Koufonisia are part of the Little Cyclades, a cluster of five small islands southeast of Naxos: Iraklia, Schinousa, Donousa and Koufonisia. Back in the 1980s, only the odd bearded backpackers and loners chose this part of the Aegean for holidays, known as agoni grammi (non-commercial lines) – ferry routes with very low passenger and commercial traffic which no shipping company cared to service. The trend started to change in the mid-1990s, when the appetite for the popular islands was saturated and more people wanted to travel off the beaten track. The biggest recipient of the new wave of tourism has been Koufonisi, whose tourist infrastructure went from having one camping site, two tavernas and two cafés to dozens of rooms, boutique hotels, apartments and bars spread all over the island. The inhabitants in all these islands are mainly fishermen who continue to supply the local tavernas with their daily catch. The islands are ideal for those who are interested in resting and swimming and not so much in culture, as there is not much sightseeing to be done.
What to do
Iraklia has remained largely unchanged and very quiet. The main village is not particularly scenic, but has retained this old-times charm. Livadi beach is where most tourists stop for a swim but you can seek out more lovely beaches if you walk along the coastline. Schinousa is a prettier island and owes its beauty to the simplicity of the landscape and the tranquil lifestyle. If you’re serious about escaping modernity, this is the island for you, as it has no nightlife, no banks and no fuel stations. It does have many beaches with emerald waters along its coastline. The biggest of the group is Donousa, an island chosen for its golden beaches, quiet lifestyle and ample free camping space at Kedros, Kalotaritisa and Livadi. Kedros beach –the only beach where nudism and free camping is officially allowed– attracts divers and snorkelers who want to explore the little that is left of the wreckage of Orion, a destroyer boat which sunk in WWII. Donousa has four small villages; the port - Stavros, the tiny, almost uninhabited Messaria, Mersini, with panoramic views of the island and Kalotaritisa at the edge of the island. There is a small taverna in Kalotaritisa with very decent traditional food. At Mersini, don’t forget to eat at Tzi-tzi (at the road towards Livadi beach, Tel: +30 6973207569), a simple taverna up in the hill with perfect view of the Aegean and a menu written in an old school notebook, or at I Kori tou kir-Mihali (The daughter of Mr Michalis, Tel: +30 22850 72322) with its excellent Anatolian recipes, meze and good breakfast. At Stavros village, there are two all-day cafés which switch to bar-mode in the evening: Corona Borealis and Skatzohiros. Very good Greek food can also be found in Iliovasilema (Tel: +30 22850 51570, 79010, 52005) which also rents out rooms with a lovely view.
Koufonisia, consist of three islands; Pano (=Upper), Kato (=Lower) Koufonisi, and Keros. Of the three, only Pano Koufonisi is inhabited. Koufonisi was forgotten for years by Gods and men, until word-of-mouth made it “famous like Mykonos, without the restaurants and nightlife,” according to a fan of the island. Koufonisi, along with Donousa, have also been described as heaven on earth, because of the picture perfect turquoise waters and endless sandy beaches. The island’s popularity started increasing in the late 1990s, resulting in its gradual metamorphosis from backwater, to hip destination for 20- and 30-somethings. Tanned Italians with tribal tattoos constitute the bulk of tourists, but Greeks are a close second. Most distances on the island can be covered by foot or a bicycle, but you can also rent a motorcycle. A small piece of trivia: every other person is called Prasinos (Green), a local surname which has dominated the island; therefore it is very likely that a Mr or Mrs Green will be your local host, boat captain, or taverna owner.
