The Trails of Iraklia
Iraklia and Donoussa have the best signposted network of community trails in the Small (or Lesser) Cyclades. You can get to know this wild, beautiful 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. Moreover, you can go beyond the basic signposted trails and improvise along the way, always carefully and with the help of the map, to explore other parts of the island.
As soon as you arrive, go to the Super Market in Agios Georgios, and ask for the very good, up to date map of the island and all its paths from www.terrainmaps.gr (it only costs 3 euros). Then start exploring! The entire island is walkable in 3 to 4 days.
We will briefly introduce the highlights of these trails as we came to know them on our own hikes.
Path 1: Village of Panagia – Peak of Mount Papas: Path One (1) starts at the water tank that is situated 200 meters southwest of the village of Panagia and ends at the peak of Mount Papas, the highest point on the island at 420 meters. The total distance of the footpath is 1,800 meters, and the greatest difference in altitude is 190 meters. (We start at 230 meters and finish at 420 meters). The total duration of the trip, without stops, is 30 to 40 minutes. Difficulty is medium, all ascending going and descending on the return. The view is beautiful throughout the trip up to the peak, where we find the typical little cement column of the Military Geographic Service with its trigonometric sign. To our north is the southern coast of Naxos, to our northeast the remaining Lesser Cyclades spread out in a line, to the southeast in the background is Amorgos, and to our west is Ios. The ultimate definition of deep blue. Descending on the way back, we look down on the lovely little Chapel of the Prophet Elias to the east.
Path 2: Village of Panagia - West Merichas Cove: Path Two (2) starts below the water tank of the village of Panagia and ends above the west end of Merichas Cove. The total distance of the footpath is 1,600 meters, and the greatest difference in altitude is 60 meters (starting at 230 meters and ending at 290 meters). The total duration of the trip, without stops, is 30 minutes, easy walking. About 500 meters from the beginning of the trail, a signpost and paved steps on our right mark the beginning of the path toward the little Chapel of the Prophet Elias. The end of Path Two (2) rewards us with a wonderful view of Merichas Cove, with its sheer cliffs, its rocks, and caves above us that serve as refuges for hunting birds, and of course the blue expanse of the Aegean. From here we can discern a sandy beach to our left and the beach of Aspros and Kokkinos Molos to our right.
Path toward the Church of the Prophet Elias: We get to the very lovely, blue-white little Chapel of the Prophet Elias 1,100 meters south of the village of Panagia by initially following Path Two (2), which starts below the water tank. After 500 meters, we ascend to the right where there are some signs, continuing for another 400 meters. Alternatively, if we go up along Path One (1) toward the peak of Mount Papas, we will see the little chapel on our right on our way down to the east, and we can easily get there by walking among the low bushes (although there is no actual trail). Beautiful view from up here at 320 meters: we can see the village, with Naxos in the background to the north, and the rest of the Lesser Cyclades to the northeast.
Path toward Merichas at Ftero: The trail toward the eastern side of Merichas Cove at Ftero starts on the right after 700 meters on the vehicular road from Panagia to Tourkopigado. This easy 1,100 meter walk ends above the eastern edge of Merichas Cove (at 140 meters) with an amazing view of a sandy beach (accessible only by sea) and the steep, rocky coastline of the island.
Path 3: Village of Panagia - Cave of Agios Ioannis: Path Three (3) is the most demanding, but also the most interesting, on the island. It starts in the western section of the village of Panagia, before the Church of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary, and ends at the Cave of Agios Ioannis and the Cave of Polyphemus. The footpath is 2,600 meters long, with a maximum altitude difference of 170 meters and medium hiking difficulty. The total duration of the trip, without stops, is 45 minutes. After 1,300 meters, we arrive at the highest point of the excursion, 270 meters, at Seladi, where the trail meets Path Four (4), which starts in Agios Athanasios. Path Four (4) is 200 meters shorter than Path Three (3), with a smaller altitude difference (100 meters to 135 meters) up to their point of convergence at Seladi.
