12 Facts You Didn’t Know About Crete


1. Kazania

After the grape harvest, the villages of Crete are filled with festivity. The grape marc – leavings of skins and seeds from the wine pressing – is fermented and then distilled to make Crete’s famous spirit Tsikoudia. Very often, stills are rented out in shifts, so every family or group of friends can distill their own bath, enjoying an informal party in the process.

2. Cheers to Cretan Hospitality

About that tsikoudia – offering a small glass of tsikoudia is standard gesture of hospitality at any time of the day, even before noon. In the morning, usually just one shot will do to satisfy your host.

3. Panigyri

Every village has a patron saint, and the feast day of that saint is occasion for great celebration – a “panigyri” brings people back to their ancestral village no matter how far away they may have strayed. There will be lyra playing, traditional Cretan dances, and of course, lots of fabulous food.

4. Food Festivals

Besides the Panigyria celebrating the patron saints, there are also annual festivals highlighting foods. Snails are extremely popular on Crete, and a little tsikoudia may help you get over your squeamishness. Celebrate snails with the locals in early August in Agios Thomas. In later August, in Zoniana near Rethymnon, there is a festival in honor of the cheeses of Crete and the shepherds who make them possible. Even the humble potato is cause for celebration – except the delicious potatoes of the Lasithi plateau are not so humble. Enjoy them with the locals at a festival at the end of August in Tzermiado.

5. WWII on Crete

The Battle of Crete, beginning May 20, 1941 with a Nazi invasion by air, showed what the Cretans are made of. This was the first battle of WWII in which civilians fought the Nazis to defend their island.

6. WWII in Crete in Cinema

In 1944, the Nazi General Heinrich Kreipe was kidnapped by British officers Patrick Leigh Fermor and Bill Stanley Moss of the Special Operations Executive, with the aid of the brave fighters of the Cretan Resistance. A 1957 film – Ill Met by Moonlight (as in “not well met”) – starring Dirk Bogarde relates the tale.

7. More of Crete on the International Screen

Besides Zorba the Greek – likely the most famous of the films shot in Crete – there are also many others. The recent thriller The Two Faces of January – based on a Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name – features recognizable locations throughout the island. The 1964 film The Moon Spinners is another exciting film set in Crete, about a young woman visiting Crete to research folk songs for the BBC when she falls for a young Englishman who may be part of a jewel-smuggling ring.

8. Enjoying Cinema on Crete

One of the summer pleasures on Crete is the outdoor cinema, in fragrant gardens under the stars. Films are screened in their original languages, with Greek subtitles (the exception being films for children, which often are dubbed). The cantina seres soft drinks, cold beer, liquor, and, of course, pop corn.

9. Live music in Greece

There are concerts, theatre, and all sorts of cultural diversions on Crete. But the locals, especially those in the villages, may not have time for them, as Summer is the season for Baptisms and Weddings. It’s not rare that a traditional Cretan Wedding have as many as 5,000 guests. In this culture of close extended family and “Koumbari”, people in the villages of Crete may attend special events in neighboring villages nearly every weekend when the weather is warm.

10. Koumbari

Your “Koumbaros” or Koumbara” is the man or the woman who married you at a traditional Orthodox Christian wedding (exchanging the wreaths on the heads of the couple), or who you married. Or it is the person who baptised your child, or chose child you baptised. In all cases, it is not a ceremonial title for the one day, but rather a life-long connection, like family.

11. Cretan Fashion

Men in villages even today still often opt for traditional Cretan dress. It’s a wise choice – the tall boots, breeches, and black shirts look dashing on men of any age.

12. Volta

Whatever your style, you’ll want to put on something special after you rise from siesta. “Volta” is the evening stroll along the waterfront, usually with a stop at a cafe for an impromptu tsikoudia with friends. It’s a graceful prelude to the evening activities.