Four Small Pearls in the Aegean: Donoussa
Text: Lina Kapetaniou
Translation: Lisa Radinovsky
"Here in Donousa I realized this: isolation is a condition, while loneliness is a feeling. We are isolated, but we do not feel lonely," Litsa tells me. She left Athens three years ago to come to this small island with just 150 inhabitants. "In Mersini there are 15 residents, about 100 in Stavros, and in Kalotaritissa 3, not including the cuckoo." And that is literally true. Just 3 elderly people live in the settlement of Panagia Kalotaritissa: Mrs. Fanny and Uncle Giorgis with his wife Maria. However, everyone on the island knows each other, and many are related, so it’s like one huge family. And winter? Winter is difficult. A few years ago, the boat only came once every three weeks, because the port is exposed to the southern wind, and docking is often difficult. But time passes with friends playing cards and conversing until late at night. It was even worse in the old days, when this route was served by the legendary ship "Evangelistria."
The locals returned from Athens loaded down with things, because there was nothing on the island. The ship, however, often could not dock, and it remained in the open sea until a small boat came and gradually unloaded people and merchandise. The small boat does the same thing now in Livadi. Instead of using the asphalt road or the difficult path from Stavros, many take the little boat to Livadi. And as soon as it reaches the beach, you see trousers lifted and people plunging in up to their knees to carry crates full of food.
In the summer, of course, there are more people. Foreigners start coming in June: Germans, French, Italians and Dutch. At the same time, the campers also arrive, heading directly to Livadi to claim a spot to set up their tents under the few trees on the beach. In August, you can see 100 tents in Livadi and as many more in Kedros. Athenians leave behind their city life; they take their sleeping bags, tents, pots and pans, lamps and flashlights, and they live next to and in the sea. Most of them do not wear swimsuits; they just go nude. They obtain the necessary food from Stavros and from the tavernas in Mersini, which is located just above Livadi. The spring of Mersini provides their water. Beneath the plane tree, cool water runs continuously, and this year, due to the frequent rain, there is a lot of it. Everyone comes together at the spring: the grandparents of the village, the "hippies" who camp on the beach, the Germans who just emerged from a trail known only to them, and the locals who come with their children for cold water.
All the "touristic" traffic on the island is concentrated in Stavros: tavernas, cafés, mini markets, a bakery, and 1 or 2 bars. "Where should I get off? At Stavros? Apapapa, lots of people,” said one grandfather from Mersini. Stratos, who has visited the island many times over the years, explains. "For them, Stavros is like Omonia" (one of the busiest squares in Athens), he tells me, smiling affectionately, without mockery.
The spotlight of the full moon and the tiny sparkles of the stars are disturbed only by the blurry red lights of airplanes. The island has settled down. On the beaches, tanned bodies are squeezed into tents, inhaling the sea breeze along with the heavy scent of candles and fragrant sticks. Locals, already asleep for hours, always put their beds under the northern window, the coolest spot.
Some Suggestions for Food and Drink
Since 1987 Aposperitis, on the beachfront in Stavros, has guaranteed good homemade food. Mom cooks, Dad fishes and bakes, and the children serve and help. On the large tiled terrace with the benches all around it and the atmosphere and music of the Aegean islands, we tried the briam (vegetable stew), the pastitsio, and the imam (stuffed baked eggplant), as well as fresh grilled sea bream and saddled bream from the local fishermen. We liked: The raki and the wine, both brought from Crete Tip: Opt for the evening hours, when there is a nice, cool sea breeze.
The only café in Kalotaritissa welcomes friends from all over the island. Sophia prepares fresh meals every day, but the locals rave about her grilled hamburgers: big and juicy, served with onion and grilled tomato. Local graviera cheese, sour mizithra cheese, fava beans, pancetta and meat dishes as well as shrimp and kalamari. We liked: The patatato, a local recipe: lamb cooked with potatoes in tomato sauce Tip: Start for Kalotaritissa early, swim at the beach, and then return to eat at Mitsos Café/Restaurant.
The sea spreads out in front of us, and Amorgos appears across the water. "Let me gaze at you, sea, I do not get enough," states the couplet by Varnalis on the elegant wooden sign hanging over the stone bench and wooden tables. With this in mind and Greek music playing, we try the dakos (rusks with crushed tomato) with sour mizithra cheese from the island, tyropitaria (a local recipe with crust and cheese), crab salad, sausage, hamburger, and chicken fillet. We liked: The delicious, crisp, large smoked chops Tip: Sit in the round nook with cushions, next to the clematis, on your right as you enter.
Kyriaki uses old recipes from the East (on paper yellowed with age), customs recounted by grandmothers, and many other things to create her menu, with the essential components, of course, of artistry and pure ingredients. On the balcony above the sea with good rebetiko music, we traveled to Mykonos with the salad of arugula and louza (a dry cured ham), to Turkey with the kebab and tabouli, and even deeper into the East with the Kaisareia pies with kaseri cheese from Mytilene and handmade phyllo dough. Everything is made by hand, the vegetables are from the garden, and the rest comes from selected producers. We liked: the donousiotiko firmani, or the Donousa decree: goat cheese with sesame seeds wrapped in phyllo with butter Tip: Choose one of the comfortable sofas, replicas of traditional 18th century sofas from Naxos.
Some things to try
Eat and drink at Kedros Café at Kedros Beach in Donoussa. Two brothers have set up shop behind the beach very nicely, with cushions and built-in benches, little tables and a bar, shade, backgammon, and magazines. We start with an ice-cold freddo (coffee drink) and continue with Arabic pita with turkey, chef's salad, spaghetti paezana with cream and mushrooms, and in the end baked raki and chocolate cake with ice cream. The kitchen closes at 8, but Kedros stays open late for drinks.
Drink ice cold beer at Skadzochiro (which means “Hedgehog”) in front of the harbor in Donoussa. Above the stone bleachers, the wooden bar features relaxing, summery foreign music, from reggae and dub to Lauryn Hill and remakes from the ‘90s. Strangers sit comfortably on the benches and constantly order beer, while large groups occupy the bar and treat each other to shots.
Wake up early and sit down for coffee at Kyma (22850 51566), or Wave, in the center of Donoussa; it functions as a café, restaurant, and grocery store. Around 8:00, you will see the village waking up; you can watch the sun rise slowly as you sip your coffee.
Shop at the only bakery on Donoussa, which is in Stavros. Hot bread rings (if you go early), cheese pies, pizza, and delicious chocolate croissants. The bakery is located in the center of the village, near Kyma.