Once upon a time there was a land of rock and sun, forgotten by the gods, with a tormented history. At present, the same land is a gorgeous haven caressed by the turquoise sea. Welcome to Elounda, a small coastal town in the north of Crete.
We have finally arrived at the sumptuous Elounda Mare hotel in Elounda, north of Agios Nikolaos. The journey from the Heraklion airport was a bit long. A dip in the cool water will be just the thing to offset the brutal heat. Little white houses line the slopes around the bay. An old woman in black is climbing a twisted path leading to an unknown destination. Two goats nibble at a shrub. The sun pulls a chapel’s silhouette longer. It’s siesta time. No doubt about it, we’re in Crete.
In the small port of Elounda, brightly coloured boats doze on the water while fishermen with callused hands repair their nets. Just opposite, the islet of Spinalonga, peppered with ruins, is a reminder of a history that many here would just as soon forget.
The vestiges of a mighty fortress built by the Venetians in 1579 upon the ruins of an ancient acropolis are still visible. Its purpose was to protect the armada waiting in the port of Elounda. Armed with 35 cannons, it was one of the rare fortresses to withstand the sieges of the Turks when they seized Crete in 1669. They finally managed to take control of it in the early 18th century, and two centuries went by before they were ousted. The fortress then became a leprosarium – Europe’s last – that was active from 1903 to 1962. Today, this ghost village, a prison wedged between sky and sea, a piece of hell in paradise, makes for a heart-rending visit. The four hundred lepers who lived here developed their own rules and virtually self-sufficient way of life. Inhabitants practised different professions, from hairdresser to religious leader to knife-grinder; some even married and had (healthy) children.
Back on the main island, the pretty port of Plaka is a nice place to visit before having aperitifs at the Elounda Mare hotel’s Beach Bar and dinner at the Old Mill, the hotel’s gourmet restaurant, with a view of the horizon. The cuisine – plenty of fish, vegetables and olive oil – is a divine example of what the Mediterranean, or Cretan, diet has to offer: a medley of colours and flavours that gives pride of place to grilled meat and fish, bell peppers, and the famous mezze (the Greek equivalent of Spanish tapas), featuring roasted aubergine salad, meatballs, stuffed grape leaves, grilled octopus, fried snails with rosemary, savoury white beans… With banquets like this to sample, how many of us wouldn’t choose to go on a Mediterranean diet straight away?
Crete - Greece
Visit Hotel Elounda Mare