Spinalonga is an arid and barren rocky islet with an area of 8.5 hectares lying at the mouth of the natural port of Elounda in the Lasithi prefecture of Crete. Due to its strategic location, it was fortified and served a variety of roles and purposes over the centuries.
“Spinalonga. She played with the word rolling it around her tongue like an olive stone. The island lay directly ahead and as the boat approached the great Venetian fortification which fronted the sea […]. This, she speculated, might be a place where history was still warm, not stone cold, where the inhabitants were really not mythical”....
... as Victoria Hislop wrote in her best-selling book “The Island”.
Here, on an island where lepers from Crete and the rest of Greece had been kept in isolation until 1957, a story about love and pain, separation and fear was born.
Although it is small and known as the island of the outcasts, Spinalonga has a rather interesting story to tell. The island forms a natural defence “mechanism” for Elounda harbour, and in 1579 the Venetians built a mighty fortress here on the ruins of an ancient acropolis. The Venetians kept control of the island even after the rest of Crete fell to the Ottomans in 1669 and it remained under their control for almost another half a century until its capitulation in 1715. Today thousands of tourists visit Spinalonga by boat from Ayios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka each summer as it is the most popular archaeological site in Crete after Knossos.
A walk around Spinalonga –with some of the finest views of the clear blue waters that surround the island– will guide you through the pages of the novel. Strolling around the island takes about an hour, but the serenity of the place and the remnants of its recent history will certainly tempt you into spending much longer. A left turn by the old town hall takes you down to the beautiful seafront; take advantage of the opportunity to take some time for a swim here.
Take the boat from Ayios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka. As well as the trip to Spinalonga you can also enjoy a swim off the beaches behind the Kolokytha Peninsula, before returning to Ayios Nikolaos in the afternoon.
Getting to Ayios Nikolaos
By ferry from Piraeus. Ayios Nikolaos has boasted a large harbour since ancient times. The city of Heraklion is quite close to Ayios Nikolaos, so you can take the plane or ferry to Heraklion and then head towards Ayios Nikolaos by bus, taxi, your own vehicle, or rent a car. Ayios Nikolaos is only an hour’s drive away along the north road axis of the island. You can reach the town from the other main cities of Crete, such as Hania (about 3-3.5 hours’ drive), or Rethymno (app. 2.5 hours’ drive).
Useful telephone numbers:
Greek National Tourism Organisation in Crete: 28210 246299
Bus services: 28210 245020, 28410 22234 (www.ktelherlas.gr)
For more info & photos visit www.lasithitourism.com
To learn more about Spinalonga click on image to view or download the brochure.