Have you been to Elafonisi? It’s been on our list of things to see for quite a while. Last year when I worked at the little hotel in Panormos, the guests left early in the morning and returned with tales of turquoise waters and pink sand.
As I washed up the dirty crockery from breakfast and ironed pillow cases, I dreamed of one day seeing it for myself. I felt like a Greek Cinderella…minus the wicked step sisters…and the invitation to a royal ball…and the mishap with the glass slippers…Ok, I was absolutely nothing like Cinderella.
Setting off for an adventure…
Early on Saturday morning, we set off for Elafonisi. The white mountains stood in the distance; only a little snow remained. On the highest peaks, the abstract patterns reminded me of a toddler that had been let loose with chalk.
In the late May sunshine, we passed eerily quiet tourist resorts, where swish five star hotels sat sparkling but empty. We drove down country lanes lined with vibrant red poppies, purple thistles and yellow broom. A tractor pulled out in front of us, and as we slowly crept behind, we marvelled at the patchwork quilt of olive groves in the valley below. An assortment of different shaped bits of land, criss crossed in a random pattern like creases and folds in an unmade bed.
Our destination glistened up ahead. The sea hung like a shimmering blue jewel in the distance, framed by the surrounding mountains either side. We carried on forward, Mr SN navigated the car down winding hair pin bends and the mountains stepped aside to reveal a vista filled with sea and sky.
As we neared the shore, the sun tickled the surface of the sea, which faded from a rich blue to sparkling clear. In-between, a vibrant turquoise clung to the rocks, like the mixture of diamonds and peacock feathers. We gasped in amazement. Never had we seen such a stunning sea scape. We greedily absorbed the serene colours before the road led us in land a little, through a landscape filled with mountains and plastic poly tunnels.
“Stop.” I shouted dramatically to Mr Sidestepping Normal. “There are tomatoes in the road.”
Mr SN executed a perfect emergency stop that would make any driving instructor swell with pride.
My concern wasn’t for the safety of the rogue tomatoes, but of wonderment that tomatoes had been placed in our path. You see I’d forgotten to buy tomatoes earlier when we stopped at the little shop on route. I’d shuffled out the shop, arms laden with bread, cheese, pineapple juice, bananas and chocolate, but the tomatoes to accompany our lunch had slipped my mind.
“This is perfect.” I said to Mr SN.
“We can’t eat these.” He said in disgust. “They’re in the road.”
I ignored him and picked them up anyhow. “Someone else will take them if we don’t.” I warned.
He raised his eyebrows with skepticism.
It was evident that the tomatoes had been grown in the poly tunnel a few metres away and had somehow fallen from a crate whilst being loaded on to a truck. There was nothing wrong with them and the plump red spheres lay like balls on a snooker table. I’m not much of a snooker player myself, but I do know that the object of the game is to pot the black…or the white…or something like that. Either way, I’m sure that had Cinderella been faced with the same situation, she would have taken the tomatoes too.
Our afternoon at Elafonisi was filled with a picnic lunch complete with juicy tomatoes, a walk along the shallow shoreline and ear ache induced by the relentless wind. Dora-dog enjoyed cooling off in the water and trotted along contentedly in-between shaking and covering us with a fine spray of water.
After trying our best to endure the chilly wind, we gave in and huddled into cardigans and jumpers. Looking decidedly uncool for the beach, I compared ourselves to a group of young Greeks nearby who seemed unaware of the chilly weather. Scantily dressed, they played music and batted a ball with little wooden bats whilst their Yorkshire terrier yapped excitedly.
I’ve always wanted to look cool like them. They appear to make no effort, yet look naturally beautiful with their sun kissed skin and long glossy hair. In contrast my hair goes frizzy at the sight of water, my skin can’t take too much sunbathing, and at the hint of a breeze, I’m rummaging for a cardigan. You can spot me at the beach, I’m the one wearing a long sleeved cotton shirt in the shade, reading ‘Cider with Rosie.’
Setting up camp…
Sorry, I digress. Where was I? Oh yes, so once our ears were aching sufficiently enough to warrant heading back to the car, we set up our little camping stove, boiled ourselves a cup of tea and discussed world politics. That’s a complete lie, we actually sipped our tea whilst I filmed Mr SN singing, because he still believes that he has a voice of an angel, and I needed evidence.
Our car is big enough to use as a mini camper van. Before we’d set off that morning, we removed the back seats and turned it into a lounging/ sleeping area. As the light began to fade, we sat in the back, drank wine straight out of the bottle (please forgive our terrible manners, we forgot the glasses) and watched the sun set over Elafonisi beach.
The next morning…
The next morning, after a terrible night’s sleep, we vowed to invest in a thin mattress for future camping trips. Slightly sleep deprived, we blearily staggered down to the shore as the sun peeped above the mountains behind us. We had the whole beach to ourselves, not another soul was around. All was quiet and peaceful, the water was still, and a fishing boat was tethered in the shallows; it bobbed around gleefully.
It had been a magical weekend. Although our mini camper van set-up needed some tweaking, the raw beauty and free tomatoes more than made up for it.
All good weekends must come to an end, and as we bid Elafonisi farewell, we felt thankful to have experienced this magical place without hoards of other people. On the return journey we passed the remaining tomatoes, which had averted being picked up by any other passers by, and unintentionally acquired a fly in the car, who travelled all the way from Elafonisi back to our house, where he then found freedom once again.
The weekend was rounded off by a trip into Rethymno that evening with a couple of friends. We aimlessly wondered the winding old town, whilst sipping beer straight out of the can…I know, bad manners again, but it wasn’t our fault this time, the bars and restaurants weren’t open yet.
After watching the sun set next to the forteza, we got a gyros and sat down at the marina. Swathes of people strolled up and down, young guys on mopeds with pretty girls on the back zipped up and down competitively. Couples walked dogs and little children wobbled along on balance bikes.
After dropping our friends home, we headed back as the clock struck midnight. Our fairytale weekend had come to an end.
Fairytales always have a happy ending, and just as Cinderella found her prince, I finally got to experience Elafonisi. I wonder about the fly that hitch hiked with us all the way home. Maybe he’d longed to travel, and found his own happy ending too.
On reflection, last weekend taught me that a) Elafonisi was just as stunning as we’d hoped, b) Our mini camper van is the key to exploring Crete further, and c) I’m quite happy to shun socially unaccepted practices in order to gain tomatoes.