It takes a few seconds for the visitor arriving at Elafonisi to grasp the majestic, natural masterpiece that is laid out before them. A small peninsula split at its tip by the sea’s waters, resembling a separate island. The setting is tropical and enchanting, triggering an instant sense of marvel. Thin, white and pink tinted sands, cedars, jade crystal-clear waters, a natural lagoon at its north side, the open sea at its south, all underlined by the endless horizon. The beach prompts to an exotic paradise similar to the Caribbean, though perhaps of more beauty because of its iridescent shore; scores of minuscule crustaceans, called Foraminifera shed their shells on the beach, as they die, which are crushed to smithereens and mingle with the sand thus producing this exquisite tinge.

The eastern side of the beach is organised, featuring umbrellas, sunbeds, a beach bar, showers, changing rooms and a parking place, attracting the majority of visitors. Those willing to cross over to the peninsula can just walk the distance since the waters are no deeper than a mere metre. The lagoon forming right there is an ideal spot for children to play safe, as it is really shallow all across. Moving into the peninsula, cedar trees come into view, enclosed by protective ropes, as well as small hidden-away bays at its south side. The far end of the peninsula hosts the St Irini chapel and a lighthouse.

In autumn, stunning white sand lilies blossom in the area, as do sea cedar trees, an endangered species that grows near sandy beaches. This is a resting place for a plethora of migratory birds along their long journey to and from Africa, as well as a place of reproduction for the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) that nests and lays its eggs here.

Elafonisi or Lafonisi is linked to a host of legends and tales over the centuries, even since antiquity. Specifically, it is thought that here lay the Mousagores Islands, where a temple dedicated to Mousagetis (meaning the leader of the nine Muses) Apollo stood and people offered sacrifices and prayers to the Muses to appease the seas with their music and singing. Later on, it has been said to have been a lair and base for pirates, with its name denoting exactly this, for Lafonisi means ‘an island of spoils’ (from ‘Lafo-‘ < ‘lafyro’ = spoil and ‘nisi’ = island), namely the spoils stashed here by the pirates.

The place saw a true but dreadful story play out in 1824, when 850 women and children plus 40 Greek freedom fighters hid on Elafonisi hoping the Turks would not find out about the sea crossing. A horse, though, that accidentally waded over led them to discover the hide-out and kill them, as retaliation for the Greek Revolution. A monument to this massacre stands at the memorial park, a part of the greater parking area.

Another sad event took place on Elafonisi peninsula in February 1907, when Austrian steamship ‘Imperatrix’, sailing from Trieste to Bombay, carrying cargo and passengers, yawed during a severe storm and crashed on an underwater ledge, at 100 m. from the shore, ripping its hull open. Those acting out of panic boarded lifeboats and, sadly, drowned. Following this, a skilled staff of twelve managed to reach the shore and ask for help. Monks from the nearby Holy Monastery of Chryssosklaitissa were the first to respond and a couple of days later a team effort from Cretan locals rescued the remaining passengers. The 38 deceased were buried on the island and commemorated with a large wooden cross. A lighthouse was built to avert similar tragic events, 23 m. high with a range of 30 m, to warn seamen to steer clear of the underwater rocks.

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Elafonisi is not just an island of seductive beauty. The island, a pole of attraction for hundreds of thousands of tourists from every corner of the world, has another particularity, as you can get to it…on foot. Elafonisi is located on south-westernmost end of Chania in Crete and it has a very distinct beach of unique colours and beauty.

Responsible for the pink sand are the broken shells, and in particular the microscopic crustacean that complete their life cycle and die, leaving behind their bright red shells that stay in the water and are crushed in the sand, giving the beach this unique characteristic that is a point of reference for the whole of Crete.

A few words about the history of area:

At the highest point of the island there is an inscription honouring the memory of a tragic event. More specifically, on Easter Sunday on April 24, 1824, several hundred Greeks, mainly women and children were slaughtered in Elafonisi by Ottoman soldiers. To escape the advancing Turkish-Ottoman forces, forty armed men had taken refuge to the island together with women, children and elderly men, where they waited for the boat that would transport them to the Ionian Islands. The Ottoman soldiers had decided to camp on the beach across Elafonisi. One of their horses crossed the shallow waters that separate the island from main Crete and the people hiding there were discovered. According to several sources there were between 640 to 850 people on the island, most of whom were slaughtered, and the remaining survivors were sold in the slave markets of Egypt.

The shipwreck of Imperatrix:

A large wooden cross honours the memory of a shipwreck that happened on the 22nd of February 1907. It was an Österreichischer Lloyd passenger steam boat, known by the name of Imperatrix. Due to strong north western winds, 38 people lost their lives in a life boat while attempting to reach the shore. They were all buried on the island. The Imperatrix is still at the bottom of the sea in front of the rocks of the island and it was the reason a lighthouse was erected on a hill of the island.

The lighthouse was destroyed during the World War II by the German occupying forces.

Every summer, the Lafonisi Run takes place (as part of the activities with the name of Lafonisia) which is the only run in Greece that finishes…in the sea. You can find more information about the Lafonisi Run on the events calendar.