KYTHIRA | GREEK ISLANDS | IONIAN
Old traditional villages, medieval castles, greenery alternating with ravines and peerless crystal-clear beaches
Although Kythira is one of the most beautiful islands, its tourist development is still in its infancy. You will be enchanted by the old traditional villages, now mostly abandoned to the ravages of time, the medieval castle at Hora with a view of Kapsali and to sea, the greenery alternating with ravines and the peerless beaches with crystal-clear waters.
Kythira will definitely not disappoint you, particularly if you take the trouble to explore. The best place to stay is in the southern part (Hora, Kapsali, Livadi) and take short trips from there to the delightful hamlets of the interior.
KYTHIRA HISTORICAL INFO
There are finds at Kastri demonstrating the presence of Cretans in 2000 BC and Mycenaeans in the 14th c. BC. Later, it was successively dominated by Athenians, Spartans and Romans. In the Byzantine period it was often overrun by pirates until, in 1207, it came into the hands of the Franks and in 1363 of the Venetians, who fortified the sites of Mylopotamos, Kapsali and Agios Dimitrios (Paliohora). In 1537 Kythira’s evolution was brought to a halt by the greatest disaster in its history: the pirate raid of Barbarossa. Venetian supremacy was overthrown by Napoleon in 1797, but a year later the Russian fleet forced the French garrison to surrender. There followed English domination from 1809 and eventually in 1864 Kythira was incorporated into Greece.
KYTHIRA HISTORICAL INFO
Many of the inhabitants have emigrated to Australia, which they call “Greater Kythira” and a lot return to the island in the summer. The terrain is mountainous with one extensive cultivable plain between two ranges. The population is about 4,000, working for the tourist trade, fishermen and farmers.
Visitors are charmed by the scenery, the Cycladic and Venetian villages, the monasteries, rocky coves and fine sand beaches. The climate is mild and there is scant rainfall. There are three harbours: Diakofti, new, large and protected from the winds, Agia Pelagia, until recently the island’s port, and finally Kapsali, where pleasure boats moor alongside fishing boats. There is one main road in Kythira which crosses it from north to south. As a slight detour is necessary to see most of the principal sights, we have made a selection of short trips to save you travelling on narrow roads to no purpose.
WHAT TO SEE & DO IN KYTHIRA
The main points of interest are Hora and Kapsali, the island’s lovely scenery and the spectacular vistas.
This charming “capital” of Kythira dominates from a height, with its Cycladic architecture and the once mighty medieval fortress of the 13th to 15th c. It has about 600 inhabitants and receives its share of the island’s tourism.
Strolling in Hora’s lanes and about the castle is a pleasure, culminating in the fantastic view of Kapsali, while just off shore you can see the islet of Hitra or Avgo (the Egg) emerging where the goddess Aphrodite was born, according to the myth. The hamlet clustering round the castle still contains houses from the days of the Venetians and the British, such as the residence of the Venetian governor (later that of the British Commissioner), as well as Byzantine churches.
Visit the small Archaeological Museum at the edge of Hora,
Tel. 00302735031739, open 8:30 – 14:30 , closed on Mondays and holidays.
It exhibits finds from the Minoan and Classical periods, Byzantine icons and Venetian coats of arms.
On the way down from Hora to Kapsali it’s worth making a stop on the left hand side of the road at the chapel of Agii Akindyni to enjoy the splendid panorama. Kapsali is a sheltered natural harbour divided in two by a little peninsula, the most photographed and the most popular spot of the island for the numerous Greek and foreign visitors, with the most shops, cafe-bars and tavernas. Nevertheless, the big beach of the harbour is not the best place for a swim, since there are incomparably more beautiful ones on the island. Do not fail to visit the cave with the chapel of Agios Ioannis tou Gremou of the 16th c., in the rock face above Kapsali, at the edge of the pine forest. This is where tradition places St. John the Divine as beginning the writing of his Revelation.A hired boat will take you across to the striking rocky island, Hytra or Avgo, where there is an impressive cave with stalactites and, if you are lucky, maybe a seal or two. Choose the hour of sunset when the enormous rock takes on an unreal dimension.
