Balos & Gramvousa

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Although it may look like a distant paradise, the small uninhabited island of Gramvousa, and nearby peninsula of Balos with it’s warm shallow lagoon, are actually part of North-West Crete.

A coach ride of a few hours, followed by an hour’s boat journey, is all it takes from the city of Chania, where I spent some time this summer, as previously written. As day trips go, this was one very lazy but visually stunning one.

While you can drive to Balos, I hear it is a journey best (or only) made by a landrover, and not one for those who suffer from travel sickness. The coach by contrast was a luxury – comfy and air conditioned, if a little slow with several stops. Once arriving at the port of Kissamos, we boarded a multi-story cruise style ship. While the boat was fairly basic, the scenery even in this harbour was enough to distract you from the crowded and not-so-comfortable seating. The mountainous horizon looked beautiful in a series of deepening blue shades, and the sea is endless..

The boat journey itself was not eventful – we had music, and food on offer such as chicken, pizza and ice-creams. Even fresh melon, which was a lovely hydrating snack (hydration is key here in the heat!). Watching out towards the coastline, you can spot a dark trace along the cliffs which marks the island’s previous shoreline, following a series of earthquakes 2000 year ago. These essentially ‘tipped’ the island, leaving the western part elevated and the eastern park dipped.

We also passed a large cave, which is believed to have been used as a shipyard. The area has quite a history, having hosted the Venetian trade route, and witnessed the Cretan war against the Turks. The area was even once a pirating hotspot, including the intriguing ‘Pirate Barbarossa’.

No pirates to see anymore – although the luckiest of voyagers may glimpse a dolphin, sea turtles or seal. Just birds for us though!

Our first stop was Balos, where we were transferred to the land via a small rowing boat. The water here is unbelievably blue and clear, and it is so worth a snorkel, even if you struggle at it as we did! Even with my lack of talent (and regrettably cheap equipment), I was able to enjoy the sight of some fishes. The beach is a little rocky, and can be fairly crowded once everyone unloads from the boat. The lagoon is a strange, shallow pool, much warmer than the sea albeit with a slight whiff of stagnant water.

After a couple of hours here, we were back on the boat, and within about 20 minutes had arrived at our next stop, Gramvousa island. The view from the beach is idyllic with the sea stretching out and a mountain sitting grandly behind. A fort, built in the 1500s, still exists at the peak of the island, although the 140 metre climb requires better footwear than flipflops. Lacking these, I chose to swim again instead. Once you navigate the first few metres of rocky, sea urchin armed seashore, this is a dream, especially on a baking day in Summer. Happily I still had time to dry off on the beach, enjoying a book and vast quantities of Vitamin D, before finishing our stay in this beautiful place.

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