After the manic city life of Athens I felt tense and restless.
It had been a desperate and exhausting rush to get to the ferry on time. The walk through Piraeus port was much longer than I anticipated, with the lack of clear signage and unhelpful ticket booth operators frustrating us to our limits. Complaining tired children, rolling luggage, and the hot Mediterranean sun.
Athens had defeated me.
Fast-forward 3.5 hours. The sun was low on the horizon when the ferry pulled into Kythnos harbour. As I stepped off the ferry and onto our very first Greek island, like a natural reflex, my shoulders unclenched, my muscles relaxed.
I inhaled the clean air deeply and slowly, and then smiled.
I could feel my cares and tension dissipate like fumes blown away by the sea breeze. There is nothing more wonderful than finding a place that gives you that feeling.
A place like Kythnos.
Ferry From Piraeus To Kythnos
We took a train from our hotel in Athens to the port. From the port we walked to Terminal 8. It was much further then we expected and our tired children constantly complained as we continued at a brisk pace, watching the relentless clock tick by.
From the road it’s easy to spot the big number 8, but if you are walking in the ferry yards you may wander awhile. We asked several times before finally locating the booth we were to pick up our prepaid ferry tickets from.
Phew, the ferry was there and waiting, so we climbed aboard, stored our luggage on the lowest deck of the ferry, handed our tickets to the crew member waiting at the entry stairs, and rode escalators to the top.
It was a lovely boat, not what I had expected at all. We found ourselves in a sitting area with a food stall and decided to plant ourselves there at a table with comfy chairs. After a bite to eat (prices were not exorbitant) and a little walk around the vessel we retreated to our laptops and iPads.
The time went by fairly quickly and before we knew it we had arrived at our first Greek island, Kythnos. There was an announcement in multiple languages on the PA system to ensure no one missed their stop, but it was a very fast disembarkment, so beware. We were downstairs, grabbed our bags and off the boat in just a few minutes, with the ferry leaving for it’s next port just 10 minutes later.
Welcome to Kythnos
Kythnos is located 104 km south of the port in Athens, Piraeus, in the Western Cyclades between Kea and Serifos. It covers an area 100 km2 and has about 100km of coastline, with more than 70 beaches, many inaccessible by road.
Mr Kosmas Garderi, who is responsible for tourism on Kythnos, along with Matina, a delightful lady who teaches English on the island, welcomed us. Matina was our translator and tour guide for our visit to Kythnos and did a marvellous job.
Our hire car was ready for us to collect from the port and drive away. If you haven’t organised anything in advance, the village of Merichas beside the port is where you’ll find places to eat, drink, shop and rent a car.
We followed our tour guides via car over the mountains of Kythnos to the eastern side of the island, to the gorgeous village of Loutra.
As if things could not get better, we followed a very small winding dirt road to the most adorable guesthouse, sitting alone on the hillside overlooking the Mediterranean Sea just mere steps away.
While the owners never spoke any English to us we managed to sit down several times together as they continuously offered us tea, traditional homemade biscuits and even a shot of liqueur to celebrate our departure. I will never forget our hosts generous, loving nature and the way they made me feel immediately at home, regardless of the language barrier.
We had a 2-room suite in a classic white painted house complex. The front door opened up into a small kitchenette, with a small bathroom and adjacent double bed. Behind our bed was a second room with 2 single beds for the kids, complete with wardrobe.
The wooden table on the balcony provided unmatched views of the mesmerising Mediterranean.
It is hard to describe how life could be any better as I sat on that balcony, reading my favourite books and soaking in the nature splendour, marinating in the serenity. Think I may have left a piece of my heart there.
Later that evening we met our guides nearby at Aria’s Menu for the freshest seafood we’d ever had. The sun set quite late and we enjoyed the golden glory of glitter on the bay in Loutra.
The next day our guides showed us around the island. We visited beaches like Apokrousi and Episkopi, or my favourite, the mysterious St Lucas Island. Connected to the main island by a curved sandbar, these bays turn into a popular boat anchoring point in the height of summer.
We enjoyed a remarkably tasty lunch on the beach in Merichas. I loved this little village, it had so much character, as did the owner of this restaurant. Mia was slightly spooked by the octopus drying in the salty air which provided a few memorable laughs over lunch.
Chora is often referred to as the city centre or capital of the island. You can find one on most Greek islands. Our first Chora was the picture-perfect Greek village that looked like it stepped out of a travel magazine.
Pure white painted homes with blue doors and windows.
Small restaurants with friendly Greek ladies in aprons.
Felines stretching in the sun or hiding in the shadows.
Stone cobbled streets laden with white painted decals of flowers or butterflies.
Keys left in doors, cause crime is non-existent.
What struck me was how clean the buildings were, since they were so white. Apparently they are painted frequently, almost monthly, for festivals and parties.
We wandered through the narrow streets marvelling at the architecture. Most shops were houses or vice-versa.
The kids found a giant swing in the middle of town. Two woven ropes fixed to a wooden beam. Its place in the city is mired in tradition as in Easter every year the single ladies sit on the swing awaiting a suitor. If there’s a man who is willing to marry her (I’m assuming these days it’s more a show of interest) he would push her on the swing. Talk about pressure!
