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On the eastern shores of Crete lies the picturesque town of Elounda. It's renowned for its gorgeous landscape and luxurious facilities and is reputed to be the resort with the highest number of five star hotels in the whole of Greece. It is popular with many famous politicians and celebrities including President Mitterrand of France, Libyan leader Gaddafi and Arabian royalty and VIPs from the music and film world as well as Andreas Papandreou and Kostas Simitis, both Greek prime ministers. It adds a certain frisson of excitement knowing that wherever you wander in Elounda you might bump into someone famous.
Despite its high number of luxury hotels, the prices throughout the rest of the towns accommodation is comparable with other parts of Crete and not inflated as you might expect. There is a good range of hotels, guest houses, villas, tavernas and restaurants to choose from. Until it discovered tourism this town was busily thriving fishing, farming, extracting salt and emery. This traditional charm has not been lost and reminders of the town's industrious heritage are everywhere to be found.
The resort was developed conscientiously with great attention to detail, using local stone to ensure the building work blended in with the local environment. The hills around Elounda are rich in the mineral Akonopetra. This is used to make emery boards or whetstones and the particular mineral mined from Elounda is knows as Naxos stones or Turkey stones. The harbour area is still filled with brightly coloured boats bobbing on the tranquil waters. Some people may recognize Elounda as the setting for 'Who Pays the Ferryman?' filmed in the 1970s by the BBC. It also features in Victoria Hislop's novel The Island.
From Agios Nikolaos you drive approximately 12km along the coastline as it steadily climbs to the top of a small peak. From the top the panorama is breathtaking – you can soak up views over Elounda across the whole of Mirabello Bay and right to the furthest edge of the east of Crete. Bus services run by the national company KTEL are regular and efficient with buses running frequently both to Plaka (Lasithi) and Agios Nikolaos. The drive from Agios Nikolaos takes about quarter of an hour.
When flying from the UK, the flight times are approximately four hours to the international airport at Heraklion. This airport is very well served for public transport and car hire and taxis are freely available at reasonable prices. It takes just over an hour to reach Elounda from the airport travelling along the main national road. To live up to its luxurious archetype, Elounda also offers travel in limousines, private jets and helicopters; a perfect start if you are indulging in one of the many high class deluxe hotels dotted around. These hotels are fiercely protective of their guests' privacy (one of the reasons it's so popular with celebrities), so they offer you a real sense of escape from the rigours of the real world.
The main square is lively and packed with shops and tavernas and looks out across the sparkling blue waters. Shopping in this large town is a joy, with boutiques and jewellers as well as craft and gift shops to peruse. Beyond the main square you will find a soft sandy beach, perfect for soaking up the sun. If you venture further along the rocky coastline you will find little pebble beaches; ideal for a bit more peace and tranquility and great for exploring the wonders of the sea by snorkeling. Watersports are available from many of the hotels – and you couldn't have a better setting to take to the waters. Truly, this is a beautiful part of the world.
Historically Elounda was used as a stopping point on the way to Spinalonga on the island of Kalydon. Spinalonga was famous for being the very last leper colony, ending in 1957. Today this island can be visited by boat, for a fascinating glimpse into the past, as well as discovering some of the little villages on the way as you explore the peninsula of Kolokytha.
Nightlife in Elounda is lively and varied. As well as the wide range of restaurants serving tempting food, there's an eclectic mix of bars showing sporting events on big screens, music and discos. Hotels also provide a wide range of activities, eg folklore evenings and casinos. Dining is usually later and more relaxed in Greece than in the UK, so nights out can very easily turn in to mornings!
A holiday in the beautiful, cosmopolitan town of Elounda on this dramatic coastline will leave you invigorated and rested; no wonder it's one of the most popular destinations in Crete.