A boat trip to Crete’s desert island of Koufonisi
And there are no fewer than 36 beaches, most with fine white or golden sand. Though uninhabited now, Koufonisi held a special value for ancient Greeks, and its waters (rich in sea sponges and shells) attracted civilisations as varied as the Minoans and the Byzantines. In fact, there are Hellenistic and Roman ruins around the isle, some still in the process of being excavated. You are free to explore a landscape sculpted over time by the elements. Tread carefully, though. The entire island has been given Natura 2000-protected status.
With 36 to choose from and all that white and gold sand, you won’t know where to start. So here’s a quick tour: Pigadi, on the north coast, is closest to where you’ll most likely be dropped off. Heading east, there’s beautiful Anemertia, which is sandy at one end and rocky at the other (nearby excavations have revealed an ancient theatre). Heading southeast, you reach the generous sandy bay of Hiliaderfia and Prosfora, the longest beach on the island. And, finally, there is secluded and untouched Asprougas.
The Church of Agios Nikolaos
Near Pigadi Beach, you’ll find the little Chapel of Agios Nikolaos, patron saint of sailors, and a well from which the beach gets its name. You’ll also find a path leading inland.
The Desert of Elias
As you explore inland, you’ll completely forget that you’re in Greece (perhaps only the sand dunes of Ammothines, on Limnos, are comparable). The name (Elias) comes from a centuries-old olive tree, which is the only tree in the desert and one of only four olive trees on the island.
At the end of the path, there’s a ruined lighthouse, alongside the remains of a Hellenistic-era temple. The lighthouse was built in the 1920s, partly with the remains of the temple that once stood an impressive 2.5m tall.