Now if you’re asking me…
This is what I’ve gathered over my last month and a half here in this Venetian/ Turkish infused, historically sanctified, Cretan village; where the Renaissance took refuge and never seemed to have left.
Though it has been overexposed to the unavoidable touristic contagion that eventually gets to all the world’s finest areas, it nevertheless, has been such a sweet spot to explore. Which can honestly be done in a couple of days (it is tiny) and entirely walk-able. Conveniently enough for us!
So I’ve put together an agenda for you. Because without knowing, you can see all the obnoxiously, obvious touristic spots (not to defame some of any glory… they are still must-sees!) but miss those memorable little places that are often sneaky enough to hide behind that one street corner and never be found (unless you’re told of them).
So now I tell you!
The Megali Porta
Welcome to Old Town!
Partly because it’s one of Rethymno’s many historical monuments (the whole town practically is) and partly because to get into the town you have to pass through it! It was once the main entry to this veteran civilization. And after a few photos are taken…
Important things first. Especially here in Greece…
“Gaiya’s Flavors” Bakery
Gaia’s Flavors, 15 Ethnikis Antistaseos Rethymno, Crete
So far, this is the one bakery that Alex and I have continued to return to. Which we rarely return more than once to places when traveling because I’ll feel guilty for not trying other places.
But this bakery has fresh croissants, filled with Merenda (Greek Nutella) and sprinkled with nuts. I inhale them. Shamelessly.
And like a proper Greek bakery, it has a variety of tempting, traditional spanakopitas, tiropitas, mini baklavas… I could go on and on.
The coffee is not bad either… we usually order our iced “metrio (medium sweet) freddo cappuccino and gliko (very sweet) freddo espresso”, which is essentially an iced cappuccino and iced espresso with water. This and the typical Greek frappes, which are iced Nescafe coffees, are what make up 80% of a Greek’s diet. Especially during the summer.
Its also right down the street from the Megali Porta! So your caffeine addiction won’t go unattended to for long.
The Venetian Fortress
Before it gets too terribly hot, I suggest you visit Rethymno’s famous Fortress. Built by the Venetians between 1573 and 1580 to guard against the Ottoman Turkish Empire, until it fell to their rule during the late 1600’s. This is why you see such a unique combination of Turkish and Venetian architecture throughout the entire town. Crete wasn’t independent from foreign rule until the late 1800’s.
Though the fortress was hit hard during World War II… there are still some pretty intact ruins that would be a shame to miss.
It’s very near to the bakery by foot, being right outside of old town. If you ask for directions, you should be there in ten minutes tops.
(Note: I’ve heard during the spring there is a Renaissance festival hosted at the famous Sultan Ibrahim mosque in the fortress. I can’t seem to find the exact dates online, so if anyone knows and has been, definitely let me know!)
Now lets take an afternoon wander…
Rethymno’s Old Town (all my favorite spots)
If you’re wondering what you should do next… take to the streets my friend! Because Rethymno’s main attraction is the town itself.
Though try and steer off the main, shoulder to-shoulder, chaotic, shopping street; which runs from the Megali Porta, down through the centre of the town. And like most touristic traps, its the easiest to spot.
For a more authentic experience, I would suggest to veer off and see what you find :).
Below are some of my favorites…
My Secret Square
A friend of mine showed this lemon tree square to me, just a couple of blocks out the way from the main streets. When in season, he tells me the entire square smells of citrus, with the lemon and orange trees in full bloom. There’s an old Venetian drinking fountain in the center and a quaint garden cafe nestled into the corner (which has awesome freshly squeezed lemonade by the way).
If you Google maps the address I’ve left in the caption… its definitely worth a stop by!
A Bread… Toy Shop?
I can not love this place enough. I mean really… how cool is this?? One of the quirkiest, most original bakeries I’ve tried.
This little old man was GOLD! Since 1958, his family has owned and ran this little place… where they have swans, fish, snails and even dinosaurs (I think?) all made out of his family’s special, sweet-bread recipe.
And does he LOVE to talk with you. Though I understood about twenty-percent of what he said… his enthusiasm over me being from Texas, along with force feeding me free, tiny pastries filled with sweet, sour-cream filling, while letting me take (and smiling for) all my pictures… I stayed there for quite a while.
So charming. It’s a must-go!
