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Here’s what to do, eat and order to make the most out of your visit to Crete
A mythical land teeming with natural beauties, legendary characters and an age-old history that has inspired sagas, Crete is like a mini-universe of its own. Perhaps that’s why its fierce and proud inhabitants also have their own, distinctive way of doing things – watch them, for example, getting ecstatic with the primordial sounds of the lyra and the violin at a local panigiri. Or start exchanging witty, verse-like banter, at the kafenion – this is the famous mantinades and their roots are traced back to the Renaissance era.
Far from the touristic and the mundane, this mosaic of images, sounds and moments is what elevates your Cretan sojourn – and if you are yearning for hands-on, immersive experiences, to make the most out of your visit to Grece’s largest island, it is best to do as the locals. Here’s all you need to know about the traits, customs, routines and practices that make Cretans and their way of life so special. Get inspired and maybe take some of these habits back home!
Breakfast ala Crete
Breakfast for Cretans means a slice of just-out-of-the-oven bougatsa (a salty cheese curd pastry topped with lots of sugar), spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie in phyllo pastry) or kalitsounia (small sweet or savoury pies stuffed with mizithra cheese and topped with honey). Enjoy these Cretan favourites at Phyllo Bakery or Bougatsa Chanion, both in the old town of Chania.
Have a coffee break
From a sleepy quiet district, the old Turkish neighbourhood in Chania’s old town has been recently transformed into a vibrant, cool and sophisticated hangout. 1821, the main square, that’s named after the local revolt against the Turks in the same year, is adorned by an ancient sycamore tree whose refreshing shade makes it the perfect spot for a coffee break during the day. In the evenings this piazza becomes the stomping ground of young Haniots, who’ll stay up drinking, chatting, snacking and socializing until the early morning hours. In the background, the omnipresent Saint Nicholas church with both a minaret and a bell tower serves as a powerful reminder of the multicultural character of this town.
As the arty-bohemian neighbourhood of Chania, Splantzia boasts some interesting local bookstores. Tο μικρό καράβι (The Small Boat) is a boutique bookshop that specializes in new editions. There are also books dedicated to the history and the geography of the town, handpicked local travel guides, and very unique photography books. Φοβ (from the French “fauve” – wild beast), moreover, is a bookstore/coffee shop with a great collection of books in literature, philosophy and art. There are also several bilingual editions of Greek authors, and some of the biggest international writers translated into Greek.
Enjoy a quick lunch
Kouzina E.P.E on vibrant Daskalogianni Street serves an array of traditional, homestyle Greek & Cretan dishes at reasonable prices amid convivial settings. Locals often get takeaways too.
The newly instituted Pallas Philocaly in the old harbour is a deli, bakery and pantry with an impressive selection of pasties, gourmet cheeses and charcuterie, as well as prime meat cuts – a one fix-stop for the town’s foodies.
Watch a movie
A favourite Greek summer pastime is watching films under the starry sky in an open-air cinema. Chania is home to two open-air cinemas – Attikon in the posh area of Halepa that’s usually featuring blockbuster movies, and Kipos in the national garden, with more cultured choices.
Go out at Daliani
For a taste of real local life head to Chatzimichali Daliani Street in the evenings to hang out with the Cretans. The area hosts a plethora of restaurants and bars catering to different tastes and budgets and is heavily frequented by all sorts of people. Popular suggestions include the atmospheric Kibar or Charles Monastery, which is housed in a 16th-century Venetian monastery with a blooming courtyard; and miniatoura – miniature in Greek – a tiny, as its name indicates, bar, with cool vibes, handpicked indie rock tunes, and yummy cocktails. Another local favourite is Pitses Ble, serving seriously good pizza amid laid-back surroundings. Polytecnio also is a vibrant (largely) student haunt featuring tidbits and rakomelo, as well as some quite interesting lives.
Listen to lives
Music is an integral part of the Cretans’ lifestyle – and it’s of course best experienced live.
At Halkina in the old port, elevated local gastronomy meets excellent wine and tsikoudia from select local producers and artful live Cretan tunes. Likewise, Adespoto in the quaint Macheradika area offers decent Cretan tastes and live performances almost every night. On a different note, on some occasions, you can listen to Jazz sounds at Fagotto which is housed in a beautiful Venetian mansion in the old port.