To Koufonisia with Love
I want to tell you about a real gem I discovered whilst on holiday in Greece with my family last summer. If you are looking for resort hotels, kids clubs and all sorts of sporting activites then this place is not for you. However, if you want to achieve a sense of pure relaxation, relieve yourself from the stresses of the modern holiday, eat good food, chill out at cool beach cafés and swim in incredible water then this place is heaven on earth. Koufonisia which actually comprises of two islands, Pano and Kato Koufounisi (together known as Koufonisia) is part of a small group of islands in the lesser known Smaller Cyclades, just south of Naxos. Pano Koufonisi is the only one of the two which is inhabited. The other islands in the group are Iraklia, Schinoussa and Donoussa and are also worth visiting. Part of me just wants to keep this part of the world a secret because I don’t want it to lose its idyllic charm, however, I feel compelled to spread the word.
I visited Koufonisia last July with my family. The main part of our summer holiday was to be spent in Naxos and at the time of booking our trip I decided to add another island in order to spice things up. After considerable research I came across an article on Koufonisia and the Small Cyclades written by Giles Fraser for the Guardian. I immediately felt intrigued and decided that this island would be on our itinerary. Ultimately, I had no idea what to expect. We caught a small boat, The Express Skopelitis, from Naxos to (Pano) Koufonisi and as it pulled around the southern tip of Naxos and towards the first port of call (Iraklia) the colour of the sea started to change; from a deep blue to a royal blue and then as we got closer Iraklia it turned into the kind of mesmerising azure and transparent water one finds in the Maldives. It was almost as if the image which I was beholding had been photoshopped. Truly incredible. When we finally pulled into the tiny island port I knew that we had arrived at a very special place. Authentic colourful fisherman’s boats bobbed up and down in the harbour, a little village with Cycladic-style houses lined the streets and an unbelievably clean town beach spread out before us. Upon stepping off the boat I was instantly struck by the pervading sense of calm and freedom, a rare find nowadays in Europe, especially in the summer.
We stayed at a lovely place called Portes Houses; a collection of simple Cycladic-style cottages 10 minutes by foot from the main village, with glorious views of the sea and the uninhabited island of Keros. By day we would walk or catch the island taxi boat from various jetties to the most amazing beaches and secluded coves with soft golden sand and turquoise blue beautiful water. By night we would feast like kings on delicious and reasonably priced food in the small but vibrant village. This place is truly magical. The vibe is very chilled; it reminds me both of Cornwall and Thailand at the same time, and there is nothing tacky in sight. All the accommodation is low rise and tasteful apart from one resort-like hotel which is set back from the main village and doesn’t seem to be very popular at all. This island is visited mostly by Athenians and Italians with a smattering of French, German and English people. There are very few cars on the island which adds to the idyllic silence one experiences whilst there. Most people wander around on foot, rent bicycles or hop onto the public mini-vans. And if you are wondering whether it is family friendly — it is. My kids absolutely loved it. Needless to say we’re going back!
Places to Eat/Drink
All the beaches have funky laid-back cafes serving good food. My favourite one is at Fanos Beach.