The Rimondi Fountain
Legend has it that if you drink from all three of these fountains, that you are sure to find true love in Rethymno.
And it must work, because I met a couple of guys from Serbia at my hostel the first week I was here… and they told me the moment he sipped from the third and last fountain; he stood up to find a gorgeous girl from Belgium, that he’s been with going on two years now.
It was love at first sight I guess :).
So if you’re ready for it… drink away!!
Meli Gelateria… Yummiest Gelato in Town
Compared with their competition (which is right across the road) this place is constantly crowded… for a reason! And its right next door to the Rimondi fountains, so its a convenient next stop. I’m always between their pistachio, hazelnut and ricotta gelato (or) mango and lemon sorbet.
For Lunch: Raki Baraki
1600 Raki Ba Raki, Αραμπατζόγλου 17, 74100 Réthymno, Crete
Now that I’ve taken you to two bakeries and an ice cream shop, and you’re probably super hyped from that sugar overdose… I think now is a good time to introduce some hearty Cretan food.
This is another one of those rare places Alex and I have come more than twice. For him especially, to be so impressed with the authenticity of a place, is rare.
Though the portions could stand to be a little bigger (maybe its just the American in me) it is always so delicious. Like silent dinner tables throughout good…
So suggestions… we’ve ordered the following:
- Smoked pork, with fresh mushrooms and soft cream cheese in a balsamic vinegar sauce
- Pork Morsels in thick lemony sauce
- Lamb baked in local yogurt sauce
Now that you’ve seen my favorites, here are the rest of the attractions in Rethymno. These are among the “top” attractions. However, now personally having been here, they definitely won’t make your list of life changing experiences. At least in my humble opinion. But here they are anyways!
Venetian Harbor and Lighthouse
If you’ve done any research at all you’ve probably heard of the famous old harbor and lighthouse; where there is a handful of traditional Cretan restaurants along the water, and the local fishing boats are docked.
To be fair it is beautiful. Just a bit over-crowded, over-priced and most likely frozen-fried food, that you will be haggled to death until you sit down and try. I wasn’t too impressed by it and have found much better food elsewhere. But I didn’t feel like my “Day in Rethymno” post was complete unless I at least mentioned it.
If anything, maybe stop by for a coffee and walk along the wall to reach the famous lighthouse for the sake of a pretty picture.
What used to be the place of many important establishments: first a town-hall, where Venetian nobles would gather to discuss politics and later a mosque under the Ottoman Empire rule. Currently, it is the archaeological museum shop of Rethymno.
(Note: Notice the word shop. Though the building is beautiful in itself, with all of its history… it is now simply a tourist shop for clay Greek/Roman gods and postcards).
Like most of the architecture in Rethymno, this was originally Venetian. A church dedicated to Santa Maria before it became an Augustinian Monastery. Once the Turks took over the town in the late 1600’s, their leader, Gazi Hussein Pasha, turned it into what you see today, the Neratze mosque.
It’s rarely open to the public these days outside of exhibitions and music concerts, so if you can manage to be there while an event is going on, check it out!
(Note: I’ve heard rumors that you can climb the tower for an awesome view of Rethymno. I haven’t been successful, yet… but if I can figure out when this is available I will definitely update this post to let you know)!
Escape Room, Rethymno
I know what I said before about this being the list of “not as cool attractions” but this IS. SO. FUN.
MindTrap and Escape rooms have been Alex and I’s new obsession since we first tried the “Wizard of Oz” room in MindTrap, Thessaloniki. Though obviously not a traditional, Cretan experience, if you’re one of those unlucky travellers that always gets rainy days on vacation, just go.
Basically, an Escape room a room you and your friends are “locked” inside with some sort of theme. At different locations, we’ve done “Wizard of Oz”, “Breaking Bad”, “Jumanji” and in Rethymno, the “Sherlock Holmes” room. There is a series of clues throughout the room and your team, as well as the “Game Master” who sends you clues if they think you need help, have to solve them all and “escape” the room in under one hour.
Its a tad expensive compared with other MindTrap rooms we’ve done ($15 a person) but we really enjoyed the “Sherlock Holmes” room and are proud to say… WE SOLVED IT! And with five minutes to spare :).
And while the night is young…
I’ll tell you next week what I’ve found to be the best bars, clubs and what place to grab good, after-hour, grub food.