Rugged hills and mountains perfect for hiking. Cascading waterfalls that pool in blue-green tropical lagoons beckon you for a swim amid lush vegetation. White-sand beaches hugged by cliffs invite you in for a dip. Caves dot the shoreline, waiting to be explored. All this and more is what Kythera generously offers its visitors – and they inevitably fall in love with this stunning, hidden gem of an island.
And love is practically ingrained in the mythological DNA of Kythera island. Legend has it that Aphrodite (Venus), the Greek goddess of love herself, was born in the sea-foam off the coast of Kythera before being swept away to Cyprus. In his Iliad, Homer also mentions Kythera and the island’s strong link to the goddess of love, as the Kytherean goddess feeds love itself. Hopeless romantics will feel right at home here, as ancient texts suggest that those who embrace their love on this island will unlock a secret, hidden passion.
Once you set foot here, it’s easy to understand why Kythera and love become intertwined. Located off the southern coast of the Peloponnese, the island reigns at the crossroads of vital East-West sea routes in the Mediterranean and is blessed with beautiful vistas all the way to Crete and the Aegean on clear days. Highly coveted, it was occupied by a number of powerful civilizations ranging from the Minoans and Mycenaeans, to the Venetians, British and French. And this history bequeathed the island a veritable treasure trove of archaeological, cultural and architectural sites that leave tourists and locals enamored with everything Kythera has to offer.
Enchanting towns and villages
Kythera has few large hotels and this has served to preserve the island’s authentic local flavor and its unique architecture that combines a gorgeous blend of Venetian, Cretan and Aegean flourishes. Instead of large resorts, it boasts a plethora of tucked-away villages and towns filled with locals who embrace visitors with their enthusiastic Kytherean hospitality and happily argue over where the best places are for tasting mouth-watering island dishes and house wines.
Not-to-be-missed is the island’s capital, called Chora, which lies under the watchful eye of a sprawling 16thC Venetian mountain-top castle. Located in the south, the town fans out in a labyrinth of narrow alleys and archways. What’s truly original here is how Kythera “borrowed” the traditional Aegean backdrop of huddled whitewashed homes and then added its own finishing touches: bright yellow doorframes, orange-painted ground floor facades and sky-blue doorways. And yellow is a color you’ll see splashed everywhere, in honor of the island’s mascot – the sempreviva flower. Found only in Kythera, this dainty yellow flower has the amazing ability to remain fresh and seemingly in bloom long after it’s been picked. The Venetians were so taken by its almost magical eternal quality they called it the “sempre vivere” – always alive. Take your time to explore this beautiful town tinged with yellow light and archwayed shadow and meander through the multitude of shops (where you can find unique souvenirs featuring the sempreviva flower) and cafes. The closer you get to the castle, the deeper you’ll travel through history as the oldest medieval and Venetian homes cling close to the castle walls. Make sure you find a place to marvel at the sunset from this height. And don’t forget to visit the Archaeological Museum that features masterpieces such as a 6th century BC marble lion and a Renaissance statue of Aphrodite and Eros.
If you’re yearning for some outdoor adventure, head to Mylopotamos village halfway up the west coast of the island. Here you’ll find a bubbling creek that crosses through the village – home to flocks of ducks – and then leads to a series of waterfalls (called Neraida or Fairy Falls by the locals), watermills and tropical lagoons. If you’d rather begin the day sedately, take a seat under the plane trees and order breakfast from the traditional Greek café close to the village church. Close to the village and built into the rock of the ravine you’ll find the monastery of the Virgin Mary of the Orphan. Once you’ve explored, head to Kalami beach – remote and deserted, you’ll feel like you have the whole island to yourself.
The island that boasts it’s the birthplace of the goddess of love must have a town that encompasses everything you’d look for in a romantic night out. Kythera doesn’t disappoint. Kapsali town, close to Chora, is framed by a forest of pines as it lines two quaint little coves. Completing the picture-perfect image is a traditional lighthouse, while a stone bridge connects the town to the capital’s seaport. As you walk hand-in-hand through the cobblestone streets, make your way to the chapel of St. John that’s literally built in a cave.
No Greek summer is complete without a little bit of culture, and for this there’s no better village than Karavas. It’s the northernmost village on the island and it’s widely known as the most beautiful remote town in Kythera. A strong sense of community led to a commitment to the arts, and the group called “I Portokalia” (the Orange tree) – so named because of the ancient orange tree that graces the village – organizes a number of events in the summer. But that’s not all Karavas has to offer. Lush green trees surround stone homes and cute gardens while tall plane trees hide the springs of Amirali that gush out from marble lionheads.
For more of a taste of Greek culture, the island boasts a mini-version of ancient Epidavros theater close to Kapsali village. This stone amphitheater, called Zeidoros, hosts a number of events throughout the summer, including plays, exhibitions, and a number of concerts that range from classical to jazz music.
