Kythira is an idyllic Greek island lying opposite the south-eastern tip of the Peloponnese peninsula. Before Sydney writer Nicola Christoforos relocated to Greece five years ago, she had a dynamic career in the fast-paced magazine industry. Six months into her move to Greece, Nicola fell in love with her family’s island-home of Kythira, but also with her beekeeper partner (and understandably, hasn’t looked back). As an international freelance lifestyle and travel writer, Nicola provides an in-depth island guide to Kythira for X-FILES; one of the most stunning islands of the Peloponnese peninsula.
Left: Steno Avalaki Right: Avlemonas (image by Bourdo Photography).
What is exclusive to Kythira?
Kythira, the island of Aphrodite, is an unspoiled paradise filled with gorges, waterfalls and perfect beaches. Kythira is what Mykonos and Santorini were 40 years ago. The locals are the stars, a quiet bustle as they go about their lives. Tourists are the extras. You might notice them, but you don't see them. Kythira's exclusivity is in its purity. Pure vistas, pure beaches, pure Greek heritage.
The best hotels on the island are?
El Sol Hotel - in my opinion, it’s best to stay on the south side of the island during your time in Kythira. Not only is El Sol Hotel perfectly situated between Hora (the capital of Kythira) and Kapsali (one of the most popular beaches circulated by cafes, restaurant and bars), but it also boasts 360-degree scenic views that include the Venetian castle in Hora and the bay of Kapsali at night.
Kaladi Rock - with an infinity pool and a cliffside balcony overlooking the Ionian Sea, you couldn’t really ask for more, right? Kaladi Rock is also a pebbles throw away from Kaladi, one of the most beautiful beaches in Kythira, and Avlemona, a picture-postcard town that’ll you’ll find difficult to leave.
Lusso Eleganza Abitazione - if you’re looking for world-class boutique villas, then this is it. Located on the top of a hill in Kalamos, the five secluded villas are ten minutes away from three of the most popular beaches, Chalkos, Fyri Ammos and Kapsali, and only a short drive to the city’s capital, Hora. They also offer a scenic pool and breakfast that’s hand selected by the owners featuring fresh Kythirian produce.
Astarti Hidden Retreats - this place is so hidden, even Sherlock would have trouble finding it. The intimate, secluded villas are your perfect escape plan for when you just want to escape and wake up to the rays of the Mediterranean sun. Apart from the amazing design, Astarti Hidden Retreats offers top quality dining facilities, holistic massages, yoga and agricultural activities (olive picking, anyone?).
Right: The capital of Kythira, Hora. Right: Vroulea.
List your top 10 locations for eating and their best dishes.
Filio - a charming taverna situated under giant mulberry trees that celebrates local produce. Try the ‘tiganipsomo’ (fried cheese bread), eggplant ksinohondro (Kythirian dried hard wheat mixed with sour milk) and my favourite the kokoras kokkinisto (traditional rooster casserole with handmade pasta and cooked for hours in Kythirian wine).
Kaleris - if you’re lucky enough to get a table (without a reservation) to this seaside taverna, you have to try the Kotsi - lamb shank with eggplant puree, the zucchini and carrot “chips” and the handmade biftekia (meat patties).
Familia - let’s be honest, it’s hard for anyone to tire from eating traditional Greek cuisine, but if you feel like tingling your taste buds with something new, Familia is it. Chef Giannis Voulgarakis does his best to mix modern Greek cuisine with Cretan influences and does it in the most delicious way possible. It’s extremely hard for me to pick their best dishes, so I’m just going to say - you’ll have to try them all!
Apagio - one of the latest additions to the Kythirian family, Apagio is a delightful take on modern seafood cuisine. Try the Lavraki (European sea bass) with vlita (purple amaranth), fresh salmon and linguine pasta, and the kritharoto (orzo pasta) with prawns, feta and fresh tomato.
Magos - seafood by the seashore? Then Magos is your go-to seafood taverna. From kakavia (fisherman's soup), patatokeftedes (fried potato fritters) and of course – the catch of the day, served with seasonal veggies - you truly can’t go wrong.
Toxotis - a golden oldie, Toxotis has been around since 1987. Their eksoxiko (rotisserie pork), melitsanosalata (eggplant dip), sheftalies (sausage without skin), and my personal favourite vithes – traditional spiral Kythirian pasta that is made in-house by the Karavousanos family (which you can purchase too p.s.) are winners in every local’s book.
Left: Exclusive Thyme Honey produced by Nicola's partner. Right: Nicola Christoforos.
Souvlaki - I may have only been in Greece for 5 years, but I know a good souvlaki when I taste one. And lucky for us locals, Souvlaki in the town of Leivadi is quite possibly better than any souvlaki you’ll have in Athens. From their handmade pork souvlaki to their juicy chicken gyro, you’ll be coming back for more.
Fossa - cafe owner Antonis offers a cozy cafe with a charming terrace and view in Kythira’s capital Hora. Inspired by his adventures in London and Paris, you’ll find brunch favourites with a twist like the poached eggs with pickled onion and dukkah and the freshly baked banana bread with espresso mascarpone, toasted buckwheat and Kythirian thyme honey.
