Chania is known for its wonderful people, warm hospitality, and fresh produce. And if you would like to learn about the Cretan cuisine and culture, this unique food and wine tour run by a local will allow you to experience all the gastronomical delights this beautiful city has to offer on foot.
Awaken your senses as you leisurely stroll through the picturesque streets of Chania that are adorned with a fascinating history; and immerse yourself in the aromas and flavours of Cretan cuisine, as a hospitable local Cretan host guides you to spots where you can taste authentic savoury and sweet treats.
Kelly Michelakis from The Greek Odyssey, says her tours are designed for guests to “learn about the food that makes Crete so special, as you will be able to sample many Cretan delicacies and learn what the Cretan culture is all about by a local.
“Sip on a Greek coffee and enjoy every bite of the famous Cretan bougatsa, as well as enjoy a light lunch at an iconic Cretan eatery. Our guests can learn about the different cakes and biscuits on display as we browse the local bakery, sample Greece’s famous loukoumades, try local cheese that you can’t find elsewhere and view the regional and seasonal produce of the passionate traders who are so proud to share their knowledge,” says Kelly.
With two tours currently available, there is a three-hour Food Day Tour through the backstreets and little-known pockets; where guests can sample Cretan specialties, in between visiting some old traditional stores to learn about Cretan culture and heritage.
There is also a Food and Wine Night Tour that allows guests to taste Cretan delicacies as they sip on local wine and spirits. This is where you can enjoy every bite of traditional Cretan appetizer, while admiring the stunning views of the city by night.
Cretan cuisine is renowned worldwide for its unique ingredients and rich flavours. Cooking here is based on simple techniques and lush local produce, making the island’s dishes stand out.
From organic mountain herbs and a variety of greens to handmade cheeses, an abundance of fresh seafood, renowned Cretan oil, floral honey and famous Raki- there is something very special about the delicacies on offer.
We recently spoke with Kelly Michelakis, founder of The Hellenic Odyssey, a passionate home cook who hails from Crete and runs popular online cooking classes. Kelly offers lessons to people around the world on how to prepare Greek food and also shares her Cretan family recipes that have been handed down through generations.
What do you think makes Cretan cuisine unique, and what dishes from the island do you enjoy making?
Cretan cuisine aligns with the values of the Mediterranean diet, which in fact originated in Crete in the post WWII period. Cretan food relies on fresh, local and seasonal produce. Dishes are simple but full of flavour which comes from high-quality products such as extra virgin olive oil and fresh aromatic herbs. I love making Cretan Kaltsounia and Boureki the most.
Having spent a lot of time in Chania, where are some of your favourite places to eat out?
Ntounias set in the mountainous region of Nerokouros, Gramvousa restaurant in Kaliviani with beach views in the distance, and Chrisostomos, Tamam and Oasis all in the town centre and for the sweet tooth Kronos and Ioardanis.
What Cretan delicacies/dishes do you suggest people try when visiting?
Bougatsa: It comes in two forms. The sweet version is filled with custard and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Also, there is a savoury version which is made using a local cheese called Mizithra.
Boureki: This delicious dish is traditionally made by layering thickly cut pieces of zucchini and potatoes, topped with a cheese and mint mix.
Dakos: A refreshing Greek appetiser consisting of a large barley rusk, it is topped with extra virgin olive oil, grated tomatoes and mizithra cheese.
Pilafi: This traditional rice pilaf is made using chicken or beef stock or even a combination of both. It is then finished with lemon juice and butter.
Kaltsounia: Filo pastry parcels with any type of soft local Cretan cheese and/or wild greens and herbs.
Loukoumades: Fluffy doughnuts, which are soft on the inside and crunchy on the outside, there are so many Loukoumades stores in every part of Crete serving this popular sweet.
Yoghurt: Crete is a large producer of dairy making yoghurt varieties, from sheep to cow and to goat.