LIVADI and KATO LIVADI
Livadi is a village of traditional architecture with 300 inhabitants and grand houses from the days of the British presence in the island. In Kato Livadi see the Katouni bridge, the biggest stone bridge in the Balkans, 150 m long, with 13 arches, built by the British engineer McFale in 1822.
If you have time, visit the Byzantine Museum, tel. 00302736031731 (daily 10:00 – 14:00, closed on Mondays and holidays) with mosaics and icons.
There is a road from Kato Livadi to the nice beach of Kombonada.
MYRTIDION AND AGIA ELESSA MONASTERIES
The route to the Myrtidion monastery has many natural attractions to offer and particularly just before Myrtidia where you should watch the sunset from Stavros. The monastery’s icon is considered by the faithful to have miraculous powers.
Before Drymonas, a village with local colour near the bay of Melidoni, you’ll see atop a towering rock of 433 m, the monastery of Agia Elessa. The vista along the way as well as from the plateau at the end of the road (4 km), is superb. The monastery is dedicated to a local saint, a girl who, legend has it, was butchered by her father for having embraced Christianity.
This is where the traditional villages of the interior are to be found, where once the inhabitants of the island fled to take refuge, hiding from the pirates.
A small and verdant village with an attractive square and abundant flowing waters next to which the watermills of the island used to be. At the spot called Neraida, in the Fonissa gully, there is a waterfall.
Enjoy a cup of coffee or a meal in the old-time kafenio (cafe)-restaurant in the village square. Kato Hora Mylopotamou is a fascinating ruined hamlet with a Venetian fort, chapels and cobbled lanes. If you are there in the afternoon you may see a spectacular sunset.
The beach of Limnionas is close by. Finally, it is worth seeing the cave of Agia Sophia inside a 60m high rock, which has enchanting pools and chambers with stalactites and stalagmites in curious shapes.
It can be visited from July to August daily 11:00 – 18:30, from June to September daily 11:00 – 18:00, closed Tuesdays and Thursdays tel. 00302736031213, 00302736031930
VILLAGES OF THE INTERIOR
Of the many traditional villages in the region, we singled out Aroniadika, a picturesque hamlet where there are rooms for rent; the specially colourful Aloizianika; Frilingianika which has a handsome stone church; Zaglanikianika, and Mitata with the impressive crevasse formed in 1903 by the violent earthquake which convulsed the island. There you’ll find plenty of streams and the nectarines called Aphrodite’s breasts. In August a wine festival takes place here.
At Palaiopoli, located before Avlemonas, lie the ruins of Skandia, a major ancient city-port, destroyed by the eruption of the volcano of Santorini. Archaeologists believe this was where the temple of Aphrodite stood, visited by Paris and Helen of Troy.
Avlemonas is an idyllic fishing village of 80 inhabitants and a beautiful narrow and protected harbour with a small Venetian fort at its entrance, as well as boats, fishing caiques and tavernas serving fresh fish.
Going to Diakofti along a short stretch of road, if you drive to the top of the mountain, on your right you will reach the chapel of Ai-Georgi tou Vounou. The excavations in the district revealed a Mycenaean sanctuary on the crown of a hill. The way back takes you to the same road for Diakofti but you can turn off in the direction of Aroniadika and drive up the mountain to the monastery of Agia Moni, from where the view is beautiful.
The north side of the island is scenic and less touristic, with the exception of the town and harbour of Agia Pelagia. The most interesting sight of the area is Paleohora.
POTAMOS AND VILLAGES IN THE ENVIRONS
Potamos is the island’s biggest town with about 700 inhabitants and Kythira’s commercial centre, with a fine tree-shaded square and a pine copse. On the way out of Potamos continue on to Karava, a verdant village on a steep slope, with a stream. For a swim, go to the deserted little beach at Cape Spathi or to Fournous. Returning, pass by Gerakari and Petrouni, two delightful villages in traditional style. The road to Gerakari takes you through the island’s biggest forest with pine and eucalyptus trees. Logothetianika is noted for it’s church clock and the roast kid served at Karydies taverna.
