Peskesi: tastes and aromas of Crete

Where shall I find you, how shall I see you, what gift shall I bring you to make you remember Crete, to make you raise from the dead?

We stumbled into Peskesi Restaurant by mistake – but it was one of the best errors imaginable.

During a visit to the wonderful island of Crete, we were looking for somewhere that served traditional food in Heraklion.

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We’d heard of Peskesi – widely touted as one of the best, if not the the finest restaurant in Crete – but we were having trouble finding it.

After doing a couple of laps of the city centre, we shrugged and decided to look look for another place to sample the legendary Cretan cuisine.

We walked into a lovely old building in the heart of Heraklion (and there are many) and asked if we needed a reservation to eat.

To our amazement, we had found Peskesi Restaurant without realising it. Some things are just meant to be!

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The restaurant is in a traditional ‘Cretan House’, set up in the restored historic mansion of Captain Polyxigkis, a prominent Cretan freedom fighter from the 1860’s.

This setting has resulted in Peskesi being ranked among the 80 best designed bar-restaurants in the world and the top 10 in Europe.

As we sat down, a Canadian couple nearby whispered how fortunate we were to be admitted without a reservation.

Apparently, the waiting list can be daunting.

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And one taste of Peskesi’s home-made breads and Cretan salad told us why.

It was awesome: an explosion of tastes from the fresh produce grown at the restaurant’s own farm, where more than 25 kinds of fruit and vegetables are cultivated.

This was followed by slices of meat served on hooks standing over a bed of smoking herbs – washed down by a small glass of Cretan Raki/Tsikoudia and honey.

As we booked a reservation for the following night, I asked about the name ‘Peskesi”. The waiter politely referred me to the restaurant’s website.

This is what I found:

The inspiration for our name came from our great writer and philosopher, Nikos Kazantzakis, and his book “Report to Greco”, a fictional autobiography, where he addresses his Cretan “grandfather”, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, with the following excerpt: “: “But you had turned into a flame. Where shall I find you, how shall I see you, what gift shall I bring you to make you remember Crete, to make you raise from the dead? Only the flame can be at your mercy; oh, if only I could become a flame to meet you”.

Peskesi is located in Heraklion, Crete.

The writer flew to Greece courtesy of Scoot Airlines.


 

Restaurant Opinions

Review: Hotel Atrion, Heraklion, Crete

The Hotel Atrion got off to a good start during our Age-Friendly ratings at Heraklion, Crete.

After we booked online, the hotel kept up an email conversation to see if it could help further with arrangements.

And, when we asked for assistance arranging an airport pick-up, Hotel Atrion staff were extremely helpful and efficient, communicated promptly – and a driver and car was waiting for us at Heraklion airport.

Here’s the full review:

Q: Was the booking process simple and problem-free?

A: Yes, online booking of Hotel Atrion couldn’t have been easier. After comparing prices and location, we used the hotel’s website to book.

Q: Does the Hotel Atrion have street appeal?

A: The hotel is in a narrow and busy street, but looks modern, clean and appealing from the street.


Q: Is the hotel close to facilities etc?

The Hotel Atrion is within easy walking distance of the vibrant heart of Herkalion, close to a number of good restaurants and less than one block from the city’s waterfront and old Venetian fortress. It is a perfect location if you don’t have transport, close to a main bus terminal and a short bus trip from the ferry port and international airport.

Q: How did check-in go?

A: Smoothly. The reception staff were professional and fast. We had been flying for much of the day and previous night – and were exhausted. However, we were quickly shown to our room without hassles – just what we wanted.


Q: How was the room’s accessibly for seniors?

A: Not bad. We could get most of the way by lift, but then there were a few steps – but not enough to be a problem with our bags. Hotels in Greece have a reputation for small lifts. This one was narrow, but adequate.

Q: Was the room big enough?

A: The room could not have been better. It was spotlessly clean and large, with ample room either side of the bed. There was plenty of wardroom space and a writing desk, which was put to good use.

Q: Was the bed comfortable?

A: It was particularly comfortable and as the room was free from traffic and other street noise, we slept soundly.


Q: Did the room have adequate charging points?

A: We had seven electronic devices, including phones and camera equipment, but our Hotel Atrion room catered for this with ease. As well as plenty of power points, there was one either side of the bed, ideal for using mobile phones as alarm clocks. The Hotel Atrion certainly deserves full marks for this aspect.

Q: Were other facilities adequate.

