The island of Kythnos is the in the Western Cyclades between Kea and Serifos and on the same ferry line that services Sifnos and Milos. Just under three hours from Pireaus on a slow ferry, and a little more than an hour by highspeed, Kythnos is an island of magnificent beaches, numerous white churches, and a
history that goes back to the Melolithic era, around 9000
B.C. The island is said to be named for Kyhno, the leader of the Dryopons who settled the island from Evia though some say the name derives from
the ancient Greek word kefthemon, meaning a dark place to hide, perhaps referring to the deep valleys, caves and mines and even forests which dotted the island during early antiquity. Aristotle referred to the state of Kythnos as being ideal. The people of Kythnos took part in the wars against the Persian empire with most of the Greek city states. The ancient historian Agisidimos and the painters Timanthis and Kydias came from Kythnos. During the middle ages the island was known as Thermia
for its hot springs. The island took part in the revolution against the Ottoman Turks and regained their ancient name of Kythnos. In 1862 rebels from Syros on the ship Kateria fought with royalists at Loutra where they were defeated and the heroes Leotsakos, Moriatinis and Skarvelis were killed in what is known as the Kythniaki. This battle is commemorated with a plaque in the bay of Agia Irini near Loutra.
Most of the people who visit Kythnos do so from the deck of a ferry on its way to Serifos, Sifnos or Milos and see only the small picturesque port of Merihas. In fact I probably have a hundred photos of Merihas that I have taken over the years, before ever getting off the boat. Those who do take the time to explore
the port will find
a number of seaside tavernas, a handful of bars, some hotels and guest rooms and of course the shops and businesses you will find in any Greek port town. The arrival and
departure of the ferries brings this town to life. Many tourists stay here for a night not knowing or caring about what lays beyond the port, the small sandy beach of Martinakia with its clear blue sea and fresh fish taverna providing enough activity for a day or so. But Merihas is the crossroads of the island with buses going to the village of Driopis and the beaches to the south, and to the main town which is officially called Kythnos but like many Greek islands is known as Chora or Hora, and the beaches
to the north. Once you leave the port you discover an island that is more interesting and beautiful than a ferry ride around the perimeter would have led you to believe. The buses can take you to the main places but to really experience Kythnos you need a car. A jeep is even better.
Kythnos Town or Hora
Hora (which basically means town or village) is the most populated area on the island, built on a ridge and surrounded by farms, munching cows, a modern wind park and one of the new solar parks that have been popping up all over Greece. It is a classic Cycladic village of white houses and narrow streets
that has been relatively unchanged since the 17th Century. The main street is lined with cafes, bars and restaurants.
The church of Agia Triada is the oldest on the island. The church of Saint Savas was built in 1613. In Messaria Square is the church of the Panagia the center
of activities on the 15th of August, the feast day of the Virgin Mary. Around it are cafes where the old men drink coffee in the morning and ouzo in the afternoon, displaced by the young at night. Visit the shop called Tratamento, open year round and owned by Irini Pageneli who makes traditional sweets and liquors of the island and sells olive oil, cakes, cheesepies and biologico (organic) foods. Across the street is a small supermarket which sells among other things, capers in a variety of containers in different
sizes. If you want to bring something back from Kythnos that is representative of the island then a year's supply of capers and a couple boxes of the Tratamento Kythnos style amigdelota (almond cookies) are your best choices. Hora has only one hotel with maybe seven rooms. Its called the Filoxenia Studios (which does not have much of a web presence but you can book it through Aegean Thesaurus Travel in Sifnos). Its in the square where the bus drops you off
and turns around, at the entrance to where the village is open only to foot traffic and the occasional motorbike. Right next door is the traditional
Messaria Taverna. The Church of Panagia Nikous can be reached by footpath or car from Hora. Built on the ruins of ancient temples it was the educational center of the island until 1831. The icon of Panagia Nikous was thought to be able to bring victories during the Byzantine age. But when Constantinople fell to the Turks it was brought first to Kythnos and later to Venice where it still resides in the Church of Saint Mark. The day before the Holy Day of the Panagia (August 15th) the biggest festival at the church,
guests are served vegetarian stuffed tomatoes, and the next day when the fast is over, a stew made with meat. (The period from August 1st until the 15th is a period of fasting in Greece).
