If you are going to Crete for the first time, the chances are high you will find yourself in Herssonisos that is the 'mecca' of mass tourism in Crete. During the high season the eateries are literary mushrooming in and around Hersonissos so there are plenty of places to choose from but if you are looking for something more authentic and quality, look out for any of these three (see below) that are popular not only among visitors but locals, all year round. Having been around Hersonissos for quite a while, we have explored many taverns and have came up with our favourite trio. It would be fair to say that after some time we stopped the search for 'the best' and settled with visiting these three on a regular basis. Vegera, Akrogiali and Athivoli guarantee the belly happiness and does not 'wear out' the wallet.
The best ambience: Vegera
Having so many taverns per sqm as in Crete, you'd never see people queuing to get a seat. Well, here you go! Officially called 'Vegera' but more often called after its owner 'David', this place is never breaking the tradition of serving simple yet delicious meze dishes and, what is nonetheless important, for amazingly competitive prices. 'Vigour' run by David is a pure example of a lasting tradition of family business. You will see the owner himself taking care of this busy yet cosy place every evening and night (except Sundays). It is a right place for ordering chochlius - Cretan snails. All the meat dishes are equally delicious. Small quantities of dishes and great price allows you to order a lot and to try many different kind of dishes. This tavern is a true gem of Ano Hersonissos and we indeed resist visiting it every single evening.
The best food: Akrogiali
Even thought the tavern's official name is 'Akrogiali', it is called 'at Manolis', yet again for the simple reason that the owner of the tavern is a man, called Manolis. Here too the locals receive the menu list and a pen to mark your choice for meze - just check what you like (the English speakers get a traditional menu, though). This is the right place to go for a fish and seafood - kalamari are delicious; so are mussels, octopus and the catch of the day. The food is really great. Prices are indicated and reasonable - it is easy, transparent and fun ordering procedure. This is another example of a family business where you see the whole extended family engaged during the high season - summer. Located right on the shore in Hersonissos, Akrogiali is simple and lovely place for the traditional meze and a light sea breeze in a warm Mediterranean night. This is the place for best dakos in probably the whole Crete - small, juicy, rich - they literary melt in the mouth. Also, try their excellent bottled wine 'Stamni'! It is one of my favourites - a mix of 4 varieties: sauvignon blanc, assyrtiko, moschato and malagousia with an aftertaste of seriousness, trust, freshness and energy! Produced in limited quantities and available in only here.
The nicest garden: Athivoli
This rather recent discovery, called 'Athivoli' is something of an authentic gem - a place for a quiet evening at the entrance of olive garden while enjoying home-cooked delicious meze dishes prepared by elderly lady - the mother of the family. The family that runs the place asserts that only mother makes the best dolmades and best keftedakia (meet balls). The place is so small and non-commercial in every sense, it feels just like at home. Especially in hot summer eves when you feel you've landed in backside garden of your Mediterranean country lodge - cicadas singing, olives ripening, you sipping the wine ... There is no standard menu available but you can have a choice of day's cooking. 'Athivoli' has a great variety of red house wine. Highly recommended!
Which is your favourite tavern?
Visiting Houdetsi festival is experiencing the Cretan culture, people and food in almost distilled, condensed and pure way and as authentic and genuine as it can get. Here are 3 main reasons why to combine your visit to Crete with the time of Houdetsi village Festival.
Hospitality and Smiles of People
Crete is know for its hospitable and wonderful people but this festival is truly an amazing opportunity to experience the hospitality in a multiplied way. The Cretan people are honoured you have visited their village (and island) and are genuinely interested in your likes. It is a celebration where you as a guest are warmly welcomed by hosts - Cretan people. So, do not miss the opportunity to chat up with people and exchange smiles. Don't get discouraged by your scarce Greek vocabulary, Cretan people like the rest of the Greeks usually are happy to practice their English and to make you feel at home.
Variety and Abundance of Local Food
This is probably one of the best ways to learn about key ingredients of the Cretan cuisine - variety of cheeses, spices, honey, herbs and of course, Cretan spirit - raki as well as wine from local varieties. All of that goes for sale as well as for tasting and sampling in generous portions. Options are abundant including souvlaki, hortopitakias (pastry with greens and herbs), tiropitas (pastry with cheese), loukomades (fried-dough pastry soaked in honey and cinnamon and sprinkled with sesame), halva and so on. Every second seller offers generous shots of raki to train your taste buds and to seal the newly made friendship (having said that you would never see any drunk person there).
World Music Paradise in Crete
This festival is about celebration of Cretan and world music in the first place and therefore a unique opportunity to listen and dance to the sounds and tunes of lyra, laouto, percussions and other instuments. The jam sessions take place spontaneously in the narrow pathways of the village as visitors pull out their own instruments to share their music experience.
Houdetsi Music Festival this year takes place from 4 to 7 of August. Here you can find more information.
Press here for more snapshots from the Houdetsi Festival 2013
The website of the festival: http://www.houdetsifestival.com
Having traveled for over 30 years, since 6 years now, I have found the whole world in one of the most fascinating and unique places on earth – Crete. It is a diverse, rich and inspiring island which even after so many years does not stop surprising me - its rich history and unique traditions, its people, the delicacies of Cretan cuisine, its landspace and its stunning nature. Here I reveal some of its secrets.
I see Crete through turquoise - pink glasses.