A boat trip to Crete’s desert island of Koufonisi
It takes just 10 nautical miles to reach Africa if you are on holiday in Crete. Or so it feels when you travel to tiny Koufonisi, off the coast of the eastern Lasithi region, in the Libyan Sea.
Koufonisi offers a completely different experience to the rest of Crete. Here the landscape changes to an expanse of limestone (its ancient name, Lekfi, means white) and the interior resembles an African desert, with tamarisk trees and rare or indigenous shrubs and bushes, hiding small lizards and other heat-loving animals. And there are no fewer than 36 beaches, most with fine white or golden sand.
Though uninhabited now, Koufonisi held a special value for ancient Greeks, and its waters (rich in sea sponges and shells) attracted civilisations as varied as the Minoans and the Byzantines. In fact, there are Hellenistic and Roman ruins around the isle, some still in the process of being excavated.
You are free to explore a landscape sculpted over time by the elements. Tread carefully, though. The entire island has been given Natura 2000-protected status.