What is a Greek Panigiri? What types of Panigiria — Feasts are there in Chania and how to find one during your stay.
Feasts, or “panigiria,” are traditional celebrations that take place all over Greece and involve a lot of eating, drinking wine and dancing to traditional tunes. In Chania there are a lot of panigiria throughout the year. Panigiria can be very different from each other in many ways.
Traditionally, a panigiri takes place in a village in order to celebrate the name day of its patron saint. Today however, many panigiria are not related to a religious cause. Instead they celebrate a type of food or drink. Some examples are The Orange Feast in Schines, The Chestnut Feast in Semprona and The “Kreatótourta” (Meat Pie) Feast in Meskla. As you can imagine, the celebrated ingredient is offered in abundance at these events. Other times the feasts are held to raise money for a cause or organization (the local soccer team, for example). In Crete you’ll also find several events which resemble panigiria (even though they don’t always use that name) because they are a popular way for the locals to have fun.
It’s not always easy to learn when and where a panigiri is taking place. Often, I’m informed by word-of-mouth a couple of days before the event. When I want to actively search for a panigiri during a specific week, I’ll check Chania’s newspaper, “Chaniótika Néa” (Chania News) and this Facebook page, “Panigiria of Crete” ( Feasts of Crete) which unfortunately is available only in Greek. On this page you’ll also find events that are not exactly panigiria but are very similar as they have live traditional Cretan music, a lot of dancing and, in some cases, traditional Cretan food. Even though the page is in Greek, you can check the events they create for each panigiri along with the date, time and location. Also, you can always ask a local to translate it for you. Greeks are friendly and usually eager to help.
The most worth visiting Panigiria — Feasts that take place every summer in Chania
For your convenience, below I have included some of the most famous feasts in the Chania region during the summer (extended: from April to October). Some of the feasts are held on a specific date each year, while others always take place during a specific month but the exact date changes and they are thus called “moveables.” I’ve also put a Google Maps link on the village, so you can see how far you are from the village where the panigiri is held. Most panigiria, take place in the outskirts of Chania in different villages, thus you can only visit them by car. Also, some of the most religious feasts might take place during the day, just after the Liturgy (Mass) that celebrates the village’s patron saint. In the list below, if I haven’t mentioned that a feast takes place during the day, please assume that it starts in the evening, around 21.00-21.30. This is also the time usually Greeks eat dinner.
April 23, St. George’s Day in Asi Gonia.
Asi Gonia is a village where many of the locals are shepards. The feast takes place during the day and includes a blessing of the sheep, milking and a bottling of the milk. The milk is then distributed to all the people attending the feast. I bet you’ve never tried milk this fresh before! https://apokoronas.scanmy.net/category/villages/asi-gonia/
May 8, St. John’s of Sfakia Day in Agios Ioannis in the Sfakia municipality.
The feast and its food are traditional. As Sfakia is a 2-hour drive from downtown Chania, I recommend that you plan a trip around this feast. For example, you could first visit the Samaria Gorge. If you do, the only way to return to Chania is by taking the boat from Agia Roumeli (where you exit the gorge) to Sfakia. From Sfakia you’ll take a KTEL bus back to Chania. As you pass through Sfakia on your way back you can spend a couple of days there and visit the feast. To attend the feast, you’ll need to rent a car or find another way to drive up to Agios Ioannis from Sfakia Port. Alternatively, you could rent a car and drive to Sfakia, spend a couple of days there in order to go to the feast and plan some day trips from Sfakia: for example, Loutro village (accessible only by boat).
May 21, Konstantinou & Elenis Feast in Vlacheronitisa in the Platanias municipality.
Vlacheronitisa is a small village of 150 people who organize several feasts during the year. One is Konstantinou & Elenis, for which they serve traditional food and play live Cretan music. Some of the feasts take place in the village square while others are organized in one of the village tavernas.
June 23, St. John’s Klidonas Day on Apopigadi Hill in Sempronas.
Sempronas is a small, not at all touristy and very traditional mountain village. You can reach the village with any type of car, but it’s better to have a 4×4 in order to get to St. John’s church which is located on Apopigadi Hill, in the village outskirts. The traditional celebration takes place next to the church and has music, dancing and very tasty traditional Cretan delicacies. Sempronas is about an hour drive from Chania and, in my opinion, worths the effort to visit if you’re in Chania as you’ll experience something really unique and local. Also, Sempronas is on the road that leads to the seaside village of Sougia. If you plan on visiting Sougia, I recommend stopping and eating at one of the traditional Cretan tavernas in the village. You can read more about it on the Sougia page.
June 29, St. Petros & St. Paul’s Day Feast on the island of Gramvousa in Kissamos municipality.
