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Spinalonga Σπιναλόγκα is a little island of the north-east coast of Crete in Greece. It has come to international fame due to its colourful history.
The island sits off the northern tip of Kolokitha peninsula, which forms the safe harbour of Elounda, in the wide Mirabello Bay, protected from the north by Cape Agios Ioannis.
Since ancient times this bay was the home of peoples, long ago there sat the town of Olous, which is now submerged under water.
The physical beauty around Elounda Crete, the bay and the island are the reason that many fall in love there.
The island was fought over by succeeding powers in the Mediterranean and played an important strategic role in history. Its location at the entrance to a secure harbour made it ideal for a defensive fortress. When the sea lords of Venice claimed Crete as theirs they built a fort here. It remains in ruins today.
The island was the home of a leper colony from 1903 to 1957.
The word 'spina-longa' is Italian for 'long spine'. The island is popular with visitors for boat tours to enjoy its unusual history and its aqua marine bays.
The small village of Plaka lies opposite the island, and its fate has been intertwined with it for many years. It has experienced some recent development, yet still remains a tiny seaside village.
Fish tavernas like this one serve the freshest of fish and other seafood, whilst the local ferries and small boats take visitors over to the island.
Plaka Seaside Cottages - how close do you want to be to the water? Is this close enough?
These three studio cottages are small and sweet, modern and sit on their own private beach just a few hundred metres from Plaka village.
The cottages actually look out over the bay to the island of Spinalonga. These are small studios designed for couples, with a sofa bed they sleep 3. We know where we will be staying next time we visit 'the island'!
The Akti Olous Hotel sits on the bay of Elounda just minutes from 'the island' in the protected bay. Stroll around the village, enjoy the beachside dining and swim at Blue Flag beaches.
The Island Seaview Apartment is located by the sea in central Plaka hamlet. Just made for sitting and gazing at Spinalonga and feeling history come alive.
We have some more suggestions for both luxurious and budget-priced accommodation nearby...
Sailing Tour from Agios Nikolaos - see Elounda Bay and Spinalonga on this 4 hour tour of the beautiful Mirabello Bay, enjoy a cool dive at Kavos Krios.
Kritsa Gorge to Plaka and Spinalonga with Meals - on this 8 hour tour you will hike, swim, eat and cruise and see the best the area has to offer. Make your own dolmades and taste authentic local olive oil.
The island, Plaka and Elounda have been the subject of many books, histories and fiction stories, such as Spinalónga – The Isle of the Damned by Victor Zorbas, Spinalónga by Beryl Darby and The Island by Victoria Hislop and 'Spinalonga; The True Story' by Anna Giakoumaki
See our suggestions below...
The novel 'The Island' by Victoria Hislop has been made into a television mini drama by Mega TV, Directed by Theodoris Papadoulakis and filmed on location in Crete. The production is now available on DVD in Greek language with English subtitles.
Is 'The Island' by Victoria Hislop a true story?
No, it is a fictional story based upon the historical background of Crete. Whilst the general themes were based on historical facts, the specifics were not.
Was Spinalonga a leper colony?
Yes, the island was home for those suffering from leprosy from 1903 to 1957.
When was Spinalonga abandoned?
The island was first left empty in 1898 due to conflicts between Cretans and Turkish. The island was most recently left empty after 1957, when the leper hospital was closed and the last 20 patients were transferred to a leper hospital in Athens.
Can leprosy be cured?
Yes, cures and treatments for leprosy have been available since 1982. The disease is known today, all around the world, especially in areas of poverty and ignorance where the stigma of leprosy leads to lack of diagnosis.
Why do people visit Spinalonga?
A visit to the island is a day to enjoy the magnificent views of Elounda Bay, to absorb the multi-layered history of the island which has been occupied since ancient times, and explore a wonderfully atmospheric, poignant and fascinating place. Many people visit because they have read the book 'The Island' and want to see it first-hand.
The region in the east of Crete is named Lasithi and holds some of the best-kept secrets of Crete, as there are generally fewer visitors to this side of the island. There are rocky mountains and gorges, forests and beautiful beaches to explore, as well as the towns of Agios Nikolaos, Elounda, Sitia and Ierapetra.
Some highlights of the region include:
Some images of the island here:
Arrive via Heraklion International Airport HER or Sitia Airport JSH.
From Heraklion, drive east via Agios Nikolaos for 75 km, allow 1.5 hours for the drive.
It is best to stay nearby at Plaka, Elounda or Agios Nikolaos.
See our Q&A pages about getting to Spinalonga:
More details of flights and ferries to Crete below.
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