Donousa, where Dionysus supposedly hid Ariadne from Thesseus, feels like a captivatingly remote island at the edge of the world. Indeed it is the northern-most island of the Cyclades with just about 150 inhabitants. Yet this is precisely what makes Donousa so magical, complete with its fantastic beaches, rooms to let, bakery, handful of restaurants and traditional seaside café-cum-supermarket. This is a quiet and serene island, perfect for those who don't want to be plagued by tourists yet in search of the real Greek island experience.
In fall and spring, the island is a hiker's and swimmer's paradise, with plenty of paths to explore and superb sandy beaches. Its little capital, Stavros, takes its name from the Timios Stavros Church (Exaltation of the Holy Cross) which has been recently renovated. Over a century ago, an old church on the same location was swept away by the waves, and its main icon denoting the Exaltation was found on a beach off nearby Amorgos island. This event spurred the reconstruction of the church in 1902 (and very recent renovation).With respect to ecotourism, Donousa offers excellent hiking paths, great birdwatching opportunities particularly in May, and two caves worth visiting. In true Cycladic fashion, nature here is stark and relatively arid, yet friendly to shrubs such as mastic and thyme. You will come across different trees such as cedar, salt cedar, fig and olive. The Makares islets off the coast have been included in the Natura 2000 network due to their welcoming environment for migratory birds.
A variety of beaches and a bite at Kalotaritissa
Beyond the main town, the village of Kalotaritissa is a very quiet and quaint hamlet near the Church of Agios Giorgios at the northern end of the island. This little corner of the island offers three beaches (Sapounochoma, Trypiti and Mesa Ammos). You can walk to Kalotaritissa in about an hour and a half from Stavros, following a dedicated footpath to enjoy a wild and more enchanting landscape. Drop by the Taverna of Mitsos for a hearty meal once you visit Kalotaritissa.
Unique spring and culinary delights of Mersini
You must also discover Mersini which boasts the beach of Livadi below and a couple of restaurants or 'tavernas' that serve amazing local dishes. Interestingly, Mersini features a century old plane tree and a spring with running waters, considered a rare sight in Cyclades and for such a small island. Note also the church of Agia Sofia with the splendid view. Lastly, a path from Mersini takes to the beaches of Livadi and Fikio so bring your swimsuit along if the weather permits.
Forgotten village and ancient site at Messaria
Messaria, also known as Haravgi, is an abandoned village right before Mersini is interesting to hike through. You can follow the path from Messaria to the beach of Kedros for a great swim or for enjoying the landscape. There are two old windmills (upper and lower) in the region that will tease the fancy of photographers and trekkers too. The area also boasts archaeological remains from the Geometric period (800-700 BC) and remains of Bronze Age dwellings that add a mysterious twist to the island's history.