I’ve recently spent two wonderful weeks in Crete with my family. We didn’t waste one moment of our time there – if we weren’t scaling the dizzying heights of Samaria Gorge we were snorkelling in the deep, purple caves of forgotten bays. From making friends with 50 grizzly mountain goats to crawling inside 3,000 year old olive trees, we did it all.
With all these recent experiences dancing around my short term memory, waiting to be filed and sorted into the deeper recesses of my mind, I feel called to write about our day at Verekinthos Arts and Crafts Village, a delightful little forgotten spot just south of Souda on the northern coast of Crete. We had stumbled across some very mixed reviews of this place while searching the prophet google for some sunny day suggestions. We put it on the ‘maybe list’ and set off in our rented sauna car for Souda, a little town just east of Chania on Crete’s northern coast, and our main destination for the day.
While we found some melt-in-your-mouth baklavas (pronounced with the emphasis on the ‘BA’ according to the locals) in one of those heavenly zaharoplasteío shops, directly translating to ‘sugar mould’, we weren’t overly taken with the town and, having seen no indication of Verekinthos, decided to move on. It was only while chugging along the motorway en route home that eagle eyed mammy noticed a rather unremarkable and miss-able sign for the Arts and Crafts Village. We made a sharp right, to the delight of the queue of cars behind us just itching to break the speed limit, and found ourselves pulling in under a fig tree next to the front row of artists’ units.
We left the relief of the car’s A/C, which was just started to kick in, and clambered out into the sticky, hot midday sun. The first unit we arrived at, called Wood Morning (I wondered if it was an attempt at a joke, lost in translation), had two old men with sun hardened faces sitting outside. They explained in a mixture of Greek and English that we couldn’t enter as the owner had gone out. We thanked them and moved on to the next unit wondering if the earlier dismissed bad reviews were coming to bite us in our chafing backsides.
Luckily, our fears were put to rest when we reached the next space. We entered, hesitantly, into a little workshop – wood shavings littering the floor and a mixture of sawdust and pride wafting through the air. We were welcomed in by a pleasant young woman who pointed us in the direction of her husband/friend/brother(?) who was sitting in the corner, hacking away at a would-be ‘leera’ or lyre with an old, well used adze, a dangerous looking arched, axe-like tool. He warmed us with a modest smile and swelled with a humble pride as he led us around his small, dusty studio. The walls were lined with ornate wooden instruments and every surface was replete with lyres in varying stages of construction. We reveled in the beauty of his intricate designs and left with a business card and a smile.
We moved around the compound, between rows of artists’ units and empty, abandoned galleries. Weaving our way in and out of workshops and marveling at the accomplished designs and creations of years of hard labour and love. We found our way into a clay maker’s studio where Dad was promptly ushered over to a table of friends sharing a cheerful lunch and persuaded (although it didn’t take too much encouragement) to partake in a shot of raki or tsikoudia, a strong grape-based pomace brandy traditional to Crete. We were then led to the back of the unit, past shelves of clay sculptures and cups, where we watched the creator herself prepare little sculpted snails for baking in the oven. On my way out I bought a wonderful two-piece yin yang candle holder with stained glass style inlays made from melted down broken bottles – the piece as beautiful as it was reasonably priced.
We were soon accompanied by a friendly little dog who took it upon himself to guide us through the grounds of the ‘village’, head and tail held high, proud of his new companions and assignment. Plodding along beside us, and taking his mission quite seriously (only stopping once for belly rubs and once more to play hide-and-seek with the resident feral cat), he dutifully led us past delicate handmade wind chimes and playful little sculptures frozen in their ascent up long ladders to a seemingly forgotten garden at the back of the compound. The little stone walls here were inset with old turquoise bottles and mirror shards, and the dry, dusty ground was littered with abandoned creations – cracked clay nativity scenes and broken ceramic vases deemed unworthy of repair. Before we left, we settled on an old wooden bench, sipping water under the shade of a fig tree and watching a colony of ants march in perfect formation after some morsel of food.
On our way back to the car, now scorched from the lowering sun, we were met by the warm, smiling girl from our first stop. She offered us two lyre shaped keyrings, sculpted from walnut shells and wood, as a parting gift and waved a cheerful goodbye as we piled back into the car and drove away, satisfied and happy.