Just perusing through some old photos and found this folder of a trip we had forgotten to post on the blog last Spring. It’s worthy of noting because two of our favorite visitors were here (Dan and Larry) and because we had a new adventure visiting the east side of the island.
Our destination was Agios Nikolaos, a busy city with its own charm and its famous island just northeast of the city – Spinalonga. Victoria Hislop’s novel, The Island, launched this area of Crete into stardom as the book became a film in recent months. Located in the Gulf of Elounda, it has an interesting history. Originally connected to the mainland, the Venetians carved out the coast for defense purposes and built a fortress on the island during their occupation here (15th-16th C). In recent history the island was used as a leper colony from 1903 to 1957. “It is notable for being one of the last active leper colonies in Europe. The last inhabitant, a priest, left the island in 1962. This was to maintain the religious tradition of the Greek Orthodox church, in which a buried person has to be commemorated at following intervals of 40 days; 6 months; 1 year; 3 years; and 5 years, after their death. There were two entrances to Spinalonga, one being the lepers’ entrance, a tunnel known as “Dante’s Gate”. This was so named because the patients did not know what was going to happen to them once they arrived. However, once on the island they received food, water, medical attention and social security payments. Previously, such amenities had been unavailable to Crete’s leprosy patients, as they mostly lived in the area’s caves, away from civilization.” (Wikipedia)
Accessible by a short boat ride, a visit to the island gives you the eerie sense of the extreme isolation that these people suffered along with their painful disease. But there is also evidence of an extraordinary sense of community as the inhabitants developed their own settlement complete with the infrastructures of a healthy society – many homes, a school, a hospital, a town hall, various shops and businesses, and even a jail.
The coastal city of Agios Nikolaos has felt the effects of expansive development and lacks the charm of the historical port cities of Rethymno and Hania. However, it is a popular tourist destination for those seeking good vistas, beaches, cafes and lively water activities and nightlife. We decided to stay outside of the city up in the hills in a traditional Cretan village.
The village of Kritsa is in the mountains above Agios Nikolaos and our little stone B & B was named The Olive Press.
The accommodations were definitely spartan with poor lighting and typical uncomfortable Cretan beds but the terrace breakfast was stellar. Besides the four of us, we shared the experience with a nice couple from Austria.
Just a note on typical village roads – this is about as wide as they get. In Kritsa, navigating the tiny roads through the town was nearly impossible.
This is seriously a major road through the village towards the church. This fellow made it without a scratch – we weren’t so lucky. Our little car is beginning to look like all the other island beaters here.
On the way home, we stopped to visit the most famous of all archeological sites on the island of Crete. Visitors from all over the world interested in the beginnings of western civilization flock to this amazing area. Also known as the Palace of King Minos, it originally dates back to 1700 B.C. and was known as the center of the powerful Minoan civilization. Over 1,300 rooms have been excavated on a 6-acre site and much of the reconstruction, though controversial in its accuracy, allows the visitor a glimpse into the grand scale of this Minoan settlement. (For more info on Knossos, check out this link – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knossos)
All in all, it was a good road trip although we all agreed that staying closer to home and exploring around the west end of the island would have been a better use of time. There is SO much this part of Crete has to offer – great beaches, archeological sites, museums, cultural expositions, phenomenal hiking, mountain villages, beautiful vistas and the best charming city on the island – Hania.