Coordinates: 35°16′09″N 23°31′57″E
Elafonisi (“deer island”) is an island located close to the southwestern corner of the mediterranean island of Crete, in the region of Chania. When the weather is fine it is possible to walk to the island through the shallow waters. The island is a protected nature reserve by Natura 2000.
This small paradise rivals Balos for a place in your heart. Elafonisi – which has given its name to the region is a small island separated from the mainland by a few meters of shallow sea. Here you will enjoy the crystal clear waters and fine white sand with purple hues caused by the broken shells. Around the beach you’ll find clusters of cedar rooting directly through the dunes. Try to camp on the island – it will be a unique experience.
In the past Elafonisi was feared by sailors, because of the huge waves that rise when the northwest winds blow. These waves have demolished many a ship in the scattered reefs. A large wooden cross commemorates a shipwreck from 22 February 1907. It was an Austrian Lloyd passenger steamer, called the Imperatrix. Due to strong northwest winds 38 people died in a lifeboat that tried to reach the shore. They were all buried on the island. The Imperatrix still lies on the seabed in front of the island’s cliffs and was the reason that a lighthouse was built on an island hilltop. The lighthouse was destroyed during the Second World War by the occupying German troops.
On the mainland of Crete you’ll find the 17th century monastery of Chrysoskalitissa, which is approximately 5 km from the island of Elafonisi. Go for a walk to the monastery – it is quite impressive, white on this desolate rock on the edge of Crete. It once had a golden step on its stairway, but it’s not to be found anymore.
At the highest point on the island there is a plaque that commemorates a tragic event. On Easter sunday of 24 April 1824 several hundred Greeks, mostly women and children, were killed on Elafonisi by Ottoman soldiers. To avoid advancing Ottoman troops, forty armed men had taken refuge on the island with women, children and elderly where they were waiting for a ship to take them to the Ionian Islands. The Ottoman soldiers had decided to camp on the beach opposite the island. One of their horses walked along the shallow water to the island and the people hiding on the island were discovered. According to several sources there were between 640 and 850 people in total, most of whom were killed and the remaining survivors were sold in to slavery in Egypt.