The island is rather flat and only has one village, Hora, which is in essence an extension of the port. The first beach to be found in Koufonisi is the port itself, Megali Ammos, a favourite among families. If you start walking southwards (towards your left when facing the port) you will soon reach Harokopou, which is also preferred by families. On the beach you will see café-taverna Finikas, the oldest one on the island, open daily for business. Continuing along the coastline, you enter the clothes-free zone finding in turn the beaches of Fanos and its camping site, busy Italida and further out the somewhat quieter Pori. Keep an eye for the small coves hidden behind rock formations. They are usually only big enough for you and your significant other or a party of six at the most and offer privacy and the amazing feeling of being the only human on the planet. The island is full of caves and interesting rock formations which are why it was named Koufo, a variation of the word koufio (hollow). A famous formation on the way to Pori is the “eye of the devil”, which is essentially a large hole in the rocks providing a beautiful view of the sea. To the northwest you will find Parianos, a cove with a wide sandy beach well protected from the wind.
Where to eat
There’s not much variety in the culinary world of Koufonisi, but you will find delicious fresh fish, lobsters and seafood delivered daily from fishermen, as well as goat and lamb meat provided from local herds. For excellent seafood head to Capetan Nikolas (Tel: +30 22850 71690, open for lunch and dinner), O Mihalios (Tel: +30 22850 71953, open for dinner) serves all sorts of grilled meat and meze at very good prices. In the evening, people head to Hora’s main alley for a drink or a bite at Soroko (Tel: +30 22850 71704) or to the lovely Scholio (Tel: +30 22850 71837, open 18:00-3.30pm) housed in stone-walled building which used to be a school until 1930. If you feel like dancing, head to Parianos beach and the club Aneplora.
For a change in your swimming routine, take the boat to Kato Koufonisi and choose between Nero, which welcomes nudists, Mastroyiorgis, Pezoulia Fikio and Theti, four beaches and coves blessed with the same crystal waters as the Upper Island. There are a few fishing huts spread around, the church of Panagia and a good taverna, Yannis Venetsanos (Tel: +30 22850 74074) with both fresh fish and casserole dishes on the menu. There are also daily services from Hora to remote beaches and uninhabited islets. Koufonisi is crowded during July and August so your best chance of making the most of it is to arrive either in June or September.
Sorokos rooms (Upper Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 74152, www.sorokos.gr), Anna Villas (Upper Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 71697, www.annavillas.gr), Portes Houses (Upper Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 74495, www.porteshouses.com), Michalis Little Houses (Upper Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 74490, www.littlehouses.webedn.co.uk). For more information on the island checkwww.koufonisia.gr/eng.
There are many daily ferry services connecting Piraeus port with Upper Koufonisi and daily services from Piraeus to Naxos Island. From Naxos, there is a daily ferry service connecting all the islands of the Little Cyclades. Check the “Getting to and from the islands” section for ferry websites.
Porta Beach Bar
Porta beach, Ano Koufonisi
New all-day café-snack bar on the beach of Porta, with chill out and lounge music during the day and dance music in the evening.
Ano Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 71468
A restaurant with Mediterranean cuisine and an emphasis on pure raw ingredients and fresh seafood. The chef and his team have created a friendly venue to ensure a fast service and your enjoyment.
Ano Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 74444
Kalamia is an all day and all night music café where you can have breakfast, snacks, cakes, beverages, ice-cream, juices, drinks and cocktails. It is the first café on the island with traditional decoration where everyone is made welcome. It has free WiFi and all cards accepted.
Harokopou beach, Tel: +30 22850 71707
A traditional complex of rooms for rent on the seafront, with an amazing view of the sea. The hotel also has a restaurant serving fresh fish caught by the owners and many more homemade island specials cooked by Georgoula in the kitchen.
Central beach of Horio, Ano Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 74092
Just a few metres from the beach, the café serves coffee and snacks in the morning while in the afternoon you can enjoy ice cream, a drink or a cocktail to the sounds of music chosen by Nikitas.
Over the central beach of the village, Kato Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 71697
Enjoy every meal of the day in an idyllic location with a lovely view. The thatched umbrellas and small lanterns decorating the venue create the perfect atmosphere for summer evenings.
Sorokos Cocktail Bar
Ano Koufonisi, Tel: +30 22850 71704
Right next to the beach and with a cool breeze blowing from neighbouring Keros island, the bar will give you the most relaxing summer afternoons, while your nights will liven up with the music of their guest DJs. In the same area you will also find ceramic creations and other artistic work.