Koufonissia Travel Guide
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
Koufonissia is a small group of islets consisting of three main islands, Pano (which means "upper") Koufonissi, Kato (which means "Lower") Koufonissi and Keros. Pano and Kato Koufonissi are separated by a narrow 200 m. wide strait. Geographically, they are located on the southeast side of Naxos and on the west side of Amorgos and belong to the complex of the Small Eastern Cyclades, along with Donoussa, Schinoussa and Irakleia. They all fall under the jurisdiction of Naxos.
The only inhabited island of the Koufonissia islands is Pano Koufonissi (and that's why one may often hear it as "Koufonissi" without "Pano"). It has an area of 3.5 square kilometres and less than 400 permanent inhabitants. One third of the population are young people, a unique ratio for the Greek and European standards. The main occupation of the population has always been fishing, since tourism on the island has just started in the last decade, when the inhabitants started working on this area too. Kato Koufonissi has an area of 4.3 square kms and it is uninhabited since the '60s. (Uninhabited) Keros is a protected archaeological site from which a large number of ancient Cycladic art pieces have been excavated in the 20th century. It has an area of 15,042 square kilometres with a coastline of 27 kilometres and it is located just 2 nautical miles south of Koufonissi, west of Amorgos and southeast of Naxos.
The morphology of Koufonissia is typical of the Cyclades islands. Calm plain with golden beaches and soft rocks corroded by the sea create caves that gave the name to the islands. Koufonissia are mainly flat with the highest point being that of Profitis Ilias of 113m.
The climate of Koufonissia is similar to the climate of all Cyclades, which is dry Mediterranean with cool winters and fresh summers, but with one interesting difference: all the Cyclades islands are known to have strong northern summer winds, called the Meltemi, but Koufonissia are kind of "protected" from this wind, since they are between Naxos and Amorgos and their high mountains protect them. Nevertheless, due to the fact that the island is flat one has the impression that they last longer.
HISTORY OF KOUFONISSIA
Koufonissia have been inhabited at least since the Bronze Age, according to archaeological evidence, which begins with the Cycladic Civilization in the South Aegean islands around 3200 B.C.. In the Archaeological Museum of Naxos are exhibited several finds of the early Cycladic period excavated on Koufonisia, such as a pan-shaped vessel bearing a carving of a nine-point star.
The origin of the name Koufonissia is not certain. Readings create speculation, which may lead to similar associations. Greek inscriptions mention Pano Koufonisi as Fakousa, a name probably derived from its shape, which was usual in Ancient Greece, while Kato Koufonissi was called Pino, perhaps due to its resemblance to a fan mussel (pinna), or alternatively, due to their abundance in the waters surrounding the islands. Another theory suggests that the name Koufonissia means Koufa Nisia (hollow islands) and derives from the large number of sea caves found on the island due to the preponderance of sedimentary rock in their makeup. Yet another speculates that sailors called the islands “kofos limin” meaning safe harbor, and their name derives from that.
Archaeologists speculate that in the distant past, Pano and Kato Koufonisi, Keros and Glaronisi, which form a circle, were a single island, or at least the sea area between them was much smaller. Research in the area Kavos Daskalio on Keros and in Loutra on the southwest side of Pano Koufonisi has revealed that there are buildings extending into the sea. Excavation on the Kavos Daskalio site on Keros brought to light a centre of religious worship. It has been proposed that it may be the first such centre in the world.
Other finds indicate the existence of social organization on the Koufonissia during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. The finds on Pano Koufonisi indicate the existence of a Roman settlement. Early Christian relics can be seen in St George and St Nicholas churches.
In the course of history, Koufonissia followed the fate of the rest of Cyclades islands. They were dominated by the Venetians and the Turks, who, mostly in the 17th century, fought about the governance of the Aegean Sea. Residents of Koufonissia, either because they needed to or because they wanted to, often joined their forces with the residents of Mani or with other pirates, who were using the channel between Pano and Kato Koufonissi as a safe shelter. Koufonissia were set free along with the rest of Cyclades islands and incorporated into the Greek state in 1830.
During the Axis occupation of World War II (1941–1945), the islands' residents faced difficult times. In the post-bellum period, the island had 1000 inhabitants. However, many of them migrated to Athens in order to find a job and many men left the islands to work as grummets. At the end of the 1960's the few remaining inhabitants of Keros and Kato Koufonisi leave their homes and join those on Pano Koufonisi. Residents were going to the other Greek islands and the mainland by small boats and by a ship that was going to Heraclia every eight days. During those years, it was very often for the inhabitants to be cut off, without supplies of food or medicines, and deprived of medical treatment, as there was only one doctor for all four islands of the Small Cyclades. The telephone came to Pano Koufonisi in 1964. Electricity did not arrive until 1984. That is when the port was built.
