Ten Suggestions for Getting to Know Kythnos
Kythnos is an island that combines a great deal, with the most important being its numerous wonderful sandy beaches (more than sixty), very beautiful villages, each with its own distinct character (Chora, Dryopida, Loutra, Merichas, Kanala, and Agios Dimitrios), antiquities scattered across the island (Vryokastro, the Castle of Oria), geological sights (Katafyki Cave in Dryopida, thermal springs in Loutra), evidence of its industrial history (iron quarries), a large network of footpaths that cross much of the island, and many accommodations, restaurants, and entertainment spots. With so much to choose from in an environment that is simple, beautiful, and full of light and sea, all visitors can enjoy their holidays in Kythnos according to their own inclinations. Below, we invite you to share ten of our favorite discoveries, which the island revealed to us as we explored it.
1. Tour the archaeological site of Ancient Kythnos in Vryokastro.
Vryokastro is the most important archaeological site on Kythnos. It is located in the western part of the island, between the beaches of Episkopi and Apokrousi. It also includes the islet of Vryokastraki, which used to be connected to the mainland. Findings from the ancient port have been discovered submerged between Vryokastro and the islet. The area of Vryokastro was inhabited for hundreds of years, from the 10th century BC to the 7th century AD. The systematic archaeological excavation of the area was begun in 2002 by the University of Thessaly. Archaeologists have identified the citadel of the ancient city, two necropolises, public buildings, underground tanks, and the sunken port. Most of the antiquities are at the northwestern end of Vryokastro. The remains of an archaic temple stand out; numerous votive offerings were found in its sanctuary. From the ancient city the view of Kolona, the islet of Vryokastraki, and the Aegean Sea is fantastic.
2. Enjoy the beautiful waters and idyllic beach of Kolona.
Probably the most beautiful beach on the island, definitely the most impressive, especially when we remember that there are more than sixty sandy beaches—each one better than the last—on Kythnos! Kolona is a double beach, one to the west and the other to the east, joined by a thin strip of about 250 meters of sand that is not more than 10 or 12 meters wide at its narrowest point. This strip of sandy beach connects Kythnos with the rocky islet of Agios Loukas (in which various buyers have expressed interest from time to time).
3. Admire the wild beauty of the Castle of Oria.
One of the many important antiquities on the island is the Byzantine Castle of Oria (also called Katakefalo) in the northwestern part of Kythnos. Today it stands half-collapsed on the inaccessible rock, forgotten by time. We can reach it, as we explain elsewhere in more detail, by walking up a short path (1 kilometer, 15 minutes). The beginning of the path is about 3.5 kilometers from Loutra (on a paved road and a moderate to bad dirt road). The castle area was the capital of the island during Byzantine times and under Frankish rule. There are traces of habitation from prehistoric times as well, but the main period of habitation began with the abandonment of the previous capital, Vryokastro, around the 7th century AD. The well-preserved church of Saint (Agia) Eleousa, the main church of the castle, still stands inside the castle walls, but the church of the Holy Trinity (Agia Triada) farther west has only survived in ruins.
4. Take in the sights of Katafyki Cave in the settlement of Dryopida.
One of the most important attractions on the island is Katafyki Cave at the southeastern end of the settlement of Dryopida. This cave’s galleries were created both naturally (probably by torrents of water) and artificially (by human mining activity, mainly iron mining, from 1835-1940). The stalactite and stalagmite decoration of the cave is noteworthy; some formations have even been named by the locals (such as ‘jellyfish,’ ‘chandelier,’ ‘octopus,’ ‘little bear,’ ‘embryo,’ and ‘Tower of Babel’). With approximately 600 meters of corridors, the cave covers an area of 3,500 square meters and has a constant temperature of 17 degrees Celsius.
5. Reward yourself for reaching the (almost) inaccessible, unique beach of Agios Ioannis the Theologian.
The beach of Agios Ioannis (Saint John) in the northeastern part of the island may be the most beautiful beach on Kythnos, in terms of both the water and the entire landscape. One of its distinctive features is quite difficult access. By land, it can be reached only by footpath or with a 4X4 on a rough 4-kilometer dirt road from the church of the Prophet Elias (Profitis Ilias) northeast of Chora. For approach on foot, there are two options: either take the 3.6-kilometer path near the landfill of Chora that passes the churches of the Virgin Mary (Panagia) and Saint George (Agios Georgios), or take the 1.9-kilometer coastal path from the beach of Agios Stefanos (Saint Stephen) that passes the beaches of Ragousi and Agoritsa, then ends at Agios Ioannis. The beach of Agios Ioannis is a very long, idyllic sandy beach, with natural shade from many tamarisk trees, and some boats. On a small hill to the left of the beach, the little church of Saint John the Theologian (Agios Ioannis o Theologos) 'protects' the beach and gives it its name.
6. Discover the mining history of the island, which has marked almost every part of it.
The history of mining on Kythnos started in antiquity and continued with mining galleries in Skouries, north of Lefkes Beach, mining kilns, Katafyki Cave in Dryopida, and more. Mining was most important on Kythnos in the years from 1873 to 1940, when iron was being mined on the island. This history is evident in almost every part of the island: abandoned galleries, bridges, buildings, and structures remind us of it. The old iron mines were on the peninsula north of Lefkes and south of Zogaki. The company offices were in Spitares, northwest of Lefkes; in Lefkes, there was a loading area for the iron ore that came out of the dozens of mines that ended there.
