She waves standing in the doorway and greets you like the long time not seen son, like a lost child. Than she is off, rushing to get you a chair, some fresh musmula to peal (it's beginning of June) and refreshing, cold raki. They both - Maria and Konstantinos are so happy to see you - someone who is a total stranger, who just had happened to pass by their home. Well, you are not a stranger, in fact. Here you are a dear guest - welcomed, received with open arms, warmheartedly greeted. People passing by our house rarely stop, she says and smiles. She is happy. The whole life written in a tiny lines of her face. And her hands. Beauty is a light in the heart. Kindness.
Having made sure you are comfortable, that you have your chair, water and raki, she finally sits down. Her time-worn hands seem not to be afraid of life - they have cuddled children and embraced work. She is the one - keeping the gate of the house open, keeping the fire on, the kindness. The beauty.
She takes care of her Konstantinos. His big, blue, sightless eyes facing infinity seem looking right into your soul. It is like meeting the whole world in a long-lived soulful eyes even if they are blind. Konstantinos was a priest for over 40 years on Crete. It has been many years now since he is retired and for the past years also blind - sightless. But you cannot turn away from his eyes, his eyes seem to see everything.
They tell about their life of 64 years together, about their four grown-up children some of them living in Athens, some in Heraklion. They visit as often as they can. And than they have a bunch of grandchildren. Maria grows quiet as Konstantinos tells about his grandson - a very young, beautiful, strong Cretan who just little time was killed in a car accident. It is not always easy for them to manage on their own but they want to be independent. The house is big enough for everyone and the doors are open always for their children, friends and visitors. They go on.
They ask about me, where am I from, what is my life, how is it going, where the travel takes me. We lift the shot of chilled raki. It is all good.
Precious moments with beautiful Cretans. The feeling that it was a blessing of meeting Maria and Konstantinos does not fade away. I remembering this wonderful encounter and my heart smiles.
The experiences of blissful moments I call 'zen' - it is a special, utterly enjoyable, fleeting but beautiful moment that provides an inspiration and revelation. Pefki - a village in South-East Crete turned out to be a 'zen' place inspiring with its stunning view, amalgam of colours, marvellous nature and delicious food.
1 Moment: Zen of the View
Choosing Pefki as a destination for a day trip will give you plenty of opportunities for adventure and nature exploration. History records that Pefki acquired electricity only in 70. That should be quite telling to understand how the pulse of the village beats. The impressive rock called Stavromenos with tiny chapel seated on it and perching high above Pefki village offers this panoramic view over the village, South-East coast of Crete and Libyan sea.
2 Moment: Zen of Colours
The stroll through the alleys and pathways of Pefki village is like exploring an open-air museum - a mix of traditional building styles with the colours, schemes and design elements created by villagers.
3 Moment: Zen of Nature
If you are wondering were to find a lush, green hideaway and natural underground water swimming pool for a meditative solitude and contemplation in Crete than here it is - in Pefki gorge, South Crete. Fresh water spring and pool amidst all the summer heat. A magic place. Having walked quite few gorges in Crete I would compare Pefki gorge with a nature park - it is an easy, utterly enjoyable and beautiful walking path. The walk down the gorge is along a pretty and picturesque route through the pine wood. You will also see plane trees and other common Cretan vegetation, such as thyme and sage bushes. On the south side of the gorge is a spring of fresh drinking water, so it’s a good idea to fill a bottle with cold mountain water to take with you. It takes about 3.5 hours to walk the gorge that is clearly signposted.
4 Moment: Zen of Food
Fresh, home-made, delicious food in not an exception but rather a rule in Crete. Still the element of surprise is always there when finding beautiful, hospitable place with delicious local food just by sheer chance. There seem to be several eateries in Pefki but "Piperia" (that means 'under the pepper tree') is the most beautifully located in the middle of the upper village - traditional tables under the light green dense pepper tree with a scenic view. It is emblemic of the traditional tavern in a best and most friendliest sense - cute, cozy and tasty.
Pefki village in South-East Crete is about 5 km away from nearby Makrigialos or half an hour drive from Ierapetra.
How to make day walking tour around Pefki?
If in other parts of the world the snails enjoy extended life span, secluded and quiet existence than on Crete they are very much in the spotlight, enyoing the centre attention and a prominent place in the Cretan diet. If in other parts of the world the people think of them as disgusting garden pests, here they are seen as a centre piece of the islands menue - delicious, nurturing and very much appreciated on this island which is probably why you will rarely see them in the garden.
I also have difficulty classifying these tardy, little, slow beings and placing them properly in my food chain. Well, clearly it is not a meat, at least by Cretan standards; surely they are not veggies either. I'd like to regard them as sort of 'earth food', just like mussels are considered to be a 'seafood'.
Cretan earth food
The fame has its price to pay - most of Cretan snails end up all butter-soacked, rosemary-seasoned, wine-drunk. Despite the tradition of snail eating on Crete, I can't help feeling a bit like a cannibal and somewhat supreme every time when devouring snails.
If you don't feel like having a snail-collecting experience during the morning moisty hours, fortunately here on Crete you can get the them also at laiki (the street market), coming right from the snail farm - neatly packed in a bag (so you don't have to pick them live and kill actually). Thats, if you opt for home-cooking or - nicely served on the dish in a tavern.
Well, either way the Cretan snails is a must food experience on Crete that you don't want to miss.
What do you need? 'Simplicity is the root of all genius'! The same applies for cooking the snails. What you need is literary few basic ingredients but most importantly - the snails. The list ingredients is following:
How to do it? The more the merrier, so invite friends over for a snail feast. You have to start with removing the membrane covering the opening of the shell and wash the snails properly. Than drown them in bowl filled with water and leave them there until their heads come out (30 to 45 minutes). Throw away all the snails whose heads have not come out. Put the snails in a pot of olive oil - well heated and boil for 10 - 15 minutes. Add the rosemary, salt and pepper, stir them for another 3 minutes later add the sip of vinegar and some wine. Let them come to the boil and they are ready to serve.
Snails go beautifully with the Cretan wine variety and some Cretan jazz! :) Enjoy!
Did I mention there is the whole festival devoted to snails on Crete? Read about the Cretan snail feast here!
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.