As part of my week-long holiday to Crete we spent a morning touring the beautiful island of Spinalonga. The island has always been a bit of a tourist attraction for this part of Greece, but with the publication of The Island by Victoria Hislop in 2011 more and more people seem to be visiting.
The island was impressive though way before this, it’s real name is actually Kalydon and it’s history dates back to 1526. Many different people have settled on the island including most recently, and most famously, one of the last remaining leper colonies in Europe.
When you are in the area and planning a visit there are two options for where to get the boat from, Plaka or Elounda. We decided on Plaka and walked here from our hotel, this was a lovely walk and actually gave us a great view of Spinalonga from the road. It’s slightly cheaper to get the boat from Plaka by about €2 as it only costs €8 instead of €10 from Elounda but the trip across is a lot quicker and the boats are slightly smaller and I dunno, it just felt nicer. The boats run regularly from both locations but I would suggest trying to get there in the morning, by the afternoon it starts to get busy and there’s usually boats queuing up in the water to get onto the island. Once you have your ticket any of the boats will take you back to Elounda or Plaka which makes getting back to the mainland easy.
Once you are dropped off on the island you have to get a ticket to actually tour around the island, this costs about €8 per person. I believe there was a little cafe/shop here at the ferry landing and some toilets but I didn’t use any of these facilities so can’t really comment on them. We made sure to take a bottle of water with us as all the things I had read prior to our visit warned about the lack of shade. This is so true by the way, and in summer it gets hot, hot, hot so make sure you are prepared for this.
There is little to no information when you are walking around the island, no signs telling you which way to go, occasionally there’s a large map of the whole island but trying to locate where you are on the map is confusing. We decided to just start walking, we went straight back on ourselves at the entrance and up to the top of the fort overlooking the ferry landing. Do not attempt this climb unless you are fit and able and are wearing sensible shoes, it’s a lot of climbing on rocks and uneven surfaces. The views at the top are of course amazing but with no shade, this was a hard climb in the Greek sun.
We made our way back down to the small street with the row of houses recently restored to look like shops and continued to take the coastal path around the rest of the island. There’s a lot to see here, you go past the large gated entrance known to residents as Dantes Gate that the lepers would enter by and into the holding hall where they would be sorted. Here you continue past the newer buildings which housed sleeping quarters.
Once you reach the end of the island you hit the sea and the wind, it’s really something and you start to understand why most things are built on one side of the island where it’s more sheltered. That’s not to say there’s nothing here, there are the remains of a fort, a church and most poignantly before you exit is the graveyard where hundreds of bodies are buried. A sad reminder of what this island really was for so many people.
Make sure to take the time to visit this beautiful island, despite it’s sad history the people here flourished and it shows. They made the best of a terrible situation, they built homes set up markets to trade and created jobs here. They met, they fell in love and created families, they were determined to thrive in their last days of life.