The island of Crete may be best known for its summer sunshine and lively beaches, but there’s one very good reason to come in the off-season: the festival of Apokries, or Greek Carnival.
Today, Apokries is connected to the Orthodox Christian religion. The word ‘apokries’ literally means ‘without meat’ and marks the period when the faithful give up meat and prepare for their 40-day Lent.
Celebrations run for three weeks, during which locals of all ages disguise themselves for masquerades and celebrate with parties and dancing. Carnival celebrations reach their peak on the last weekend of the three, right before ‘Kathara Deftera’ (Clean Monday), or the first day of Lent.
On Crete, many towns and villages hold Carnival festivals, but for the ultimate Cretan Carnival, head to the biggest one, in Rethymnon.
Rethymnon city holds the biggest Carnival festival on Crete, and one of the most famous in Greece. Thousands of people, dressed in fancy costumes, celebrate along the cobbled streets and squares of the medieval city, transforming it into a non-stop party. Numerous events take place for children and adults such as street parades, parties with traditional or modern music, and interactive games. Among them, the more famous are the treasure hunt, the dances performed by different Carnival groups, the unique Grand Parade, and the burning of the Carnival King at the closing ceremony. (Don’t worry; no actual kings are burned — it’s the first float of the parade that is lit on fire.)