THE TURQUOISE ocean is rocking the rickety boat as we sail closer to the island.
Squinting in the bright sun, I can just make out our destination in the distance: Spinalonga, just off the coast of Crete, and 10 minutes away from the port village of Plaka.
This deserted land looks much like any other picturesque island in the Med. Its golden walls are warm and inviting and the abandoned houses coming closer into view are tantalisingly mysterious.
But nobody wanted to set foot here some 60 years ago. If you’ve read Victoria Hislop’s historical novel The Island, you will know Spinalonga was once home to a leper colony. From 1903 up until the 1950s, those who were infected were sent to live here.
The population soon swelled to more than 1,000 with many leading normal lives: going to work, falling in love, getting married and having families. The island is hauntingly beautiful, with stunning Cretan architecture and limestone arches, all revealed during my half-hour stroll past empty shops, a hospital and even a graveyard.
Those who came here never left.
“You knew that once you walked through, that was it. There was no turning back,” says our guide. It is believed that a cure for leprosy was found in the 1940s but the colony remained operational until 1957.
Spinalonga is just one of many historical outings from Crete, proving that the largest of the Greek islands has so much more to offer than flopping on a sunbed.