The port town of Loutra is the first stop for many who sail the Cyclades from the mainland. Its a well protected harbor with a marina and a number of good fish tavernas and bars right on the waterfront, their tables going right down to the sea. Try Arazoboli which is open year-round and has a large menu in a number of different
most seafood restaurants that cater to yachters they push the expensive stuff but you don't have to dine on barbounia(red mullet) and astako(lobster)
in order to have a good time. Like anywhere go for the sardelles tis skaras (grilled sardines), gopes (bogue), kolios (mackeral) and fried gavros(anchovies) for an inexpensive seafood meal and try some of their mezedes, especially the domato-keftedes which are deep-fried tomato balls, Santorini style, but I have to say better than any I had in Santorini. Nice hima krasi (local wine) though nowadays hima usually means it came in a box from somewhere and is not necessarily
dopio (local). They also have a number of ouzos and tsipuro that will go well with their mezedes.
Loutra is named for its hot baths and you can see where the water runs in a stream on the edge of town and empties into the sea at the town beach. For those who want a free cure you can go to the spot where the hot water pours into the sea and there is a tub built with rocks where the sea water mixes
and makes the
temperature bareable. In the evening you will find many old people swimming here or sitting by the stream, soaking hands or feet. The actual baths are at the top of the square (well, parking lot
actually). These baths have been used since Roman times and some say they are the best in Europe. Greece's first King, Otto, and his Queen Amalia were two of the most famous guests and you can ask to see the baths where the couple bathed their royal highnesses until they were overthrown by the army in 1862 and exiled. The water is sulphurous, saliferous and ferrous and is said to be able to cure arthritus, rhuemetism, gout and gynecological problems as well as many other ailments. The bath house itself
impressive with a number of rooms each with a large tub, stained by the minerals and a hundred years or more of use. Next door is the Xenia Hotel, currently abandoned, built by Ernest Schiller, the Danish architect who build some of the most well-known buildings of the 19th century, all over Greece, many of which are still standing today. Unfortunately Schiller's original building was added to in the sixties in the popular method of construction of that era, a second floor made of poured concrete that looks
like it was built by the same contractor who built the now collapsed harbor in Kea, only with even less care for aesthetics.
Besides the yachting and the hot springs many visitors come to Loutra for its dive center, also in the main square-parking lot. Manthos Marras who spends his life out of water in a wheelchair due to a motorcycle accident, is the owner and guide for divers who come to explore the shipwrecks, underwater caves,
rock formations, coral and
sea life in the crystal blue seas of Kythnos in 32 different dive sites. Manthos' inability to walk has no affect on his abilities in the sea and those who dive with
him swear that he is half fish or is a descendent of the God Poseidon. Manthos gives diving lessons to children from the age of eight as well as adults. For those who are nervous about scuba diving he also has snorkeling trips, taking divers to secluded coves in his boat and teaching beginners all they need to know about snorkeling and scuba diving. For those more experienced Manthos can serve as your underwater guide and friend. The courses are conducted based on the specifications by the largest diving
organizations in the world, such as PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors), ANDI, (American Nitrox Divers International), as well as IAHD (International Association for Handicapped Divers). In the past you could only dive in the most popular and touristic islands but this has changed and the Kythnos Diving center now gives divers the opportunity to see underwater Greece in its most pristine state. For more information e-mail email@example.com
To the south of Loutra is the small bay of Ag Irini with a sheltered sandy beach and a very interesting taverna called Arias which even if you don't go there to eat you should come to see the tables, chairs and artwork. You won't find a more interesting restaurant in terms of decor in all of Greece. It
is also the grave site of the
heroes of the kythniaki where a plaque commemorates them. To the north of Loutra are the more remote beaches of Schinari, Maroulas (one of the oldest settlements in the Aegean),
Kavourocheri, and Potamia which cane be reached on foot and Ag. Sostis which you can get to by car. From Ag Sostis you can walk further to Mamakou Bay. High on a rock above the sea on the northwest end of Kythnos is Kastro Horias, the capital of the island during Byzantine and Venetian rule. Said to be impregnable the town is in ruins now but the ancient walls and streets are still in evidence and there are two of the 100 churches that used to stand here, that have been restored. You can reach Kastro Horias,
also known as Kefalikastro, by car or on foot. Besides Kastro, the most important archaeological sites of Kythnos include Vryokastro, the ancient 10th century B.C. capital on the northeastern coast. There are the remains of some walls and towers and two Hellenistic temples. Little remains of the ancient site of Kastellas but the site of Maroulas, perhaps the oldest site in the Cyclades, has the remains of some buildings from the 8th and 7th Century B.C.
