If you come to Crete on holiday, Elafonisi is a name you are sure to hear. Elafonisi is a tiny island with white sand, separated from the shore by a lagoon no more than a metre deep.
Elafonissi means “deer island”, but you won’t see any deer on the island or in the surrounding area. The island is 75 kilometres from Hania and it will take you about an hour and a half to get here.
On the way to Lafonisi you must make a stop in the traditional village Elos. For years now Elos is considered as a traditional leisure and rest stop for travellers of Lafonisi.
On the way you will see Chrissoskalitissa (or Chrysoskalitissa) Monastery, visible from afar as it is a dazzling white and built on a great rock. Climb up to pay your respects at this historic monastery and look for the golden step which, according to legend, only the truly devout can see.
Elafonissi is 5 kilometres from Chrissoskalitissa. On arriving you will see a large bare expanse used as a car park, a few dusty juniper trees and the wonderful colours of the lagoon.
The island is less than 200 metres from the beach and you can easily walk there through the warm, shallow water of the lagoon. On reaching the island you will discover lots of tiny beaches on its south coast.
The sand of Elafonissi is white, but in many places it is pinkish due to the thousands of broken seashells it contains. The limpid, blue-green waters will remind you of an exotic paradise.
Seeing the idyllic beauty for which Elafonissi is famous, it is hard to imagine that its name is linked to tragic events.
The massacre in 1824 at Elafonissi
Here the Turks massacred 850 people on Easter Sunday 1824. The massacre was carried out purely in revenge to punish of the rebellious Cretan people, as the victims were mostly women and children.
The sinking of the Imperatrix at Elafonissi
Also, in February 1907 the SS Imperatrix ran aground on the reefs around Elafonissi, with the loss of 38 of the 140 people aboard who were travelling to India (120 crew and 20 passengers). The monks of Chrissoskalitissa Monastery and the few local inhabitants threw themselves into the wild breakers and managed to save 38 people.
To prevent similar accidents in future, a tall lighthouse, visible at a great distance, was built on Elafonissi, to warn sailors to stay away from the dangerous rocks. Unfortunately all the junipers and other trees on Elafonissi were sacrificed to build the lighthouse. The lighthouse was destroyed by the German army during the Second World War, and has now been replaced by a modern structure.