Gramvousa is a small island next to the famous beach of Balos. This celebration is quite different compared to other panigiria, but I find it very charming. On the 29th of June, the locals organize a boat to take people to Gramvousa at about 18.30 (you should confirm the time, as it can change) and it returns at around 1.00 in the morning. There is an almost symbolic cost. A couple of years ago, it was 7 euros per person and included a boat return ticket and two souvlaki sticks. Usually traditional Cretan food isn’t served, but the location is very charming as you’ll be on the small island of Gramvousa and next to a beach.
June 29, St. Petros & St. Paul’s Day Feast in Vatolakkos.
Vatolakkos is a village next to the village from which I originate and it’s only a 20-minute drive from Chania. At the feast you can buy food (usually souvlaki sticks and some salad) and, of course, there is live Cretan music and dancing.
July 15, St. Kirikos’ Day in ancient Lissos, Sougia.
This is a feast you can really only visit if you are on holidays in Sougia, a seaside village south of Chania. Ancient Lissos can be reached either by boat or by a one-hour easy hike from Sougia. The feast isn’t huge, but it will be an unforgettable experience as it’s very unique and traditional. You can read more about Sougia here.
July 16, St. Marina’s Day Feast in Agia Marina (St. Marina), a seaside village.
Agia Marina is located just before Platanias municipality, on the north west coast of Chania. The locals organize a big feast to celebrate the patron saint (Saint Marina) and it usually takes place in the Agia Marina football field. In most cases, there is a small entrance fee of about 5€, which covers the cost of the live band playing traditional Cretan music, and the food (usually souvlaki sticks) and drinks are for purchase. The location is very easy to reach (it is 20 minutes from downtown Chania and you can also go there by bus) compared to other feasts in more remote villages.
July 30 & 31, Wine Festival in Vouves, a village in the Kolymbari municipality.
As the name suggests, it is not exactly a feast but rather a festival. It attracts a lot of people, both locals and tourists. There’s a small entrance fee, around 5€, live Cretan music and plenty of wine.
August 5 and 6 Feast in Xirosterni.
There is live music and the village women prepare traditional dishes. It usually takes place in the primary school’s yard.
August 15 — The Dormition of Virgin Mary, the most important National Holiday in Greece!
August 15 is the day of the Dormition of Virgin Mary which is the most important Greek national holiday and the most celebrated religious day in Greece. During the days around the 15th of August there are numerous feasts all over Greece and, of course, in Chania too! Below I have included the best feasts, in my opinion, in terms of their accessibility, atmosphere, what they offer (i.e. traditional Cretan food), etc.
“Kreatótourta” Celebration in Mesklá.
Kreatotourta is a traditional dish from Chania and is a savoury pie made with meat (usually lamb or pork), some soft local cheese called Mizithra and a lot of fresh mint. It’s absolutely mouthwatering! Usually there is an entrance fee of around 17€ per person (kids pay less) and you are entitled to a full meal and lots of this delicious pie! Usually there is also some live music and people dance to the traditional Cretan tunes.
Celebrations in Loutraki.
Loutraki is a village that’s a 15-minute drive from downtown Platanias. Each year on the 14th of August the locals organize a big celebration and charge an entrance fee of approximately 15€ which includes a full menu of Cretan traditional food. Of course, there is live Cretan music and a lot of dancing.
August 14 and 15:
Celebrations in Therisos.
The village of Therisos is located in a beautiful gorge. It has a few houses, tavernas and is a very popular lunch and dinner destination for both locals and tourists. The 14th of August is a favorite feast day for locals, who gather to eat, drink, listen to live Cretan music and dance. As the celebration takes place at the different tavernas, what you eat and drink will depend on what you order.
Celebrations in Fre.
Fre is a very small village where the women cook traditional Cretan food for the feast. Usually, there is a small entrance fee (around 10-15€) for a full menu. The celebration usually takes place in the high school’s yard and includes live Cretan music and dancing.
Graviera feast in Anopoli, Sfakia.
Graviera is a delicious yellow, semi-hard Cretan cheese and even though it’ll be offered in abundance at this feast, you’ll also find plenty of other traditional Cretan dishes ( Cretan risotto called “Gamopilafo”, stifado etc.). The entrance fee is usually around 15-17€ and includes a sumptuous menu. Of course, there’s live Cretan music and dancing too! Anopoli village is about a 20 minute-drive from Sfakia and around 2 hours from Chania. Since it’s quite far from downtown Chania, it would be a good idea to plan a multi-day trip in the south coast of Chania during the feast. You could just visit Sfakia village and do some day trips from there or you could also “beach hop” in the south coast of Chania. There’s a boat that connects some of these south coast villages (i.e. Sfakia – Loutro – Sougia – Palaiochora). The 15th of August is the peak of the tourist season in Greece, so if such a trip interests you, you should book rooms well in advance.
