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Traveling Crete Island – Heraklion & surrounding – experiencing hidden food pearls with locals

My personal highlight: living the Cretan wisdom. The last two things you take with you when you die is what you see and what you eat.

My food tour guide Eva from Urban tours/intrepid travels could not describe better, the motto of my life.

This 5 day trip to crete aims to inspire and experience the island with all of its flavors, colors and cultural history. A program that suits to travel or food lovers aiming an appetizer Crete offers. Get to understand better the mentality and way of life Cretan nurture! Crete’s culture and food is strongly influenced by Roman, the Byzantines EmpireArabs, the Venetian Republic, and the Ottoman Empire. This explains a lot, how diverse the place is compared to other greek islands.
A warm thank you goes to my two local guides and new friends Phil Buttler and his wife Mihalea that introduced me to this mediterranean pearl! Check Phil’s blog Argophilia for more travel insights about Crete!

Crete is the  largest island of Greece and lies to the south of the mainland. You can reach it either from the International Airport Chania, located in the south or the International Airport Hiraklio (the one I recommend) in the north. Absolutely recommended to rent a car for traveling around the island.

The island offers some of the most stunning landscapes and famous historical sites: Mark this one in your historical site bucket list: Knossos!
Knossos flourished for approximately two thousand years. It’s the must see archaeological site located 5 km southeast of the city of Heraklion. Here back in time the dynasty of Minos ruled (roughly 2700–1420 BC). Curious to experience the magic of the Minoan lifestyle? Visit a show at the Minoan Theater at Karteros. Read more about the show here.

Cretan hospitality teaches best, how to be truly wealthy. The life motto: siga siga (slowly slowly) makes me smile every time I hear it.

Beaches to reach by feet or car around North Crete

If you are after beaches, Crete has hundreds of beaches to suit every taste.
Lygaria BayMononaftis bayKladissos bayMade beachPsaromoura beachFylakes beachAmmoudi to name the most important ones. Though there are several (little and almost hidden) beaches in the area.

To mark on your beach bucket list: Aigia Pelagia.
Surrounded by mountains and hills, Agia Pelagia lies right in the middle of Crete. This makes it easy to use it as a base for tours and excursions. This seaside fishing village built in the centre of a picturesque amphitheatric bay offers crystal waters and a great choice of restaurant, Cafés and shops. (More on that in my food suggestions below). From here you can reach some beaches in walking distance.

Where to sleep in Agia Pelagia

Opting for privacy, tranquility in an affordable boutique style environment? Seascape Luxury Residences is your choice. Add it now on your accommodation bucket list!
Find 31 apartments with modern equipment, TV, super comfy beds and bright rooms in various categories (Superior double room, Deluxe Apartment Sea or Pool view). Some apartment offer a private garden terrace, too. All apartments are different and are perfect for couples or families.
Get your morning swim or relax time at one of their two pools. The residence is located 5 minutes from the beach and the village of Agia Pelagia, therefore perfect to explore the place without car. Make your booking here.

Breakfast at Seascape – Try the Cretan breakfast

My absolute favorite choice: The Cretan breakfast. It comes with local products and reflects best, what food is about in Crete! Rich and healthy flavors as tahini, honey and home made orange or quince jam to spread on the bread. Greek yoghurt and biscuits made of carob flour.
Sit at the large table in front of the pool and have a chat with other guests. This makes the difference at Seascape compared to an anonymus hotel atmosphere! 

Ever heard about the Cretan Diet?

Did you know, that Crete is world famous for its Diet? I am a food explorer and not really following a diet. Traveling through this region however, made me best understand, what it means to be surrounded by premium products. It’s an art to know, how to prepare these exceptional quality products. A large variation of citrus fruits, tomatoes, mainly goat and sheep cheeses, olive oil, snails, fish, wholemeal bread make this cuisine exceptional. (You’ll very rarely find cows in Crete or even Greece for that matter, they can’t handle the rocky terrain). By the way, it is recorded that over 500 types of greens and herbs are used raw in salads or cooked in small and large pies in various ways. Talking to different Taverna owners made me understand, that the preparation of food is made with passion and care about every single ingredient.

One of the basic difference between the cretan diet and diets of other mediterranean areas is the huge consumption of fruits.

The best way to get in contact with Cretan food is to experience a guided tour. For your Food tour Bucket list:
Book a 4 hour tour with urban tours and stroll through the city of Heraklion. You get introduced to some historical sites, churches and spots where the locals meet. A particular point of interest you may come across when walking the walls, is the tombstone of Nikos Kazantzakis. He was perhaps the most influential writer in Crete and even Greece.

What your food tour includes:

  • Taste home made biscuits in one of the oldest bakeries in town
  • Get a typical Cretan coffee (which seemed very turkish to me). 
  • Hit the backstreets and hidden pathways saying “yassas” (“Hi” in greek) to the local fish market man.
  • Try the local meze and get your olive oil tasting in a local food shop. Absolutely recommended: Visit the food store Vourgiali. It’s the ultimate address to get in contact with Cretan products. The family owned business has all you can dream of! The selection of dakos ,a typical cretan bread used for aperitife, light lunch or dinner is impressive! On the dakos come chopped tomatoes, feta crumbles and some extra virgin olive oil. Find best local wines, honey and cheeses.
  • A local sweet you can’t miss on your tour: bougatsa! Get a delicious one at the bistro Kirkor (Platia Eleftheriou Venizelou 31-32). Order a portion half cream and one half cheese and find out which you love more! My heart went boom for the cream version!