Myzithra: A cheese similar to ricotta but made with goats milk. It is extremely soft in texture and absolutely delicious.
Raki: This is a very strong spirit made using the traditional evaporation method. Leftover grape pomace is used to make the following harvest and winemaking.
Sfakianopita: A scrumptious pie from the mountainous region of Sfakia. This is a really thin flat pie which is filled with a small amount of cheese, lightly fried and topped with lots of honey.
Staka: A very traditional dish made from goat’s milk butterfat. In fact, Staka is a dish you will only find in Crete.
Xerotigana: A light pastry fluffy dough fried in olive oil, soaked in honey, and topped with sesame seeds or walnuts- delivering a super crunchy texture.
Australian born with Greek heritage, Kelly Michelakis, founder of The Hellenic Odyssey, is a passionate home cook and travel enthusiast.
Accompanied by her photographer husband, Xenophon, they make the perfect team- sharing discoveries of authentic Greek food and travel on their social media pages and popular blog, which is reached by thousands of followers.
Having to put their 2020 culinary and travel tours on hold due to the pandemic, Kelly has turned her focus to online cooking classes, which launched a few weeks ago and has already become a worldwide hit.
Kelly is currently hosting weekly classes and sharing her beautiful and traditional Greek recipes with people from all around the globe who are keen to discover how to make authentic Greek dishes from scratch. This includes entrees such as Greek pita and dips, a variety of mains like Gemista and Pastitsio, as well as Greek sweets such as Bougatsa and Ekmek Kataifi.
With the aim of inspiring people all over the world to try Greek food and to visit Greece, Kelly recently spoke with us about living in Greece, her passion for Greek cuisine and culture, plus her love of sharing her knowledge about the origins and philosophy of Greek gastronomy.
Tellus which part of Greece are you from and when did you first visit?
I’m from the island of Crete, the largest of all the Greek islands. My family originates from Chania, the prefecture on the western side of Crete. My grandparents grew up in the region known as Keramia in the village of Kontopoula. I first visited Greece when I was eight, but I didn’t just visit. I lived there for two years in the prefecture of Heraklion, the capital city of Crete. Since then, I have been back to Greece five times.
What part of Greek culture do you connect with most?
I connect mostly with the food of Greece and the traditions and customs surrounding that- music, dance, celebrations, festivals, the land, cultivation and harvesting. Learning about how our elders lived provides great insight into our history and ensures their stories are not lost among the generations. It enables their recipes, their food and their ways to be remembered and passed on.
When did you launch The Hellenic Odyssey and what was the vision behind it?
We started The Hellenic Odyssey as a project created from the heart, driven by a passion for food and inspired by a love for travel. We launched in 2018 with the intention of providing culinary travel tours to Crete and hosting cooking classes here in Melbourne. Our vision was to continue to learn about our own culture while sharing what we love with others; Greek food and travel.
When did your passion for cooking begin and what do you love making?
It began at an early age. I remember in primary school being told that we could go to the library to borrow a book and I would find myself in the childrens’ cooking section browsing cookbooks. I love cooking sweets the most, and this too has been with me from a young age. I recently found a cookbook from 1995 that was all about classic cakes and upon browsing through the pages, I recall having baked the majority of the recipes from it (and I would have only been about 13 years old).
What are some of your favourite Greek dishes and as a ‘foodie’ what regions in Greece do you enjoy visiting?
My favourite would have to be Cretan and they include Dakos, Boureki, and Kaltsounia. I think Crete is a foodie haven but so too are many other islands and regions such as Naxos, Santorini, the Peloponesse (Kalamata), Athens and Thessaloniki of course! There is such a diverse range of foods and the flavours vary on what that region is known for. The island of Chios for example has its mastiha while Corfu features a lot of Kumquat liqueur.
How would you describe the Greek gastronomy scene in 2020 and what do you think people would be most surprised about?
