You’ll be hooked by Spinalonga’s storied past
For a while, Spinalonga wasn’t on Greece’s tourist map, but today it stands as a poignant memorial to yet another chapter of Crete’s astonishingly diverse history.
In Crete’s Gulf of Elounda, the teardrop-shaped island boasts a 16th-century Venetian fortress, but its use as a leper colony for more than 50 years meant that authorities did little to publicise it. Tourists started to discover it when boats began making the short crossing from the mainland in the 1980s and, when it was the setting for Victoria Hislop’s best-selling novel The Island in 2005, it rightly gained international recognition.
You’ll immediately be taken by the size of the medieval fortification, built to protect the strategically important Bay of Mirabella. The walls appear as impenetrable now as they once proved to countless invaders.
Once inside, you follow a 1.5km path around the perimeter – once, that is, you’ve passed through Dante's Gate, an imposingly named tunnel from its time as a leper colony, greeting new arrivals who didn’t know what was about to happen to them.
Walking clockwise, you reach the main settlement of ruined houses. A few have been renovated and turned into a museum with photographs, historical information and everyday objects. From the cramped and stark living conditions, you can imagine the hardship of the time – although a community of around 400 people did eventually form a school, shops and tavernas that you can see.
Moving on, you’ll reach the hospital, a basic building that didn’t offer anything in the way of treatment for leprosy. One doctor visited, as long as he was treating something else. But patients were allowed visitors who ended in a disinfection room where they were washed down with an acid.
The organisation of the community stretched to the creation of a theatre on the northern shore. They say life imitates art. Well, these actors had quite a story to tell.
Church of St George and cemetery
Completing your walk, you reach the small, Venetian-built church of St George and the cemetery, with a plaque commemorating those buried here. The last resident was a priest who left the island in 1962.
- Boats leave regularly from Plaka, on the mainland opposite, and every 30 minutes from Elounda on excursions that can sometimes include sailing around the Kolokytha Peninsula.
- Boats leave from 9:00-10:00 and return around 17:00-18:00.
- Day trips also leave from Agios Nikolaos and may include lunch and a swim off the beaches along Kolokytha.
- Spinalonga’s growing popularity means it gets busy during the summer, so we recommend visiting in April-June and September-October, if possible.
- If you do visit in July-August, do so in the morning or late afternoon.
- Open daily from April-October (08:30-18:00).
- The museum only opens upon request from November-March (Tel. +30 28410 22462).
- Boat trips may be affected by weather conditions.
- You will most likely take 1hr30mins-2hrs to walk around the island.
- The crossing takes 7-10mins from Plaka and around 20mins from Elounda.
- The journey time from Agios Nikoalos depends on whether you stop for a swim and lunch.
- The cost of the crossing is €10 (€5 reduced) from Plaka and €12 (€6 reduced) from Elounda and €16 euros from Agios Nikolaos.
- Prices do not include the €8 (reduced €4) entry to Spinalonga or a guide, which can be booked here
- There’s is a cafe, toilet and souvenir shop on Spinalonga but don’t forget to pack everything you need for a day out in the sun (hat, sun cream, sun glasses, water bottle).
- Wear a comfortable pair of shoes or trainers as the path can be slippery.
- If you fancy a swim, pack your swimwear and towel.
- Visitors with disabilities can follow the peripheral path around the island but not explore the interior.
Plan your trip
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