Bougatsa is a traditional Greek dessert made with the creamy custard or goat cheese wrapped in golden brown crispy phyllo, sprinkled with melted butter and garnished with icing sugar and cinnamon.

Dinner in Heraklion with a majestic view overlooking the harbor and fortress Koules (Venetian Castle)?

Restaurant Trata (Eikostis Pemptis Avgoustou 10, Heraklion) is a secret hint. It offers a superb view overlooking the harbor and delicious local food at a valuable price. Order local meze as fried graviera cheese called saganaki, eggplant salad or a grilled octopus. Try snails here! They are fired in olive oil with plenty of rosemary. A pure delight! Cretan snails have a special taste, since they live attached at olive trees!

Graviera cheese is slightly sweet and nutty in the taste. The Cretan version is made with sheep’s milk or sheep’s milk with a small amount of goat’s milk. It’s delicious eaten with thyme honey!

Restaurants & Bistro in Agia Pelagia

  • Tavern O Nikolas
    (Address: Agia Pelagia 715 00, Phone +30 281 081 2090)
    Local food, very authentic style where locals go, fresh fish/catch of the day, very good price. The staff is friendly.
  • Almyra bar & food
    A perfect spot to have an aperitivo, cocktail or dinner overlooking the sea. Chic & surely a trendy spot. The dishes are prepared with fresh and seasonal ingredients. The card is mixed with traditional cretan and international cuisine.
  • Restaurant Alati
    An authentic restaurant at the beach to try different local meze and sea food. I had the Crème trilogy with the classical split peas with onion, tzatziki with cucumber and smoked eggplant salad. As a main a fried octopus that was crunchy and super fresh.
  • Café & Restaurant The home
    The kind of place that makes you feel in a good vibes only environment. I love the positive quote and fancy decor everywhere. Very nice for a lunch to try some local dishes as eggplant salad and a homemade juice.

Make a trip to the traditional local village Fodele, talk to locals and eat a Taverna

Fodele is about 20 Km from Heraklion and absolutely worth visiting. Watch the old ladies doing needle works. We got invited to try delicious home made pickled bitter oranges and raki. Although the spot is touristic it has a relaxed atmosphere. Stop at the shops to buy some local cotton ware.

The village is the birthplace of the most famous Greek painter, El Greco. He has his own monument in the village next to a tree that is over a thousand years old! Make a visit at El Greco’s house where he was born. Today it has been transformed to a small museum.
On the way to the museum stop by at the Souvenir Shop of Maria! She is a lovely soul and has very cute little gifts (food & other things) to buy for your friends!

Your perfect local dinner in Fodele – Taverna Giasemí

Talk to Eleni the owner and let her advise you on the menu! Get some tasty dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), lamb chops (they are super tender) and different meat dishes as slow cooked pork or a creamy liver prepared with special herbs. The desserts are seasonal and made from Eleni every day. I had a delicious Orange cream tarte and a super soft and humid chocolate cake. Fruits will never miss after a meal and are a gift from the house in every restaurant.

Slow cooked lamb at Fodele Beach on a cozy Sunday?

The food experience at Taverna Opou Vastaxi is one of the most authentic on my whole Crete trip. Early in the morning the owner Stella and his husband prepare the fire where the pork and lamb slow cooks on the grill for at least 3 hours. Stella explains, that all animals are from local farms. The BBQ menu is available only on Sunday. Get some delicious sides as typical greek salad or dolmades. I appreciated the simplicity and authenticity and the very familiar ambience.

The beach of Fodele is close by. For families with kids: Stop at the water park at 2 Km distance and have some fun crazy slides!

Driving back from Heraklion to Agia Pelagia – Stop at Taverna Mitato to try Cretan bulbs!

I get more and more familiar, that on Crete the food is rustic and rich! It combines seasonal ingredients and balanced flavors. They reflect the bounty of Crete’s sun-blessed fertile land. At Anna’s Taverna you can find authentic local dishes as floral bulbs and a variety of stuffed vegetables. The menu offers a variety of grilled or stewed meat and fish, too.

They usually come fresh as a salad, dressed with oil and vinegar or lemon, pickled, or stewed with olive oil, vinegar and flour.

If you like to have a chat in German with Anna, she will be happy. She used to live in Germany. The interior of the restaurants is super vintage and reminds me of the living room of my aunt back in the 80s. 

“There us a kind of flame in Crete – let us call it “soul” – something more powerful than either life or death. There is pride, obstinacy, valor, and together with these something else inexpressible and imponderable, something which makes you rejoice that you are a human being, and at the same time tremble. (Report to Greco)” 
― N. Kazantzakis

See you soon Crete! Efcharistò to Seascape Manager Dimitris & his staff for having me. EyeWide Eservices – Minas & his staff for organizing the press trip. Mihaela & Phil Buttler for the memorable and fun time together.

In the mood of other travel stories? Check my travel guide here!

Tags : cretan tripcretefood tourherakliontravel greece
Marina Lovefoodish

The author Marina Lovefoodish

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