There is so much more on offer in Greece than travellers could ever expect when it comes to gastronomy. Local boutique suppliers of products such as cheese and yogurt, baked goods, wine, olives, jams, preserves and honey, herbs and botanicals, olive oil, nut based products, distilled spirits such as raki, and even beer are earning a reputation. Travellers would be surprised at the variety of unique food experiences to be had and the exceptionally high quality of the product.
What has been your most memorable A) Breakfast in Greece? B) Lunch in Greece? C) Dinner in Greece?
The most enjoyable breakfast for me are those that you have in a small boutique family owned hotel. There is not a huge selection on offer but what is served is always 10/10. Fresh seasonal fruit, homemade jams, cheese and paximadia, freshly baked bread, local yogurt and honey, and a moist delicate sponge cake.
Lunch! Being served a Greek salad with vine ripened tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, mountainous oregano that seems to smell so different in Greece, topped with a local soft white cheese, plus a plate of hand cut olive oil fried patates and a glass of homemade wine (as most restaurants have their own supply) while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, with old Greek music softly heard in the background at a local taverna on the lesser-visited island of Skiathos. It is the simplicity of the place, the meal and the atmosphere that makes such an experience memorable.
As for dinner, it would be in Santorini on the cliff face of Andronis Luxury Hotel at Lycabettus restaurant, overlooking the caldera with nothing to obstruct your view. Santorini’s best delicacies are served with matching wine during sunset with soothing music in the background on a balmy night. There is a sense at that moment, that nothing else matters, time is non-existent, thoughts do not enter your mind, you are purely there in the present moment without a single thing bothering you.
Tell us about the one and a half years you spent in Greece. What was it like, and how much travelling did you do during that time?
We spent the majority of our time in Greece living in Corfu and in Crete. We intended on living there more permanently but due to the economic crisis Greece was experiencing at the time, we had to return earlier than expected. Living in Greece is completely different from life here in Australia. There is no real order, it is exactly as they say ‘organised chaos’ and you have the choice to either join in and become one of them or be left out with your Australian ways. You have to act and live the way they do in order to get anything done. You must drive like them, speak like them, act like them, eat like them, party like them, and live like them. It is then that you are truly a local.
It was one of the most memorable times of my life. There is a sense of freedom and free spiritedness I feel there that I just can’t get here. We travelled extensively towards the end of our time in Greece, by island hopping during the quieter season. We departed Crete in May and travelled until August. We chose to do this without pre-booking any destinations or hotels. We would board a ferry, arrive at our destination and choose how long to stay there once we got a feel for the place.
What is your advice for anyone planning on travelling through Greece for a long period?
I would recommend buying a cheap car in Athens as it gives you so much freedom to travel. I also recommend you try to travel outside of the peak season, either May/June or September are great months.
You were meant to start travel tours this year, however, that didn’t go ahead due to Covid. Tell us more about those?
The culinary and cultural travel tours in Crete are based in the region of Chania for the whole time. The reason for this is that we want our travellers to become immersed in one destination. We don’t want to rush from one place to the next simply to tick it off a list. We instead want people to have a slow travel journey, to really get to know the locals, to settle in, to experience Cretan life the way locals do. Our tours have an immersive live like a local feel.
What do you want visitors to experience with your tours when they commence?
Tours are aimed at those who are seeking an off the beaten track experience based on a slow travel style. We want to showcase our ancestral history through culinary and cultural travel experiences. We want to share the love we have for Crete and show others what makes it so special. Our tours are unique because they provide the freedom to venture off the beaten track. They are not driven by set times, they operate on Greek time. For example, if our group finds itself having an amazing time with the locals at a winery visit, we would not want to interrupt that because its time to go, or if we stumble across a local festival, we would actually stop so the group could experience that. Our tours are about taking travellers to places that they would not be able to find on their own in the short time they would be there. We take them to the best of the best hidden local gems.
You are inviting people to your home in Melbourne, where you will host cooking classes. What can people expect to learn?
