Visitors to Crete always want to find just the right memories of Crete to take back home. Objects that tell a story of their own, that are characteristic of the land and that – sometimes – cannot be obtained anywhere else. Here are what we think you absolutely must take home with you… and while getting these souvenirs for yourself, why not get some for friends as well?
Top Ten Souvenirs You Can Buy on Crete
1. Olive oil
Olives have been cultivated on Crete since Minoan times (about 3,500 BC). Archaeologists have even found an entire room devoted to olive pressing in the Minoan palace of Knossos. Cretans are one of the largest consumers of olive oil worldwide and it is the main ingredient of the healthy Cretan diet.
From the miraculous olive tree comes a varied range of other products as well, such as pastes to spread on bread; its decorative wood makes beautiful utensils, and the beauty products, including soap, that are made with olive oil are second to none.
2. Thyme honey
The area of Sfakia, in the White Mountains of Crete, is famous for the character of its people, not only for their resilience and hospitality, but also their culinary flair as well.
The pies from Sfakia (also called Sfakianes pites) are made with very simple ingredients and when still hot, are topped with the best honey around, from Sfakia. On Crete, honey varieties range from those made from orange blossoms to pine trees, but thyme honey is the absolute best-seller due to its mild taste, deep orange color, and unique consistency.
3. Graviera cheese
Contrary to what anyone would believe, Greeks eat the more cheese than any other people in the world. Of course, Feta cheese remains a best-seller in the rest of the country; however, in Crete, locals mainly prefer soft types such as anthotyros (quite similar to the Italian ricotta, which can be eaten dry or fresh) and mizithra, used for pies and salads.
When it comes to more aged or savory cheese, the choice is the pungent and spicier Cretan Graviera, with a subtle flavor of nuts and even pepper sometimes. Graviera is also sold with thyme or spices and is sometimes aged in mountain caves. In Crete, Graviera is made from sheep’s and goat’s milk in different proportions.
Another characteristic of the Cretan mountains is the endless varieties of wild herbs, and medicinal plants that grow with the aid of the ideal climate: abundant water from the mountains combined with balanced temperatures and very rich soil.
It’s no surprise that the herbs that can be used for teas can also serve as condiments at the table. Herbs like thyme, oregano, and marjoram are widely used on Crete. To make Cretan Mountain tea, you should purchase the Cretan dittany which only grows on Crete, (Origanum dictamnus), and add to it chamomile, verbena, and sage.
Locals are known to include up to 12 different mountain herbs to prepare what they also call their “cocktail tea”. They serve this tea hot and with honey during Winter, or with a touch of orange zest and iced in Summer.
5. Local crafts
Near the city of Chania, there’s a unique place that gathers over thirty local artisans in one village. The Verekinthos Arts and Crafts Village provides local artisans with spaces to live and create.
This project, which took over thirty years to complete, presents ancient traditional crafts using historical techniques that may have otherwise have been lost. Taking a walk around the village, you can purchase clay board games, glass and metal jewelry, toys made of tin or wood, and fine ceramics. Some artists also offer courses on Byzantine painting and ceramics.
6. Carob products
Carob is a very common evergreen tree growing almost anywhere on Crete. The island is home to the largest natural grove in Europe, which is located in Tris Ekklisies.
The pod (not the seeds) of the carob tree are consumed dried or roasted and are used also to produce carob flour. During wartime, carob was used to feed the rebels who lived in the mountains as well as the villagers there.
Carob is today considered a nutritional superfood; it’s also a healthy substitute for chocolate. Some of its derived products include pasta, coffee, tea, and biscuits.
7. Cretan knives
Cretan knives have always been key to the local culture; men historically carried two of them all the time. One of the knives was intended for food — for scaling fish, carving meat or cutting bread. The other served to kill the enemy.
The difference between the two types of knives is in the shape of the handle. Food knives have special areas on the handle to accommodate the fingers. Knives used to stab the enemy, instead, have a straight handle while the blade is thought to produce a faster death.
8. Cretan boots
Called “stivania,” these are the traditional boots still to be found on Crete, especially in the mountains and in remote villages. Shepherds still consider stivania as part of their everyday outfits. In the cities, stivania can be seen during special feasts and celebrations, since they are part of the Cretan dress many traditional dancers wear.
Walking down “the road of the leather,” as it is called, in the center of Chania, it is still possible to get a custom pair of shoes made for yourself. People from all over the world come to the island to get their feet measured; just a few weeks later, once back home, they receive a pair of boots that have a fit like no mass-produced shoes can match.
These strings of beads, known in Greece as worry beads, are part of a tradition that can also be found in other areas of the country. On Crete, however, the House of Amber has one the biggest collections of Komboloi.
Komboloi normally have an odd number of beads and there are versions both for men and for women. Their beads can be made of aromatic wood, such as sandalwood, but also natural stone, glass, amber, or plastic.
Pottery is one of the most emblematic of all Greek items, and your friends back home would certainly appreciate any beautiful vase or pot made on Crete. Margarites, a village near the city of Rethymno, is probably one of the best places to test your own skills with clay; you can then choose among all their pots, cups, vases and plates to take some back home.
The production of pots is a tradition as old as time on Crete. You to see them on the island in the form of pitharia, the huge vases the Minoans would use to store oil, wine, or food. Many of these have been found in different cities all around the Mediterranean, proving the commercial ties Crete once had with nearby civilizations.