On our last full day in Crete (and Greece!) we set out early for a one hour drive towards Agios Nikolaos from Heraklion.
Driving past the nightlife town of Malia, we arrived at Plaka’s marina by 11am. Roundtrip ferries from Plaka costs €12 per person.
Once we paid for the tickets, we took a bathroom break and grabbed water at one of the numerous tavernas surrounding the marina before boarding.
Ferries to Spinalonga Island runs approximately every half an hour and takes 10 minutes to get there from Plaka:
Both Plaka and Spinalonga island play the backdrop for numerous works of art in contemporary media including the bestselling fiction novel “The Island,” by Victoria Hislop.
And as the novel would suggest, the much romanticized Spinalonga (or Kalidon) has captivated the dreams and imaginations of countless artists, musicians and authors throughout its long history.
It has remained one of the most visited tourist attractions on Crete, where over 30,000 visitors like us seek to walk along the narrow streets through the village on Spinalonga every year.
Although the official name is Kalidon, the former Veneitian name of Spinalonga has been so well known that all the sign posts and the ferries that take you to the the island will call it only by its Venetian name.
Now uninhabited, the island was once a fortress was built in 1579 by the Eloundians where later many Christians from the surrounding village took refuge from the Saracens that overtook Crete. It had seemed impenetrable until the Turkish captain Kapoudan Pasha captured it in the 1715.
Many Turks then came here as a safe haven during the 1821 Revolution and it became the main trade port for the entire region of Mirabello during the 19th century.
Then Cretan rebels besieged it during the revolutions of 1821, 1866 and 1897 until in 1904, the State of Crete turned Spinalonga into a leper colony. And for the next half a century, society’s outcasts came here to live out the end of their lives in paradise.
Signs of the former leper colony is most apparent in the disinfection kilin they left behind here:
When a cure for leprosy finally came around, the island hospital was dissolved in 1957 and has since remained both a tourist attraction and an archaeological site for what remains of the Venetian art of island fortification and fortress-building in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Despite the 100ºF scorcher and both ferry and island staff announcing an early closure to the public at 1:30pm due to the heat wave, Mel and I climbed up to the top of the fortress anyway, which I don’t recommend unless you’re pretty agile and fit in navigating the unmarked paths up to the top.
We felt like we were the only ones who made it as the heat was so unbearable, most returned back to the port after less than an hour’s walk around the island (it takes only 20-30 minutes to walk the entire circumference):
But the views from here made me forget only for a second how hot it has been all week:
There’s also an opportunity to take a dip in the waters from Spinalonga, by a small pier past the main harbor:
After almost 2 hours walking around and up Spinalonga, we scrambled on the last ferries back to Plaka and continued on our road trip through Eastern Crete.
- At time of posting in Spinalonga, it was 32 °C - Humidity: 57% | Wind Speed: 27km/hr | Cloud Cover: a circle of Hades