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A day trip to Spinalonga

The Greek channel Mega sent the first episode of the series “To Nisi”, meaning The Island in Greek in 2010. Its the captivating story of the Greek family from Plaka, which achieved record ratings for Greek television. Plaka is a small fishing village in Elounda bay in Crete, opposite of the the small island of Spinalonga. To my surprise the history books did not cover the leper colony Spinalonga. A day trip to Spinalonga was on our schedule the third time we visited Crete to experience the scenes in tv episodes. 

Its the fictional story is about leprosy patiens who lived and survived in Spinalonga and their relationship with the inhabitants of the little village Plaka. Giorgos Petrakis and his wife Eleni are the main characters in the story, they live in Plaka with their two daughters. He is a fisherman who transports supplies to the leper colony. This is a story about fear, passion, love of three generations and the best tv series Greek television ever produced I dare to say.


The history

Venetians build the fortress in the 16th century. Spina Longa means Long Thorn and was used by the Venetians, Kalydon the official name. After this era Ottomans invaded Spinalonga and by the end of 1800s as many as two hundred families lived here in two-story houses and a mosque. Around the turn of the century the muslim population decides to abandon the island.

A leper colony

In 1903 the greek government decides that the abandoned island will become a leprosy colony as many with Dr Hansen´s disease as it called, live in caves to avoid to infect others. In the beginning there was no treatment and many lepers died. After some time doctors came to the island. A hospital was built, school and shops was established in Spinalonga. The lepers lived in the houses that the turks abandoned. After many years the cure to the disease was found. As the numbers of lepers decreased the hospital closed 1957.

The fortress

The view towards Elounda bay

The main entrance

How to get here

Plan your day trip to Spinalonga along with the boat trip from Plaka, Elounda or from Agios Nikolaos in Crete. Its a few hours drive from Rethymnon and a short boat trip from the village Plaka. More important is the hour of your visit, choose morning hours or late in the afternoons. Less tourists and nicer temperatures. Uninhabited island with a coffe shop and restrooms at the entrance. The island is open for tourists from April to October, more practical information at the official website for Spinalonga.

The novel

There are a number of books written about Spinalonga. However “The Island” is the name of the novel that made Spinalonga known to the public. Victoria Hislop British writer and journalist made her debut 2005 with the novel. With other words the book became a success and has been sold over 2 million copies world wide.

The episodes

The Greek tv channel Mega broadcasted the series of 26 episodes in 2010. Most importantly shot in Crete and Spinalonga over two years. Watch the trailer in English version here. The story begins with Alexis who wants to learn everything about her mother’s past. To her surprise, she finds out that her family is connected with the isolated island of Spinalonga the former settlement of lepers. 

About Spinalonga

Victoria Hislop about Crete and Spinalonga:
“Visiting Spinalonga for the first time was a very strong experience and I knew even in the first minute that I arrived there that I had to write about it.  It was very compelling and very emotional.  And I admit that this visit made a profound change to my life”. Read the article at .

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Old tree at the Main Street

At the back side

Exploring the fortress

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