Crete Souvenir Guide: Authentic Cretan Products to Take Home
Your vacation in Crete is coming to an end and you already feel nostalgic of this wonderful island full of flavors, aromas and sun. As you probably realized during your stay, Cretan products (especially edible ones) are one of a kind, so you rightfully feel inclined to take as many as possible back home with you.
The best places to find traditional Cretan products are specialized shops (a bit of research is required), traditional market areas, and even the open air markets where locals go for their everyday groceries. Make sure the products you buy are original, made by local producers and artists, and avoid flashy souvenir shops in touristy areas, otherwise you might discover that the Minoan snake goddess statue you bought was actually made in China!
Cretan mountains are full of herbal treasures, and Crete has several endemic aromatic plants that are perfect for cooking, healing and soothing in cold winter days.
If you want to buy mountain herbal tea, try those endemic to Crete: dittany (diktamo), known for its therapeutic and aphrodisiac qualities, malotira (Sideritis syriaca or “Cretan mountain tea”), and Cretan faskomilo (Mountain Sage). Cretan oregano and thyme are especially tasty and will upgrade every meal. Satisfaction guaranteed!
The “water-that-burns” from Crete is found everywhere: in coffee shops, taverns, bars, and in the refrigerator of any Cretan. It even comes to you without ordering it, usually after a perfect Cretan meal.
There are many tourist shops that sell bottled raki, however, it might not be of the best quality. We suggest buying a bottle of homemade raki directly from producers, even from taverns in villages, provided that you can taste it first!
Cretan Extra Virgin Olive Oil
You simply cannot leave Crete without taking a bottle of its top quality world-famous olive oil with a centuries-old tradition on the island! Picking the olive oil you will buy is a serious business. Search for specialized shops or – even better – plan a visit to an olive farm for first-hand experience and tastings to find the flavor that best pleases your palate.
The secret to picking a top-quality olive oil is to read the label: it should have the “extra virgin” and PDO/PGI indication, and we suggest you go for certified and / or awarded labels. One thing is for sure: a bottle of quality Cretan olive oil will be your best holiday investment!
Related activities: Family Visit to a Traditional Olive Oil Farm in CreteAsk for info!
Cretan Smoked Meat
Crete has a variety of smoked meats and sausages, but the most characteristic is apaki (smoked meat from pork, marinated in pure wine vinegar) and village sausage.
These are ideally consumed in winter, and they go well with pasta, potatoes, salads, and even on their own as an appetizer with a shot of raki! Make sure they are well wrapped before you put them in your suitcase, otherwise your clothes will smell like smoked meat – not necessarily a bad thing!
Crete is famous for its rich-flavored dairy products that make a delicious souvenir you will enjoy with your everyday meals back home.
Go for local cheeses such as graviera (made from sheep’s milk), the king of Cretan cheeses that is also safe to travel with.
Other options include myzithra (unpasteurized fresh cheese from sheep and/or goat milk) or anthotiro (a variation of myzithra, usually harder in texture). If you plan on taking soft cheese back home, ask how long it can last outside the refrigerator.
Related activities: Cheese Making Workshop and Tasting in Chania
Crete has a long tradition in wine production dating back to the Minoan era, so a bottle of good Cretan wine is a must-buy before you return home.
Modern Cretan brands combine local varieties (kotsifali, thrapsathiri, mantilari) with other known varieties, resulting in a wide selection of excellent quality wines. As it is the case with olive oil, picking a bottle of Cretan wine is a serious business, so we suggest you visit a winery for tastings or specialized stores.
The vast Cretan mountains are full of wild thyme, offering a bee-friendly environment and the ideal conditions for the production of top quality honey.
Cretan honey has a unique flavor, texture and aroma. Add it in your herbal tea, breakfast, mix it with Greek yogurt and experiment with it in your kitchen to fully appreciate its quality.
Related activities: Family Visit to a Cretan Bee Garden
Xinohondros (Cretan dried soup)
A typical Cretan meal during the winter, xinohondros is rarely served in taverns and restaurants but it will surprise you with its rich flavor.
Made from ground wheat and fermented goat or sheep milk, xinohondros is sold dried and can be preserved for a long time in your cupboard. Plus, it is a highly nutritious fast-food (ready in just 10-15 minutes) that can also be used in a myriad of recipes in place of rice (try it in soups, meat stews, vegetables, ect). You just need to add water, boil, and enjoy!
A re-discovered delicacy that has a long and interesting history on the island. Carobs saved Cretans from famine during WW2, as it was used to make flour and prepare daily meals.
Once undermined as the “food of poverty”, carobs have recently regained respect in the international market as a super food that is healthy and delicious. In Crete you can buy rusks and cookies made with carob flour, and we highly recommend buying carob syrup for your pancakes back home!
Don’t underestimate the culinary power of this humble Cretan super food, which is delicious and rich in iron and antioxidants.
You are already familiar with Cretan wine, made by top quality grapes, which, naturally, also make great raisins! Mix them with almonds and walnuts, add a bit of honey and yogurt, and you have a fully nutritional breakfast for every season.
Cretan head scarves (sariki)
The Cretan headscarf is unique in the Mediterranean, and although it is rarely worn nowadays, you can still see old men wearing them in mountainous villages and on festive occasions, as it is part of the traditional costume. It also makes an easy-to-carry souvenir that you can wear in many different ways to fit your personal style, or hang it on your wall for decoration.
It might sound spooky, but Cretan knives have a special value in Cretan culture.
The most famous knife market is in Chania, in a downtown area known as “maheradika” (literaly, “knife-shop area”). You will notice that each knife has a special design with a little poem written on the blade. These are the Cretan rhymes known as “mantinades”. Ask for a translation of the poems, and pick the one that rings a bell!
A traditional female art, the loom has been rediscovered by the new generation of Cretan women and it is making a fashion revolution: from amazing designer clothes to colorful tablecloths and carpets,
Cretan loom products are characterized by high quality and originality. Search for local designers making beautiful clothes and bags on the loom, or pick the colors and size of your carpet ( of course you need to order well in advance) and take back home a souvenir that will seriously upgrade your home decor!
Ceramic art in Crete has a long and unique history, and today local artists create original pieces that combine tradition with modern aesthetics. The best place to find them is in pottery studios and specialized stores. We also suggest taking a day trip to the lovely village of Margarites in Rethymno, where you can buy the best ceramic souvenirs directly from the artists. If you seek replicas of Minoan ceramics, the shops of archaeological museums and certified souvenir stores are the best places to go.
Sandals & Leather Goods
Can you think of a better wearable souvenir than the stylish Greek sandals?
Apart from the typical Greek-hero sandal style, today you can find a large selection of colors and designs in the traditional markets of Crete. Head to the old town of any Cretan city and you will definitely find lots of shops with beautiful handmade sandals, bags, wallets and many other leather accessories to take home with you.
After your visit in Crete you are probably familiar with Cretan authors like Nikos Kazantzakis and Vincenco Cornaro, and you might even be motivated to read some of their books.
Maybe you became interested in Cretan history and culture and you would like to learn more. If this is your case, then head to the shops of the Municipal libraries (ex Vikelea Library in Heraklion) or to the shops of Historical Museum for specialized books about Cretan history.
You can also find English editions of books by Nikos Kazantzakis in most central bookstores and -of course- in the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum in the village of Myrtia.
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