Ever since reading Victoria Hislop’s ‘The Island’ a few years ago I have wanted to visit the island of Spinalonga and Plaka in Crete where the book is based, and my friend Heather was keen to go too. Looking on a map of Crete Elounda seemed to be the best option. There are many 4/5* hotels along the coast, some all inclusive, but we didn’t want that. We found some lovely 3* apartments ‘The Alykes’, right on the coast, with amazing views, 10 mins walk from the centre of Elounda and they were the perfect base for a week of sun, sea, culture, wine and lovely food!!

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We flew out from Gatwick on an afternoon flight, which meant a leisurely drive to the airport, but a late arrival in Elounda, 11pm, then a 2 hour transfer. We arrived at the apartments tired and just wanting to go to sleep. The check-in was done at the bar within a few minutes. We were introduced to the owner George who said our apartment was in the new building which was a couple of mins walk and on the ground floor so no stairs. He showed us the apartment and large terrace, we said ‘nice view’ to which he replied ‘yes nice view’ and then left us. In the dark it looked like waste ground at the end of the terrace so we didn’t hold out much hope, but we awoke the following morning to a wonderful view of the sea and mountains. We were amazed.

We just pottered around on the first day, exploring Elounda itself and finding a good place for lunch along the seafront – meze for 2 plus drink only 10 euros.

The following day we did Spinalonga – 30 mins enjoyable boat trip then about 2 hours on the island. We took an organised tour which for the first visit was worth doing as we found out so much more about the original Venetian Fort, the Turks and of course the leper colony. It really lived up to expectations. Ours was the first group on the island which was great, and you could really imagine what it would have been like to make the journey from Plaka as a leper knowing you wouldn’t be able to leave the island. It was more crowded by the time we left, so worth going early. Its also worth reading ‘The Island’ before you visit Spinalonga. On another day we walked the 5 miles from Elounda to Plaka, which is much smaller than Elounda, just a short street with a few cafes and shops and a church up a side street, but worth visiting especially if you have read the book. We bought one copy and were given a second copy of a lovely book on Spinalonga in the church with lots of old photographs. We also saw an old priest walking along the road and later noticed that he was in one of the photos.

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We took the bus along the coast to Agios Nikolaos, very easy to do, bigger than Elounda and more sophisticated, but still pretty and lovely to walk around the harbour, shops and lake (they used to think it was bottomless and some still do). There are plenty of places to eat or just have a coffee. Great for people watching.

We also went up into the mountains to more rural villages. Vouraches which we did one afternoon on the Noddy train. Lovely views and great to see how rural life still is, although its mostly older people as the young tend to move to the bigger towns. We also did a free guided walk into the mountains to Pano (upper) Elounda one morning. An English man who lives in Elounda takes this from the Square twice a week only about 8 people. Very interesting. I bought his book on walks in the area.

If you walked from our apartments in the opposite direction to Elounda, past the salt pans you came to the sunken city of Olous, which you can see when the water is very calm. We did see what looked like the tops of walls sticking out of the sea and there are mosaics on land. You would see more on Snorkelling or diving trips.

Elounda doesn’t have the greatest beaches, quite dark coloured pebble/shingle, but they are fine and the water is very clear.

The restaurants along the sea front and in the main town were the place to be in the evening. The atmosphere was great. Lovely food, Greek or more international, half a carafe of red wine was very reasonable. And we were amazed at how many times we were given a free dessert and shot of raki after we had paid our bill. The Greeks have a lovely way about.

All in all a wonderful experience….I will definitely go back!!!!

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