Platanos - those who have the privilege of visiting the beautiful town of Mylopotamos, stop and have a feed at the famous Platanos. Its name derived from the giant Platanus trees (plane) that provide shade from the summer heat, is a favourite amongst locals. You’ll find kolokithanthi (zucchini flowers stuffed with rice), gemista (stuffed tomatoes) and pastitsio (Greek pasta bake).
Skandeia - founded in 1975 in an old vineyard, Skandeia still serves authentic Greek cuisine using fresh, local ingredients. From gemista (stuffed tomatoes) to moussaka (baked potato and eggplant casserole) and everything in between, you’ll find it hard to forget the flavours (and the location).
Where is the best spot for a Greek coffee?
Votsalo - situated on the bay of Kapsali, Votsalo is the perfect location for your morning (or afternoon) Freddo or Frappe fix, paired with a relaxing sea breeze.
What is your favourite bar or nightspot?
Mercato was one of the first bars to open in Kythira in 1984, located in Kythira’s capital Hora. Mercato has all the necessary requirements for a fun night out - great tunes, delicious cocktails and a comfortable atmosphere on balmy nights. Oh, and you’re bound to bump into a local or few.
Left: Kapsali Bay Right: Avlemonas.
Kythira is all about swimming - where are the most spectacular beaches?
If you were to circle all the beaches of Kythira on the map, you’d soon realise Kythira has more than 30 beaches to offer. But to be fair, all of them are just as unique and as beautiful as the other. If I had to pinpoint the most spectacular:
Fyri Ammos (Kalamos) is one of my favourites - the sun goes down at 5 p.m. and it’s a perfect spot to spend a late summer afternoon.
Kalamiis a bit of a hike, but absolutely worth it. You’ll also need to work on your Tarzan skills using the rope to help you down the non-existent stairs.
Kaladi is one of the most photographed beaches in all of Kythira.
Avlemonas, a postcard-worthy coastal bay surrounded by cafes and taverns is also unforgettable.
Kapsali, a blue flag beach is one of the main organised beaches on the island. You can hire water bikes from here to make your way to Sparagariou, another cove located across the bay which is a little harder to access by land.
Diakofti (the port) boasts turquoise waters, white sand and seaside tavernas. And there’s nothing like the popular.
Chalkos and Kombonada at any time of the day for a taste of cosmopolitan flair.
Are there any special landmarks or historic locations?
You can’t leave Kythira without visiting the historic Venetian Castlein Hora and the fortress of Paliochora (a significant castle in Byzantine history).
Visit the mythical waterfall of Milopotamos, Neraida (meaning fairy in Greek). This idyllic fairytale location is hidden among huge shade trees and sparkling water that fall from a height of 20 meters. Brace yourself though; the waters drop to freezing during the middle of summer.
The stone bridge in Katouni, completed in 1826 was designed and supervised by John MacPhail himself under British command. It’s the largest stone bridge in Greece. Religious or not, Kythira’s largest monastery Panagia Mirtidiotissa in the town of Mirtidia is a must see.
Take a trip down memory lane at the Archaeological Museum. You can admire up close and personal the findings of Prehistoric and Classic years. Don’t forget to see the Marble Lion, dated as far back as the 6th Century B.C.
The cave of Hytra (also known as Avgo) is only a short distance from Kapsali by boat, and tours are operated three times a day during peak season with the Glass Bottom Boat.
Left: Fyri Ammos - Kalamos. Right: @LifeofaBeeKeeper
Why is honey so sacred in Kythira? Can you tell us more about the bee and honey business?
Wild thyme honey of Kythira comes first due its unique taste and aroma. The dry climate of Kythira and the small quantities of a plethora of wild herbs - the most favoured being the wild thyme - creates a unique and exclusive elixir. Wild thyme honey is at its peak during the end of July and early August, which is when our bees do their best work. The honey is only harvested once a year and produced in small batches which contributes to its rarity. Stefano was inspired to be a beekeeper by his 94-year-old grandfather, who still maintains his bees till this day. He is living proof that Kythirian thyme honey holds the secret to longevity through its unique blend of wild herbs that are sacred to the island of Kythira.
How long should one stay in Kythira and where else should one visit?
I would recommend anywhere between 5 to 7 days in Kythira to enjoy its natural beauty. If you’re looking for a relaxed beach holiday that isn’t blighted by an overabundance of visitors, then Kythira is it. Kythira doesn’t offer much in terms of nightlife, but what it lacks in terms of “clubbing”, it makes up for in character. Kythira can be troublesome to get to, a positive advantage in the perfect island stakes. It is not close to any of the better-known islands, lying on its own at the bottom of the Peloponnese peninsula. If you do feel like an adventure though, day trips to Elafonisos are made possible with the Glass Bottom Boat. This tiny Greek island is part of the Lakonikos Kolpos or the Bay of Laconia, between the two eastern tips of the Peloponnese. For more information on how to visit Kythira, visit Kythera.gr.
Is there an insider’s secret?
Ask any local where you can find the Prasini Limni (Green Lake). The Prasini Limni (Greek Lake) is not an actual “beach” but an emerald-tone natural seawater swimming pool, just 2 meters above sea level. Formed by naturally carved rocks from the sea and wind, you can either reach the lake by boat or by a 40 minutes hike from Limnionas beach. Either way, it’s totally worth the distance.