Elafonisos, Lakonia

Elafonisos is one of the lesser known Islands of Greece but its fame and small size is deceiving. It is one of the Greek Islands that you would have to try hard to locate on any tourist brochures, and would just as easily miss on a map of Greece.
Elaphonisos (or Elafonissi) exists also in the shadow of another island that is much better known for its beauty and it goes by the name of Kithira. Elafonisos however was the crown jewel of my family's trip in the Peloponisos, and although we scheduled it as an afterthought to our trip, it quickly became evident that its humble nature and quiet memories would stay with us forever.

We were in the middle of our tour of Peloponisos in the summer of 2001, and I had scheduled a visit to Elafonisos as a side trip to allow us to relax from the long driving hours of the previous days. Before our trip began I had made phone calls and reserved hotel rooms at all our major stops, and so I found a "rent-a-room" place in the town of Elafonisos. When I called and made the reservations, I asked the lady on the phone for directions to her place afraid that we would not be able to find it once we reached the island. "Oh" she stated matter-of-factly, "just ask at the port for Mrs. Dimopoulou's apartments."

Our Drive to Elafonisos Island
We drove from Gythio to Monemvasia, had lunch and a quick dip in the sea at Monemvasia to break the monotony of the drive, and about 2:00 PM we began our trip towards Elafonisos. I stopped at a gas station right outside Monemvasia, filled the tank of our little Skoda and asked the attendant for the best way to get to Elafonisos. He pointed towards the eastern shore of Lakonia and said that this way had the best scenery with the narrow road and the tall mountains to climb. "The other way," he said as he pointed straight towards the west coast of the peninsula "is much flatter and much faster." We thanked him, stocked up on water bottles, bought ice cream for the girls and drove down the Eastern coast.

The drive in this part of Lakonia was challenging and we found our car climbing tall rugged mountains and passing through some very picturesque villages with roads that were built way before cars were to be accommodated. We climbed high and looked down upon the coast that seemed so far, and we twisted through a road that had the habit of disappearing at random intervals. Many a time we had to drive through dirt segments of the road, and we dreaded the times we drove behind another car's dust cloud. We did enjoy the out-of-the-way feel of the scenery and we were happy we took the long road, although the twisting road made our girls sick.

The Ferry to the Island

After a few hours of mountain driving we reached the valley in the southern tip of Lakonia and we boarded a small Ferry at Pounta for the Island (cost us 1700 drachma, or about $4). It was late afternoon, and the ten minute ride on the ferry was just what we needed after the long trip. Ferries run frequently and we had no problems boarding one within minutes of our arrival at Pounta. If you have never boarded a Greek Ferry you may be shocked at how close the attendants force you to park to the other cars. A distance of six inches between the sides of the cars is ample space in a Greek ferry boat and you have to remember to fold the mirrors if you want to keep them. But I am a veteran, having nagotiated Ferries at Rio-Antirio numerous times, so this was just a piece of cake. Pounta itself I is just the harbor next to a large sandy beach hidden away by tall sand dunes. Behind the sand dunes there is a huge flat area ideal for RV parking, and I could see about 100 large campers parked there.

Arrival at Elafonisos Town
We disembarked the Ferry at the Elafonisos harbor, and noticed that the small town had none of the buzz that most of the islands of Greece display upon arrival. Many locals went about their business, and few Greek weekend tourists that had discovered this little gem of an island were drifting along the harbor. First order of business was to find our apartment so we could park our car and I remembered the "Oh, just ask at the port for Mrs. Dimopoulou's apartments." We asked a lady who was sitting outside hotel Apollo (I think that was the name) right on the harbor, and to our surprise she knew exactly what we were talking about. She offered to call Mrs. Dimopoulou since "it would be too difficult to find it on our own" as she said. Within minutes a girl, no older than 10, arrived on her bicycle to lead us to our room. We followed her with our car through some very narrow streets and within a few minutes we were resting at our clean second floor apartment in the interior of the town. The room was very clean with a small kitchen and a balcony. The streets underneath were narrow and would barely fit one car so it was very quiet.

Some of the Best Beaches in Greece
The sun was getting low on the horizon but we wanted to take a quick dip in the sea after our long drive, so we headed for the Panagia beach at the Western side of the island. We were delighted to find that the beach was one of the best beaches we had visited in Greece! Green trees framed the soft sand, and the water cool and crystal clear. Few tents and makeshift campgrounds were hidden away in the trees, and a few campers were engaged in beach activities. I put on my snorkeling mask and the water was so clean that it seemed I could see for miles and miles underwater. Near the beach the bottom was sandy with few rocks where colorful fish gathered to watch the tourists swim. The whole expanse of the beach was almost empty and the gentle breeze along with the gentle sun rays of the late day contributed to a wonderfully relaxing afternoon. Our two little girls Alexandra and Christina had a great time running around on the fine sand while Maria and I enjoyed the cool sea water.

We watched the sun dip below the horizon in a spectacular sunset and then headed for the town to have some dinner. We were pretty tired and the girls had to be in bed soon, so we headed for the Greek fast food place in the middle of the harbor (Obelix I think was its name) and we munched on a couple of gyros and quench our thirst with some beer (Amstel is the best beer in Greece) before we headed for bed.
The next day we woke up early and had breakfast at the harbor (crunchy cheese pies and frapé for us, "bougatsa" and orange juice for the girls) before we hit the beach. This time we drove around the East end of the island through a rough road and within ten minutes we were staring at another beach that rivaled the Panagia beach we had visited the first day. There are two fantastic beaches within a stone's throw from each other at this end of the island. Both sport wide expanses of fine sandy shores and crystal clear waters. In fact the waters of Elafonisos are the cleanest we had encountered in Greece. Simos Beach at the southern most point of Elafonisos Island is well organized with parking, outdoor bars and few restaurants, and a party atmosphere which caters to the youth who visits the island. Around the bend of the small peninsula is another huge sandy beach named Sarakiniko where one never feels crowded. There was a kiosk which sold refreshments, and a large organized camping facility within a short walking distance. Once again we felt as if we had stepped in paradise. We spent the day at the beach, returned to town for lunch and a short nap and then it was back to the beach until sunset.

Epilogue
That night we got lost in town after we attempted to return to our apartment through the narrow streets of the town. Our youngest girl was very tired so we wanted to get to our room as quickly as possible, so I asked a group of old ladies that were sitting and conversing in a front porch if they could direct us to our apartment. One of the ladies got up and said, "I was about to go back home. It is only a little out of my way, so why don't you come with me." We followed her through what seemed like a labyrinth and she delivered us to our dwelling. We thanked her for the help and we hit the bed like a rock.

We stayed in Elafonisos for two nights and we wished we had made plans for more. We plan to return though and we hope that Elafonisos remains unspoiled and pristine. We would always remember the kindness of the Elafonisos inhabitants, and the simple island life that has been barely touched by tourism.

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