7. Luxuriate in the first thermal bath facilities in Greece, which were established in Loutra in 1836.
A hydrotherapy center was built in Loutra in 1836 on the initiative of Queen Amalia. There are two thermal springs. The Kakavos Spring contains iodine, bromide, and sodium chloride in hot water (52°C), and it comes out behind the Xenia complex, in front of the church of the Saints Anargiri. The spring of Agii (the Saints) Anargiri is saline, 38°C; it comes out behind the new hydrotherapy center. The water of the two springs flows together a few meters before the sea, ending in a free natural spa with an intermediate temperature that is enjoyed by visitors daily.
8. Stroll through the two distinctive, picturesque main settlements of the island, Chora and Dryopida.
Chora is the capital of the island and one of its two most picturesque settlements (the other being Dryopida). The settlement used to be called Messaria. It became the center of island life after pirates looted the Castle of Oria in the northern part of Kythnos in 1537, forcing its inhabitants to gather inland. In contrast to Dryopida, the architecture of Chora is much more reminiscent of the Cycladic islands. On every corner you will find a restaurant, bar, café, or church!
Dryopida is a distinctive settlement with more than 300 inhabitants (according to the 2011 census). The architecture of the village houses is atypical, with tiled roofs common here (where there also used to be ceramics workshops). As we enter the settlement we will see a small inscription welcoming us that says (in rhyming Greek), 'Dryopida is small but has a big heart waiting for you all with open arms.' And maybe that says it all, hinting at how much we will love walking in the labyrinth of its narrow alleys, visiting the big churches that spring up between them, enjoying the picturesque tavernas and cafés in the center of the settlement, exploring such attractions as the Katafyki Cave, the church of Saint Minas with its carved wooden icon screen, the folklore museum, and the Ecclesiastical and Byzantine Museum, as well as walking just beyond the settlement to the little churches of Saints Constantine and Helen and Saint Paraskevi, and to the old windmills.
9. Visit some of the island’s hundreds of churches, large and small, all over Kythnos.
With so many to choose from we singled out three, the famous Panagia Kanala (with the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary), Panagia tou Nikous in Chora, and the Virgin Mary (Panagia) Stratilatissa.
The church of the Virgin Mary known as Panagia Kanala is the most famous church on Kythnos. It was built in 1869 on the site of a pre-existing church after the miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary was found in the Serifos - Kythnos strait or 'canal' (hence the name Kanala). Painted in 1575 by the priest Emmanuel Skordilis, the icon is a work of the Cretan School. The church celebrates with a big festival and a re-enactment of the finding of the icon on August 15.
The monastery of the Virgin Mary known as Panagia tou Nikous is the most historic monastery on the island. It is located approximately one kilometer southeast of the center of Chora. Built on the ruins of an ancient temple, it got the name 'Panagia tou Nikous' from 'Panagia Nikopoios' (meaning 'Victory-maker'), the Byzantine way of addressing Mary. According to tradition, a famous icon of the Virgin Mary was brought here after the fall of Constantinople, before the Venetians transported it to the church of Saint Mark in Venice. The monastery flourished from 1800 to 1840, when it functioned as a spiritual center under the guidance of the Greek teacher Makarios Filippaios, who was a graduate of the Phanar Greek Orthodox College, known in Greek as the Great School of the Nation, in Istanbul, Turkey. On the 15th of August there is a big festival at the monastery in honor of the Virgin Mary.
Another of the most important churches on the island is the church of the Virgin Mary (Panagia) Stratilatissa. We find it 6.3 kilometers down the main road that crosses the island from Dryopida to Agios Dimitrios. The church's icon screen is decorated with beautiful post-Byzantine icons. Outside the church, an ancient column stands upright, while part of an ancient column serves as the base for the church's Holy Table. In the northern part of the church courtyard, we will find the chapel of Saint Anne (Agia Anna), which was built by a donor in 1977.
10. Explore the island’s attractions step by step through the extensive network of well-kept paths that cross it, such as the three favorites we describe below.
Path Four (4) starts at Chora and passes the monastery of the Virgin Mary that is known as Panagia tou Nikous. From there it continues east for about 1.5 kilometers, then begins to descend southeast to the beautiful beach of Agios Ioannis Theologos (Saint John the Theologian), which it reaches after another 2.8 kilometers. Total length from Chora: 5.3 kilometers; estimated time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
Path Five (5) starts at Chora, more specifically at the road to the monastery of the Virgin Mary known as Panagia tou Nikous, on our right 200 meters before the monastery. There is a small sign. We reach the beautiful beach of Agios Stefanos 3.1 kilometers down the path. From there, another 2.2 kilometers takes us to the lovely beach of Agios Ioannis Theologos (Saint John the Theologian). On our way, we pass the beaches of Ragousi and Agoritsa. Here, we show the point of intersection with the path that leads to the church of Saint John the Baptist (Agios Ioannis Prodromos). A few meters after the intersection, there is a small spring.
Path Six-A (6A) is basically a walk around the ancient city of Kythnos at Vryokastro. It starts at the beach of Episkopi, tours the ruins of the ancient city, and ends at the beach of Apokrousi. It is 5 kilometers long; the walk takes about 105 minutes. If you are only interested in a tour of the ancient city, you can start at the spot where the road meets Path 6. (This is also where a dirt road starts, heading west to Episkopi.)