If you have time to explore the beautiful island, you will come across some really authentic products and handiwork in the villages to take home as souvenirs that will always evoke happy memories. Smart Cretan knives, engraved with lines of poetry, used to be a popular souvenir as they are special and part of the men’s national costume. With the necessary baggage regulations imposed by airlines, however, they are now not so easy to get home.
Well, here are the top souvenirs to buy in Crete, so, happy shopping!
1. Pack a bottle or two of olive oil
The Mediterranean diet is known to be one of the healthiest in the world and the traditional diet eaten in Crete is known to be the very best, ensuring good health and longevity for the island’s people. There are more than 30 million olive trees in Crete and olive oil has been made on the island since 3,500 BC as proven by the ancient Minoan mills uncovered by archaeologists at Knossos. The people in Crete eat far more olive oil per head than anywhere else in the world and they cook with it and bake cakes with it, so a bottle of extra virgin olive oil is definitely a good buy! If you enjoy the taste of olives, a tub of the local olive paste is well worth buying too as it tastes wonderful on a thick slice of freshly baked bread.
2. Or some crafted pieces of olive wood
There are plenty of really lovely pieces of olive wood that have been handcrafted into salad bowls, sweet dishes, and salad servers. Olive wood is a beautiful color with very distinct graining and really makes a lovely souvenir to treasure.
3. A piece or two of local cheese makes a tasty souvenir
There are a number of different cheeses made on the island as well as the famous white and crumbly Feta. Anthotyros is a really tasty cheese that is made from a blend of sheep and goats’ milk. Eaten fresh, this creamy cheese is very similar to the Italian Ricotta but you can also buy a dried version which is perfect for snacking! The other popular cheese from Crete is Graviera which is usually flavored with wild thyme and matured in caves.
4. Remember Crete with some carob syrup
There are almost as many carobs in Crete as olive trees and although they have been grown for thousands of years, it is only relatively recently that health experts have realized what a healthy alternative carob makes to chocolate. Apart from carob flavored biscuits, look out for a bottle of teratsemelo – carob syrup – which is perfect to pop in your suitcase (alas, not allowed in cabin bags!). The syrup is often served on a dish of Greek yogurt in Crete for breakfast, but this makes a healthy snack at any time of the day.
5. Treat yourself to some komboloi
It will have been a common sight during your stay in Crete to see many men (and some women) playing with a string of komboloi – worry beads. Slipping the beads through the fingers of one hand or flicking them so they make a distinctive clicking sound is known to help ease tension. They are believed to have originated from the knotted prayer strands used by Orthodox priests. Originally there were 33 beads on a circular string – and these represented the years of Christ’s life. In recent years they have become more of a fashion accessory and some have just 12 beads representing the apostles. Worry beads are made in a variety of materials including beautiful olive wood, stone, and plastic, but the most highly prized ones are made from amber.
6. Leather in Crete is a good buy
In Crete, the men have always worn sturdy leather boots – stivania – as part of their national costume. Wherever possible, these boots are carefully made from a single piece of leather – or at the very most, two pieces – one for the foot and the other for the leg. In the town of Chania, there is one area known as ‘Stivandika’ (nicknamed ‘Leather Street’) where a number of bootmakers’ workshops can be found. They use the offcuts of leather to make purses, wallets and key rings and also make beautifully soft leather belts and bags.
7. Fragrant fresh herbs to enhance your cooking
The great thing about buying fresh herbs in Crete is that they grow wild and thus have more aroma and definitely more taste and where packing is concerned they are light and take up hardly any room! Apart from being used in cooking, the herbs are often used to make herbal teas with good health properties. Chamomile is well known for helping people get a good night’s sleep and the island’s mountain sage is effective at easing stomach ache- but too many cups in one day and you will find that it has diuretic properties too! Diktamos is a herb that is endemic to the island and is good for cleaning wounds and was first mentioned by Hippocrates in his writings.
8. A lovely piece of ceramic work
Pottery has been made in Crete for thousands of years and pitharia – the large red clay storage jars – were used for storing wine and olive oil. Because of their large size, they were made in situ by traveling potters. The villages of Margarites near Rethymnon and Trapsano are both known for their pottery and there are potters working in Verekinthos – a village known for its artisans. Today a variety of bowls, jugs, dishes, and olive oil bottles can be bought in a variety of styles and make lasting souvenirs. If you visit the fascinating archaeological site of Knossos there are some beautiful pieces of ceramic work that you can buy that are accurate reproductions of pieces uncovered there.
9. Stini Yiamas – Cheers – with a bottle of local wine!
Wine has been made in Crete for thousands of years and it is fun to combine a wine tasting trip with some souvenir shopping! The island wines are very pleasant and semi-sweet and one of the best-known wineries is Douloufakis which is in Dasfnes near the capital, Heraklio or a bottle of Tsikoudia.
You may well have been served with a customary glass of Tsikoudia (the island’s version of Raki) whilst you enjoyed your evening meal of seafood or Mezédhes and it certainly is a popular grand finale to an evening. Raki is made by distilling all the leftover grape skins from winemaking and is quite a powerful spirit at 25-37.5% proof! Another local spirit to watch out for is Rakomelo. Rakomelo is made from Tsikoudia that is flavored with thyme honey and cinnamon and served warm on a winter’s evening to give a comforting inner warmth.