Stefanos Manoleas was born and raised in Rethymno, the third-largest city on the island of Crete. After living on the island for 25 years, he admits that he can’t exactly be objective when talking about the love he has for his home — but who can blame him?
For Stefanos, Crete is not only special because of its beautiful sights and attractions, but because of its people, its culture, and the underlying hospitality that emanates from its shores.
So naturally, we asked him to share some of his local knowledge.
LAY OF THE LAND
Crete is the largest island in Greece and the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Known for its varied terrain — which ranges from fine-sand beaches to mountainscapes, flatlands, coastal plains, and steep gorges — the island is teeming with vibrant cities, ancient treasures, and renowned cuisine. It’s also home to the Ideon Cave, which, according to Greek mythology, was the birthplace of Zeus.
Crete is comprised of four main cities: Chania, Rethymno, Heraklion, and Agios Nikolaos. Of those four, Chania and Heraklion offer well-connected airports with direct flights to and from many major European cities.
WHERE TO STAY
For a quick weekend in Crete, Stefanos recommends staying in Chania, and more specifically, in the city’s old harbor area. Chania boasts accommodations spanning recently refurbished old houses to boutique hotels. Around the old harbor area, you can also find a whole slew of restaurants and bars with relaxed atmospheres — all within a five to 20-minute walk (depending on where you choose to stay). Stefanos also suggests finding a home-base that offers parking, as it is a bit difficult to find parking spots in the area, and, on the off-chance that you do find one, you’ll most likely have to pay for it.
WHAT TO EAT
Cretan food is famed for its unique ingredients and flavors. Based on simple techniques, it utilizes a variety of local produce, including mountain herbs and greens, specialty cheeses, fresh fish, famous Cretan oil, and raki (a bracing grape brandy).
Stefanos says you shouldn’t miss out on dakos (Cretan salad), horta (Cretan veggies), chochlioi boubouristi (fried snails), kaltsounia (Cretan cheese pies), lamb with stamnagathi (wild chicory), Gamopilafo (wedding rice), askordoulakous (mountain bulbs), hirina apakia (Smoked Pork), sfakianopies (Cretan breakfast), raki or tsikoudia (Cretan brandy), mizithra or graviera (Cretan cheeses), or staka (cooked Cretan cheese).
For traditional Cretan cuisine, Stefanos recommends Chrisostomos — a restaurant located in Chania that prepares original Cretan dishes in a wood oven and offers an atmosphere that will make you feel like you’re eating in an authentic Cretan home.
Another favorite of Stefanos’ is Tamam. Situated in the old port area and featuring a careful selection of top-quality local products, Tamam is inspired by Grecian Sunday family meals.
And, for a relaxed yet luxurious environment overlooking the sea, Stefanos suggests grabbing a drink (and maybe some more food) at Pallas — a restaurant bar characterized by its bright rooms, comfy sofas, wooden tables, and lively funk music.
WHAT TO SEE
Although Chania’s old town has plenty of its own beauty, Stefanos encourages anyone visiting Crete to hop in a car and explore the must-see places around the island.
Balos Lagoon (1.5-hour drive from Chania): Often called the “turquoise paradise,” Balos is one of the most photographed beaches in Crete. Once you arrive, you can either take a 30-minute hike to the area or hire a boat — though Stefanos recommends hiking so that you can make the most of your time and stay at the beach long enough to watch the sunset.
Elafonisi (2-hour drive from Chania): Located close to the southwestern corner of Crete, Elafonisi is an island full of white and pink sandy beaches. Once you arrive at the outskirts of the island, you can actually walk across the water on foot because it is so shallow. Because it tends to be a bit crowded, Stefanos suggests pairing this trip with a visit to Kedrodasos.
Kedrodasos (2-hour drive from Chania; 15-minute drive from Elafonisi): Also called Cedar Forest, Kedrodasos is an area filled with juniper trees (mistakenly confused with cedars) and sand dunes, reminiscent of tropical Lebanese beaches. Known for its white sand and smooth, flat rocks, as well as its secluded corners, Kedrodasos is likely one of the last untouched paradises in Europe.
Loutro (2-hour drive from Chania): Easily Stefanos’ favorite summer getaway, Loutro is a small fishing village located on the southern coast of the Chania region of Crete. The village itself is only accessible via boat from Chora Sfakion since there are no cars or roads in the seaside town, making it a quaint destination that transports you to another time.
Seitan limania (40-minute drive from Chania): One of the most popular beaches near Chania, Seitan limania is a small area relatively close to the airport. Because of its location, it tends to be busy on the weekends, but if you get there early, you can claim a spot right next to the sea. Stefanos also notes that the beach is accessible via rocky footpaths, so be sure to wear shoes that can hold their own.
Agia Marina (15-minute drive from Chania): Located on the northern coast of the Chania region, Agia Marina is one of Crete’s most popular beach resorts. So if you’re not looking to drive very far, Stefanos recommends soaking up the sun and exploring all that the area has to offer — there are several cafés and bars lining the beach, and opposite the shore lies the small, inhabited island of Theodorou, which is home to a herd of the protected kri kri (wild goats).
WHAT TO DO
As far as experiences are concerned, there are plenty to choose from to fill your time. Some of Stefanos’ favorites include:
- Riding a chariot through the heart of Chania
- Getting lost in the colorful, narrow alleyways of old town
- Driving to the village of Therisso and enjoying the picturesque views
- Taking a day trip to Samaria Gorge (the longest gorge in Europe), located in the White Mountains of western Crete
To help us out, Stefanos also taught us a few key Greek phrases to use while in Crete.
- Hello = Yassoo (familiar) or yassas (formal)
- Good morning = Kaleemera (familiar) or kaleemera sas (formal)
- Good evening = Kaleespera (familiar) or kaleespera sas (formal)
- Goodnight = Kaleenikta (familiar) or kaleenikta sas (formal)
- Do you speak English? = Meelate angleeka?
- Please = Parakalo
- Thank you = Efcharisto
- Yes = Nai
- No = Okhee
- How much is it? = Poso kanee?
All in all, Stefanos doesn’t think a trip to Crete requires much preparation; he knows that once you’re there, you will discover its hospitality, good weather, great food, and beautiful beaches. That, he says, is what will keep you coming back again and again.