I won’t blame you if you think love was born over a Tinder “swipe” and a latte because that’s the most common millennial meet cute. As a Sydney born and bred, I believed the same thing for a long time. But love was born on the Greek island of Kythira. Insta-mythology lesson: this is where Ancient Greeks believe the goddess of love and beauty Aphrodite was born.
My love story also began there. At first, it was with a boy, but as I made Kythira my official home, it morphed into an enduring love for the island. Having spent more than three years here, I’ve understood that the simple things in life count the most - a lesson I could have only learnt living on Kythira.
Kythira is an unspoiled paradise of crystal clear waters, soaring cliffs and whitewashed houses. This tiny island opposite the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula with only 3001 residents (including me) boasts everything from Greek culture, history, picturesque beaches and a relaxed atmosphere to calm all your senses.
The island is filled with hidden pathways, mesmerising hiking trails and beaches that truly take your breath away with its beauty. During the Venetian rule of Kythira, the island was referred to as “Cerigo” and the Venetians had a proverb, “Un mondo da un mondo, e il Cerigo un altro mondo” “A world from a world, and Cerigo another world.” Since then poets and artists have used the island as a muse to create some of the most influential art, most notably Jean-Antoine Watteau “Pilgrimage to Cythera”. Once you experience Kythira, it's almost like you can’t escape from its lure. Something we Kythirian-Australians know all about.
According to official data from the Municipality of Kythira, an estimated 80,000 Kythirians left the island within the last century - with the majority now residing in Australia. But yearly, around 20,000 Kythirian-Australians return to their beloved island. Some return for their yearly holiday, others bring their children to discover their roots, and a few others return permanently.
Here a local’s guide to Kythira. Be warned: you’ll fall in love.
Where to stay in Kythira?
El Sol Hotel by V&A
In my opinion, whatever you choose to do during your stay on the island, you’ll prefer a hotel that’s as close to Hora (the capital of Kythira), as possible. My favourite is El Sol Hotel by V&A, perfectly situated between the town centre and Kapsali. The hotel offers breathtaking views of the Venetian castle in Hora and the bay of Kapsali. Oh, and let’s not forget the pool with 360-degree scenic views.
Lusso Eleganza Abitazione
If you’re looking for world-class boutique villas, then Lusso Eleganza Abitazione is it. Located on the top of a hill in Kalamos, the five secluded villas are ten minutes away from three of the most popular beaches, Chalkos, Fyrri Ammos and Kapsali, and only a short drive to the city’s capital, Hora. They also offer a scenic pool and breakfast that’s hand selected by the owners featuring fresh Kythirian produce.
Pool? Check. Balcony overlooking the beach? Check. Beach and cafes within walking distance? Double check. Kythea Resort is pristinely located in Agia Pelagia, one of the most popular locations on the island for tourists. Agia Pelagia is considered one of the largest “towns” on the island, so you’ll find everything you need within a 2km radius. It’s safe to say you’ll be more than satisfied with your stay here.
Astarti Hidden Retreats
This place is so hidden, that even Sherlock would have trouble finding it. The intimate, secluded villas are your perfect escape plan for when you just want to cuddle up with bae (are we still using that word?) and wake up to the rays of the Mediterranean sun. Apart from the amazing design, Astarti Hidden Retreats offers top-quality dining facilities (and cooking classes by renowned chef Yiannis Kaleris), holistic massages, yoga and agricultural activities (olive picking, anyone?).
Where to eat in Kythira?
This charming taverna is situated under giant mulberry trees, providing the perfect oasis (and shade!) from summer heat. Serving up local dishes like tiganipsomo (fried cheese bread), eggplant ksinohondro (Kythirian dried hard wheat mixed with sour milk), traditional rooster casserole with handmade pasta and Kythirian wine. You can’t go wrong here.
Kaleris was first opened in 1954 by Yiannis Kaleris as a fish tavern. Fast forward two generations, and his grandson Yiannis Kaleris, is now the talented (and highly educated) head chef of this picturesque seaside tavern specialising in traditional Kythirian food. If you’re lucky enough to get a table (without a reservation), the lamb shank with eggplant puree is anything short of delicious, and carrot and zucchini chips are always a crunchy treat.
If it’s seafood by the seashore you crave, then Magos is your go-to seafood taverna. Located on the shore of Kapsali, the traditional seafood restaurant serves up kakavia (fish soup), patatokeftedes (fried potato fritters) and of course - the catch of the day, served with seasonal veggies. So long, and thanks for all fish!
