The Russian Enclave

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July 6th 2019
Published: July 7th 2019
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Today we decide to head to Elafonissi Beach which is in the remote and very sparsely inhabited far south west corner of Crete. Google Maps says that it should take us just under an hour and a half to get there. It seems that this estimate assumes that you actually have Google Maps in your car, and that you’re not instead relying on following your nose and Greek road signs. We can’t even find the main highway. We think we’ve found it, but the back road we’re on then just takes us through a bridge under the highway and up into some remote mountain villages. We read yesterday about vendettas and lawlessness in some remote parts of the island. We don’t particularly want to experience any of this first hand so we quickly do a U-turn and head back down towards the coast again.

We eventually get back on track and follow the road up into the mountains and through the spectacular Topolia Gorge. The road narrows and passes under some overhanging rocks with wire baskets above them which look like they’re probably supposed to stop any boulders that tumble down the hillside crushing your car. I’m not sure how effective these might be, so we drive past quickly in the hope that we don’t get to find out. We drive into a very small one way tunnel that looks like it might be just about big enough for our tiny car, although it’s hard to be sure. The hire car company pointed out long scratches on both sides of the car when we picked it up and we begin to wonder if the previous renter might have tried to drive through this tunnel as well.

We arrive at Elafonissi and set up camp on some sun lounges under an umbrella. The beach is enormous, and fronts both the sea and a large shallow sandy inlet. The sand is fine and pure white, and the water is crystal clear. We agree that this would qualify as a great beach by anyone’s standards.

The beach is packed. We weren’t too fussed about which sunlounges we sat on; we were just happy to find some that weren’t occupied, but we now find that we seem to be sitting in a Russian enclave. We wonder if we should look for the Australian enclave, but we’re not sure there’s enough Aussies here for us to have our own enclave. Maybe we should look to see if there’s a Rest of the World enclave for countries which don’t have enough tourists here to have their own. We don’t particularly want to risk starting World War III by lying in an enclave where we’re not wanted, but the people around us look reasonably relaxed so we decide to stay put.

The Russian gentleman on the sun lounge in front of us keeps standing up and sitting down again about every five minutes. Every time he stands up he bumps his head on the umbrella, and curses in Russian; at least it sounds like he’s cursing. We’re not quite sure why he hasn’t eventually managed to work out that he’s taller than the umbrella. It seems a bit too early in the day for him to have overdosed on vodka, or at least it would be where we come from, so we decide that maybe he’s just a slow learner.

Another forty something Russian gentleman gets up from his sun lounge with his very attractive bikini-clad daughter, who looks like she’s probably about seventeen, and they walk down to the beach together. He gets her to pose for him as he takes photos. The poses start to get progressively more “interesting”. I’m now not quite so sure that she’s his daughter.

We relax on the sand and have the occasional dip in the crystal clear water. The whole scene is stunning.

We leave the beach in the late afternoon and visit the nearby and very spectacular Monastery of Panaghia Chrysoskalitissa, which has been built high on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea.

The bus from our hotel into Chania Town is full so we share a taxi with another couple who look a bit frustrated at not being able to get on the bus. Victoria and John are a very nice young English couple who live in Eastbourne on the country’s south coast. He is a teacher and she runs a shop, and they bemoan the fact that their jobs only allow them to get away here for a week. The name Eastbourne always reminds me of the episode of Fawlty Towers in which one of guests tells Basil that Fawlty Towers is the worst hotel in England. Basil looks to the other residents for support, and eventually the Major pipes up “No, no, no, that’s not right at all, I’m not having any of that”. There’s then a long pause before he adds “There’s that place in Eastbourne”. I suspect the residents of Eastbourne might be slightly over hearing this story, so I decide not to bring it up.

We dine in a restaurant in the backstreets, in the town’s old Jewish Quarter. The menu tells us that the original building that houses the restaurant was used to make soap. It was destroyed by fire in 1991 and only the walls remain. The setting is excellent, as is the food.

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