A day trip to the closest Cycladic island to Athens is enough to make you feel as though you’re in the very heart of the Aegean Sea.
The island of Kea will cast a spell over all those who love nature, traditional architecture and quiet coves. One of the most beautiful travel destinations for a short summer break from Athens, it’s only an hour away by boat from the port of Lavrio. It’s also great for longer holidays, since there’s plenty to see and do.
When you arrive at the port of Korissia, it’s worth making a short pause for a takeaway coffee and a freshly baked cheese pie from the local bakery. This will give you just enough time to reflect on which beach you should choose. The closest option is Gialiskari, a sandy beach with facilities that’s a favorite with the locals and the younger generation of visitors. Its beach bar is renowned for serving the best club sandwiches on the island. A swim here can be combined with a stop at the adjacent and more cosmopolitan Vourkari, a popular mooring spot for yachts that also boasts plenty of tavernas and quiet bars.
If, on the other hand, the children are doing the choosing, then they will undoubtedly be thrilled with sandy Otzias, which has shallow waters and a playground, while the grownups will be quite content with its little tavernas. You can find some shade here, too, either under the beach umbrellas or the tamarisk trees.
Late afternoon, when the heat has subsided somewhat, is the best time to visit captivating Ioulida, the island’s main town, known locally as Hora. The most interesting route to take starts at Otzias and ends at the island’s beautiful capital after traveling through the back country of the island. This walk is a first-rate opportunity to really get to know the Kean hinterland, with its almond, maple and, especially, famous royal oak trees. The acorns from these trees were once used in tanneries to dye hides, and together with the celebrated Mavroudi wine and the local barley once constituted Kea’s main natural sources of wealth.
As the path climbs, you’ll also notice examples of the island’s typical traditional stonebuilt houses, a model for bioclimatic architectural design. In their majority, the Keans continue to live in the countryside, and perhaps this is yet another reason that might explain the preservation of an extensive and well signposted network of trails, a feature which has made Kea an outstanding hiking destination.
Ioulida is undoubtedly beautiful, with its mansions, small squares and narrow cobbled streets. The short walk from the Archaeological Museum to the stonecarved ancient statue known as the Lion of Kea is perhaps the best way to explore the immediate area; you’ll pass through the town’s residential area and then continue around the terraced slopes that rise above the town.
If your timing is good, when you reach the famous lion (whose half-grin resembles those of the ancient kouroi, which are contemporaries) Ioulida will appear as if perfectly placed for your viewing pleasure, with the setting sun dipping right into the Aegean Sea in the background. So, then, where do we eat? In Korissia, Rolando’s boasts a trusted standard of food and service, and specialties from Corfu. In Vourkari, it’s either the classic fish taverna Aristos, or Strofi tou Mimi. In Otzias, Taverna tis Annas serves fresh fish and traditional Greek dishes. In Ioulida, Ton Kalofagadon is famous for its local meat dishes while Piatsa offers fine homecooked fare.