The tiny, teardrop-shaped island of Spinalonga, just off the southern coast of Crete’s Lassithi region, wasn’t always on the tourist map. Today, taking a boat trip there is a must for any visitor to Elounda.
What you see from the coast are the remains of a 16th-century Venetian fortress, but what makes Spinalonga unique are the ruined houses and buildings of the settlement that was from 1903-1957 Greece’s official leper colony.
Tourists began to discover Spinalonga when boats started making the short crossing there in the 1980s and it went on to gain international recognition as the setting for Victoria Hislop’s best-selling novel, The Island, in 2005, which went on to become a popular local TV dramatisation.
As you arrive in Spinalonga, you’ll immediately be taken aback 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 were to countless invaders.
You follow a 1.5km path around the island’s perimeter – once, that is, you’ve passed through Dante's Gate, the tunnel that was the entrance to the notorious leper colony.