Four Small Pearls in the Aegean: Iraklia
Lined up in a row in the Aegean Sea are the four small islands of the Small Cyclades, like a set of beads from a pearl necklace, but with each one unique. They form a small paradise that will charm you with its authenticity, simplicity, relaxed rhythms, and of course the brilliant light and magnificent sea of the Cyclades.
Iraklia is the first in the series, starting from the west, and the largest island in the Small Cyclades (or Lesser Cyclades). It is an ideal destination for anyone seeking tranquility, simplicity, and alternative tourism. The rich biodiversity of the island, which is largely due to the geomorphology of its territory (with its many rugged caves, ideal places for nests) has led to the inclusion of the whole region in the Natura 2000 network as a Special Protection Area (SPA). The vertical cliffs of Merichas that plunge into the sea from a height of 150 meters constitute the most representative sample of the landscape of Iraklia.
You can get to know this wild landscape better and enjoy it most fully by traversing its network of eight main marked trails, with a total length of 16 kilometers. The walk is worth the energy, because the trails provide the best way to experience all the beauties of the island, and you can cover the entire island this way in three or four days.
Iraklia has few beaches, but they are very good ones. The beach at Agios Georgios is the most easily accessible. You can also reach Livadi (the largest sandy beach on the island) and Tourkopigado by road. Above Livadi, the ruins of a Hellenistic castle stand guard over the area.
The two most beautiful beaches on the island (which are among the most lovely ones in the Small Cyclades) are the beaches of Alimnia (with the submerged German hydroplane) and Karvounolakkos. They are accessible only by sea (but you can reach them with the tourist boat Anemos). You can also get to Alimnia, with considerable effort, via Path 3 and Path 5. Path 8 ends up at the remote beach of Voreinis Spilias, or Northern Cave. Finally, the beautiful, hard to reach beaches of Aspros and Kokkinos Molos and Ammoudi in Merichas are accessible only by sea, with your own means of transport.
Agios Georgios is currently the most populated settlement on the island, as well as the site of its port. Almost all the tourist infrastructure of Iraklia developed around this settlement. It was named after the central Church of Agios Georgios, which was founded in 1834. In the past, the entire island bore the saint’s name.
The capital of the island is the settlement of Panagia, which is located approximately 4.5 kilometers south of Agios Georgios. A handsome village with a few houses and typical Cycladic architecture, it now has fewer permanent residents than Agios Georgios. It is located in the northern foothills of Mount Papas, the highest peak on the island at 420 meters, which we can visit by following marked community path 1, starting from the village. In the center of Panagia, we will see the impressive Church of the Presentation (of the Virgin). Marked community path 3 begins west of the village and leads to the beautiful Cave of Agios Ioannis and to the Cave of Polyphemus.
In Panagia, we strongly recommend that you visit To Steki, a traditional grocery store and bakery. Try the warm wood oven-baked bread and awesome cold rice pudding made from goat milk! Climbing the little steps, you will find the Steki tis Annios above the store, which features Anna’s homemade food, including baby goat cooked in tomato sauce, octopus with honey, and fish grilled slowly in front of you. You can enjoy them while gazing at the panoramic view from Amorgos and Keros to Koufonisi and Schoinoussa. Ask to try the handmade liquor and the sweets Anna makes. All the beauties of Iraklia together in one spot!
The island has just a few options for lodging, so especially for August, be sure to make your reservations well in advance (at least by June).
For more information on how to get to Iraklia, as well as other useful tips, click here.