8 km east of Potamos, at the top of a rocky outcrop there are the remnants of Byzantine buildings and of the churches of Palaiohora, which used to be the island capital. The lay-out of the fortified town plan is reminiscent of Mystra and Monemvassia. It was built in the 13th c. between two gullies so as to be concealed from pirates. However, the pirate Barbarossa found it and razed it to the ground, massacring its 5,000 inhabitants in one night and taking the rest as slaves. Visit it at sunrise or sunset. Entrance is free and you can go there any time you want. The ruins and the scenery are striking and the view of the gullies breathtaking. This is also where the gorge of Kakia Langada, 100 m deep, begins, ending at a beach.
We propose Elafonissos to those who like exotic beaches. Simos, with dunes and cedars, is perhaps the most fabulous beach in Greece, unless there is a south wind, and if you are not bothered by the tourist crowds in August.
All the island’s activity is concentrated in the village and port. There is a considerable local fishing fleet and many fish tavernas on the waterfront.
BEST BEACHES IN KYTHIRA
Kythira’s sea is considered the most unpolluted of the Mediterranean. There are many wonderful beaches where even in peak season you will find no crowds. Most are not organized, nor do they have any tavernas, so be equipped with an umbrella, water and something to eat.
On the road to Avlemonas, before Paleopolis turn right at the sign. The last bit of roadway is difficult to negotiate. Park where the dirt track ends and walk down the steps to Kaladi beach, enjoying the marvelous view as you go. After you’ve had a first dip, walk to the end of the next beach to look at the spectacular rock formations and caves.
A lovely big beach with coral pink pebbles and coral breeding-ground. It’s the best near Kapsali and preferred by many who know KythIra well.
A tiny sandy cove with beautiful colours in the water. You get there by caique from Kapsali.
Opposite Kapsali. Glistening pebbles in a narrow cove surrounded by rocks. You can go by car (parking after the bridge and walking 5 min along the path) or by pedalo from Kapsali.
A charming bay with sand and crystalline waters. It is not as close as it seems but it attracts crowds and pleasure-craft. It has a canteen and umbrellas. Avoid it in August when it can be overcrowded or go to the smaller and quieter beach next to it.
A striking beach with a long stretch of sand, caves and lots of bathers. On the way from Palaiopoli to Avlemonas, near the road, you’ll come across another good beach, long and peaceful.
A cove surrounded by tall rocks honeycombed with caves. A nice, small beach with turquoise waters. There is a canteen.
AGIOS NIKOLAOS (SPATHI)
A pretty little cove, ideal for hermits.
An good large beach with caves.
At Kato Hora Mylopotamou is marvellous, but only for the intrepid (access with a rope).
Is near Karava and Kakia Langada is the diminutive beach at the end of the ravine of the same name (by a dirt track from Agia Pelagia).
KYTHIRA TIPS & INFORMATION
HOW TO GET TO KYTHIRA
By air from Athens, El. Venizelos airport, with Aegean Airlines.
By ferry boat from Piraeus tel. 0030210 4197410
By road from Athens to Neapoli, KTEL Kifisou 00302105124913 and then by ferry tel. 00302734024004
By ferry boat from Kythera to Gythion (00302733024798), Neapolis (00302734022228), Kastelli
Kissamou (Crete) (003028220 22024)
HOW TO GET AROUND IN KYTHIRA
Definitely in your own car. If you haven’t got one you can hire a car or scooter to get around in the island. Don’t be deceived by the distances in km marked on your map. Although they are not great – the island’s central thoroughfare is only 27 km – the peculiarities of the terrain’s configuration and the tortuous roads make for much longer drives than you calculate.
BEST SEASON TO VISIT KYTHIRA
From Easter to September except August.
LOCAL FOOD & PRODUCTS OF KYTHIRA
Try the kid with tomato, lobster pilaf and the island’s thyme honey, also the rusks (ladopaximada) from the bakery at Karvounades.
KYTHIRA USEFUL TELEPHONES NUMBERS
Town Hall 00302736031213
Rural Clinic 00302736033325
Port Authority Agia Pelagia 00302736033280
Port Authority Diakofti 00302736034222
Port Authority Kapsali 00302736031222
ELAFONISSOS USEFUL TELEPHONES NUMBERS
Rural Clinic 00302734061294
Port Authority 00302734022228