A: Yes. Although we didn’t use them, the room had a big screen Tv and a minibar.

Q: Was the bathroom to the expected standard?

A: Certainly. There was a large shower recess with modern curved glass screening and a roomy vanity area. As with the rest of the Hotel Atrion room, the bathroom was spotlessly clean and equipped with luxury toiletries.


Q: Did you get breakfast?

A: Breakfast was included in the room rate. There was a well appointed and modern eatery – and the food – which included lots of Greek and Cretan cuisine – couldn’t be faulted. It was first class.

Q: How was the hotel’s service?

A: The Hotel Atrion staff were friendly, efficient and particularly professional. We didn’t have any complaints, but on two occasions we sought assistance with calling a taxi. This was arranged promptly and the taxi arrived within minutes. Nothing was too much trouble for the hotel – and staff certainly looked after us.

Q: Was there anything you didn’t like about your stay?

A: No. We decided to review the Hotel Atrion after readers told us about its great service. They were right. This is a hotel that is doing everything right.

We could not fault the Hotel Atrion and thoroughly enjoyed our stay

Duration of visit: three nights

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Our Age-friendliness Rating

7/10: From our experience, the Hotel Atrion caters well for all ages.  The hotel is easy to find in a street near the port; there are only a few steps from the footpath; and the hotel lay-out is simple. The lifts were sufficiently wide for us and our luggage. We had to walk up a few steps to reach our level after leaving the lift, but they were not steep – and did not prove a problem at all. The room entry was flawless.  Inside, the floor was level and the bathroom was easy to use.

Crete hotels

Review: Heraklion, Crete

After finding the Scoot Airlines service from Australia to Greece was particularly ‘Age-Friendly’, we decided to also rate Heraklion, capital of Crete.

Soon after landing in Athens in a Scoot 787 Dreamliner, we hopped a domestic flight to Heraklion.

It was our first visit, but we had an itinerary mapped out;

* checking out the age-friendliness of Heraklion Airport and ferry port – including their transfer links

* ditto for the city centre’s pedestrian access

* visiting Heraklion’s huge archaeological museum.

* travelling into Crete’s mountains to the famous massacre village of Anogeia.

* seeing the ruins of the Minoan palace of Knossos, about five kilometres from the city.

* visiting the Agios Titos Church.

We achieved all of this during our brief three-day stay in Crete, but the biggest impression caught us totally by surprise.


The people we met in Crete were among the friendliest imaginable.

Strangers approached us in taverns, thanked us for visiting their island and insisted on paying for our coffee.

If we puzzled over directions in the streets, locals would immediately stop and offer help. And the staff at our hotel – the Atrion – were delightful. Nothing was too much trouble and everything was done with a smile.

Bus drivers politely offered advice at our handful of faltering Greek words delivered with an Australian accent.

And when we once accidentally overpaid a taxi fare, the driver immediately handed back our money and explained that the fare was actually much cheaper.

Our Age-Friendliness rating:

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9/10: From our experience, Heraklion is wonderful city that has much to suit all ages. From our brief stay, it seems the island’s greatest asset is the warmth of its people. This has no age barriers – everyone can benefit from experiencing it.

Another surprise: Cretan food is an explosion of taste – similar in some ways to the traditional Greek cuisine, but with its own variations and recipes developed from the island’s distinctive natural environment.


The centre of Heraklion is suitable for all ages.  It is a vibrant mix of modern restaurants, fashion shops and traditional street stalls.

Cobblestone streets meander Italian-style from square to square, between fountains and through architecture that reflect the city’s Turkish past.


In the busy 25th of August Street we gazed at beautiful Neoclassical  housing banks, travel bureaux and tourist shops.

Locals explained that 25th of August Street may have been first cut by the Arabs in the ninth or 10th centuy – and has always been the main thoroughfare of Heraklion, linking the town centre to the harbour.


During the city’s Venetian period (13th-17th century) it was called the Ruga Maistra (Main Street), while in Ottoman times it was known as Vezir Tsarsi (Vizier’s Market) after the Vezir Mosque.

The modern name of the street is due to a tragic event. On the 25th of August 1898, a mob slaughtered many Christians, including 17 British soldiers and the British Consul.

Midway down this impressive pedestrian street, we were stopped in our tracks by the simplistic beauty of the Agios Titos Church.


Probably the oldest church in Heraklion, this building was erected in the 10th century, but later became a mosque. Re-built in 1872, it contains the skull of Saint Titus, a disciple of the apostle Paul.

