GRAMVOUSA & BALOS

  

Near the tip of the barren and isolated Gramvousa peninsula on Cape Tigani, is the beautiful beach of Balos. The beach on Gramvousa island is equally wonderful.  Exposed, so the best times to visit are when there is a gentle or easterly wind. You can get to this idyllic lagoon by boat from Kissamos. which departs at 9.30am and returns again at 4pm.  For the more adventurous of you, there is a footpath from Kalyviani village and will take you approx 3 hours to walk. Or you can follow the dirt road from the same village to a parking area and then walk only for 15mins. However, only really advisable in a 4 x 4.

 

If you travel by boat it will take you approximately 1 hr from the port of Kissamos travelling along if your really lucky you will see marine turtles (Caretta-Caretta) and the Mediterranean Monk seal (Monachus-Monachus) along with dolphins that follow the boats. On the left of the bay you’ll see the remains of the ancient city of Kissamos, the old monastery of Ayia Irini, there is a huge cave believed to have been the ancient shipyard, Tarsanas and in the harbour of Ayia Sozou the ancient Roman city of Agnion with the temple of the God Apollo.

 

You will visit the Venetian fortress built between 1579 and 1594 on the highest point of the uninhabited island of Imeri Gramvousa situated at the edge of a ravine to protect their ships. The invincible fortress was destroyed in 1588 when thunder struck a powder store, it was then rebuilt in 1630. It is almost triangular in shape and each side is 1000 metres long. The walk upstairs to the fortress takes about 15 to 20 minutes and gives you some fantastic views across the bay. After the Turkish occupation of Crete, it was one of three castles that remained under Venetian possession the other two were Souda and Spinalonga. Even though the castle was impregnable, the rock can only be accessed from one side the other three being high cliffs. During the Venetian - Turkish war, its Italian governor at that time was bribed by the Turks to hand it over to them in 1692. 

 

He himself then left for Constantinople where he lived his remaining years a very rich man indeed.
 
Throughout the Greek uprising against the Turks, Gramvousa played an important and decisive role. After several attempts, the castle was finally conquered by Cretan rebels in 1825 when a group of Cretans wily disguised as Turks, entered and conquered the Turkish garrison of fifty soldiers. Consequently Gramvousa was the first area of Crete to be freed from Turkish rule in 1898. Then it became shelter for the next 3 years for more than 3,000 Cretans, becoming a base of operations for these revolutionaries. As you can imagine the conditions for survival were hard and unforgiving, water came from 2 wells and a number of cisterns but the lack of food was so great that the inhabitants turned to piracy, indiscriminately looting boats passing between the island of Gramvousa and Antikythira. 

 

Today, besides being a tourist attraction, the island of Gramvousa is an important bird sanctuary and there are a variety of rare plants, over 400 have been reported with 26 types are endemic to Crete. Three species of plant that are found in this region and nowhere else are a type of daisy, the Anthemis glaberrima, a wild onion, the Allium platakisi and the Silene Iitegripetala. These plants are protected by Greek and European legislation. Also the island is the habitat of over 100 bird species.  There is also a group of donkeys that live on the peninsula but unfortunately these are seen as a threat by the local shepherd and are often killed.

  

Towards the end of the bay you’ll notice that Crete is rising on the western side and the traces left by the water on the cliffs from when the sea level was higher confirm this fact. This phenomenon is thought to have occurred after two volcanic eruptions in 66 B.C. and 365 B.C. on the island of 'Thea' Santorini. This resulted in heavy earthquakes that would have forced the up lifting of Western Crete. This most probably resulted in the devastation of the Minoan civilisation and caused the abrupt elevation of about 3 metres above sea level. You can still see the black trace along the rocks of the coast.


Close to where you disembark the boat and opposite he small church of Ayia Apostoli there is also a pretty decent beach where you can have a swim in the sea. Down the path are the remains of a rusty sunken boat.

 
Then 15 minutes sailing from Gramvousa brings you to the milky turquoise and idyllic blue waters of the lagoon of Balos. There is no harbour so some of the larger boats will drop anchor in the cove, called Tigani, around 200m from the beach. It has a lovely white and pink sandy beach mostly made up of broken sea shells, and warm, shallow waters for swimming. There is no doubting that this is one of the most amazing sights on Crete, however the sea bed can be quite muddy and has a slight odour, and be careful of the tar. 

  

 

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 More Round the Island pages
: Beaches - Western Crete : Apokoronas : Hania Town : Kournas Lake : Aptera :
: Frangokastello : Gramvousa : Spinalonga : Monasteries
: Phaestos : Gortys : Knossos:

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