12 Facts You Didn’t Know About Crete
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.
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.