We’ve landed on Crete, the almost-southernmost island of Greece.
We’ve just begun to explore the island and we thought you might like a taste – of the rivers of olive oil, the layers of history back to the ancients, and the Cretan people who are quite clearly a product of both.
Fresh and fragrant is the name of the game with Cretan food. The island’s hills are covered with wild herbs such as sage, thyme, marjoram, even bay leaves (laurel). Olive oil, consumed at a staggering annual 25 liters per capita, is still very much a family business. And the temperate climate of the island means fresh vegetables and fruit for much of the year.
No wonder the traditional Cretan diet leans to health and long life. If what we ate on our first afternoon was any indication, we’re in for a treat.
Crete evinces a deep history. From the mythological cave where Zeus was born, to its Minoan palaces, Roman cities, and Venetian forts, to the World War II cemetery, Crete’s contours and soil tell a story of a Mediterranean crossroads.
Windmills are a symbol of clean energy today, but wind power is not especially new technology on the Greek island of Crete. In the late 15th century, the occupying Venetians began to use windmills on the edge of Crete's hillsides to grind wheat. To better catch the wind, they attached fabric-like sails on the blades.
Today, after over 500 years of facing the elements, the sails are gone and the windmills that remain do so in various stages of disuse. In spite of all that, amidst the breeze, it's possible to imagine the two dozen windmills on the edge of the Lassithi Plateau in Seli Ampelou helping to churn out kilos of ground wheat.
The People of Crete
Although large areas of Crete are heavily developed with mass tourism, small villages are an easy drive away. Locals who’ve lived long drink coffee and while away the hours chatting — just as you might imagine they’ve done for ages.
Life has not been easy for many and people are anxious regarding the current economic crisis, but that doesn’t put a halt to the sense of hospitality and humor that Cretan people bring to the table. When the people we've spoken to discuss the current financial crisis, I’m quick to note – not to diminish but perhaps to commiserate – that the crisis brews also in America and ultimately worldwide.
As I took this woman’s photograph, she asked for a copy and said with a chuckle in a fullness of a life well-lived, still enjoyed: “If I like the photograph maybe I’ll use it on my gravestone.”
Coming Soon on Crete Week
In the coming days we’ll share visits to Crete’s main archeological draws of Knossos, Phaestos and Gortyn. We’re also hoping to hike through Samaria Gorge (weather permitting) and explore the areas in and around Chania and Rethymnon.
But for the moment, we take a lap with the locals, we share some bread and olive oil, and we get a sense of this big little island’s span of landscape, history and life.
Have you been to Crete? Do you have any suggestions for places to visit, local restaurants and awesome Cretan dishes to try?