Our cooking classes in Melbourne are in themselves a trip to Greece. I welcome guests into my own home which is surrounded with fruit trees, olive trees, a veggie patch and fresh herbs with an indoor and outdoor dining area so guests can feel like there are in an authentic Greek kitchen, home and garden. Classes are hands on so guests can learn by doing it themselves, we prepare and cook as a group followed by sharing our cooking creations together. Cooking classes in Melbourne will commence once restrictions are lifted.
In the meantime, you’ve launched your popular online cooking classes.
Yes, this is ideal for anyone interested in taking part in an online Greek cooking class as now you can do so from anywhere in the world. I can also conduct one on one sessions, or group Zooms for your special event, family get togethers or work team meetings. You can learn to make Galaktoboureko, Pastitsio, Gemista, Cretan Bougatsa, as well as vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Chania, with its pretty beaches, a unique mix of architecture, narrow pebbled alleyways, charming villages, and buzzing town- is the perfect place to experience a lively city where the old-world meets new. Having visited several times, here is our Complete Travel Guide to Chania.
Getting There & Getting Around
The flight to Chania from Athens is around one hour, otherwise, you can catch a ferry. There is a direct ferry line that takes around 6.5 hours, or you can do an overnight trip, which is roughly 9 hours. Depending on how much of the island you would like to see, we strongly recommend hiring a car, which allows you the flexibility to visit the many beaches, villages, and historical spots around town.
Where to Stay
If you like being close to restaurants and nightlife, we suggest you stay around the Old Town, Venetian Port, or the New Town. If you prefer a more relaxed vibe and being somewhere close to nature (mountains or sea) try Kissamos, Paleochora, or Sfakia. For those wanting to be footsteps away from the beach, we highly recommend Marathi and Loutraki, in the Akrotiri area.
Where to sleep
For a great stay in the heart of the Old Venetian Harbour Cretan Renaissance, Domus Renier, or Casa Delfinio all offer stunning views of the Old Port and the famous Lighthouse. For more of a city vibe, base yourself around the New Town and try Samaria Hotel. If you prefer apartment living, check into Casa Ntore Luxury Apartments or Trianon. And for something closer to the water, we recommend Domes Zeen,Ammos Hotel, and Marathi Villas.
Where to eat
For authentic flavours head to Evgonia– don’t expect fancy décor but the food is amazing (we recommend the grilled fish). Ta Chalkina at the Port offers the complete Cretan experience- great views, live music, and traditional cuisine. Tamam in the Old Town is where you can experience local dishes served in a rustic setting. Further across town at Kaliviani village, you will find Gramvousa Taverna, which offers magnificent food and gorgeous views. Taverna Mpourakis in Kounoupidiana is a local favourite and their specialty is Xoirino Kotsi (pork hog), which is baked for hours. Nea Chora is a waterfront location lined with traditional fish taverns- our favourites include Akrogiali, Volakas, and Achilleas. For modern cuisine and stylish decor try Pallas and Mon.Es- great food and ambiance.
Yes, you can try Bougatsa all over Greece, but you can’t find Bougatsa Iordani anywhere else. This famous pastry- made using fresh Cretan Mizithra (ricotta) – has been a local favourite since 1924. If you are looking for a variety of sweets, make your way over to Koukouvagia which has been named Greece’s best dessert shop on many occasions- and for a good reason! Here you can try the famous Zoumero (a fluffy chocolate cake) as well as Lemonopita (lemon cake), Mosaiko (chocolate biscuit cake), Mille Feuille, Milopita (apple pie), Karidopita (walnut cake)- plus the view is spectacular. Lastly, if you love crepes (like us) head to Roxanis and try the classic Nutella and Banana!