Toxotis is an award-winning golden oldie! First starting in 1979 in Palaio Faliro in Athens, Toxotis relocated in 1987 to its current position in the middle of the hub of Livadi. As a cooking professor Giannis Karavousanos and his son Thodoris have put all their love and passion of food into a menu that features eksoxiko (rotisserie pork), melitsanosalata (eggplant dip), sheftalies (sausage without skin), and my personal favourite vithes - traditional spiral Kythirian pasta that is made in-house by the Karavousanos family (which you can purchase too p.s.). Voted one of the best restaurants in Greece, once you’ve had a taste - you’ll see why it’s a winner!
Poached eggs with pickled onion and dukkah, fluffy pancakes with honeycomb butter and maple syrup, freshly baked banana bread with espresso mascarpone, toasted buckwheat and Kythirian thyme honey. Salivating yet? Inspired by his adventures in London and Paris, owner Antonis offers a cosy cafe with a charming terrace and view in Kythira’s capital Hora. The menu caters to all sweet (and savoury) tooths’ with a selection of homemade desserts and pastries. Brunch, anyone?
Where to swim in Kythira?
It’s hard to point out the best spots on Kythira to swim, as they’re all unique and just as beautiful as the others. But to break it down:
For your morning swim, head to Kapsali (blue flag beach) to wave off the local fisherman and see the sun rise from under the Castle.
For secluded swims, head to Fyri Ammos (Kalamos) and Kalami - where you’ll need to work on your Tarzan skills to get to this one (there is a rope to help you down the "stairs").
Likodimou is equipped with its private-like pool, Melidoni boasts idyllic crystal-clear waters, and Kaladi is one of the most photographed beaches in all of Kythira.
For your afternoon wind-down, head to Avlemonas, a postcard-worthy coastal bay surrounded by cafes and taverns or Diakofti (the port) for turquoise waters and seaside tavernas. And there’s nothing like the popular Chalkos and Kombonada at any time of the day for a taste of cosmopolitan flair.
Don't forget to...
You can’t leave Kythira without visiting the historic Venetian Castle in Hora and the cave of Hytra (also known as Avgo). The cave is only a short distance from Kapsali, and tours are operated three times a day during peak season with the Glass Bottom Boat.
Visit the mythical waterfall of Milopotamos, Neraida (meaning fairy in Greek). This idyllic fairytale location is hidden among huge shade trees and sparkling water that fall from a height of 20 meters. Brace yourself, though; the waters drop to freezing during the middle of summer.
Take a trip down memory lane at the Archaeological Museum. You can admire up close and personal the findings of the Prehistoric and Classic years. Don’t forget to see the Marble Lion, dated as far back as the 6th Century B.C.
What goodies to take home?
Roussos family-run pottery studio in Livadi embraces a traditional approach to pottery and creates unique works of art that highlight traditional Kythirian patterns. (Tel. +30 27360 31124). New-generation weaver Kiriaki creates handmade bags using an ancient family loom from Kourelou (a multicoloured knitted fabric traditionally made from leftover scraps). You’ll find her vibrant shop Borse in Hora. (Tel. +30 698.090.6058)
You’ll find famous Kythirian Rusks at the Artopoieio tou Karava (Tel. +30 27360.33092), a famed bakery in the village of Karava. For Fatourada (a liqueur made from tsipouro, cinnamon, cloves and honey) and rozedes (a traditional sweet made from honey, almonds, semolina, sugar, cinnamon and cloves) head to the Windmill in the Village of Kalokairines, where you’ll find Traditional Sweets of Maria (Tel. +30 27360 31188). Pick up a jar or two (or ten) of Kythirian Thyme Honey from the Beekeeping Society of Kythira (Tel. +30 27360 34370), and as you make your way through the town’s centre of Hora, don’t forget to pick up a bouquet of Sempreviva (Latin for “sempre” always and “viva” living). This local yellow flower only grows on Kythira and is hand-picked each June by experienced locals.
How to get around Kythira?
Let me be honest, no one knows Kythira quite like Drakakis Tours. This family-run business offers sightseeing day tours, private tours and Coach Bus transfers from Athens to Kythira. They also offer a wide range of rental cars from luxury to economy so you can make your way around the island. Beep Beep! (Tel. +30 27360 31160)
How to get to Kythira?
As part of the Ionian Islands group, Kythira is located approximately 12km off the tip of the Peloponnese, nestled between the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Getting to Kythira can be a little er, longer to get to, but all good things take time. During high season there are domestic flights twice daily and a boat twice a day from the port of Neapoli (a 5-hour drive from Athens) if you feel like a scenic drive through the Peloponnese. There is also the Ionis Ferry from Gythio to Kythira, Antikythira and Kissamos, once a week, from Piraeus twice a week and from Crete (Kissamos – Kastelli) three times a week. For more information, visit Olympic Air and Sky Express, or find out boat schedules through F/B Porfyrousa or book tickets for the Ionis Ferry through Kythira.gr.
*All images by Nick Bourdaniotis Photography exclusive for Greek City Times (Copyright)
A Mini-Travel Guide by Nicola Christoforos