Tag Archives: Spinalonga

Spinalonga, once visited, never forgotten


Spinalonga is an island at the mouth of an inlet of water that forms a natural harbour for Elounda in the east of Crete. Since ancient times it has been of strategic importance for coastal defences. By the time the Venetians held Crete, piracy in the Mediterranean posed a huge threat so they built substantial fortifications on the island. Their works started in 1570 and much of structure used existing Minoan remains for the foundations.

By 1630 Spinalonga was a substantial fortress with 35 cannons. This firepower kept the island under Venetian control even after the fall of Heraklion to the Turks in 1669, a position they sustained until 1715.  The safety provided by the defences of the island proved attractive to Ottoman families who settled here.  When Crete became an independent state in 1898 the government forced the remaining Muslim inhabitants to move, leaving the island abandoned.

Despite its long and varied history, most people know Spinalonga as the leper island. People suffering with this cruel disease first moved to the island in 1903 and the facility didn’t close until 1957.

Now the island is a popular tourist attraction with boatloads of visitors from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda or Plaka. Over thirty years ago, author Beryl Darby wrote the first guidebook to the island. An updated version of the book is available from Eklektos Bookstore in Elounda and via Amazon – Click here.

With luck, the next development for Spinalonga will be to gain UNESCO World Heritage status in June 2020.

Let me introduce you to Callumn Anderson – someone with a vivid memory of his first visit to Spinalonga.

Callumn has an amazing knowledge of Crete and he runs a successful Facebook group called The Magical Island of Crete. This group has the feel of a club with high levels of participation, excellent photos, information, recipes and theme weekends.

I am delighted that Callumn has joined us for a virtual chat reminiscing about his first visit to Spinalonga.

Thank you for taking the time to join me today, Callumn. When you are in Crete do you always choose the same resort?

No, the joy of Crete is to base ourselves in different places. When we first visited Spinalonga, we were staying in Sissi.


Ah, Sissi (also spelt Sisi) is one of my favourite places. I know from the fabulous dawn photos that you post on Facebook you are an early riser. I bet you set off early for Spinalonga.

Indeed! We set off from Sissi heading east and drove towards Agios Nikolaos before taking the turn to Elounda at the lights/junction just before Agios Nikolaos. Some views on the way to Elounda made the drive worthwhile in themselves.

DSC04629Did you take a Spinalonga boat from Elounda or Plaka?

We chose Plaka. Once in Elounda I followed the one-way road through the car park and turned right for Plaka. As soon as we reached Plaka (before 9 a.m. which included photo stops on the way) I parked up and bought ferry tickets at a desk outside a taverna next to the car park. We had read that the first boat left at 09.00 but on the day we went it was at 09.30. This gave us plenty of time to top up the sun cream and have a quick walk along the shoreline. The sight of the old taverna at the start of the street and the ruined houses on the right immediately made me think of the characters in books set on Spinalonga, The Island and Yannis.

You did well to get an early start: you must have missed the crowds.

Apart from a lady who worked at the small church on Spinalonga we were the only ones on the ferry (more a fishing boat) and the crossing took less than ten minutes. No sooner had we stepped ashore than the boat reversed back out. This put shivers up my spine as I thought of how lepers would have felt being abandoned there with their belongings thrown on the shore.

I bet everyone who knows something of the sad history of Spinalonga tries to imagine what the first few moments on the island must have been like for a newcomer. 

You are right. I don’t have the words to describe the eeriness and atmosphere as we walked through the entrance tunnel and out on to the empty streets of Spinalonga. The size and scale of the streets utterly moved and mesmerized us. It was easy to imagine the hustle and bustle of the town as the leper community went about their daily lives only a short distance from Plaka. On we walked, passing the bakery, the church, the disinfection building with the locked gates out to the shore and then on up to the two dormitories built to house lepers. After this we doubled back to climb the hill to the hospital. We entered the hospital with trepidation, not quite sure of what emotions we would feel or sights we would see. The experience was truly humbling and thought provoking as we looked out of the ward windows down to the streets, with the sea, Plaka, and families beyond. All the time I tried to imagine what was going through the patients’ minds. There were tally marks on a wall, a pile of empty medicine bottles in a corner and what was left of the kitchen and oven in another room. It was an experience and emotion I will never forget.

From the hospital we made our way back down the hill to the main street by which time there were hordes of people streaming up the street as the large boats from Agios Nikolaos and Elounda had arrived. We were so glad that we reached the island on the first boat to experience walking those streets on our own. We quickly skipped ahead of the groups as we had already been to the end of the street before we had doubled back to the hospital. Now we slowed down to walk the circumference of the Island via the various fortress walls and turrets. We then reached the smaller church at the other side of the island before we encountered our next spine-tingling moment when we first gazed at the cemetery. We just stood, contemplated and in our minds paid our respects to those they buried here, and those who died before they created a cemetery.

I remember the views above there are spectacular.

