About Elounda beaches
Elounda, on the island of Crete in Greece, boasts the country’s highest concentration of exclusive hotels and is regarded as one of the top luxury destinations on the Mediterranean. What sets it apart from the glamorous, see-and-be-seen resorts on Mykonos and Santorini, is the discretion and privacy reserved for its guests. Here, politicians, royalty and celebrities in search of a low-profile retreat can find modern, stylish, 5-star hotels set in landscaped grounds planted with eucalyptus, palms and pines. Originally five tiny villages, of which only one, Schisma, is by the sea, Elounda stretches along the coast and up into the surrounding hills. Elounda lagoon, which is part of Mirabello Bay, boasts serene waters protected by an 8km (5-mile) peninsular. The peninsular is separated from the mainland by a channel dug by the French in the late 19th century, but joined to it by a narrow causeway. Close by, the tiny fortress island of Spinalonga rises from the sea.
While some of the big luxury hotels have their own private beaches, there are plenty of decent public beaches in Elounda. In Schisma, there is a sandy beach backed by row of small palm trees, with sunbeds and umbrellas for hire and watersports facilities. Plaka has a good pebble beach backed by tamarisk trees, with sunbeds and umbrellas plus great a view of Spinalonga Island. Between Schisma and Plaka, the sand and shingle Driros Beach, overlooked by Hotel Drisos, is one of the best in the area and has sunbeds and umbrellas plus a windsurf club. In addition, taxi boats from Schisma harbour take visitors to Kolokitha Bay beach on the peninsular.
Beyond the beach:
Just 4.5km (3 miles) north along coast from Schisma, the pretty fishing village of Plaka with its authentic seafood eateries is worth a visit. From both Schisma and Plaka, daily excursions boats take visitors to the haunting island of Spinalonga, which was fortified by the Venetians in the 17th century to protect the Cretan coast against the Turks, then used as leper colony from 1913 to 1957.
Sophisticated Elounda is primarily aimed at the adult market, though the area’s beaches and calm waters are perfect for kids. In addition, the big resort hotels offer extensive sports facilities such as pools, gyms and tennis courts, which should appeal to teenagers.
Just 8km (5 miles) south along the coast lies the cheerful, workaday seaside resort of Agios Nikolaos. Moving inland, 8km (5 miles) southwest of Agios Nikolaos, the village of Kritsa is renowned for weaving, embroidery and ceramics, making great souvenirs. En route, 2km (1 mile) before Kritsa, stands the lovely whitewashed church of Panagia Kira, decorated with 14th-century Byzantine frescoes. Local agencies organise one-day jeep safaris to the Lasithi Plateau, which, at 1,025m (3,360ft), is home to some 20 small rural villages and noted for its old-fashioned windmills. Another popular excursion is Via Beach (also known as Finikodassos, meaning Palm Beach), a gently curving golden sand beach backed by Europe’s largest natural palm grove, giving it an exotic Caribbean vibe. It lies on Crete’s isolated east coast, 92km (58 miles) east of Agios Nikolaos.
The Blue Palace Resort (north of Schisma, on the road to Plaka) is home to the Elounda Spa & Thalassotherapy (www.bluepalace.gr). Non-residents are welcome to book in for beauty and wellness treatments including massage, aromatherapy, steam baths, sauna and thermal body wraps. There are special programmes for rejuvenation and slimming, and yoga and meditation classes are also available.