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Our Greek island hopping continued with the tiny, adorable island of Ano Koufonisia. And when I say tiny, I mean you can walk all the way across it in about an hour. Because, we had to remind ourselves, not every island experience needs to involve renting a car, driving on narrow winding roads along tall cliffs to get to huge, popular beaches. For this leg, we decided to try someplace quieter and flatter. Welcome to our one day Ano Koufonisia walking itinerary:
While it may not have the dramatic hills and cliffs of some of the other Greek islands, it is conveniently located right next to beautiful Naxos, still has a fascinating rocky coast and some outstanding viewpoints. The year-round population is just 400, expanding to much more in summer, when us tourists show up. The Koufonisia Islands are actually made up of three different islands – Ano Koufonisia, Kato Koufonisia and Keros.
Ano (upper) Koufonisia is by far the most developed of the three, with most facilities centred on the main village of Chora (pronounced Hora). Kato (lower) Koufonisia has just a few villas and a single taverna and can be visited on day trips. Keros, on the other hand, is closed to the public due to ongoing archaeological excavations.
Despite this, most people refer to Ano Koufonisia as simply, Koufonisia, and since that seems easier, that’s what I’m going to go with most of the time in this post. Koufonisia is a member of the Small Cyclades island chain along with Donoussa, Iraklia and Schinoussa, and is easily the most developed.
Which may come as a shock to those who’ve been there, as “developed” isn’t really the first thing that comes to mind when you’re wandering the empty roads and quiet coves, and it is a far cry from the most popular Cycladic hotspots such as Santorini or Mykonos.
Although it is a great place to relax for a few days, it is also small enough to be visited on a day trip. Koufonisia day trips from Naxos, in particular, are quite popular in the summer. The key is that the island is only 4 kilometres across and doesn’t have any of the big hills and steep slopes found on other islands in the Cyclades, making a one-day Koufonisia walking itinerary the perfect way to see this lovely little gem.
If you have already spent time researching Koufonisia Greece you may also have noticed that it goes by numerous different spellings in English. You might very well have also seen Koufonissi, Pano Koufonisi, Ano Koufonissi and Koufonisi. If so, don’t worry, you’re not going crazy, that’s just the way it works in Greece. Which means you can’t really go wrong. Or are never quite right. I can’t tell.
Anyway, the main point is that you can easily walk all the way around this lovely island in a single day, even with plenty of stops to take photos, relax on beaches and explore rocky outcroppings and dramatic sea caves. Our Koufonisia self-guided walking tour is not the only route you can take but it will allow you to hit all the highlights in a more or less orderly fashion.
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Koufonisia Walking Itinerary
This route can be done in either direction and probably requires about 4 hours of total walking. However, we have recommended counterclockwise here because if you plan to make a full day of it (with stops and such) or simply got a late start, the southwestern part of the island near Parianos Bay and Agios Nikolaos Church are the places to be for sunset.
You could also do the first 12 stops on this Koufonisia walking itinerary in the morning, have lunch in Chora, then head back out to see the rest.
Whichever direction you go, the relatively flat walk along the wild and scenic coast is going to be the main highlight and the part that should not be missed if you’re pressed for time.
1. Wander Around Chora
Chora is the only village on the island and is yet another lovely little Greek town with narrow, picturesque white alleys interspersed with colourful flowers. It serves as the main port on the island and there is a 19th century windmill, lots of little shops and tavernas and good views across the channel to Kato Koufonisia and Keros. And cats, so many cats.
2. Ammos Beach
Located right in front of Chora, Ammos Beach may not have the most beautiful sand (it is fairly coarse and brown) or extraordinary scenery (the coolest cliffs are all found in other parts of the island) but it does have two pretty unique things going for it.
First of all, it rather surprisingly serves as one of the main roads, with two lanes of “traffic” (i.e. a few scooters and the occasional Fiat Panda). And since there are very few cars on the island and almost nobody drives anywhere, I guess they were worried about people being out of practice and handily separated the two dirt paths using a collection of wooden benches looking out over the beach.
