Daily Mail writer Helen Atkinson may describe Spinalonga, the Greek island off Crete, as a “tiny speck”, but she’s quick to point out that if you’re into history and fiction then this is the place to visit.
Exploring history and heartbreak: Stepping into the Cretan world of Victoria Hislop's novel The Island (and the chilling Spinalonga leper colony) Spinalonga is the tiny island speck at the heart of the author's haunting story about a leper colony in the 1930s Take an hour-long walk around the island and pace the grim walls to get a sense of exactly how the community lived The Elounda Gulf Villas & Suites consist of sumptuous accommodation with private pools and a beach club
I've wanted to go to Crete ever since reading Victoria Hislop's novel The Island. Like a siren, she lured me to the largest Greek island and then to Spinalonga, the tiny speck at the heart of her haunting story about a leper colony in the 1930s. We drove east from Heraklion airport past the party resort of Malia, the archaeological treasures of Knossos, and dazzling white fishing villages until we arrived at our base, the Elounda Gulf Villas & Suites in Elounda.
The Kadianakis family have created their own take on a Cretan village in the shape of 15 sumptuous suites, 18 luxurious villas with private pools, a beach club, a spa and a restaurant that combines the best of Greek cooking with world-class cuisine. The resort hugs the hillside, but luckily you don't have to be a mountain goat to clamber up from the infinity pool to your private villa, as a team of white liveried bellboys sweep you up in golf buggies.
I came to eke out the last of the summer sun, and to explore Spinalonga, which sits on the glittering Gulf of Mirabello.
Boats depart daily from Elounda and Plaka for the eerie, arid and barren rocky outcrop.
I like being out at sea for the sense of timelessness and historic perspective you get on this most ancient of landscapes.
Stepping on to Spinalonga, I was immediately transported back to Hislop's book, her story of outcasts surviving a life of isolation. During a sobering hour-long walk around the island, you can pace the grim walls and visit the dilapidated buildings – Town Hall, homes and wash-houses – to get a sense of exactly how the community existed.
In its own way, Spinalonga is a life-affirming place to visit. Not quite so evocative is hiring a car to drive the switchback roads up into the mountains of mainland Crete.
On our way up, we called in at the unassuming Church of Panagia Kera to be astonished by the Byzantine frescoes. And if you like arts and crafts, you'll love Kritsa, one of the oldest and most historic villages on the island.
Here, the aptly named Panoramic Taverna looks like the film set for Mamma Mia! and serves strong Greek coffee. A feast was being prepared and the smell of home-cooked soutzoukakia – baked meatballs – was mouthwatering.
Tempting though it was to stay and see if Pierce Brosnan turned up, we wanted to get to the tomato-growing hot spot of Ierapetra, and to swim from the island's golden beaches to whip up an appetite for lunch at the scenic fishing hamlet of Mochlos. On the menu was baked sea bream, grilled sardines and salad washed down with a Boutari sauvignon blanc at Taverna Bogazi. Like so many other hostelries in Crete, the owner gave us the warmest of welcomes and found us a waterfront table – all at the mention of Victoria Hislop.
Source : Daily Mail