ACTIVITIES - LEISURE
Walking - Hiking - Cycling
Cars are unnecessary on an island measuring 3.5 km from one end to another. All beaches on Koufonissia are easily accessed by foot and distances are short. The longest walking distance, from Hora to Pori, takes roughly 40 minutes to cover. Small boats offer transport to the beaches every day, from morning to sunset, a municipal bus provides free rides from the town to Pori, and a van covers the short distance between the town and Finikas beach. Bicycles are a popular option (one can rent a bicycle in Chora) since there are few cars on the island and the highest point rises to just 113 meters. It’s also popular with runners and trekkers exploring the island’s trails. For more details about paths and routes on Koufonissi one can visit: http://www.koufonisia.gr/?page_id=2894&lang=en.
Swimming - Snorkelling - Fishing - Diving
Koufonissi's main attraction is the sea, with its exotic turquoise waters and the sea caves. So while being there one's main activity necessarily has to do with the sea. Apart from swimming and fishing - since it is a fishing island - one can do snorkelling, since the crystal clear waters offer a very beautiful under water view, and diving. There used to be a Diving Center on the island which is, unfortunately, for sale at the moment due to family health problems, but since the intention was to sell the center to someone who would continue the business as it is, the visitor should probably ask around for an update.
The charming village called Chora, is to be found on the northeastern side of the island along with the harbor and is built upon the prototype of the Cycladic architecture. Since it is basically the only village on the island, Chora is the centre of the island, or, as many people say, "all roads lead to Chora". At Chora one can meander along the narrow streets, watch the famous Cycladic architecture with the small white houses with blue doors and windows to match the colors of the Aegean, visit the church of St. George, protector of the island, as well as one of the two traditional windmills. This is where the heart of the island beats at night time. South of the harbor and the marina is where the Karnagio (Dockyard) is found with the quaint little church of St. Nicholas protector of the seamen, while the sea caves to the north of the island richly reward those that dare to explore them. Chora stays alive till late at night, with Sorokos Bar - the oldest bar on Koufonisia and the nightlife hot-spot - inviting you to have a drink by the sea while enjoying the view of Keros, shaped like a woman’s silhouette, and Kato Koufonisi. If you are lucky and visit Koufonissia in 24 June, the "Fishermen Feast" takes place, delicious kakavia soup is offered to all and everyone parties on the dockyard until late!
Daily Cruises to Kato Koufonissi and other islands of Small eastern Cyclades
While being in Koufonissi, one shouldn't forget to visit the island of Kato Koufonissi to have a swim on one of the excellent beaches, such as Kastelli (a must see beach, with an image reminding of the Ionian islands, a miniature of the world's famous Porto Katsiki. Scattered pieces of rock protruding out of the clear, deep blue sea and rocks that form a passage leading you from bay to bay. It is located on the northwest coast of the island and on an imaginary straight line from Loutro to Pano Koufonisi. As it isn’t a regular tourist destination, the only way to reach Kastelli is by boat or a pre-arranged tour.) and Nero (a large and lengthy beach of unparalleled beauty with both sand and tiny pebbles), and eat in the only taverna on the island, which is open at summer. There, one will also see the church of the Virgin Mary, which gets thronged on 15 August when the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated. If one happens to be there on that day, it might be a good chance to visit Kato Koufonissi with one of the fishing boats that carry everyone, or with the little ferry boat Skopelitis, which serves the Mikres Cyclades line, since it is the only date that the ferry boat deviates from its normal course to call at Kato Koufonisi, at the jetty near the chapel. Initially, after Mass the congregation were offered cheese and figs by the islanders. With time local families started collecting and distributing a more substantial repast including also olives, meatballs, fruit, pastries, water and soft drinks. At the end of the day, the fishing boats carry the people back to Koufonisi, in a playful race creating a fun, exuberant atmosphere.
Visitors can also tour the island by boat - either their own or an excursion boat - and admire the sea caves as well as the nearby islets Glaronisi, Prasoura, Voulgari, Tsouloufi, Lazaros and Megali Plaka; all of them have been designated as areas of great natural beauty.