Path 4: Agios Athanasios - Seladi: Path Four (4) starts at the last house of the nearly deserted village of Agios Athanasios and ascends southwards for 1,100 meters to 270 meters altitude at Seladi (on the northwest slope of Mount Papas). There it meets Path Three (3) coming from the west and the village of Panagia. Beginning at that meeting point, it merges with Path Three (3), and after 1,300 meters it ends up at the Cave of Agios Ioannis and the Cave of Polyphemus.
Seladi - Conjunction of Paths Three (3) and Four (4): At Seladi, at an altitude of 270 meters on the northwestern slope of Mount Papas, Paths Three (3) and Four (4) converge. After that, they continue as Path Three (3) for another 1,300 meters, ending at the Cave of Agios Ioannis and the Cave of Polyphemus. Path Three (3) starts 1,300 meters to the west at the village of Panagia, and Path Four (4) comes from 1,100 meters to the north, starting from the currently deserted village of Agios Athanasios. The point of their convergence is also the highest point of this hiking route.
Path 5: Cave of Agios Ioannis - Alimnia Cove: Path Five (5) starts at the Cave of Agios Ioannis as a continuation of Path Three (3) and heads to the west for 1,400 meters, above the cove of Alimnia at Averou. There are not any great differences in altitude; the path moves from around 90 meters at its lowest point just after the cave up to 160 meters, its highest point, at Aloni (where the cove of Alimnia is on our right and that of Karvounolakkos is on our left). The excursion takes about 30 minutes, and the walk is relatively easy.
Path toward Alimnia Beach: From the height of Path Five (5), we can see the bay of Alimnia in the background on our left. Its beautiful beach, with the sunken German hydroplane, is difficult to access by land. If we want to try it, we can do so from the end of Path Five (5), at the point with the ruined buildings, following the descent of the ravine. The descent (and ascent later) is not particularly difficult but needs care. It takes about 20 or 25 minutes; the altitude difference is 110 meters, the distance about 500 meters.
Path 6: Alimnia, at Averou - Agios Athanasios: Path Six (6) starts at Averou, above the cove of Alimnia, as a continuation of Path Five (5), ending after 3,300 meters at Agios Athanasios. 1,000 meters from the beginning of the trail, it passes by Vourkaria cove and beach and then continues ascending to the north along the coast for 1,400 meters, reaching an altitude of 150 meters. Turning right (eastward), the path climbs to an elevation of 210 meters. After 900 meters, it ends in the currently deserted village of Agios Athanasios. Medium difficulty; total duration of the excursion: 75 minutes.
Path 7: Agios Athanasios - Saint John: Footpath that to a great extent follows the main road that connects Agios Georgios with Agios Athanasios. It starts at Agios Athanasios and ends at the little Chapel of Saint John (where Path Eight  starts, heading for Voreinis Spilias). Passable, without any particular interest; total length 2,600 meters and altitude difference 100 meters. Duration of trip: 45 minutes.
Path Eight (8): Agios Ioannis - Voreinis Spilias: An easy, scenic 1,300 meter footpath that starts to the west of the little Chapel of Saint John and ends at the cove and lovely beach of Voreinis Spilias. It is an easy path, and the most interesting part is the last 300 meters, before the end of the trail at the beach of Voreinis Spilias. There is just a 30 meter change in altitude, and the trip takes about 20 minutes.
Path to Xilobatis: For a short, beautiful tour of the island (especially on a day with a light meltemi wind that lets you feel the power of the wind and sea), follow the dirt road that heads off to the right in a westerly direction just after the Church of the Taxiarch, continuing for about 700 meters until it ends. The area is called Kavi or Xilobatis, and it forms a small peninsula. Using the only house that is located above the sea as your reference point, walk to the right of the house, and after 300 meters you’ll arrive at a small beach full of rubbish (due to its facing north) at Fardi Limenari. After this, head to the left for 200 meters, and you’ll end up in the little cove of Steno Limenari.
Path to Agriomelissa: This is a cove 15 minutes south of Iraklia harbor, with beautiful rock formations and sea caves. We can get to the area by a 700 meter footpath that starts at the east side of Livadi Beach.