Spinalonga Island is located in the Northeastern part of Crete. It is off the shore of the small village of Plaka in the Lasithi area. The islands location on the Norhtern part of Mirambellos Bay and the Korfos Bay makes it a good location for protecting the mainland in this area. The island has a long history most importantly, having been a stronghold for the Venetians and most recently, used as a Leper Colony. For more information on the history of Spinalonga you can CLICK HERE.
Venetian Fortress Ruins
The ruins of a Venetian Fortress cover the island. Built in 1574, this fortress was a formidable building and because of it’s location it was not possible for ships to pass through. The materials used for the fortress were from the islands and nearby areas as well.
Leper Colony 1903-1957
Equally important, during the years of 1903 through 1957, Spinalonga Island was used as a place where Lepers were sent for exile. In spite of there terrible disease, the Lepers living there managed to continue on through life, building there own village and homes in the fortresses ruins. Some even married and had children. That is to say, they appeared to make the most of their lot in life. With this in mind, they had stores, a church, school and hospital.
Victoria Hislop wrote a beautiful book about Spinalonga Island and life there called The Island. I read this book a week before our trip and found it very touching, informative and all in all, a wonderful book. I would recommend to anyone who plans on exploring Spinalonga Island to read this book first as I feel it truly enhanced my visit.
How to Get to Spinalonga Island
To visit Spinalonga Island you need to take a boat. There are three places where you can catch a boat at. Plaka, which is a small village closest to the island. The ride takes about 10 minutes and is a great option if you want to spend a lot of time exploring the island. The next place you can catch a boat at is Elounda. This will give you a chance to spend a bit more time on the water. Lastly, you can leave from Agois, Nikolas. This option is more of a day trip and you will learn more history of the area. Some of the trips offer meals and beach stops. We left from Plaka as we wanted to spend a fair amount of time on the island.
Village of Plaka
We arrived at Plaka, which was just a few minutes from where we were staying at Elounda. We had about a 15 minute wait after purchasing our boat tickets so we wandered around the small village. Plaka is a very picturesque village. As it was early, not much was opened, but we did buy a Spinalonga guide at one of the shops that was opened. The name of the book is Follow us in Spinalonga, written by Alibertis Antonis. It is available on Amazon, but cost about 3 times what it cost us in Plaka, and if you go, it is always nice to support the local economy!
Boat Trip to Spinalonga Island
We loved the short boat trip over! The water and scenery were amazing and it was fun to see Spinalonga grow closer. Added to the excitement!
Touring Spinalonga Island
Exploring Spinalonga was fun. This place is amazing and there are so many paths and directions that you can branch out and explore. The views of the sea are outstanding and just add to the interest of the island.
Entrance Tunnel and Town Square
Once on shore, and after paying the admission fee we turned towards the tunneled entrance. It is hard to imagine the lepers that were sent here seeing the long dark tunnel and having to pass through to their new life.
This Ottoman Market area is where the Leper Colonists bought their goods, had coffee and socialized. Built during the Ottoman times, the area has been refurbished to look as it did then. I liked this area as it was nice to know that people with this terrible disease were able to lead as much of a normal life as possible.
Agios Panteleimon church dates back to 1709, but was demolished by the Turks when they invaded. In 1900 it was rebuilt and then renovated. This church was used by the Lepers for their ceremonies. Through the years, priests stayed at the island and supported the people here.
Ruins of Homes
Many of the homes the Lepers used were rebuilt from the Venetian Fortess. They used materials they had and styled the island as many Greek villages did in that time. Many of the colonists had their own home. There were also two communal homes built. There was a generator on the island in later years which supplied electricity to the residents.
The Main Gate was where supplies were brought. The Lepers came through the other gate. There was also a disinfecting room by the main gate as anything leaving the colony needed disinfecting. The views here were stunning both from the entrance and from above.
The Way to the Top
There are many paths to the top and all involve climbing up!! Many of the paths are loose rock, some were stairs, some are dirt, some are just away to get from one path to the other as a path would appear to stop, yet you could see another above you! Once we were on top though, we found out there was an easier way from the other side! Oh well, we like climbing around and it was a lot of fun!!
While on our way up we looked down upon one of the Bastions. A half moon shaped defense area. The Bastion allowed cannons and gunfire to be sent to enemies approaching from sea. A great way to defend the fortress.
We climbed to the top of this Bastion. It was amazing! The views were outstanding! Another great way to see how this ancient fortress defended itself.
Views From Spinalonga
The views were so amazing every which way we looked.
Time to Eat!!
Of course no adventure ends without us being famished!! We took the boat back to Plaka and enjoyed a quick lunch at Epico. This cute little restaurant is right on the corner, just up the steps from where you catch the boat. We noticed the French fries and had to have them!! There were some beautiful views from the roof top where you can eat, but we were hot and the shade felt good just sitting outside on the porch. We had Fanta Lemon soda which we can’t find in the states and it is so refreshing. We just snacked on their awesome fries, tzatziki and bread but both were awesome!
Spinalonga Island is definitely a must do in Crete. Even if you are not into the history, the views from this place are amazing! I loved everything about this small island. The history, the climbing around and of course the views!
After we had lunch, we headed back to our fabulous hotel and spent the day at the pool and beach. We did a bit of snorkeling, jet skiing and enjoyed the sunny day. We absolutely loved this hotel!!
Where We Stayed in Elounda
Once at Elounda, we easily found our hotel, the Elounda Peninsula All Suites Hotel. We found this place to be beyond wonderful! The service was outstanding and the views from our room and deck were amazing. In fact, this place was simply outstanding. All in all, the hospitality of the staff is what truly makes Elounda Peninsula stand out. For more information or to book a room click here.
While planning our trip to Greece, I found the travel guide Top 10 Crete to be very useful. For one thing, itIt lists the top 10 places to go, restaurants, and sites. Additionally, it also lists the top 10 by region and area. Given these points, I felt it was a great planning tool, plus it came with a pocket size map which we did use.
I also bought a National Geographic Map of Crete and this was priceless as we lost our GPS several times. The map is pretty accurate and durable. It certainly did help us out!
True Trips, Greece. A big part of planning is done for us! Both times we traveled to Greece, we let True Greece plan much of our trip! They will plan as much or as little as you want, and they really listen to what you want to do. We had them plan our lodging and also our transfers to and from airports and ferry ports. They pick us up and take us to the lodging. You can have them plan your tours too. The tours we did last year were awesome! As a matter of fact, they are from Greece. They know the ins and outs that we would never know. This is invaluable, as it assures for a smooth trip. In other words, I 100% recommend True Greece, they are experts and they work hard to plan with you!
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Check them out on this link for more info https://www.truegreece.com
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