Brave in war and inventive in peace, Cretans are storytellers, artists and artisans who have shaped their land and culture around their unique character and have a fascinating history to show for it.
Grand-scale archaeological monuments, rich traditions, and an insatiable appetite for food and fun are all part of the way of life in Crete. So join us we explore what makes Greece’s largest island what it is.
Loving life with every bite
You know you’ve sat at a Cretan table just from the bounty in front of you. Fruit and vegetables radiating colour and flavour, the most golden extra-virgin olive oil, delicate little cheese pies, cured meat and aromatic herbs that have literally captured the Mediterranean sunshine are spread before you. But above all, the ingredients that make you know you’re in Crete are the laughter and generosity of the people around you.
With every glass of raki you share (locally known as tsikoudia), you’ll become better versed in a unique language punctuated by the delicious mouthfuls of Cretan food. To eat and drink with locals is to uncover the soul of Crete. If you experience the rakokazona – traditional raki-brewing in a Cretan village, typically in November – you will discover the meaning of banter. But at the very least, book a cookery lesson or a visit to a farm to experience first-hand local cheese-making and bread-baking techniques. Your appetite for life will never be the same.
Locating the pulse of Crete
If food fills the soul, music comes from the heart in Crete. You hear it in the three-stringed Cretan lyra that sets the mood of dances in the island’s many feasts and festivals and in the heart-rending sonnets known as mantinades, conveying messages of love and sorrow, that resonate in mountain villages.
Since ancient times, music has been a way of life in Crete, passing from generation to generation, but always with spontaneity and improvisation. So make sure to visit the workshop of an instrument-maker – not just the lyra but violins, lutes and rarer instruments known as bulgari, askomandoura or the thiamboli are made and repaired here.\
5,000 years (and counting) of myths and history
Every civilisation has left its legacy in the history of Crete, with Minoan palaces, Classical temples and Venetian fortresses. This, after all, is the island that gave birth to Europe’s first written languages (the Minoans’ Linear A and B). And as for the myths… you’ve have heard of Theseus and the Minotaur (you can learn more at Knossos Palace) and it’s said Zeus was born in a cave in Crete. So it won’t surprise you that the king of the gods was also patron of hospitality – for that is perhaps Zeus’ greatest legacy on the way of life in Crete.
The original holistic wellness retreat
It’s simply not possible to visit Crete without being inspired by its special aura. Not only the Zen of the countryside and the mystical energy of the sea, but the locals’ philosophy of life. The diet (naturally rich in nutrients and antioxidants), the exuberant festivals, the lung-filling fresh air and mountain herbs… Crete is the original holistic wellness retreat. Of course, you could take it a step further by adding yoga, a spa, thalassotherapy, Reiki (or whatever your wellness preference) to your holiday. One way or another, you’ll return home understanding the meaning of the slow life.
An island of craftspeople
Skilled craftsmanship can be seen in so many of Crete’s traditions. Basket-making and fabric weaving are time-honoured skills that have lost none of their intricacy and attention to detail. So too pottery, with vases that resemble those that once decorated Minoan palaces.
So don’t forget to take a piece of Crete home with you. Perhaps a pair of stivania (the knee-high riding boots slapped by men during Cretan dances), a white sariki headscarf (worn by women as a sign of joy during weddings, feasts, births and christenings) or a beautifully engraved piece of local woodwork.
The traditions and way of life in Crete
Crete is an island of enduring customs and traditions. Right the way through the year and on every corner of the island, you’ll find locals displaying a commitment to not just living life to the full but living it their way.