02 Jul Elafonisi Island
Every now and then you come across a location that takes your breath away. Such locations are not rare in the Mediterranean, with its numerous sweeping beaches, picturesque bays and rugged coasts, and the beautiful island of Crete, one of the most southerly of the Greek islands, certainly has its fair share. But even amongst these, there are some that stand out from the rest.
Elafonisi is one of those. Located in the south west of Crete, it is a truly idyllic spot; a tiny white sand island, reached by walking 200 metres through a warm, shallow reef. Legions of holidaymakers and sun-seekers flock here, and yet there is space for everyone. The reef itself sparkles aquamarine in the sun, while on the beach thousands of crushed seashells give the island a pinkish hue.
Elafonisi is fairly remote in comparison to the busy resorts of the north. If you want to visit, you will probably need your own transport. Car hire in Crete is both simple and popular – to get the best prices you can arrange one online before your trip. Out of the main towns, the roads are typically quiet and the scenery can be stunning, especially towards the south of the island.
Coming from Chania town, about an hour and a half away, the serpentine road twists its way around, up and down the mountains. Along the way you will encounter the Chrissoskalitissa Monastery, glittering white on its hilltop setting. You can climb the 98 steps to the top of the rock if you’re in no rush to get to Elafonisi – look out for the gold step which only the truly faithful can see.
Arriving at Elafonisi, there are several beaches in the nearby area and some basic facilities, including toilets and showers. The main beach has sunbeds and umbrellas for hire if you don’t want to venture far. Some rooms are available to rent nearby if you want to stay longer than a day, and there are a few cafes and tavernas for refreshments. Camping is not allowed. The area can get busy during peak times, but it’s usually easy to find a quiet spot by wandering away a little from the crowds and the central areas.
The idyllic beauty of Elafonisi is in contrast to two notable violent and tragic episodes in its past. Many of those who travel here will not be aware that this was the site of a brutal massacre of Cretans by Turks in 1824. Another tragedy unfolded in February 1907, when the SS Imperatrix ran into the rocks on the western coast of the island, with large loss of life.
A stroll around the island will bring you to a lighthouse and chapel on the western coast – the lighthouse built to prevent future shipwrecks. Elafonisi is a protected area and home to several interesting plant species, including sea daffodils, endemic junipers and Androcymbium rechingeri, an endemic flowering bulb.
Thanks to its crystal clear aquamarine waters, Elafonisi is also a fantastic snorkelling site, so bring your mask and fins. The seabed is rocky in parts, which encourages a variety of sea life; there is plenty to see below the water as well as on the shore. If you love nature, then you will be in your element here.
photo by Dimitri B on flickr