Discovering Greece’s Small Cyclades

Traditional Greek fishing boats Traditional Greek fishing boats © Clare Thomson

Lonely Planet Pathfinder, Clare Thomson of Suitcases and Sandcastles, spent a week exploring the tiny island of Koufonisia in the Small Cyclades, one of our 10 best places to visit in Europe.

The Small Cyclades are some of the smallest islands in Greece. It’s no surprise that they’re one of Lonely Planet’s best places to visit in Europe. The four inhabited islands of the group (Koufonisia, Iraklia, Schinousa and Donousa) have all the beauty of more famous Greek Islands, but none of the crowds. Hidden between the islands of Naxos and Amorgos, they feel like an insider secret.

I spent a week here over the summer with my family. Koufonisia made the perfect base for exploring more of the Small Cyclades – here are some of the highlights!

The colour of the sea

The first thing you notice when you step off the ferry is the extraordinary colour of the sea – an iridescent aquamarine that tempts you to jump in right there and then…

Old traditions at the island’s only dockyard

Most of the people who live on Koufonisia are fishermen. The islanders here own the largest fishing fleet in Greece in proportion to their population. This is the island’s only dockyard where boats are built and mended in the same way as they have been for decades.

Jump into the blue hole

This was one of our favourite spots on Koufonisia. It’s called the ‘piscina’, which is the Greek word for swimming pool. It’s great for swimming and even more fun to jump into. If you’re feeling brave, you can dive down to the tunnel under the water and swim through into the open sea. This is just one of the many beautiful stops along the coastal path from Koufonisia’s only village. The path takes you past all the island’s best beaches – each more beautiful than the last!

Walk around the coast to the island’s prettiest harbour

Koufonisia is such a small island (it only covers two miles), that there’s virtually no traffic. There’s only one taxi for the entire island and most people walk or cycle. But you will find a lot of boats. We found this gorgeous harbour by taking the less trodden path around the west coast of the island.

Take a boat to a deserted beach

If you prefer your beaches with nobody else on them, you’ll find a more Robinson Crusoe type experience on Kato Koufonisia, a 20-minute boat ride across the sea from Ano Koufonisia, the main island. Kato Koufonisia is uninhabited, but boats will take you to one of several beaches. This is the ferry deck for our stop on Nero beach.

Go back in time on the charming island of Schinousa

You can easily visit some of the other islands in the Small Cyclades from Koufonisia. A small ferry, the Express Skopelitis, connects all four islands. We spent the day on Schinousa and felt as if we’d stumbled on the Greece of the 1950s. It’s virtually untouched by tourism, yet there’s a delightful harbour, a small village with whitewashed houses and a few tavernas, and 18 beaches to choose from!

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