By Thomas P.

It is a group of small islands located in the heart of the Aegean, in the triangle of Naxos- Amorgos-Ios. The most important of them are Koufonissia, Schinoussa, Irakleia, Keros and a little farther away Donousa.

Small Eastern Cyclades

They all have few residents, except for Keros and Kato Koufonissi which are uninhabited. Those scattered islands are well-known for the distinctive color of their small and picturesque seaside villages, the countless windless coves and the magnificent beaches, some of which are even among the most beautiful in the Aegean.
Here are some of the safest bays in the Aegean. That was why these islands were a den of pirates for many years. Small Cyclades, except for the sea around Donoussa, are an oasis of peace and calmness, even when the entire central part of the Aegean is shaken by the furious rhythm of the winds.
All these, combined with the very short distances between most islands of the complex, which allow us to cruise around even with a small boat, made it clear that it would attract the interest of a large number of people while on boat holidays. It has been several years, since Small Cyclades were considered as an ideal retreat for those seeking isolation on deserted beaches. Things have considerably changed, but small Eastern Cyclades are still one of the most beautiful travel destinations.

Iraklia Island

From Katergo of Folegandros we started cruising to Small Cyclades. We were 30 nautical miles away from the port of Ai Georgis in Iraklia.

We slowly entered the deep bay of the harbor, which penetrates the land for about half a mile, with its entrance facing the north-west wind. The port, located on the east side of the bay, consists of a fairly long waterfront and a pier that protects from the winds. In the inner part of the bay a beautiful beach is formed with crystal clear waters. The wide golden sand beach and the huge sea trees, which cover most of the place with their long branches, make it one of the most beautiful coasts of the island.

The quietness and the absolute serenity of the place, touch us even from the moment we enter the port. There are two taverns, some low houses behind the thrifts and the small village of Ag. Georgios starts to unfold on the opposite slopes of the low hills separated by a small stream, which covered in vegetation leads to the beach.

Small Eastern Cyclades

We took the steep paved street, which starts from the western end of the beach and goes along the stream, finally reaching the top of the hill where there are the new houses of the village. We will not find any public squares or organized hangouts with cafes and taverns. Everything is along the road, among the simple houses with the whitewashed walls and blue shutters.
We got a motorbike and set off to Panagia or Pano Chorio, as the second village of the island is called. It is located in the middle of the island and it is 4.5 km away from the port, and of course we cannot see it from there. There are only forty people living here and most of them are elderly. Away from tourism, far from any kind of infrastructure and amenities they preserve their own lifestyle.

Circumnavigation

The island’s perimeter is no more than 13 nautical miles and reveals very beautiful spots. Leaving the port, we began to sail down the eastern part of Iraklia. Just next to the bay of the harbor, an equally deep bay is formed, at the height of the islet of Venetikos. In the inner part there is Livadi, a lovely extended beach with very shallow green waters. It is certainly one of the most beautiful beaches of the island, which, due to its proximity to the port attracts many people.

Small Eastern Cyclades

A mile further south, we find Tourkopigado. It is a very narrow bay that penetrates for several tens of meters into the mainland and is sheltered from the winds. In the inner part there is a small pebbled beach and in its northern end a small waterfront is formed.
After visiting Tourkopigado, we slowly start to turn on the southern side, which undoubtedly is the most impressive of the island. The steep cliffs and the large solid rocks that seem to emerge from the sea, offer a beautiful sight. First of all we find the now famous bay of Merichas, with the solid rugged cliffs plummeting into the sea from a height of more than 100 meters. If we get closer we will discern two very small and oblong pebbled beaches, where we can enjoy the wild beauty of the steep cliffs.
The big bay of Alimia spreads in front of us while we sail along the cape Monopetro. Its entrance faces the southwest wind and it is the bay most sheltered from the winds. In its inner part there is a very beautiful beach, ideal for overnight stay. Recently it has become quite famous and attracts several boats and visitors that the tourist boats bring. If you want more privacy, you can opt for the smaller beach which is on the north side of the bay.

Small Eastern Cyclades

In order to return to Alimia in the afternoon, having decided to spend there our last night on the island, we sailed slowly out of the bay heading north. We passed Avelonisia on our left and sailed upwards to the northwest side of Iraklia, which stretches along for about four miles. The only interesting thing on this side is two large bays. The bay of Vourkaria and the bay of the Vorini Spilia. But the whole northwest side of Iraklia is exposed to the winds and if we intend to go round it we must choose a day when the sea is calm.
In the afternoon we returned to Alimia and anchored next to the beach. Another reason that we decided to spend the night in Alimia was that we wanted to explore the cave of Ai-Giannis. So the next morning, after enjoying our coffee, we prepared ourselves for our course which proved to be long. The mountains slopes that rise around Alimia are rough, but we were in the mood for a little adventure. Given the fact that the cave was on our east, we slowly started to ascend the eastern side of the bay of Alimia. The view to the south coasts of the island was amazing.

Small Eastern Cyclades

But in front of us there was a tall hill, which we had to surpass. Walking on the south side of the hill, we reached some time later the east side.
After a two-hour walk we reached the famous cave. The whitewashed steps lead to a small opening on the rock, which is one meter tall and a bit wider than that. As if we were in a tunnel, we walked carefully for two meters on our knees and three more almost crawling. We went deep in the cave for more than 80 meters and the chill was becoming more and more intense. In a rather mysterious background of and the unique atmosphere that the small candles created, we observed the rich decoration of the cave. The cave of Ai-Giannis remains unexploited, but it is considered one of the most interesting caves of Cyclades, and certainly exploring it is a very beautiful experience.

For the travelers of small eastern Cyclades
  • In July and August there are particularly strong winds blowing around the small eastern Cyclades, which exceed 6 and 7 Beaufort. Often there is a prohibition to sail, so we need to plan meticulously and pay lots of attention when we sail in these seas. The wind that blows in Small Cyclades is mainly a pure northern wind. It is stronger after 10:00 am and softens after 6pm.
  • The worst seas are in the east of Ano Koufonisi, where the whole Icarian Sea surges. There are “passages of the Devil”, as they are called. The passages of Naxos - Donousa, Donousa - Amorgos and Amorgos – Kinaros are perhaps the worst in the entire Aegean. On the contrary, on the west of Ano Koufonisi there are the “passages of God”. The ones of Iraklia – Schoinousa, Schoinousa- Kato Koufonisi and Kato Koufonisi - Ano Koufonisi are easily accessible even when the winds are more than 8 Beaufort. This means that in Iraklia and Schinousa the sea might remind us of a lake, while at the same time on the eastern part of Ano Koufonisi sailing might be prohibited.

Small Eastern Cyclades

  • The most beautiful and safest bays to spend the night are:
    • Alimnia in Iraklia,
    • Aligaria and Mersini in Schinousa
    • The port of Panagia and Pezoulia in Kato Koufonisi
    • Loutro and Parianos in Ano Koufonisi and
    • The harbour of Stavros and Kalotaritissa in Donoussa
    • Overall we should keep in mind that Small Cyclades offer a number of important advantages:
      Apart of course from the distant island of Donousa and the passage of Ano Koufonisi - Donoussa, the winds cannot grow among the rest of the islands of the complex. So, in case we are trapped somewhere because of the weather, it is preferable to be between Iraklia and Ano Koufonisi, where the broader area is an excellent refuge. The short distances between the islands, the windless bays, the numerous beaches, and the possibility of trips to the small villages and to the mainland, will keep us keenly interested and will ensure a memorable stay for as many days as the winds last.
    ...keep Ribbing!