Rethymno food & drink highlights
Visit a raki distillery
Raki (or tsikoudia as it’s known locally) is a way of life in Crete. It’s used to greet guests, toast each other’s good health, accompany a meze meal and generally socialise throughout the year. And the annual process of turning grape pomace into crystal-clear, 35-40% proof distilled alcohol is a time for celebration. Rakokazana (the word for both the distillery and the distillation ‘parties’ held in November) are a feature of villages around Rethymno. And visiting a distillery is part of many organised Rethymno food tours, with 35N (a company started by three friends as a hobby and now a thriving business around 15mins outside town) a favourite. You’ll find their raki in restaurants and shops in Rethymno town but visiting the distillery will let see the original bronze sills and learn about the production process. It’s your chance to find out the difference between raki made with Syrah and Moscato grapes as well as with honey.
Olive oil tasting
You can’t get more Cretan than olive oil. Green gold (as it’s known) is the core ingredient of the Mediterranean diet (rich in monounsaturated fats, vitamins and antioxidants) and Cretan cuisine generally and its origins in Rethymno can be traced back to Minoan times in around 3000 BC. Olive oil will be a part of just about every meal on your holidays in Rethymno but to truly understand the product you have to visit an olive oil press, like the Paraschakis Family Olive Oil Factory in Melidoni (a Mylopotamos village), which produces around 400 tons of virgin olive oil each year. If you visit as part of an organised tour or individually, you’ll be guided around three different facilities, learning the difference between an animal-powered press, diesel-powered machinery and the modern centrifuge used today.
The landscape and climate of Rethymno are well suited to making wine, with mountains and valleys and a combination of warm summers and cooling sea breezes. There are a handful of wineries that you can visit, each with its own personality and where you can sample wines from the different grape varieties of the region. Vidiano is the most prominent grape in Rethymno, but there’s also Asyrtiko, Vilana and Thrapsathiri amongst whites and Liatiko, Kotsifali, Achladi, Agiorgitiko and others amongst reds (as well as well-known European varieties). Wineries in Rethymno offering vineyard tours and wine-tasting include Zoumberakis Vineyards (an organic winery in Kali Sikia on the slopes of Mt Krioneritis), Kourkoulou Winery in the Psiloritis mountains and the Klados Winery in the Geropotamos region east of Rethymno (the closest to the sea and included in the wine roads of Wines of Crete). They all offer wine tasting with local delicacies, as does Oinoxoos House (just west of Rethymno), which has assembled wines of varieties from all over Greece and paired them with traditional foods.
Enjoy a cooking class
Your final foodie experience in Rethymno is a cooking class. There’s no better way to learn how to recreate some of Crete’s favourite dishes than from a local. Dakos salad (chopped tomatoes, crumbled feta or myzithra cheese, oregano, olive oil and paximadi rusks), marathopita (thin, pancake-like pies filled with fennel), boureki (a warming bake of layered potatoes and courgettes, with myzithra and mint) and other dishes could become part of your kitchen repertoire. There are cookery classes in Rethymno town and in villages around the region, as well as the opportunity to be a Farmer for a day at Agreco Farm, where you sample life on a Cretan farm (and put their produce to good use!). Another great choice if you’re looking for eco-friendly and sustainable experiences on holidays in Crete is Enagron ecotourism village in Axos, where you go on a botanical walk, try your hand at traditional bread- and cheese-making and generally cook up a storm. There are even cookery classes that take place in a mountain Mitato, a traditional Cretan shepherd’s shelter.
See the Good to Know section below for details of the raki distillery, olive oil factory, ecotourism resorts and wineries of Rethymno.