Spinalonga – Crete’s tragic leper island, and more of Joanna Lumley!

I don’t know who was doing the research for Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey, but in spite of the sometimes baffling choice of things for her to be amazed at/cry over/laugh at/drink or eat, there were some pure gold nuggets on Thursday.

The island of Spinalonga lies off the North-Eastern coast of Crete, just along from the Gulf of Elounda and all the smart hotels, and couldn’t offer a more poignant contrast to their bubble of international, modern luxury. The island served as a leper colony through the 18th and 19th century, and even into the 20th century, the last leper leaving in 1957.

Now, small boats sail from the pretty little port of Plaka with its beach tavernas and gaily painted fishing boats, and make the crossing that was once so fateful, over to the forbidding island with its Venetian ramparts and desolate, abandoned ruins. It has the sublime beauty of ruins in a place of natural magnificence, with the added shiver of a feeling of whispering ghosts among the palm fronds, the faded aura of despair baked into the sun-blasted stones and rocks, and the blue, blue sea stretching to the horizon, at which so many hopeless eyes must have gazed yearningly. One of the sights of Greece that made the strongest impression on me.

Victoria Hislop’s book “The Island” is an atmospheric and moving novel based on a true story from Spinalonga.

Had Joanna headed up into the mountains behind, she would have found quiet and backward villages where ladies still wear the black headscarf, and men the navy blue breeches with their white shirts and black headbands,  and  peaceful monasteries nestle in their dark cypress groves. Below stretches the great panorama of the Bay of Mirabello.

Ask us about where to stay to experience this very special part of the world.


  1. Loved victoria’s book the island, it was the first but not last of hers i read. Am thinking of going to crete this spring and would love some suggestions on where to stay. Her love for this island really comes through and has made me want to visit.

    Lesley · April 11, 2013 · 9:35 am · Reply

  2. i read the book and this year i visited the island, i loved it, it has a peacefulness and i would have stayed all day if i could, the village nearby is lovely. all in all its a lovely area with a lot of history.

    sheila kirkby · November 2, 2013 · 12:16 am · Reply

  3. Having read Victoria Hislop’s book The Island, I felt I had to visit when we went to Crete. The island is very atmospheric and emotional. I do have to say though that I was recommended a different book about Spinalonga that is far more moving It is called ‘Yannis’ by an author called Beryl Darby. Get hold of a copy if you are interested in the island and I can guarantee you wont be disappointed!

    Laraine Quinton · November 13, 2013 · 9:54 am · Reply

  4. Visited Spinalonga and was completely taken in by the island. I was recommended the book The Island by Victoria Hislop and since then have read about five books related to the island of the different families who were affected during that time including the one called The Fisherman. I was completed captured by the stories.

    Madeleine · November 13, 2014 · 12:08 am · Reply

  5. Just visited Spinalonga today and found it is a fascinating island full of history and interesting buildings. It is easy to get to and easy to walk around – they now have some organised digs on the island. There is a boat from Agios Nicolaos daily (excuse my spelling I am up late) which takes you there as well as accessing from Plaka.

    Ian · October 22, 2015 · 12:11 am · Reply

    • Glad you enjoyed your visit Ian, it’s definitely a place worth visiting. This floating fortress might even be the second most visited archaeological site in Crete after Knossos! Not to mention the beautiful clear waters that surround it…

      Amy · October 22, 2015 · 7:28 pm ·

  6. I am just finishing the last pages of the Island.A realy good read.I had never heard of Spinalonga before reading the book.I have now looked up information and I am fascinated and I would love to visit it.I am trying to establish whether any of the charicters are based on real people.It is now added to my list of places to visit

    Sheila Muir · May 18, 2018 · 7:23 am · Reply

    • I read ‘The Island ‘ by Victoria Hislop and Spinalonga really affected me, so my friend and I went there in April this year. It’s an exciting place to visit, because you know what the lepers did there.

      If you really want a true story of the real people of Spinalonga, read a book by Beryl Darby, called Yannis. The book tells the true story of Yannis, and his life on the island. You won’t be able to put it down. I have just finished reading it, —a long book , but well worth reading. It’s a story based on actual events. Now I want to go again.

      Ann Edwards · June 9, 2018 · 11:46 am ·

    • I read a book called ‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop and I became fascinated by the image of Spinalonga. My friend and I visited the island in April this year. It was everything I had hoped it would be.
      If you want to read a true story of people on Sinalonga, read a book called ‘Yannis’ by Beryl Darby. It’s the true story of Yannis, his life on the island , and the works he did there. You won’t be able to put it down. It’s a long book, but well worth the read. I loved it;

      Ann Edwards · June 9, 2018 · 11:54 am ·

  7. I visited Spinalonga twice September, 2017 oh my god you have to go and see it. It is such an experience you will never forget so sad especially about the old man who went to the island as tourist told one of the admission staff at pay office on the island that he was one of the babies born to a leper couple and took off the island never to see his parents again on the island. he said he had returned to put flowers on there graves and see where they are buried. It will break your heart as it did mine. When i was there the twice i put flowers on there graves also said a pray for them all . And promised i would be back in few years time to do the same again and i am this july,2019 Can,t wait to go back as i promised i would do as it is 2 years on now. I think everyone of the lepers were hero,s and had hearts of gold after all they were human just like ourselfs God bless them all. Love Denise From Newcastle Upon Tyne England the 16th of January, 2019. 1:25am

    Denise Blake · January 17, 2019 · 1:24 am · Reply

    • Nearly finished her fabulous book .Whar a sad story, although when cash was availabe it became an idyllic place to live.We can only hope that some European funds are made available to restore it to it’s formar glory.Well worth it , eco tourism generates money & the wish to not spoil country life .I’d love to visit, We live in the countryside of the community of Valencia, we don’t have time to visit even the beauty that surrounds us let alone other parts of Spain , The Alhambra for instance .

      Simon Sadler · September 17, 2021 · 7:42 am ·

  8. What a wonderful evocative read. I believe that this story was bsed on a true story. Were the characters real? including the Doctor who married later?

    Margaret Thurston · January 12, 2021 · 6:49 pm · Reply

  9. I have just finished watching the tv series based on Victoria Hislops book. It is available on DVD in Greek with English subtitles absolutely absorbing.

    Carol Pinnell · January 17, 2021 · 6:38 pm · Reply

  10. Maria’s Island by Victoria Hislop is a gorgeous illustrated book that will engage children of all ages.
    Make sure you children/grandchildren have a copy

    Gerry · July 12, 2021 · 8:57 pm · Reply

  11. I remember visiting the island over 40 years ago as a young teen. I remember it clearly. I hope to visit again in October . X

    Lorraine · July 2, 2022 · 11:33 pm · Reply

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