hotels can enjoy the services of the Ananea Wellness by Aegeo Spa and the Candia Ski Club water sports and diving center. •

Tel. (+30) 211.106.7400 • •


We are honored to introduce you to Aquila Hotels & Resorts, which comprises four well-known five-star properties: The Aquila Rithymna Beach, the Aquila Porto Rethymno, the Aquila Elounda Village Resort & Spa and the Aquila Atlantis Hotel. The uniqueness of these properties, enhanced by the continuous upgrading of our services and your ongoing support, have established Aquila as a leading hotel brand worldwide. We welcome you to visit Aquila Hotels & Resorts!


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Beautifully situated by the coast in Aghios Nikolaos, Kimzu is one of the most beautiful places in town to eat or drink – an oasis within the oasis. Only 18 months after opening its doors, it’s already rated one of the best bar-restaurants in town, and it all started when owner Hakim immediately saw the potential of a long-abandoned space. With roots in Morocco and Holland, he used his best tools – European professionalism and Mediterranean passion – to create a place that has it all: good food, amazing cocktails, great music and a warm and cozy atmosphere. • 44 Anapafseos, • Aghios Nikolaos • Tel. (+30) 28410.905.44 •


The healing and health-giving properties of the many herbs that grow on Crete were discovered by the Minoan civilization 4,500 years ago. They created the first herbal creams, ointments, oils and remedies. Following in the footsteps of these Cretan forefathers, Bioaroma has developed 100-percent natural, organic, cruelty free products based on natural essential oils and with no preservatives. Taking a holistic approach to both health and the environment, the company supports sustainable living; the packaging of each Bioaroma product is made from sugarcane and recyclable and biodegradable paperboard, and the products themselves are so natural you could actually eat them. • Aghios Nikolaos-Irakleio Crossroad, Aghios Nikolaos • Tel. (+30) 28410.822.93, 697.483.8385 •

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