Crete's culinary & distilled delights Jack Montgomery | Posted: 27 April 2018

Walking in Greece

Last year, routefinders Jack & Andy Montgomery travelled to western Crete to revamp our walks in the region. It seems it was thirsty (and hungry!) work, as they have returned quite the experts on Cretan food and drink…

Cretan Raki

Raki, or Tsikoudia as it's also known on Crete, is actually the national drink of Turkey. However, it has long been the preferred social tipple of Cretans where it plays a pivotal role in oiling the wheels of hospitality, friendship, conversation, digestion, and just about every other excuse you'd care to mention. Fermented from grape must, the spirit may not be to everyone's taste (personally I struggle to shudder my way beyond one shot) but you'll be treated to it, served chilled in elegant little bottles alongside or instead of dessert, in restaurants across the island. Yamas!

A Crafty Find

Ever since wandering into the Augustiner Brau Beer gardens in Austria and ordering a stein of ale, we've been converts to craft beers and real ales. So when staying in the bucolic idyll of the Elia Traditional Hotel in Crete's mountainous north-western corner and spotting a small sign off the road pointing to 'Cretan Brewery', alehouse expectations were raised. Following the signs through unpromising, residential streets, we began to wonder if we'd end up in someone's goat shed. Instead, we arrived at one of the most contemporary, chic establishments we'd seen since leaving Chania and heading into the hills.

Cretan Brewery is Chania's first microbrewery and has been brewing since 2007. Marketing themselves as 'All of Crete in a glass', there are currently five flavours of Charma beer on offer, all of them brewed using fresh spring water from the White Mountains. After a quick tour of the facilities and browsing the small shop, we opted for a tasting on the terrace and spent a pleasant half hour in the company of some tasty ales that slipped down a whole lot easier than the raki does.

Meeting the Mezes

Tucking into a selection of small dishes is our preferred way of enjoying a pot-pourri of local flavours at the one sitting. In Spain we order tapas, in Portugal it's petiscos. In Greece our taste buds get excited at the prospect of mezes, a term derived from 'mazze', the Persian word for snacks. Exploring the west of Crete we reacquainted ourselves with old favourites as well as trying some local specialities.

Walking in Greece

Dakos Salad
Our arrival at the Elia Hotel near Ano Vouves was idyllic. The sky was intense Greek blue, the sun warming and the hotel a charmer. Manager Jo welcomed us with a lunch which included dakos salad - a rusk bread topped with sweet tomatoes and creamy myzithra cheese drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with aromatic herbs. Accompanied by frosty Alfa beers it was enough to have me humming Lou Reed's Perfect Day.

Walking in Greece

When I think of calamari I visualise myself tucking into tender squid coated with crispy batter in a rustic taverna overlooking a picturesque harbour where bright blue boats bob gently on crystalline seas. Those were exactly the ingredients we found at Taverna Captain Nikolas, a Cretan institution located beside the golden sands of Falassarna Beach, a 2-kilometre stroll from the Panorama Hotel.

Walking in Greece

Two things surprised at the Botanical Park and Gardens of Crete. The first was just how interesting, quirky and different the gardens were. The second was the quality of the food at the attached restaurant which specialises in Cretan dishes made with herbs, fruit and vegetables from the gardens. A stand-out meze was marathopita, a savoury pitta-like pancake stuffed with fennel and wild horta (greens). It's a dish whose flavours encapsulate Crete's hinterland, making the gardens in the mountains the perfect location to try it.

Walking in Greece

For me, tzatziki is the Greek dish that launched a thousand diets. I can't resist dipping warm pitta into this fresh, feel-good dip consisting of Greek yoghurt, mint, cucumber and garlic. I don't associate tzatziki with any particular place or restaurant as I tend to order it in every taverna I go into. It's simply a meze must.

Walking in Greece

I made the serious mistake of not trying apakia until my last day on Crete where it was one of the mezes we ordered at Tamam in Chania. Apakia is pork marinated in wine vinegar which is then smoked and seasoned with spices and wild herbs; as delectable a pork dish as I've eaten in a long time. Whether the atmospheric surroundings subliminally intensified the flavour – Tamam was built as a Venetian bath house in the 15th century – I won't know till I try it again somewhere different.

Related Holidays

Traditions & History of Crete

Offering a friendly welcome and a delicious dakos salad, the Elia Hotel makes an idyllic base for a week-long discovery of western Crete.

More about our walking holidays in Crete >

Crete's Coast & Mountains

Spectacular scenery and rich history meet on Crete's rugged south-west coast, making this one of our most rewarding coastal walks. When you're not out exploring on foot, why not pop into Taverna Captain Nikolas on Falassarna Beach for the most scenic plate of calamari you'll find anywhere?

More about our walking holidays in Crete >

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