Yes, we climbed up to the top of the island. The climb is so worth it as the views from the fortress and the very top are unbelievable. As I stood on the top looking back down to the main street, my mind couldn’t help but drift to that of Yannis when he first climbed to the top to survey the derelict houses-I know he is a fictional character but I am sure most of the events will have really happened. We then made our way back to the main street via a maze of derelict streets and houses. Just back off to the left and towards the cemetery is a house which I am sure would have been the governor of Spinalonga’s house-yes, I know my imagination was off and running again.

How long did you spend on Spinalonga?

We left Plaka at 093.0 and got back at about 12.20 after spending an incredible time exploring Spinalonga.

I bet you took some great photos.

Yes, I did. Now I’ve used them to make a YouTube video. I’d love you to take a look.

Thank you so much for sharing your first memories of Spinalonga and that fabulous clip. How can people see more of your photos?

As well as posting many in my Facebook group, The Magical Island Of Crete (new members always welcome) I use flickr to store and organise my photos. If you’d like to see them, click here.

While I follow Callumn’s links to see more photos, I’d love to know of your memories and emotions from visiting Spinalonga. If you’ve Spinalonga photo’s that you’d like to share then pop over to  The Magical Island Of Crete.


Elounda seen from Mount Oxa

2019-01-19_10-27-21January in Crete has been much wetter than in previous visits at this time of year. As soon as we see a brighter day forecast we plan a walk, never knowing when we’ll get the next opportunity. This fabulous walk was in the company of good friends, Hilary and Phil and as he is a walking guide we benefited from a lesser known start to this famous walk. For road directions from Kritsa CLICK HERE

For full walking direction with a Wikiloc map you can download CLICK HERE.

From start to finish the 15k walk took us six and a half hours although Wikiloc says we were only moving for just under three hours. We filled the ‘gap’ with stops to take photos, eat a picnic, explore Minoan ruins and catch our breath on some of the very steep paths.

The more popular walking route to climb Mount Oxa starts in the centre of Elounda and if you visit Eklektos Bookshop you will find walking guides for the area.

Our day proved warmer than we expected and our hats, scarves and gloves were soon consigned to our rucksacks.

2019-01-19_11-49-57Here Phil ponders whether to take us on a shorter or longer route. Of course the longer option suited us all. If you would like a personal guide for walks or excursions in the Lassithi area contact me via the form below and I’ll pass the information on.

I am writing a guide to walks in the Kritsa area and I’ll share details about this in due course.

Meanwhile, here are some of the photos of our walk to Mount Oxa so you can enjoy a virtual tour.

After walking through flat countryside we saw Mount Oxa ahead and could just see the church at the top. There is a very clear sign at the start of the path up.

The first glimpse of Elounda and Spinalonga below us was a Wow moment. We enjoyed the view over Agios Nikolaos while we ate and then more of Elounda when we walked around the headland to explore the Minoan remains. There are also remains of a church that predates the current one dedicated to Timios Stavros, the Holy Cross. According to Phil’s research there were at least 100 cisterns to serve the peak community with water and we saw several remains among tumble-down walls. Alas, we didn’t find the one reputed to have a stash of gold.

DSCN6717This photo shows the distant snowy tops of the Dikti Mountains. How lucky we are to have the health to climb to such wonderful places.









Beryl Darby Meets Kazanis

STOP PRESS: Less than one hour before scheduled publication of this post I was shocked and saddened to learn Nikos Massaros, a generous man to the people of Kritsa, died today. My first instinct was to delete this post as it features a meeting with him. I decided to continue with it as a personal thank you to a special man. May your memory be eternal, Nikos. You will certainly be missed. X

wp-1448437265394.jpegAs Christmas is almost here, I wanted to write a special post. It is ten years since I’ve been in Kritsa for Christmas, and although I love this village nativity scene, I’ve used it before.  In the end, I steered away from traditional Christmas greetings to share the warmth of a fabulous day spent with Beryl Darby, author of Yannis, a novel set in Crete on the leper island of Spinalonga.

143725467Over the past few years, Beryl and I have enjoyed a day out in and around Kritsa. As a prolific writer of novels set in Crete, Beryl is always keen to absorb local folklore, and visit  places that might be useful in a future novel.

First stop with Beryl was a visit to the house where Rodanthe, (heroine of my novel Kritsotopoula, Girl of Kritsa) lived in the early 1800’s. Now the house is a museum I’ve a sneaky feeling a future character of Beryl’s will pay a visit to this iconic corner of Kritsa.

If you want to visit the museum take the main road through Kritsa, it is called Kritsotopoula Street, follow this until it becomes a pedestrian alley, then continue to the end to reach the museum.



Nikos Massaros, a descendent of Rodanthe’s family, led a group of dedicated people to bring the museum to life, and this was our lucky day as he was inside to answer questions. Close to this house is the small church of Afentis Christos where Rodanthe’s father used to be the pappas (priest). The church doesn’t look much from the outside, but the new roof and plaster protect wonderful remains of frescos.

