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Spinalonga, Crete

Spinalonga by private boat

Spend a day in a private boat exploring the hidden coves and ruined buildings of Spinalonga, an evocative islet off the east coast of Crete. Known to locals at Kalydon, this tiny scrap of uninhabited land once hosted one of the last leper colonies in Europe, as well as a 16th-century Venetian fort that watched over its salt pans. As compelling as these haunting remains are, however, the island’s main attraction is its sun-soaked natural beauty, and a private boat tour gives you ample time to appreciate the rocky shores, vivid-blue water and wind-bent trees.

You’ll begin with a guided tour of the island, pausing to disembark and explore different sights. Then, in the afternoon, you can enjoy the island as you choose, swimming in the quiet bays far from other visitors and exploring deserted beaches. You’ll have ample opportunity to do both, as well as sunbathing or even fishing. There’s a well-stocked bar and plenty of snacks for you to enjoy while you’re on board.

Your driver will pick you up at your hotel to transport you to Plaka, where you’ll meet your guide and captain and board the boat to begin your tour of the island.

You might start at the one-time leper colony, established in 1903 and active until the late 1950s. Patients entered via a long tunnel known as Dante’s Gate, a nod to the uncertain fate that awaited them on the other side. However, those who stayed here were well treated, receiving lodgings, medical treatments, food and regular payments. The buildings were partially destroyed after the colony fell into disuse, and today you can ramble through the roofless stone ruins that cover most of the islet.

To examine more distant history, you’ll also visit the remains of the Venetian fortress. The first foundations were laid in 1579 on a hill overlooking the water, and today those same bastions provide sweeping views over the aquamarine bay.

Once you’ve explored to your heart’s content, you can board the boat and your captain will take you to one of the island’s quieter bays. The islet isn’t usually very busy, so it’s easy to find a remote corner where you can slip into the ultramarine water to go swimming or lounge on the deck and soak up the warm Aegean sun. If you’d like to try your hand at fishing, the boat has its own tackle for you to borrow.

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who's been there
Audley Travel Specialist Shannon

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