I mean, I guess it could be useful, although I can’t help but picture some old dude sitting there tragically feeding pigeons right into an oncoming scooter…
Secondly, there is a classic old payphone behind the beach. Useful in the very specific case where your cell dies, I guess, and the cell of everyone that you know, and for some reason you don’t have time to walk the 5 minutes it would take to get anywhere in Chora. Also, in case you were worried it might blow over in a strong wind, well, that is valid, I guess, since that is the only explanation I can think of for why it is heavily strapped to a pole…
3. Finikas Beach
As you leave town you will spend a few minutes sauntering along some nice coastline, cool rocks and interesting tide pools. Then, after about 10 minutes, you’ll reach Finikas Beach – the first of the really beautiful beaches you’ll find along the coast. This nice spot is conveniently located and boasts some pretty nice, whitish sand stretching along a picturesque and partially sheltered bay.
4. Fanos Beach
Next up is Fanos Beach, which has similar sand but is more popular because it is hemmed in by some unique rock outcroppings and, more importantly, has a fun beach bar. Hopping in summer, this is the most popular of the Koufonisia beaches thanks to the scenery and availability of lunch, a snack or mid-lounging refreshment.
5. Italida Beach
Italida Beach (also called Platia Pounta) looks much like Fanos Beach but has even more vibrant water colour and a decent surf break in certain seasons. It is also generally accepted as the main Koufonisia nudist beach.
Which isn’t to say you have to get naked to enjoy the place, you just need to be open to the concept of glimpsing old man balls now and then. We saw just the two, but then, we didn’t stay very long so who knows how many we may have missed?
6. Eye of the Devil
One of the highlights of Koufonisia, the Eye of the Devil is a terrific rocky natural pool featuring fascinating rocks and a fabulous view of the island of Amorgos. It works well as a swimming hole as the rocks take most of the sting out of the waves and there is an underwater opening you can swim through.
It is also known, somewhat more gently, as Pisina, but if there is one thing the Greeks understand it’s that anytime you can spice up your tourist attractions by including “devil” in the name, you do it, damn it!
7. Devil’s Hole
Case in point, just a bit further along the coast you’ll find the Devil’s Hole, a fascinating set of sea caves and rock arches set in a turbulent little bay. In this case, however, the name feels a bit forced and certainly doesn’t sound as appealing as the Eye.
For starters, which hole are they referring to, exactly? Just a hole in the rocks the devil thought was cool? Or are they talking about one of the devil’s body parts? Surely not the one that springs to mind first? I mean, there was one little rock hole that, I suppose, could be described as puckered, but it was far from definitive.
8. Pori Beach
Facing into the prevailing winds, Pori Beach is a wild, fun place popular with surfers. It is also the other beach with a taverna where you can mix food and drink into your sun worshipping experience.
Plus, it is very close to the next two highlights, making it a good place to check off three birds with one stone.
9. Ksylompatis Caves
Just on the other side of the isthmus from Pori Beach you’ll find a narrow bay with big waves and bright water. The east side of that bay features some tall cliffs that hide some really interesting sea caves (also spelled Xilobatis) that were supposedly pirate hideouts and can be accessible depending on the wind, waves and tide.
Plus, people who love the idea of flinging themselves from otherwise perfectly safe ledges can come here to enjoy some adrenalin-boosting cliff jumping.
10. Gala Beach
Out at the point past the Ksylompatis Caves at the northern-most destination on your Koufonisia walking itinerary, there is the cool and unique Gala Beach where you can tackle a sketchy climb down the rocks to a beach/cave, or maybe a cave/beach – I’m not sure what it considers its dominant feature. It is only accessible on relatively calm days, as it is too dangerous with big waves and strong winds (like the day we visited).
11. Back through the Middle
The route back across the island much more direct but follows a small road and is maybe less enthralling from a scenery point of view. Looking back down at Pori Beach from the hill is pretty nice, then when you reach the top (which, admittedly, isn’t very high on this relatively flat island) you can see many different islands on a clear day.
You will pass a few farms, a handful of villas, a few more villas under construction and, of course, several cantankerous mules.
12. Chora Viewpoint
As you crest the hill and start heading back down toward Chora you’ll see more development and get some nice views of this tiny white village with the ocean and Kato Koufonisia in the background. A few unfortunately located powerlines mar the scene a touch but, overall, it’s a very nice spot, especially when the morning sun shines on the white buildings.