The Greek Siesta
Most Greeks follow the similar Italian lifestyle with an afternoon siesta. Breakfast is eaten quite late and lunch usually follows about 3pm when the kids are home from school. It is the biggest meal of the day.
After lunch everyone is quiet, napping or relaxing until about 5-7pm when they return back to their shops and restaurants to stay open through the evening. Often eating dinner around 10pm.
While we often tried to eat around these times, we struggled greatly and eventually had to kindly ask our guides to adjust the dining schedules closer to our normal midday meal and 6pm dinner. At times we’d find the kids snacking on biscuits to make it through the traditional eating schedule.
But we did enjoy the moment to rest that day and soak in the delicious views on Kythnos before heading to dinner in the evening.
Dinner on our 2nd night was at Araxovoli on the beach in Loutra. We loved dining on the beach. The kids were occupied playing with sand and water, which always makes for a more peaceful meal for us parents.
The next morning we met a new guide who had arrived from Athens by ferry just for us - a geologist who spent his summers in Kythnos introducing people to the biggest cave in Greece.
Found in the hilly village of Dryopida (Dreopedia), it was a short walk to reach the cool, dark depths of this cave. Originally discovered in 1830, the cave was mined for iron until 1939. During the Second World War it became a shelter for the locals.
In addition to the tourists, this unique formation still holds immense value to the locals. Every year they celebrate the Resurrection of the Christ in it’s large open cavern.
We were fascinated with its stalagmite and stalactite formations. It’s best to walk through the cave with an experienced tour guide as there are still large holes left over from the mining period along with nooks and crannies that could result in getting lost if you ever attempted a trek by yourself.
The kids loved running around and were covered in red dust when we exited. It was a highlight of their stay, as well as ours, on Kythnos.
A Local’s Home
Our wonderful guide then drove us to his parents home in Flambouria, where most families only remain in residence during the summer.
The property had everything you’d imagine - olive trees, grape vines and even a friendly dog. He presented us with homemade wine and invited us to try his mother’s cooking. The authentic experience was an absolute delight.
Afterwards we went to lunch in Merichas, enjoyed a brief siesta at our hotel and then headed to Chora for dinner under a longstanding grapevine.
I’ll never forget that day when our guide asked us, “When do you like to eat?” I told him typical hours – breakfast, lunch, dinner. He laughed, “This is not enough, we have too many offers.” He was completely correct. There wasn’t enough time in the day.
The next morning we attempted a visit to the Hot Spring baths in Loutra but they were not open for the season just yet. This didn’t stop us because on the sandy seashore, just a stone’s throw away, was an open-air natural hot spring.
The ocean was ice cold, but the small rocky pool formation held hot water channelled from the nearby spring. The kids were in awe and so were we as we witnessed the eager Russian tourists swim from their yachts to the shore and then pounce in the boiling waters of the hot spring.
After a brief soaking we met our guide at her husband’s bar in Merichas, Melirryto, for more incredible hospitality of home made juices, milkshakes and my favourite, Pies of Kythnos. We were completely full by the end of that visit, but it was just the brunch. Lunch was still coming!
Matina then took us to the village of Kanala where during the year approximately 5 families reside. This swells to over 1000 people during the summer.
There is an important Church in this village overlooking the bay that holds a historic painting found nearby in the sea around 1700AD. The Church is also home to several of the island’s major celebrations during the year, with up to 5000 attending the largest one. The elevated position also provides unparalleled views of the town and sea.
Afterwards we took a sneak peek at several new holiday apartments and envisioned a return to the island for a longer stay. The Owner of the apartments also excelled in Greek hospitality and did not let me go without another bottle of wine and this sweet little Greek hat. You like?
We enjoyed an immensely tasty lunch in Archipelagos restaurant overlooking the bay and rememorised our favourite moments over the previous few days.
Unfortunately we could sense our imminent departure was on the horizon, something we had resisted for as long as possible. But as they say, all good things must come to an end.
Kythnos really surprised us. There’s an intangible attraction about this unique island and, in looking for true Greek cultural immersion, we found it - and found it in spades! Away from the crowds, away from the tourists, we found fun things to do, fascinating places to see and the most exquisite food and hospitality. We were welcomed into the arms of this quiet island by its local residents. And while we stood out like only an Aussie family of four can, we felt like we had come home to family.
Kythnos is definitely under the tourist radar with 80% of the visitors being fellow Greeks from the mainland looking for a weekend getaway. And many of the international tourists to Kythnos arrive by sailboat while sailing around the Cyclades.
The island’s numbers swell from 1,500 to almost 25,000 during the summer season which provides valuable economic input for the island.
However, the food is still relatively cheap with a bacon and egg breakfast on the beach setting you back about €4, and a ham and cheese toasties costing about €1.50.
In some ways I found it so hard to write about Kythnos because I fell in love with it unlike anything before. The locals crave for the popularity of Santorini or Mykonos, but I find Kythnos a peaceful oasis in a somewhat crowded race for the tourists preferred summer island.
It’s devoted, warm people made me feel at home in a place that was far from home and its beauty enticed me to stay.
I am sure next time we come back it will be for much longer, because I wouldn’t mind finding a piece of my heart that I may have left somewhere on it’s exquisite shores.