If you’ve partied on Mykonos and Ios, watched Santorini sunsets, and now you’re looking for something different? Then google “Small Cyclades”.
There are only four inhabited islands in the Small Cyclades. Three of them are south of Naxos: Iraklia, Schinousa, and Koufonisia. Koufonisia in fact comprises three islands – the main one, Upper Koufonisi, has a population of 400 and is the largest population in the Small Cyclades. The fourth and most secluded island is Donousa and sits apart from the rest to the north-east of Naxos.
For the island lover, this chain of small, islands is a real paradise that compares to the Greek island experience 20 years ago, with things moving much slower. In the Small Cyclades, it’s all about switching off and reverting to island time. The magical combination of walks, swims, siestas, a good book, and generous taverna meals will make you forget what day of the week it is.
By ChristosKaragounis – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69312159
These small islands are receiving a growing number of independent-minded travelers – regular visitors prefer limited publicity for the group, lest they become overrun. There’s not much chance of that. Due to the effort involved in reaching them and the distinct lack of flashy development, the Small Cyclades remains an insider secret. You’ll find crowds in the peak summer season (July and August), but in May, June, and September you’ll rarely share the beaches with more than a dozen other beach bums. Keep in mind that those peak-season crowds are all relative – there is simply no comparison with the thousands of visitors drawn to big-name islands.
Koufonisia IS a rising star.
It’s becoming a fashionable destination for in-the-know island-hoppers, and each summer sees more high-speed ferry companies adding it to their schedules. This makes it a great choice for a Small Cyclades sampler, as there’s more of a resort feel here and visitor access is easier.
By Vaggeba – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22739505
The main settlement of Koufonisia has been described as ‘the Mykonos of the Small Cyclades’. It’s not difficult to see the comparison but Koufonisia lacks Mykonos’ pretensions and celebrity hype.
The waters lapping the Small Cyclades are a knockout! Koufonisia has the best swim spots, but every island has rocky coves and sandy crescents that fringe crystal-clear water. Some are perfectly placed right in the main settlement (for example, on Donousa and Koufonisia), while others require a hike or a boat transfer. In July and August, a local captain on each island offers boat transfers to idyllic beaches for a small charge and may offer a cruise around the island to take in the sights.
Walking is a key element of all Small Cyclades – roads are minimal, car rental is non-existent and there are no taxis. Accommodation owners will meet you at the port to transfer you and your luggage. Otherwise, scooters can be hired on Iraklia, bicycle rental is popular on Koufonisia, and a minibus usually runs along the main island road in Donousa during the summer. But it’s the walking trails that woo, and often their destinations are exquisite coves and stunning vistas of an island-dappled Aegean.
On Koufonisia, an easy 2km walk along the flat, sandy coast road east of the port leads to a chain of beaches, then becomes a walking path passing several rocky swimming places.
Eating options in Koufonisia are great.
Ferry connections to the Small Cyclades are best from Naxos island in the Cyclades, with an airport and regular flights to and from Athens). Amorgos island is another option, though it doesn’t have an airport.
One of the joys of Small Cyclades travel is riding the Express Skopelitis, the small ferry that connects the islands with Naxos and Amorgos Monday to Saturday year-round, except in extremely rough weather. The arrival of this small, sturdy boat into each port is a big event, with locals flocking to docks to pick up food deliveries and greet arrivals.
Finally, here are five more reasons to Visit Koufonisia
Everything is within walking distance
It’s just popular enough without being crowded
The white sand of Pori beach
The starry skies and the magical evening of dining out
Good food with local ingredients
Source: Lonely Planet & Greece is