To visit Gramvousa and Balos, there are 3 options:
1. By car through the small town of Kissamos to the village of Kaliviani , then following the dusty, 10 km long dirt road along the western tip of Crete and up to the parking lot. From here, one walks easily downhill on a paved path with stones to Balos (1,5 km).
The view to the bays of Gramvousa and Balos is fantastic and captivating, the area is stunningly beautiful, with the color of the sea light blue or turquoise. It is really a picture-perfect sight.
2. On foot: The most beautiful experience is certainly the five-hour hike to the western slopes along Falassarna to Balos performed by the Mountaineering Club of Chania in cooler seasons. Try this hike – but in no case on your own.
And now I come to the last possibility:
3. By boat: In the footsteps of many tourists, I undertook this alternative: I went by boat from the port of Kissamos to Gramvousa and Balos.
1-hour sailing to the “Pirate Island” Gramvousa
I’m a fan of boat trips, I like this way of traveling in the open air, the salty wind has its own charm, easy swings smells like some adventure ….. the boat is near the barren coast, and one can clearly see the old shoreline in the rocks, which testifies an to a 9m rise to the West Crete after the catastrophic earthquake of 365 AD. from the sea. We drive around the Cape Gramvousa and approach the island, the water is shallow and the color always turquoise, and the boat docks at the cliffs.
Arrived at the island
I get on land rather quickly. Now what? Should I scramble up the mountain to the fortress, or do I prefer to follow the example of those going straight to the sandy beach? The sun shines mercilessly and there are no trees or shrubs to provide shade. I realize It’s now or never as one does not come here every day … I join the long line of tourists of all nationalities, winding up the mountain.
The footpath is not flat, it’s quite steep over hill and dale, and I look in amazement at Jesus-sandals and slipper-like shoes of some of my climbing companions – how do they do that? I climb almost to the fortress, but there were a further 15 minutes in the blazing midday sun, and now I come to the critical point: should I continue to spin my tales or tell my readers the truth? I confess, I let it go, and I go back down. What most bothers me though is that I will again have no own photos from the mountaintop with its impressive Venetian fortress.
Gramvousa. Why the name Pirate Island? What does mythology and history say?According to the Irish scientist Tim Severin, Aeolia (Gramvousa) was the home island of the god Aeolos, the Lord of the Winds and one of the twelve Olympian gods from mythology and religion of the ancient Greeks. In ancient times the island was called Gramvousa Korykos (= leather bag) and according to mythology, Odysseus lingered on the island for a month on his return.
The God of the Winds Aeolos had violent storm winds closed in a leather bag but allowed Odysseus to pass, and would open the leather bag after his return to Ithaca. However, that was not to be.
The fortress from the 16th Century was a masterpiece and considered impregnable. From here, the rulers for centuries observed and controlled the passage between West Crete and the Peloponnese. Unfortunately, Gramvousa was handed over in summer 1692 by the Venetian officer Luca Della Rocca from Calabria to the Ottomans. In exchange they offered him some positions in Constantinople, along with the ironic title “Captain Gramvousa”.
In 1825 Cretan partisans, who had disguised themselves as Ottomans, succeeded in taking over the fortress after numerous attempts. But due to extremely difficult living conditions , the inhabitants of Gramvousa systematically committed piracy upon all ships that sailed through the strait between the island of Antikythera and Gramvousa, hence the epithet Pirate Island.
Living on the island of Gramvousa during summer months
There are the fishermen Michalis and Yiannis, who capitalize on the crowds and sell pre-packaged shells and even sea salt (the latter I recommend without hesitation), and for the first time Katherina is spending the summer here with her handmade jewelry.
In the shade under the trees next to the chapel I meet Petros, who comes here often with his own small boat from Míthymna (coastal village east of Kissamos) to philosophize about life. Giorgos from Heraklion, who spends his holidays in West Crete, has also come here today with the boat trip (we talk about all the beaches of Crete with him, who has visited every one of them).
A lady called Garoyfaliá is also sitting with us at the table, who emigrated with her parents from Crete as a young girl and now lives in Wuppertal. No, she would prefer not to return to Crete, and I could not learn the reason why.
The Paradise of Balos
The time is up, the boat is waiting, and already we are approaching the Bay of Balos. I too am immensely looking forward to a refreshing dip in the water. Again the boat anchors on the rocks, and after a few meters I take off my shoes, turn the pants legs up, and walk first 150m through the shallow waters of the so-called “Sea lake” before reaching the sandy beach and the “real “seawater . The sight once again is fantastic. Let’s get out of these clothes and into the water.
This was my best swim this summer, crystal clear and delightfully fresh water. Other swimmers looked like dolphins and jumped endlessly across the water surface and all around I see only happy faces. After a 2-hour swim, the siren of the boat sounds. All on board and cheerfully it returns to the port of Kissamos.
Read more about the beach of Balos in Balos beach – swim in crystal clear and delightfully fresh water
Looking back, I had a wonderful day!
Gramvousa and Balos, personal note: Whoever had the good fortune to experience the former paradise of Balos 20 years ago will be disappointed today, he will hike uphill and perhaps never return. The same is true for the beaches of Falasarna, Elafonisi and the cedar forest Kedrodassos. The touristic “development” and often ruthless exploitation without regard to future harm of the protected “Natura 2000” sites seems to be unstoppable.