In ancient times, the land that now constitutes the small island of Elafonisos was once connected to the mainland as a peninsula. As is common in the largely mountainous landscape of Greece, violent earthquakes struck the land and eventually separated Elafonisos from the rest of the Peloponnese in 375 AD. The distance between the island and the part of the mainland called Laconia is merely a couple of meters and is reachable by ferry boat that is able to accommodate car transport and gets you across in less than ten minutes. The cost for a round trip is around twenty Euro, and will quickly transport you to this hidden gem of the Aegean Sea.
The history of Elafonisos is actually quite old and detailed, considering its small size. A small piece of land is still visible today, from the larger area of Pavlopetri. This was a town located on the piece of land that sunk between the island of Elafonisos and the mainland. It is considered the oldest known submerged town in the world. The people who lived in Pavlopetri were believed have begun to inhabit it sometime during the Neolithic period or around 6000 BC. Thousands of years before this, geologists state that all the islands in this area including Elafonisos, Kythira, and Antikythira were all once connected by land. Over millennia, the sea began to rise over the land and gave us these Aegean islands we see today. The discovery and study of the ruins of Pavlopetri was so rewarding with data and artifacts, that BBC made a special documentary focusing on the ancient settlement. The ruins are also recognized by UNESCO and protected as underwater cultural heritage.
Within Pavlopetri and the surrounding areas of Elafonisos, there have been findings of artifacts spanning the Bronze, Minoan, and Mycenaean ages. Elafonisos was used for strategic purposes during the Peloponnesean War in 413 BC. Its position in the sea and the close proximity to the mainland make it an optimal location to watch for invaders and also attack them by surprise. The small island sits at a reasonable distance from both eastern and western Greece in regards to sea routes. This also made Elafonisos vulnerable, and many times over generations it was invaded. Because of these invasions, the island did not have permanent residents for centuries. After much conflict and confusion, Elafonisos would officially be accepted as part of the Greek state on July 6, 1850. This was not without much back and forth, but eventually and thanks to the earlier efforts of the then-Governor of Greece Ioannis Kapodistrias and the later Foreign Minister Andreas Londos, England agreed to a treaty signing over Elafonisos to Greece.
Today, there are people who live on Elafonisos or its adjacent coast all year-round and have developed a lively culture on the island. Each year there are festivals and celebrations unique to the island, like its personal Independence Day on July 6th, the day the island officially became part of Greece. On December 12 is the celebration for the Saint Spyridon, who is honored as the savior of Elafonisos. A church dedicated to the saint sits on a pier out into the water next to the main port of the island. Directly next to the church is a small marina and the loading place for visitors and their vehicles. Around the port is the cozy main town of Elafonisos and long the water’s edge you will find many traditional taverna restaurants and small cafes. The residences in town are at least half comprised of hotels and guest rooms. There is a small beach located here in town but the best beach on the island is on the opposite side of the mountain that stands in the center of Elafonisos
Simos Beach is the most popular attraction for visitors to the island. It is a sandy beach that feels super soft beneath your feet. Simos has two parts to it, the one side is a standard beach with a long and straight shore line, the other side has a peninsula that stretches out into the sea. At the far end of the beach, the peninsula is not very big and is mostly comprised of a tall hill. On either side of the narrow piece of land leading to this hill is the sandy beach. If you travel to Simos Beach, it is highly recommended to walk up the hill, as you will be gifted with the panoramic view of the landscape and unique beach. At the farthest end of the beach near the peninsula, the water stays shallow like a sandbar. This contributes to the water’s crystal blue color as it shines off of the white sand. Both sides of this relatively large beach are organized and have beach chairs for rent along with a cantina.
Although Simos Beach is the most popular, there are other great swimming spots around the island. In the second most developed area of Elafonisos called Kato Nisi there is a small beach called Panagia Beach. This beach is perfect for sunset lovers who wish to end their day sitting by the waves. Across the water you can see three smaller land masses, just barely islands, probably formed as a result of the same natural effects that separated Elafonisos from the mainland in Laconia. Surrounding Panagia Beach is one taverna restaurant and a handful of villas or guesthouses. The area of Kato Nisi is home to a few small churches up on its hills. On the farthest end of the island is the beach Aglyftis, which has the small church of Agios Patapios built right there next to the water’s edge.
Elafonisos may be one of the smaller islands in Greece’s collection, but its history is diverse and dates back to the beginning of Ancient Greek civilization. Its proximity to the mainland makes it a quick ferry ride to the beach, but its separation by sea keeps it secluded still. There are no large bustling towns and shopping districts, but that is part of Elafonisos’ charm! The sand is soft and the water is crystal clear. Elafonisos island is a must see along your travels in the Peloponnese.