Kolonna and Fykiada Beach
If there is a more beautiful beach in Greece than the double bay of Kolonna and Fykiada, then I have yet to see it. The road is paved from Kythnos town to the long sandy beach of Appokroussi. From there you take a narrow dirt road carved out of the stone another few kilometers, which if you don't have a 4-wheel
drive, or high clearance
car or a car that you don't care about, you may suffer a heart attack or at the very least some anxiety on the way there or back. The road is so narrow that there are sections
where if you come face to face with a car coming from the other direction, one of you is going to have to back up a long way on a road that is scary enough going forwards on. Once you conquer your fear and make the journey you will see that it was worth it. Kolonna-Fykiada are two sides of a narrow stretch of sand connecting what could have been an island, to the rest of Kythnos. The clearest and cleanest blue water you will find anywhere, there are a couple tavernas on the hills on each side, a sailboat or
two in whichever bay happens top be sheltered, some goats, a couple trees that offer shade, and not much more. Of course after reading this you will have the return trip on your mind and it may be difficult to completely relax, but if you have faith that the Gods are smiling down on you, there is a good chance you won't run into anyone on your return. But this is one beach that is worth the angst and if you are really concerned you can park your car and walk the 2 or 3 kilometers like the tourist couple we saw
who had left their motorcycle behind and done it on foot.
Driopis or Syllakas
The town of Driopis, also called Syllakas, the other large inland town could easily be confused for the main Hora of Kythnos. Like Hora is a maze of small streets and alleys with a number of cafes and restaurants surrounding the large church of Agia Anna. Unlike the houses in Hora which have flat Cycladic style
roofs, the buildings in
Driopis have slanted roofs with ceramic tiles and the town was known for its ceramic pottery which is still for sale in a shop in the main square and another above the village. The neighborhood below the main part of town is called Galatas. There are a number of churches as well as a folklore museum
and a ceramics shop, and in the church of Agios Georgios is a small Byzantine museum. In the church of Agios Minas there is a fascinating woodcut icon screen and a number of historical icons and artifacts. Nearby is the cave of Katafiki, one of the largest in Greece, not yet open to the public because of ongoing work to make it safe for visitors. When it does open it should be one of the most important natural sites in the Cyclades.
The eastern side of Kythnos features a number of beautiful sandy beaches in a series of coves at the end of valleys like Agios Stefanos, and Lefkes which both have tavernas as does Lefkes Naousa and Kato Livadi. For just sea, sand and sunshine and little else there are the beaches of Liotrivi, Skyliou, Simoussi,
Gaidouromantra and Petrlousa.
