27th Jun 2011 - Crete
Spinalonga Island and Lato ancient hillfort
Woke up to find clear blue skies and another very windy day, although still nice and hot. Paul tried to take some early morning shots of the waves being whipped up by the wind, and got a little bit too close, resulting in very wet legs. After breakfast, we met up with Nick and Cheryl for our second day out in the car. Once again the roads were empty and it was a joy to drive around this area of Eastern Crete, except for the fact that any slight incline meant dropping down to 2nd gear in our Toyota Aygo.
Journey to Spinalonga
We headed East again on the main East/West road, which is part New Road, part Old Road, as they are in the process of extensive road improvements. The new road is wide straight, higher up in the hills and has several dramatic gorge crossings and tunnels. The old road hugs the coast and goes through all the resort towns which slows progress. We mostly stuck to the new road, but at one point there is a rock fall on the new road and traffic gets diverted back to the old road via the popular (with 20+ year olds) town of Malia. Here you have to be wary of quad bikes and pedestrians coming at you from all angles.
First sight of Spinalonga Island
We continued on to the point where the road skirts the resort town of Agios Nikolaus and the coast is East facing rather than North, and turned on to the north bound minor coast road towards Spinalonga. The road has some breathtaking views of “Ag Nik” before descending down into Elounda which is an extremely picturesque resort village, frequented by the rich and famous. The road here runs literally next to the sea, and this is where you catch your first glimpse of Spinalonga. Spinalonga Peninsula is separate from Spinalonga Island and is connected to the mainland by a very thin spit of land at Elounda. It forms a natural bay for the few miles along the coast to the village of Plaka where we decided to catch the boat out to the Island which is a small dot at the northern end of the peninsula. You can catch boats to Spinalonga Island all along this bit of coast, but we chose Plaka because it was the nearest (and so the cheapest) and because this was where Victoria Hislop stayed for a while when she wrote the book “The Island”.
Boat trip to the Island
All parking around here seems to be free which is a bonus, and we were able to park in the small harbour at Plaka. We immediately managed to get a place on the next boat and only had to wait a few minutes. Passage was 8 euros each, which was a bit steep for a 5 minute boat trip, however it is only 2 Euros to look around the island, so overall well worth the money. The boat was a small fishing style boat, and despite the wind, the crossing was smooth. Spinalonga Island was previously used as a fort by the Venetians, before being abandoned 100+ years ago. It was then taken over by the authorities in the early part of the last century and used to house Lepers and others with contagious diseases. This continued until 1957 when it was abandoned again and the residents were re-located to hospitals. The lepers attempted to live normal lives on the island and took over the buildings that were there from when the Island was a fort. I understand that many were pleased to be sent to the island as it allowed them to work, earn money, raise families, and live a reasonably normal life. It is also a glorious location which may have helped even in those circumstances.
On the Island
Although very small the island requires one or two hours to look round. You can walk right round the outside wall/battlements which are halfway up the rocky coastline. There are also many buildings still standing and some where only the walls remains. There is a high street of sorts and some buildings and shops have been renovated to look like they would have done when the island was inhabited. The cemetery is still there, and you can also climb up into the centre of the island. On top of all this the views from every point on the island are stunning.
Plaka and Kritsa
Aftyer a couple of hours, we caught the next boat back to Plaka, and had a cool drink in a windswept sea front cafe. We then took a stroll up the main street of the village, bought a piece of locally made hand painted glass, visited the local church, then headed back to the car. Next we decide to drive back south past Ag Nik and on up into the hills to visit a Byzantine Church (Moni Panagia Kera) in the town of Kritsa which apparently had amazing paintings inside. When we arrived however we found it was closed on Mondays, however it was a very nice little church from outside in a stunning location.
Lato ancient hill fort
On the way up to the church, we had noticed a sign for Lato ancient site 4km away, so we headed further up into the mountains to see that. We knew we had got there when the road ran out – unfortunately this was also closed on Mondays, however the gates to the site were open, so along with a couple of other people, we ventured in (we owe the site 2 Euros !). After a short but stiff climb, we arrived at the remains of the hillside settlement. This was an ancient hill fort and birth place of the Admiral of Alexander the Great. More stunning views, including one back down the coast to Ag Nik in the far distance.
Table Tennis and Motown
By this time it was 4pm and we had all had a lot of sun and wind, so we decided to head back to our hotel – about an hour’s drive. On arrival we dumped our stuff and retired to George’s Bar for a large glass of Mythos beer before showering and an evening meal in the hotel. Paul has taken to eating nothing all day so that he can save room for as much food as possible in the evening at the hotel – it is so nice and with so much choice. After dinner, and observing the glorious nightly sunset at 8.40pm, Nick & Cheryl went up to the local shop, whilst we stuck our head into the hotel Taverna where 2nd Avenue were wowing the crowds (6 couples) with Motown covers. We decided to make use of the local table tennis table instead and managed a rally of 5 shots before deciding it was too hot. As the live music had stopped, we headed back to our balcony to resume our nightly chats with Nick & Cheryl over Ouzo, Gin, Whiskey or whatever is available.
Journey To Spinalonga Island, Crete
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