The excavations of the Minoan palace of Knossos  are another wonder that appeal to all ages and are  easy to reach by bus; fascinating to see; and perfectly complements Heraklion’s huge archaeological museum.


If incredibly old civilisations are your thing, then you will certainly get your fix at Heraklion.


We found the transport links to and from the airport and ferry port to be excellent – and ideal for of all ages.

It’s only a small airport and you need to walk across the tarmac to get on and off an aircraft, but the airport process are laid back and relaxed.

The port is busier, with ferries coming and leaving just about every day and connections to the other Greek Islands.  Using the ferries is an interesting process, but straight-forward enough for all ages/

Bottom line: we loved Heraklion, its people, attractions and it’s food.

 

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Crete

Creativity forged in pain and sorrow

“The blood in these streets made us who we are”.

These words might have sounded fanciful in any other place – and coming from anyone else.

But we were sitting outside the tavern Skalomata in Anogeia, Crete, a village destroyed three times in its turbulent history.

And the speaker was the contemporary Cretan singer, songwriter and author, Loudovikos ton Anogeion.

Tavern owners, Barbis (left) and Yarnis (right) watch modern-day teller of the Anogeia story, Loudovikos, (second from right)

Credited with describing Anogeia as “the first place you meet when you descend from heaven,” Loudovikos was explaining how tremendous suffering had shaped the culture of the village.

Anogeia was twice destroyed by the Ottomans in 1822 and 1867 – and then by the Germans in 1944, in retaliation for resistance activities.

“Pain and sorrow is the heritage of Anogeia, but so is resilience.

Tavern Skalomata in Anogeia, Crete,

“In World War II, people were massacred here and almost every building was destroyed, only to be rebuilt.”

To underline this point, Loudovikos played his song The Colour of Love, which beautifully explores the theme that you cannot love if you have not suffered adversity.

Creativity borne from ashes

If resilience and fiesty independence are in Anogeia’s DNA, so too are creativity and artistic expression.

 Loudovikos is only one of a disproportionate number of talented musicians to emerge from the area onto the Greek and world stage.

The village is also known for its folk art, including a weaving industry developed largely by the widows of men killed in the World War II massacre.

Whether this burst of creative spirit is a direct cry from the bleeding heart of Anogeia’s painful past is up for speculation

The church of St John the Baptist, Anogeia, Crete

The concept of the ‘Tortured Artist’ has long been debated in society and many books have been written on the subject.

However in Anogeia, where stories of pain are still raw,  the people have a deep respect for its story tellers.

Loudovikos simply picked up his phone, hit a few numbers and I was talking the mayor of the village.

He spoke in glowing terms of the singer songwriter’s mission to explain the collective community spirit of Anogeia and how that spirit has been shaped by a past as tragic as anyone could imagine.

Anogeia’s mayor also stressed that confronting the horrors that happened in the village was considered a key part of the process.  

A simple yet moving memorial – featuring an Unknown Soldier statue – stands in the centre of Anogeia

The exact order given to German forces in 1944 is engraved in marble on one side of the memorial.


Each August, Anogeia also holds a day of remembrance, featuring community activities centred on the memorial.

Residents are also quick to point out that  Friedrich-Wilhelm Müller, the German commander who ordered the razing of Anogeia, was captured by the Red Army in 1945 and met a grisly end.

Anogeia sits at an altitude of 738 metres in the Idi mountain range of central Crete, an area dominated by Mount Psiloritis, the highest mountain on the island.

It is a charming village, with a cobblestone Main Street and an array of taverns, coffee shops and cafes where friendly locals gather beneath spreading trees and grapevines trailed across trellis.


Despite Anogeia’s treatment at the hands of foreigners over the centuries, the residents are welcoming and quick to offer the hospitality for which Crete is known worldwide.

During our talk with Loudovikos, the owners of the tavern Skalomata insisted that we sample the local cheese, Rakki, fruit and bread.


Anogeia is connected by public bus services from both Heraklion and Chania Crete’s two biggest cities.

We caught the bus into the hills, leaving Heraklion in the early morning and weaving through the awakening suburbs until we reached the narrow, winding road into the rugged mountains.


It was easy to see how the terrain  helped Crete’s famed resistance fighters to ambush and harrass both the Occupying Turks and Germans.

Note: the writer flew to Europe courtesy of Scoot Airways.

Anogeia Crete