Around August 20 (you should check the exact date, as it can change depending on the year):
“Kaltsouni Feast” in Kantano.
Kaltsouni is a traditional pie made with spinach and mizithra cheese or just mizithra cheese, a soft, white cheese made from goat’s milk. It’s usually homemade, primarily in the region of Chania. Kaltsouni is delicious and, in my opinion, one of the greatest contributions to Greek cuisine! At the festival that celebrates this delicacy, you’ll pay an entrance fee of around 15€ per person, which will include kaltsouni in abundance and a full menu of different Cretan traditional dishes. Kantanos is an hour drive from Chania and about a 20-minute drive from the seaside village, Palaiochora. A great idea would be to plan a trip around the feast, and, for example visit Palaiochora for three days and then attend the feast from there.
August 20 (or the weekend day that is closest to August 20), “Sfakiani Pita” Feast in Sfakia, a seaside village.
“Sfakiani pita” translates to pie from Sfakia village. It resembles a pancake and is filled with mizithra (a soft, white local cheese) and it is usually topped with some honey. Although you’ll find many of these pies at the feast, there will also be a full menu with other traditional Cretan delicacies. As Sfakia is a 2-hour drive from Chania, you could plan a nice excursion there (staying overnight) around these dates and be in Sfakia when the feast takes place. From Sfakia you could also go to the island of Gavdos, or do some “beach hopping” with the boat that connects the seaside villages on the south coast.
August 27, Saint Fanourios Feast in Perivolia, Chania.
Perivolia is a district that is quite close to downtown Chania and this feast usually takes place in the village school yard. The celebration usually includes some food (souvlaki sticks, for example) and drinks (for purchase) and, of course, live Cretan music and dancing.
September 7 or 8, birth of Virgin Mary celebration in Vlacheronitisa, a village in the Platanias municipality.
The feast includes traditional Cretan food and live Cretan music.
September 13, celebration of the Holy Cross in Alikianos.
Alikianos is my home village! The feast is organized each year by the village youth, thus there is usually no traditional Cretan food, but you’ll find delicious souvlaki, live Cretan music and a lot of dancing. There is usually a 5€ entrance fee which covers the cost of the live band.
October 7, Holy Fathers’ Day celebration in Azogire.
Azogire is a village close to the beautiful little seaside town of Palaiochora. Azogire itself is small but it’s a nice idea to combine a visit to Palaiochora with the feast, a celebration that includes traditional Cretan food and live Cretan music. Read more about Palaiochora here.
Some Important Info and Tips When Going to a Feast
If you visit Chania during the summer, it’s almost certain that there will be a feast or a similar event happening during your stay. So there are many more taking place besides the ones mentioned above. Many of the feasts, especially the non-religious ones, are announced a week or two before they are held. If you have difficulty learning about them, ask your host to help you.
Usually, the more remote the village, the more traditional the feast! You’ll be rewarded with amazing traditional Cretan food for the extra mile. The ones that are closer to Chania put more emphasis on traditional Cretan music and simple food, like souvlaki and Greek salad. The feasts with traditional Cretan food usually have an entrance fee of about 15€ (or less) which includes a full menu. It is totally value for money. The full menu usually includes a salad to share, a traditional Cretan risotto called “pilafi” that has some meat and steak with baked potatoes. Sometimes wine is also included in the menu. Pilafi or “Gamopilafo” (wedding risotto) is absolutely delicious mainly because it’s made with high quality local meat.
Greeks, and Cretans in particular, take a lot of pride in their hospitality, which is embedded in the culture. In the old days, many Cretan feasts were actually “open houses,” where every house in the village prepared large portions of food and invited people to eat at their home right after the liturgy. It was even possible for a family to invite complete strangers to eat at their house. Today for smaller-scale traditional feasts, the village women also prepare food that all the people attending the Liturgy are invited to eat right after it’s finished and it’s free of charge. These women might spend 2 entire days cooking and they take a lot of pride in being able to feed the entire village and guests, as in this way they honor the patron saint. For larger feasts you won’t find that but in many cases the entrance fee hardly covers the cost of the food. Also, all the people work voluntarily in all traditional feasts.
You can sit randomly, at any table that has free chairs. It’s ok to sit next to people you don’t know. As a visitor, it might be best to sit next to people you suspect speak English (e.g. young people). It will be more enjoyable for you as it’s quite typical for people to talk with their table “neighbors” during a feast.
Big feasts are like festivals and there might be thousands of people attending. For these feasts you should arrive early to find a seat. Also, people often save seats for friends or family who will join later. If you go early and still cannot find a place to sit, ask the person in charge to help you.
As mentioned in the beginning, in most cases you’ll need to drive a car to attend a Panigiri.