Spinalonga is a bare and rocky islet that appears to float on the turquoise waters just off the coast in one of the driest parts of Crete but also very near the VIP holiday resort Elounda. But it was not always an island according to one story, at least not before the Venetians blew up what lay between it and the Kolokytha peninsula and turned it into an offshore fortress. Historical lore aside, it is the site of one the best fortresses the Venetians built on Crete to protect the entrance to the harbour. Spinalonga, or "long thorn" to the Venetians, is beautifully preserved from an architectural perspective. With almost intact battlements and guard towers oddly reminiscent of some of the hotels across, history is ‘still warm’ on the rock, as Victoria Hislop wrote in the "The Island", a book that propelled the islet to international fame. Spinalonga, today connected by boat from Agios Nikolaos, Elounda and Plaka, wasn’t always a holiday destination: its name is still eerily synonymous with the leper colony set up between 1903 and 1957, though it has by now shed all its negative connotations.
In fact, it is one of the most popular sites of historical interest, up there with the Parthenon and Knossos, so expect to find scores of eager day-trippers winding through the streets during peak season. Depending on one’s level of awe at the island’s natural and man-made wonders, a tour of the island is a relatively brief affair and so sooner or later it will be time for a swim. Organized beaches include the pebble beaches on either side of Plaka just across on Crete and Driros beach, a couple of kilometers from Elounda, itself a choice of convenience, as is Agia Marina close by. Kolokytha beach is just one of the more quiet choices on the peninsula (alternatively named Kolokytha and big Spinalonga) that extends southward from Spinalonga and connects to the Cretan shore via a causeway near Schisma Eloundas.