Photo: www.wondergreece.gr

Donousa

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.

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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.

 

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Location - Donousa

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Donousa is on the migratory path of different birds that cross the Mediterranean. You'll see many cormorants in May, plus a variety of other species.

 

Some of Donousa's well-kept recipes appear only during holidays and feasts, or in local homes. For such a small island, the range of culinary delights is still surprising. You might come across a dish called Aranista, a hearty creamy grain dish that will satisfy your hunger, or end up having a dish of Klosta, representing delicious homemade pasta. Another kind of pasta is Pitaridia, long stranded egg noodles cooked in milk. Souvli is a nourishing porridge-like dish made with whole-wheat flower, oil, water, salt and sugar, a delight that will also awaken your palate.

Photo: www.discovergreece.com

If you're here during a religious feast or wedding you're likely to see stuffed goat with rice, a delicious dish if the goat was raised on the island's mountains. On occasion, Yabrakia or stuffed cabbage is also on the menu, so is Kavourma, a traditional salted pork dish. Noteworthy as well is Patatato, a tasty meat and potato dish served during weddings, baptisms and religious feasts.

The people of Donousa also prepare delicious fried pies (Hortopita) with wild greens and herbs such as Swiss chard and fennel, as well as with the white soft cheese called Myzithra. If you have a sweet tooth ask for Xerotigana which are delicious spiral honey-dipped pastries, or try prickly pear jam. If you find any local sesame bars (set on lemon-tree leaves) buy some too for a tasty, nutritious snack while hiking. Deep-fried sweet pastries (Fotopites, loukoumades and xerotigana) are also prepared for the January 6 post-Christmas celebrations.

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If you like a drink, the local red semisweet or sweet wine from local grape varieties such as voudomato, rozaki, mandilaria, athiri or fokiano is very tasty. Last but not least, the local spirit or Raki is made of dried figs and must be sampled too. The Raki is prepared in October and even served with dried figs.

Overall the island has about five different traditional restaurants to enjoy and a little bakery in Stavros. Kali Orexi (Bon Appetit)!

The best way to discover Donousa is on foot. You can walk almost anywhere on the island as it unveils its secrets, such as a robust natural spring spouting out of the rocks, an orchard in a valley, disused industrial mines, and abandoned traditional houses. Some of the old paths that connected different parts of the island have been revived again, thanks to the efforts of the local Cultural Club.

Photo: www.wondergreece.gr

Walk from Stavros to the church of Panagia. Start at Pera Panta beach and head to the church where the Aegean unfolds in front of you with the beauty of the surrounding islands. From Panagia continue to the Beach of Kedros. From here on you can easily get to Messaria and the upper and lower windmills. Near the lower mill there is a pat that leads to the pebbled beach of Vathi Limenari and to a Neolithic settlement. If you follow the ring road you will reach Agia Sophia church and the spring with a large plane tree. This fascinating little microclimate in a relatively dry land grows fig trees, almond trees, plum trees, pear trees, apricot trees and peach trees, as well as peppermint, vines, honeysuckle and rose bushes.

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Continue down the path to the beaches of Livadi and Fikio, eventually reaching Kalotaritissa. You can also reach this village more quickly by walking the road that cuts through the island. Cross the foothills of Mount Papas to discover the northern part of the island where you'll come across some old mines. In this area, on a more nature-loving note, you'll be happy to see cedar trees, lentisk bushes, wild rosemary, fig trees, vines and olive trees.

The western side of the island is also great for hiking, taking you to Aspros Cavos which translates to White Cape. More adventurous trekkers can climb up mount Papas at 383 meters. Watching the sun set from the peak is an amazing experience, with a view of Ikaria and Samos.

 

Gorgeous Mediterranean beaches abound in Donousa, with alternating blue and green waters. Even the town beach of Stavros is gorgeous, so too are the beaches around Kedros. The beach of Vathi Limenari can be reached by daily beach boat ('lantza' in Greek) which takes you there in the morning and returns in the evening. Negotiate with the boatmen to take you there during the low season or better yet, just hike there.

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The second longest beach in the island after Kedros is Livadi, located just below Mersini. You can reach it in an hour or so by foot following the road to Mersini. Not far is the tiny yet lovely beach of Fikio which is perfect for one or two couples.

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Kalotaritissa has three beaches. The first two, called Mesa Ammos and Sapounochoma (which roughly means 'soap dust' just to give you an idea of its beauty) are located right next to the little village of Kalotaritissa. Fifteen minutes further along is the beach of Trypiti which is another quiet and beautiful swimming spot to enjoy. All can be reached by footpaths.

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In Vathi Limenari and Messaria there are ruins of settlements from the geometric period (800-700 BC), which represent the most ancient traces of inhabited communities on the island. The area of Messaria also boasts archaeological remains of Bronze Age dwellings.

The Timios Stavros church is the largest of Donousa as well as the protector of the island. It was first built at the end of the 19th century. A heavy storm tore the church down and drifted all its remnants to the sea. The icon of the Exhaltation (Ypsosis) was found several days later on the sandy beach of Agia Paraskevi in the Kato Meria of Amorgos by Dimitrios Skopelitis who organised a charity aiming at the construction of a new church, this time however at a more safe location. The new church was inaugurated in 1902. It is a square building with a dome, which embellishes the largest settlement of the island today, which also took its name from the church (in the old days it was called Kambos).

Photo: www.discovergreece.com

At the festival of Stavros on the 14th of September, pilgrims come from surrounding islands with votives and candles. Mass takes place in the church of Stavros and festivities follow in the courtyard, where bread, food (the traditional meat and potato dish called Patatato) and wine are offered. A happening music and dance festival ensues with traditional music groups in true Greek style!

Photo: www.wondergreece.gr

The twin churches of Panagia and Agios Ioannis – a unique architectural cluster where the two basilicas are linked under a small belfry – are located on the hill east of Stavros. The church of Panagia celebrates on August 15.

Mersini, which features a century old plane tree and a spring with running waters, boasts the church of Agia Sofia and a splendid view. This church sponsors a feast on September 19 in honor of Saint Sophia.

Kalotaritissa is found in the north-eastern part of Donousa. This attractive community with low stone-built houses is home to the white church of Agios Georgios. Enjoy this church's celebration on September 17 to celebrate the name day of Saint George.

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