On the west side both Agios Dimitrios and Flabouria are beaches with settlements and food. More remote beaches like Mavriaonou, Triblaka and Stifo are for those seeking
One of the most interesting beach towns and an important spiritual center is the village of Panagia Kanala with its pine forest and miracle-working 17th Century icon of the Virgin Mary painted by the Cretan artist Antonis Skordilis who lived on Kythnos. The church and other ecclesiastical buildings and rental rooms surround a beautiful square, shaded by pine trees and overlooking the sea and the island of Serifos to the east. There are three very nice sandy
or within walking distance of Panagia
Kanali and the town is the scene of the largest August 15th festivities when they celebrate the Holy day of the Panagia (Virgin Mary). Kythnos is known for its panagiria (religious festivals), that can last all night long and on into the next day. Of all the Cycladic islands it has been written that the dances in Kythnos are the best, as are the dancers themselves when they take part in the Thermian Folk Dance during the various festivals.
Besides the August 15th Holy day for the Panagia in Kanala and in
the churches of the Panagia of Stratilatissa and Panagia Nikous, there is a festival on September 8th in Flampouriani. With 359 churches there is a good chance that whenever you come there will be a festival at one of them that will feature music, food and dancing in traditional costumes. The primary instruments played in these festivities are the violin, laouto and the tsambouna, the bagpipes made of goatskin which have been played in the islands since ancient times. (See the Tsambouna Festival of Kea) The dances are known as syrto and ballo. Kythnos celebrates Easter with a festivity called Kounies with traditional music, dances and swings. (Yes, the kind in the park that children play on.) The last day of Apokreas (Carnival) is also a big celebration day and Kythnos weddings
are among the most traditional and the most beautiful in
Kythnos is known for its traditional products like the aforementioned amigdelota (almond cookies) which in my opinion are the best in Greece, and the thyme-honey that is said to be the best in world, sausages, ceramics and wine. The pottery, cheese and wine of Kythnos were famous in antiquity
and make excellent
gifts unless you end up keeping them for yourself. With lots of land for grazing their meat dishes include local beef, lamb and goat and of course like most islands, seafood is popular including the local specialty stuffed squid. Fish ion the restaurants for the most part have prices typical of the rest of the Cyclades which means that if you are on a budget eat the grilled sardines, fried gavros, grilled kollios and fried kalamaraki and leave the barbounia, swordfish and koutsoumouras
for special occasions.
The traditional Easter cheesepie called pittaro, and the sfouggato, deep-fried
cheese-balls that are the consistency of sponges, but taste much better are just two of the island specialties. Capers, copanisti cheese and baked chickpeas are all on the menus of most island restaurants, and each restaurant may have its own family specialty.
Kythnos can be reached by ferry from Athens port of Pireaus and also from Lavrion. There are daily connections to Sifnos,
Serifos and Milos and less frequent connections to Syros and Kea. The best islands to combine with Kythnos are any of those. You can find schedules and book ferries at Ferryhopper.com.
There are several hotels and apartments to
rent on Kythnos, some with kitchens and others just simple rooms. I stayed in the Hotel
Porto Claras in Loutra which I found friendly, clean and in a great location. There is a steep hill to get to the hotel but it is short and should not bother you unless you are unable to walk or are carrying someone who is unable to walk. For hotels in Kythnos as well as assistance with ferries and coordinating your stay in Kythnos with other islands I recommend Aegean Thesaurus Travel
in nearby Sifnos who are the best agency for itineraries which include the
western Cyclades. You can also check Hotels of Greece and as I find more hotels in Kythnos I will add them. You can also find hotels and rooms on Booking.com's Kythnos Pages which has been slowly but surely adding properties.
If you are looking for a relatively undiscovered island that won't feel like you are in the most remote part of Greece, that is easy to reach and easy to get back from, then Kythnos is a good choice. It is quiet without being remote, meaning you can have a comfortable holiday here.
A car is not essential, just highly recommended. You can rent one through Aegean Thesaurus or in Athens at Swift who might even put the car on the ferry for you if you ask nicely. If you are chartering a sailboat make this your next stop after Kea and be sure to have a swim in Kolona.