BEST BEACHES OF PANO KOUFONISSI
Pori is a gorgeous sandy beach with stunning turquoise water. It is the furthest beach on the island, approximately 4km from Chora, located on the north eastern side of the island. Shallow clear clean blue water for small buccaneers and an endless sandy beach for relaxation. No matter how many people visit, it never fills up. Near the beach one will find the sea caves of Xylobatis Cove and To Mati Tou Diavolou and Gala beach, very beautiful spots that are worth a visit. And if the visitor gets hungry after all that swim, one can enjoy an amazing lobster spaghetti at the "Kalofeggo" taverna (reminder: since the island is a fishing island, visitors are advised to try all kinds of big fish and lobsters, which are delicious!)
One of the island’s hidden secrets…. One will find it east of Pori beach, hidden under large boulders. A natural footpath east of the beach leads the visitor there, where the water changes color. Gala becomes visible, like a constellation in the sky, only when one gets there. A geophysical phenomenon that people fall in love with and entrust their swims to. It’s called Gala, or Milk, because of the white pebbles which are coated by calcium in the water. Its small beach is covered with both tiny and large pebbles. When the sea is calm and still, you can dive and swim under rocks that bring you out to the open sea.
Sea Caves of Xylobatis Cove
North of Pori, at a distance of about 150m is the rocky cove of Xylobatis. There are two caves inside it on the right hand side, one with two entrances, the other with only one, but with a small beach inside, ideal for those seeking a cool, peaceful, secluded haven. Access to the caves is only from the sea, but they are easy to swim to from the rocky beach – all one has to do is climb down the rocks, a bit steep, but not too difficult. The cove is on the way of the north sea current. If there is a strong northerly wind blowing, access to the caves becomes difficult.
To Mati tou Diavolou (The Devil's Eye)
Just before you get to Pori beach on the cliff path, at the cape at the end of the cove, there is a small cave called Devil’s Eye (To Mati Tou Diavolou). It is difficult to find as its entrance is not visible from the path, so below we are providing some directions we hope will help. If you are standing on Pori beach, facing the sea, the cave is on the right hand end of the cove.
On the cliff path from Platia Pounda to Pori, past Pisina, you walk about 250m, until Pori beach comes into sight. There you stop and look to the right towards the sea to locate an opening between the rocks. You walk through turn right after about 20 steps and there is the entrance to the cave. It is low, you must stoop to enter. On the right hand side of the entrance there is a hole through which the sea comes up and floods the cave floor to be sucked back down again. That is Devil’s Eye. The power of the sea, the deep sigh of the ever rising and falling water, the lovely view from the cave make for a riveting sight.
Platia Pounta or Italida Beach
A blend of natural beauty, turquoise water and the sense of freedom that visitors feel with “Italian insignia” is for many what makes this beach one of the most beautiful of all on the island. Truth be told, it’s hard to leave so you should come equipped with an umbrella or a tent. The name “Italida” was coined for the owner of the property above the beach. Its real name is Platia Punta and it’s one of the most crowded beaches on the island, known for its sandy shore and turquoise water. It’s located about 1.800m. from the village and easily accessible by boat or on foot, approximately a 30 minute hike.
Pisina (Swimming Pool)
A natural swimming pool awaits you in the eastern part of the island. Walking along the cliff path towards the east, past Platia Pounda beach and before you get to Pori beach, about halfway, you will find a large rock pool, big enough for several people to swim in.
It is perfect for diving, too. It might be one of the amusements that Neptune once provided for the entertainment of the Nereides, his sea wives.
Finikas (or Harokopou) Beach, Fanos Beach and Ammos Beach are other very beautiful sandy beaches, whereas Hondros Kavos and Spilia beach are great beaches with pebbles.
HOW TO GET TO KOUFONISSIA
By Air: the closest international airports (apart from Athens airport) are Santorini and Mykonos. Santorini is most suitable because it has a better ferry connection with Koufonissia. The closest domestic airport is on Naxos island and represents the fastest way of getting to the island from within Greece. There is also a Helipad on Pano Koufonissi.
By Boat: From Piraeus harbor to Pano Koufonissi (around 8 hour trip) - daily transports at summer. The island is also connected with the islands of Naxos, Amorgos, Irakleia and Donoussa, as well as Milos, Folegandros, Ios and Santorini.
- a) Remember, there are no banks on Koufonissia. You may use the a cash machine (ATM), but you are strongly advised to have enough cash for your vacation, since credit cards are not accepted everywhere.
- b) Women are advised not to bring high heel shoes with them, since even the main roads are covered with sand.