13. Prophet Elias Church
Just before reaching Chora, our walking tour cuts across to the west where you’ll immediately notice that there is far less… stuff on this side of the island. The walk up to historic Prophet Elias Church will get the heart rate up a little but isn’t particularly hard and features awesome views back over the village and distant islands (and gets even better if you continue 5 more minutes to the ruins at the top of the hill).
It’s good that the views are nice, though, because the “church” itself is pretty underwhelming. There isn’t much left except a foundation (freshly painted white, though), a small shrine and a mysteriously abandoned fridge. Which, presumably, is normally used to store dead bodies but, thankfully, was empty the day we visited. It probably gets more use on weekends.
14. Parianos Bay
This wonderful, protected bay filled with colourful fishing boats looks amazing from the top of the south hill with the afternoon sun behind you and Naxos looming in the distance. There is also an atmospheric little taverna, Aneplora, overlooking the bay that is the perfect spot for a drink or snack break.
15. Agios Nikolaos Church
The last new stop on your one-day Koufonisia walking itinerary is historic Agios Nikolaos Church, boasting an outstanding location up on a hill with panoramic views of the village, Windmill Villa, Kato Koufonisia and the cliffs to the west.
This area is beautiful at any time of day but really comes to life at sunset, perhaps while enjoying a beer or three at Capetan Nikolas seafood taverna up the hill…
16. Back to Chora
And there you have it – all the top Koufonisia highlights combined into one easy, enjoyable walking tour. After checking out the church, you can head back into town to celebrate with a few drinks, fill up on some fresh seafood or, if you’re staying longer, head to your villa for a quick, rejuvenating nap before coming back out to enjoy a classic Cyclades sunset.
More Things to Do on Koufonisia
If you have time for a longer stay, there are a few more activities you can enjoy before moving on.
In high season, you can take boat trips across to explore this sparse but beautiful island. It isn’t completely uninhabited, as there is single taverna and a few villas and holiday homes, but the buildings are far outnumbered by sheep and goats (which also play a starring role on the taverna’s menu).
There are also some gorgeous natural stretches of sand – especially Detis Beach, Nero Beach and Genoupas Beach – and the very photogenic Virgin Mary Church.
The third of the Koufonisia islands, Keros, is uninhabited and closed to protect the archaeological site full of rare Cycladic buildings and artifacts.
Koufonisia Boat Tours
To explore the wonderful coastline from a different angle, plus get a closer look at some of the sea caves and maybe do some snorkelling, check out some of the high season boat tours offered by Prassinos Boat Tours and Seagna Tour.
At certain times of year the wind hits just right to produce some superb surf breaks of Pori Beach and Italida Beach.
There are several scuba diving companies based on Naxos that run dive trips to the area, mostly to sites along the east coast. If you are staying on Koufonisia, you can usually arrange pickup.
As you might have guessed based on all the fishing boats in Parianos Bay, there are some good fishing spots scattered around the island. Locals tend to congregate around the Ksylompatis Caves, while fishing tours usually head over toward Kato Koufonisia.
Where to Stay: Koufonisia Hotels
While none of the hotels are big chains, there is a terrific selection of charming Koufonisia villas, mostly located in or near Chora. For the most part, accommodation is in traditional apartments with stone walls, basic facilities and great views.
Palio Karnagio was one of our favourite stays during our time in the Greek islands. Although just a small studio, it was one of 4 stereotypically Greek rooms right on the beach overlooking the ocean and Kato Koufonisia. It was made from classic white and blue concrete and had a beautiful shaded terrace where we enjoyed breakfast, occasionally lunch and often a beer or two.
The service was great, as well, as they picked us up from the ferry at 2:30 am and then offered us a ride back to the ferry a few days later at 6 am (although by then we knew our way around and were able to spare them the return trip).
Oceanides Residence Koufonisia has a nice, quiet location in the upper part of Chora. People rave about the lovely villas, the friendly welcome and all the little extras.
One of the most unique places to stay on Koufonisia is the Windmill Villa, overlooking the sea from a small outcropping next to Agios Nikolaos Church. Yes, it is an actual windmill, which means it looks more interesting from the outside than the inside, but it is still very comfortable, with 3 levels and a well-stocked kitchen to go with the private beach and amazing views.
