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I try to keep my photo galleries down around 10 to 12 pictures. For this, the third and final instalment of my blogs about a trip to famed Balos Beach on the far northwestern end of Crete, I could not even keep it under 20. Chances are you will rarely see Balos looking the way it does in these photos – my wife Oksana and I travelled out here on Dec. 20, long after the tourist season had ended. The direct sun was still quite warm, as it always is in Crete, but, with plenty of heavy clouds dotting the skies, the general air temp was coming down and the water temp had reached the lower limits of comfortable swimming. It was 17 C this day (62.6 F). We did go swimming, as did a few other hearty souls that day. But not for long. Oksana fully submerged herself a couple of times, coming up each time with a full-throated howl. I waded in knee-high and thought my legs might fall off. When they didn’t, but went numb instead, I waded in up to my waist. I couldn’t bring myself to go further than that, although when I became acclimated I was able to wander around in the lagoon for almost half an hour without giving it another thought. There were three other small groups of people out there with us that day – all of them went for dips with hoots and hollers that were audible even across long distances.
Balos is a relatively recent addition to the must-see beaches of Europe. Those who knew it before it began making all the top-ten lists are pretty disgusted by what happens here during the summer – the parking lot is full and cars are parked along the road itself for up to a kilometer or two. The beaches and lagoon can be overloaded with human flesh. This makes good business for the boat captains that ferry people out here, and for the owners of the “donkey taxi” that helps some people down and back up the mountainside to the parking lot. Oksana and I probably won’t come out here in the summer – not quite our cup of tea. We’re more inclined to visit and contemplate the wonders of nature in their natural state. And on this December afternoon that was quite possible to do. When you descend toward the beach on the pathway, you look north along the shoreline to see Gramvousa Island, where a fortress-turned-prison once stood. Actually, the structure is still there and you can take boat rides out to see it. The waters of the Sea of Crete start going through astonishing transformations of color as they come into the lagoon and onto the beach. They respond sensitively to every change in the landscape beneath them, as well as all the changes going on in the sky above. There is a tiny circular beach at the north end of the lagoon that is formed by the waters calmly swirling around it. Reminding us that we are not all that far from another famed beach, Elafonissi (roughly 60 kilometers to the south), there are numerous patches of pink sand formed from the breakup of seashells.

Text and photos © John Freedman, 2020.

Looking north as you descend to the beach at Balos you can see Gramvousa Island in the distance.
The lagoon is cut off from the Sea of Crete by a thin strand running out to the distinctive mountain outcrop that pretty much defines the beach at Balos.
Pink sand, formed from the breakup of seashells, is visible all over the beach at Balos.