DSCN1303.jpgIn this photo, Nikos and Beryl view the information board placed outside of the church. To see the frescos you’ll need to attend one of only two church services per year on the evening of 5th October, or the morning of 6th October...perhaps I’ll see you there. To read about my first visit to the church in 2015, post renovations CLICK HERE.



Beryl is a keen admirer of our local sculptor, Nigel Ratcliffe, and on a previous visit enjoyed seeing his amazing carving of Kritstsotopoula. Nigel now has another exquisite piece of work showing Captain Kazanis and his rebels, including ‘my’ Rodanthe situated high in the mountains. If you’d like more details, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, my husband kindly drove Beryl and I up to the mountains.

After the Katharo Plateau we stopped to admire the hazy view of Lassithi below, and soon had the company of many inquisitive goats.



Parking near Nigel’s fabulous sculpture I was mesmerised by two men sat under a nearby walnut tree. I had written a similar scene in my draft novel, Rodanthe’s Gift.


Petros, my fictional son of Captain Kazanis, sat in this very spot with his special friend:

Leaving their donkey to graze, the youngsters rested against the skeletal remains of a walnut tree.
‘Did Turks burn this tree, Petros?’
‘No, it was a lightning strike.’
Did nothing last? He remembered the thick trunk, with long guns resting against it, while Pa lolled in welcome shade with his men, all guffawing as they drank raki, plotted and schemed. A lump in his throat prompted him to change the subject. ‘Today we’ll reach my home and I can’t wait to see Zacharias.’

DSCN1343.jpgBack in the present day… The men under the tree beckoned us to join them and proffered plastic cups of raki. Well, it would be rude not to!  This photo shows one of our hosts lobbing a rock at walnuts to provide a fresh snack to nibble with the raki – delicious and thought provoking. As a result my novel now has the following scene.


‘What are you doing, Petros?’
‘It’s a walnut. I’m planting it in the ground.’
‘You’re crying. Why are you sad?’
‘Kazanis Spring must have a walnut tree. It will be a memorial for Pa.’ He dabbed his wet cheeks, chuckling at a sudden memory. ‘I almost killed him once when I lobbed a rock to bring walnuts down. I missed the nuts and hit his head.’ He gave his backside a subconscious pat at the memory of a thrashing. ‘Such a long time ago. I’ll just water this before we leave.’

DSCN1349.jpgHere’s Beryl mingling with Kazanis, Rodanthe in disguise, and the rest of the rebels. Beryl’s mind was racing too as she made a mental note of a story line where a visitor’s car broke down at this remote spot.

Next we drove further along the dirt track as there was another key scene in my story I wanted to share with Beryl.

A magnificent weather sculptured head looks out across a ravine towards Zinia. Through a gap in trees you can glimpse the church where Rodanthe cut off her hair to improve her disguise as a young man. I found out about this head too late to mention it in Kritstopoula, Girl of Kritsa, but it is in the sequel. While looking around, sharp eyed Beryl noticed another ‘face’ on the back of the rock. I was more interested in watching one of the hunters we’d seen earlier descend a path to the ravine. Now I knew how Petros could get from the church at Zinia to this rock head. I love it when story lines fall in place.


Christmas is always such a rush, so I hope reading this blog post has given you a short break. Whatever you do to celebrate the season, have fun.  I shall use spare time to continue tidying up Rodanthe’s Gift ready for publication in 2018. If you’d like me to let you know the date of publication send me your details via the contact form below.


Finally, thank you for visiting my blog, it means so much.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 2018.

Plaka to Spinalonga Swim

Snow hit my part of the UK this week, and it looked beautiful. Even though traffic ground to a halt and untreated paths were hard to walk on safely, we couldn’t resist donning boots and going for a stomp.  Back indoors with a cup of tea and a mince pie, reminiscing on my summer photos once again became irresistible.

DSCN1021.jpgThis time I looked back to Sunday, 27th August when circa 80 brave swimmers raced from Plaka to Spinalonga in two groups. Those wearing white hats set off first to swim to Spinalonga and back. When they were nearly half way across the yellow hat group set off.  In previous years the second group swam right around the island before returning to Plaka.

DSCN1017_optimized.jpgThis year, the off shore wind was so fierce water spouts chased across the channel forcing the yellow hat group to swim to Spinalonga and back twice instead of around the island.

Many boats worked together to mark the correct channel, keep other vessels away and pick up those who found themselves in trouble.

Although it was gloriously sunny, the strong wind made watching uncomfortable, goodness knows what it did to swimming conditions. As this is the second time we’ve been spectators at this event, I guess it takes place every year. If you are in East Crete at the end of August look out for posters advertising the event, it makes a great spectacle.

Meanwhile, I look forward to my next trip to Plaka to enjoy the crystal clear waters close to shore.