Greece’s largest island is a world away from what you would typically picture a Greek island. Crete is big – big enough to have three airports. What Crete lacks in caldera views and whitewashed stone architecture, makes up for in rolling hills of olive groves, rugged mountainous landscapes, and a culture that’s all on its own. Much of the land is used for agriculture, making for impressive landscapes.
While a gyro is always nearby, you would be missing out as it is the traditional Cretan cuisine that adds to the uniqueness of the island. What makes Cretan cuisine stand out is the use of wholesome, locally grown produce and simple cooking techniques to come up with tasty and flavourful dishes that are often seasonal. There’s a Cretan version of everything from cheeses to honey to salads, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anything similar in other parts of Greece, unless you stumble upon a Cretan restaurant that is.
Look forward to: Honey with thyme, rusk bread and pork.
Where: Kidonias 15, Iraklio 712 02, Greece
What: Traditional Cretan food
For: Snails and lamb
When it comes to traditional Cretan food, Peskesi has got it down pat. While a reservation is always recommended for this local favourite, there is always some seating place in every nook and cranny which the waiter will take you to if you turn up without one. The stone clad walls, wooden furniture and bread served in a wicker basket will remind you of a bygone era, and it is the traditions of Cretan cooking that Peskesi wants to bring to the table. Ingredients are taken from their farm in Harasso. In their garden, chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not used, and crops are picked by hand.
You can’t miss seeing fried snails in a bowl among the tables. The waiter will shake the bowl covered with a lid, to mix thyme sauce with the snails in front of you before placing it on your table. This, being a Cretan specialty, is a must-try. There’s a variety of pork and goat dishes, of which the grilled pork smoked with sage and thyme and goat baked with yogurt are unforgettable dishes.
Where: Akrotiriou 8, Rethymno 741 00, Greece
For: The best view of the fortezza
Prima Plora is right smack on the beach, with a view of the Rethymno fortezza to boot. While you can’t find this restaurant conveniently in the city centre, its location is what gives it the spectacular ocean view. Sunset views are the best, as you experience the glow of the setting sun while you dine next to sound of ocean waves crashing over rocks. Food served here is cooked with a Greek twist, and be sure to sample the sea bass carpaccio with chilli and lemon.
Where: Epimenidou 15, Iraklio, Greece
What: Romantic dinners
For: Views of the Venetian Fortress
This popular restaurant is carefully hidden in Lato Boutique Hotel, a cosy and stylish establishment close to the old port of Heraklion. The receptionist will direct you to take an elevator to the rooftop, where Herbs’ Garden is, with a view overlooking the Venetian Fortress. With only a handful of tables, the restaurant is easily full during high season. Contemporary concoctions rule the table here, but the use of local Cretan ingredients are not forgotten.