Four Small Pearls in the Aegean: Schoinoussa
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.
Schoinoussa is the second island in the row, if we start in the west with Iraklia. It is the second smallest island in the Small, or Lesser, Cyclades (or the smallest, if you count the two islands of Koufonisia together). In contrast with the rugged landscape and rich biodiversity of Iraklia, Schoinoussa offers us an idyllic, mild, and very summery environment just 3 nautical miles from the first island. Low hills (none exceeding 150 meters in altitude), a multitude of gorgeous beaches all around the island (we counted 24), very limited use of vehicles on the mostly dirt roads (none of the island’s attractions is more than 3 or 4 kilometers from Chora), plenty of Cycladic light, and very good quality tourist facilities (for both food and accommodation), make Schoinoussa an ideal destination for those who seek this combination.
Almost all the beaches on the island are accessible either by dirt road or by a short path. Thus, whatever the direction of the wind, you can always find an appropriately situated beautiful sandy beach where you can swim. Our choices for the most remarkable ones are the gorgeous sandy beaches at Fykio and Psili Ammos, the idyllic Gerolimnionas, the sandy arms in Bazeos Bay, and above all Botsalakia (or “Pebbles,” the only non-sandy beach on the island) at the southeast edge of the island on Cape Michalis.
Located one kilometer east of the port in Mersini, Chora is the most important and largest settlement on the island. A beautiful village with classic Cycladic architecture, it stands out in the midst of the dry, barren landscape that is typical on the island. The church of the Virgin Mary Akathis is the reference point; Chora is also called Chorio tis Panagias, or the Village of the Virgin Mary. The church is dedicated to the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and to the Akathist Hymn, or Akathistos Imnos. The name Akathis, which comes from the Greek word “akathistos” for “not sitting” (that is, standing), is encountered almost exclusively in Schoinoussa; it refers to an icon of the Virgin with Christ where He is standing next to her instead of being in her arms (as in most icons). The church celebrates the Friday of the Akathist Hymn with a festival where various traditional products are offered.
We will find most of the tourist shops, restaurants, and cafes, as well as many of the accommodations on the island, on the central paved road of Chora. From Vespers hours until late at night, vehicles are not allowed to drive in Chora. (They can be left in the community parking lots at each end of the village.) All the roads of the mostly dirt road network of the island meet in Chora.
The picturesque natural harbor of Schoinoussa in Mersini is considered the safest nautical refuge in this part of the Cyclades. You will find all kinds of vessels on the island, from small inflatables to large yachts. Because it is difficult to moor large vessels in this harbor, construction of a new port has begun in the bay of Livadi, where archaeological findings have been excavated. The 1,100 meter road from the harbor to Chora and the road that ends at Messaria are the only paved roads on the island. Mersini is also connected to Chora with a beautiful, freshly paved 600 meter cobblestone path that is worth the walk. You will find good, beautifully tended fish restaurants as well as some accommodations in Mersini.
Starting from the port of Mersini, there are daily day trips around the island in the tourist boat Aiolia, which can also take you farther, to Iraklia, Keros, and Koufonisia. All of these boat excursions are worthwhile.