For great local wine and spectacular views of the sunset, head over to the harbourside bar, Pallas. You will catch most of the locals over at Sinagogi- a chic and rustic spot hidden away in the ruins of the old Jewish synagogue. And for a pre-dinner drink or a late-night cocktail, try Fagotto Jazz Bar, one of Crete’s oldest bars.
Local Delicacies and Dishes
Achinous (sea urchins) may be rare to find at your average restaurant but here they appear on most menus. Gamopilafo is a traditional wedding rice dish and is likened to a deluxe risotto prepared in a rich meat broth. Saligaria Tiganita (fried snails) is a local favourite and served as an appetizer. Stamnagathis (local wild greens) are boiled and served with a dash of olive oil and lemon juice. The famous Cretan Dakos is a rye dusk topped with juicy grated tomatoes and crumbled feta (can be eaten any time of the day). Kaltsounia are delicious Cretan cheese pies, and Arni me Stamnagathi is a lamb dish, where the meat is sautéed in hot olive oil, then served with either avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce) or a squeeze of lemon juice. If you love cheese, you should definitely try the local Graviera, Pichtogalo Chanion (which has AOC protection), and Myzithra, a young Cretan whey cheese. Raki or Tsikoudia is a locally made Cretan Brandy that is distilled from grapes and served in every Cretan taverna and kafeneio (not for the faint-hearted).
Seitan Limani offers magical views and pristine waters- it’s a bit of a hike to get there as you need to walk down steep steps- but definitely worth it. For a morning swim and a great Freddo (cold coffee) head to LoutrakiBeach, where you will find lots of sunbeds. Marathi is perfect for families and it’s where the locals go. Also good for those with young kids are Falasarna and Stavros Beach (where Zorba the Greek was filmed). Balos Lagoon, Elafonisi, and Gramvousa Islet are by far Chania’s most photographed beaches- you can’t leave Chania until you have been to at least one. While Golden Beach with its golden sand and clear, calm waters also deserves a visit.
Walking through the charming Old Town (while taking in the magnificent sites) allows visitors to discover the Venetian, Byzantine, and Ottoman influences. Chania has an impressive Archaeological Museum, a Naval Museum, Folklore Museum, and several others that are all as significant as each other. Then make your way over to Prophet Ilias, where you will find the Tombs of Eleftherios Venizelos, a famous politician who was Prime Minister of Greece- no less than 7 times! Here you will also get panoramic views of Chania, as well as the chance to go inside the local chapel. On the other side of town, check out the Municipal Garden, which was designed in 1870- here you can get up close to the historical 1927 Clock Tower. You can also enjoy coffee or tea at the famous Café Kipos, which is a member of the European Association of Historical Cafés. And while you are at it, catch a film at the nearby open-air cinema!
Chania is home to many sacred and historical monasteries that are well known. The most frequently visited is Agia Triada Tzagarolon, which was built in the 17th century by two monks. The Gouvernetou Monastery was designated as a preserved monument in 1900, while the abandoned Monastery of Aghios Ioannis is said to be the most ancient monastery of Crete (dating back to the 6th- 7th centuries).
Where to shop
For small boutiques filled with handmade jewellery, sandals, ceramics, and other great gift ideas head to the Old Town and stroll through the beautiful alleyways to find a range of stores catering to all tastes. If you are after fast fashion such as Zara, H&M, or other local chain stores- make your way across to the new part of town where you will find all the latest shoes, clothes, and accessories. If you prefer to take home some tasty Cretan treats- check out the local markets in the Agora, where you will discover the freshest home-grown food and delicacies.