If you’re game for a day-trip, sail to Antikythera island, Kythera’s smaller twin. Home to only 30 inhabitants, this wind-sheared, rugged island was used for shelter by pirates. Although tiny, it offers a number of attractions, including a main town called Potamos with only a few homes and two traditional cafes, Apolytaras Lighthouse and Saint Myronas church. Make sure you visit Aigilas archaeological site where you can wander through the remains of walls, a quarry and a number of rooms. End your trip by going to Xiropotamos beach – you won’t regret it!
Kythera – an oasis for eco-tourism and nature lovers
This island offers a dizzying number of sports and nature-related activities for its smaller size and everyone will undoubtedly find something that intrigues or excites them. Hikers, walkers, canyoners and mountain-climbers – you’re in luck because you’ll have so many places to explore, you won’t know where to begin. And, despite the fact that many parts of Kythera are arid, bird-watchers and fauna-enthusiasts will find a variety of species to observe in both the dry and greener areas, including reptiles, hedgehogs and migratory birds. Spelunkers will also find Kythera a cave-rich island with fascinating formations that will intrigue enthusiasts.
Begin exploring this beautiful island by hiking up the series of waterfalls and lagoons that start in Mylopotamos village. Follow the signs next to the village café – they will take you to Neraida (Fairy) waterfall. Further up you’ll find a masterfully restored traditional watermill called the Filippi watermill. Then, make your way back to the village square and follow the red signs downhill. This trail – at times barely visible and difficult to hike through – takes you through a web of watermills and tropical lagoons whose cool aquamarine waters lap up against plane and fig trees, thickly intertwined with creeping ivy. In fact, this part of the island is so tropical a European explorer once named an island in Tahiti the New Kythera. Why not take a dip to cool off and let Kythera transport you to even more exotic locations?
If you’re an adrenalin junkie, Kythera’s rugged, wild landscape offers ravines and canyons which will test even the more experienced mountain-climbers. Some locations of interest for the more athletic visitors include Kakoplaka in Kalamos, Sparagirio, Kakia Lagada ravine, and Faskomilies mountain. If you’re really out to test your endurance, try hiking through Tsakonas Gorge. The trail begins at the bridge between the villages of Mitata and Viaradika and will guide you to stunning lagoons, watermills and the Black Cave.
And if you love caves, make it a point to visit the large number and variety of caves in Kythera. Some are easily accessible, including Agia Sofia Cave (Saint Sofia cave) in Mylopotamos village which affords incredible sea views and is often part of a guided tour in the summer. What makes this cave special is the small chapel devoted to Saint Sophia that lies within it, where you’ll find an altar complete with 18thC artwork. Beyond the chapel lie cave chambers complete with stalactites and stalagmites tinged with a red, white and black pattern. If you’re really lucky, you might even spot a very rare species of insect, an arthropod called Kithironiscos paragamiani, that is only found in Kythera.
Sun, swimming, and shopping – Kythera-style
Of course a holiday in Greece isn’t complete without lazy days basking in the hot sun with cool waves lapping at your feet. And Kythera will blow your mind with the sheer number and variety of beautiful beaches and exotic blue-green seas just waiting for you to kick back and relax. Ever wonder where Paris and Helen of Troy met for the first time? And where they were when they fell so madly in love? If you want to see the stunning backdrop that framed and even heightened their instant devotion to each other, head to Melidoni beach. Kythera, as the birthplace of the goddess of love, provided the iconic lovers with a view that was, literally, to die for. Melidoni offers swimmers white-sand beaches in a small cove that hugs crystal-clear blue waters. You’ll find this oasis close to Drimona village, by Agios Kosmas monastery. If you really want to capture the romance, you can rent a fishing boat and sail in from Kapsali bay.
Throughout the island you’ll find hidden beaches and tucked-away coves that are waiting to be discovered. These more deserted beaches offer privacy that’s rivaled by none. A perfect example of this is Sparagario beach. It offers you your own little slice of the perfect Greek summer – and you can only access it by pedalo (water bike) or if you swim there. Located close to Kapsali, it’s huddled under Chora’s Venetian castle. For those who like to hike and then dive in to cool off, go to Kalami beach. Its white-pebbled beach dips into striking green water and you’ll have to follow the dirt road from the Virgin Mary of the Orphan monastery and then hike the rest of the way. And if you like to combine some sight-seeing with a swim, head to Agios Nikolaos beach in the north of the island. It’s named after the chapel of Saint Nicholas and you’ll be able to languish in perfect cool waters under the watchful eye of Moudari lighthouse.
And after a day full of sight-seeing, sports and swimming, you’ll have a plethora of tavernas and restaurants to choose from. Fish dishes hold a place of honor in most menus, but you’ll also find mouth-watering vegetarian dishes that feature eggplant, pasta, and mouth-watering cheeses and grilled vegetables. During the day, make it a point to pop into a local bakery and sample traditional Kythera olive-oil rusks spread with local Kytherean honey and juicy –and very rare – peaches from Mitata village.
But before you go, stock up on sempreviva. You’ll find them featured in an assortment of very tasteful souvenirs that won’t only remind you of a perfect holiday, they’ll also remind you year-round of how taken you were with Kythera. And you’ll fall in love all over again – and it’s a love that, like the flower, will last forever and tide you over until you inevitably return to this stunning, one-of-a-kind island.