Those willing (or hoping) to stay a little bit farther from the main part of town should consider Fanos Studios & Suites located right on Fanos Beach. Theese cute Koufonisia villas boast spectacular views and the beautiful beach right out front. There is a highly regarded restaurant on site and plenty of loungers and umbrellas available in summer.
Where to Eat: Koufonisia Restaurants
There is nothing resembling “nightlife” on the island at the best of times, and certainly not in October when we were there. However, there are plenty of good tavernas, many of which specialize in fresh fish and seafood caught by local fishermen.
Capetan Nikolas specializes in, wouldn’t you know it, fresh fish and seafood, although they also have a variety of outstanding mains (including great moussaka). The big draw for us, though, was the perfect view of the sun setting behind Agios Nikolaos Church and the Windmill Villa.
Aneplora is a short walk out of town but boasts a fantastic location overlooking Parianos Bay. A great place for a snack or drink at the end of your Koufonisia walking tour.
Kalamia is one of the better breakfast places in town but they also a do a wide variety of foods well, including desserts and vegetarian/vegan options.
A relatively sophisticated option is Mikres Cyclades, which has excellent Greek food, seafood and fusion served by very professional staff.
Supermarket Kolonaki is the best of three small supermarkets in town, with surprisingly well-stocked shelves (not an inch to spare!). It is the place to go if you’re planning to make some of your own meals (or just need to pick up water and beer).
When to Go: Koufonisia Weather
Like most of the Greek islands, Koufonisia enjoys a very mild climate year-round thanks to the surrounding Mediterranean Sea. It doesn’t get as hot in summer as some of the other parts of Greece (22/28 low/high) and remains pretty reasonable even in the dead of winter (10/14 low/high).
Koufonisia generally has a very dry climate, although there will be a bit more rain in winter. Being relatively flat, the wind can be fierce and is probably the biggest variable for your stay on the island. Spring and fall are generally the calmest times.
While all of the Cyclades islands get very busy in summer, May-June and September-early October can be ideal times to visit for good weather and fewer fellow tourists. From late October until the end of April most of the tourist facilities close down (although you’ll still be able to find a room and buy food at the supermarket).
Koufonisia: How to Get There
There is no airport on the island so everyone arrives by sea.
If you have your own boat or access to one you can get to the island that way but most people take one of the public ferries. The most common route is from Naxos to Koufonisia, which takes just 45 min on the SeaJets fast ferry or around 2 hours with regular Blue Star Ferries.
Ferries from Athens, Amorgos, Paros, Mykonos, Santorini and more also come to Koufonisia, many of which stop off at Naxos and the other Little Cyclades of Schinoussa and Iraklia.
Schedules and fares vary considerably throughout the year. In summer, the most popular routes often sell out well in advance so it is a good idea to reserve your ferry tickets as soon as you have finalized your dates.
FerryScanner has one of the best ferry networks in the world and is the most user-friendly site we’ve come across. It is the site we use to book all our own ferry trips.
How to Get Around on Koufonisia
Walk! There are very few cars, even among the locals. In the height of summer, public buses run between Chora and Pori Beach but aren’t really necessary as Koufonisia is one of the most walkable of all the Greek islands.
Hence, the entire point of our Koufonisia walking itinerary. The entire island is only 3-4 kilometres across in most spots and doesn’t have any really big hills, making it an easy place to get around on foot.
However, if you want to be able to cover more ground, more quickly, there are also a couple places to rent bikes and e-bikes, including Thoosa Bike Rentals and Villa Maria Vekri. However, while you can get to all of the places on this Koufonisi itinerary on bike, you won’t be able to stick right along the water on the east coast and those sandy, rocky stretches are some of the best parts.
Tiny, unique and endlessly photogenic, little Ano Koufonisia manages to perfectly combine a quiet, rural vibe with just enough highlights, tavernas and facilities to fit most tastes. Not only is it one of the few Greek islands where you can hit all the main attractions in a single day, by following this Koufonisia walking itinerary you can actually visit all of them on foot.
Exercise, scenery and a few beach bars scattered along the way – it is easy to see why Koufonisia is getting more popular every season. I would recommend getting there while it still feels off-the-beaten path!
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