Can’t leave until… you have brunch at Ginger Concept, and lunch at Dounias in Drakona, where all the dishes are farm-to-table and created by owner/chef Stelio Trilykaris, who prepares it all using traditional cookware and a wood-fired oven. For some adventure, hike the 16km-long Samaria Gorge- one of Europe’s longest canyons- but try to get there early morning to avoid the crowds. For a unique cultural experience visit artist Manousos Chalkiadakis, who transforms clay into stunning vases, boats, and balloons. His studio is located in a small village and the hospitable artist will also take you next door to see a 300-year-old house. You should then drive to the village of Maza and eat at Dris in the main square (ask the owner to unlock the door to the tiny Byzantine chapel in front of his shop, which contains amazing 13th-century artifacts). Also, pay Manolis Tsouris a visit- where you’ll find a range of wooden art pieces. Last but not least, you should listen to live Cretan music and join in on some local dancing, which will be one of the most memorable experiences!
If you’ve ever wondered where local families head to for a perfect day at the beach in Chania, it’s the same spot where you will find Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and First Lady Mareva Grabowski Mitsotaki, who spend most of their summer weekends here.
Marathi is around a 17 km drive from the city of Chania and this gorgeous spot boasts two clear, sandy beaches that are separated by a charming little port. Both of these bays are organised, so you will find rows of umbrellas and sunbeds, which are filled with visitors who come here for all-day swimming, followed by a late lunch at one of the many cafes or restaurants along the coast- serving delicious local seafood and other well-known Cretan dishes.
Ioanna Filippakis, who along with her brother and parents own and run Marathi Villas and Psamathi Restaurant, recently spoke with IN+SIGHTS GREECE about the family business and why this spot in town is one of the island’s best-kept secrets.
When did Marathi Villas open?
The property has been in our family for over three generations. Initially, there was only a small house and an olive grove. Then we renovated the spaces (without disturbing their natural beauty) and created eight elegant villas, which now accommodate up to four people in each. By the water, a space that used to be the local “kafeneion” has now become a restaurant, offering visitors a range of Mediterranean flavours, including fresh fish and good Cretan wine.
Tell us about the style and décor of the villas.
The four villas, with uninterrupted sea views, have a purely minimalist feel. The other four overlooking the garden have attics and are decorated in a 1930s and 1960s style. We chose pastel shades because they blend in perfectly with the surrounding environment.
Your restaurant “Psamathi” is a favourite amongst locals, tell us about your menu.
All the produce used in our restaurant is organic and locally sourced. The oil, honey, and wine are actually produced by our family. There is plenty on offer for brunch, lunch, and dinner. My favourite dish at the moment is Pasta served with Mediterranean squid and stuffed with Feta and olives. Our customers’ most loved breakfast is the Cretan specialty, which consists of Strapatsada (eggs with tomato and Feta), Yogurt with Walnuts and Honey, Sfakian pie, and Cretan Dakos.
Where do locals love to swim?
Very close by you will find a bay, known to a few, which is called “White Beach”. You can get to the bay by boat or by swimming. The sand is white and the waters are crystal blue. There are high cliffs, ideal for diving, and a small cave.
What makes Marathi an ideal spot to visit?
Marathi is a place where the natural landscape wins you over. Souda Bay which encloses the area does not allow the winds to get through, so the sea is always at peace. It’s always calm and looks like paradise. Marathi is ideal for rest and relaxation. Here it’s all about sunbathing and swimming. You can also enjoy walking along the adjacent bays and participating in water sports such as canoeing and pedal boating.
What history can be found here?
Marathi is built on Ancient Minoa at the Port of Aptera. Parts of Ancient Minoa, the jetty, and the ancient sanctuary are visible from here.
What are the best months to visit?
The best months for holidays here are May, June, and October. The weather conditions during these months are such that the temperatures are at the best levels so you can enjoy a wonderful vacation without the crowds.
Tell us about Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ connection to Marathi.
The Mitsotakis family originates from Chania. Prime Minister Mitsotakis’ father the late Konstantinos Mitsotakis built a holiday house here because he loved the wonderful natural environment with views of the mountains and the Gulf of Souda. The Prime Minister spent his childhood here and has incredible memories of summer vacations in Marathi, which he has now continued with his own children. Former Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis Mitsotakis, sister of the PM, considers Marathi “a place of unsurpassed beauty.”