It’s no secret that Kythira is one of my favorite islands in Greece, I was spoiled by the delicious food and slow paced lifestyle but most of all the gorgeous scenery. Legend goes that Aphrodite was born here and so it’s only natural that the landscape would be matched by her striking beauty. Bipedal is best on this island, it’s as if it was made for a long walk. The size is small compared to the larger, more touristy islands and it’s terrain is far from a boring, narrow dirt path making for a true adventure each time you step outside your door.
I had arrived in November, all of the summer tourists had come and gone but the weather was the perfect climate for hiking, the last bits of summer sun still shining and the cooler autumn breezes stirred up from the sea. We went for a few hikes and walks in between our days picking olives in the groves and each day uncovering a new path to explore.
The Water Mills of Mylopotamos
Taking the walk from the square down into the valley we hopped on the path where the springs run through the glen. Because of the natural running water mills were built in the area pumping fresh water and for grinding wheat. The tree lined and moss covered paths made it feel more like a Pennsylvania autumn than a hike in Greece but it was a pleasant surprise that reminded me of home. The trail mainly follows the stream, giving you an easy reference point if you hop of track.
Today there are very few mills that look operational and the majority are abandoned, slowly being taken back by the land.
We made our way down to the dry water bed, leading to a small waterfall and the large flat rocks were a perfect surface for setting up our lunch spread of meats, cheeses and fruits we had picked up in town earlier that morning.
The mills were constructed beginning in the 1800’s and were used up until the 1940’s so it’s interesting to see the varying degrees of disrepair. I’m always up for exploring an abandoned, old building.
Really wanting to kick your afternoon hike up a notch? This trail eventually can lead to a gorge which has access to Kalami beach by rappelling down the rocks to the seashore. It’s a lot of work for a tan & a swim but the little slice of deserted beach could make it worth it.
Potamos to Paliochora
An easy hike, this is one of the more famous routes in Kythira and lucky for me, it leads to an abandoned ancient castle town that has a story along with it just as intriguing. You can start in town and then head to the ancient city but we worked our way backwards so we’d end up in Potamos for my most favorite lunches to date.
Paliochora (or Paleochora because the Greeks like to keep you on your toes) was once known as St. Dimitrios dating all the way back to the 12th century. The island was often ransacked by pirates so hundreds of villagers created a small community high on a hill which created a natural fortress at a fork between two peaks in a gorge. The people of Paleochora thought they would be safe here because of limited access points, so they set up their Byzantine capital. In 1537 Barbarossa, a Turkish Admiral upon hearing of the growing city attacked and overtook the stronghold.
There is some uncertainty of how Barbarossa found Paleochora but local legend says he executed locals one by one until someone disclosed the location of the secret city and others believe he spotted the city from the sea as he made his way south of the Peloponnese. Either way Barbarossa and his men massacred the townspeople, many had jumped to their death in the canyon below. The churches and buildings were left destroyed and hauntingly still stand in ruins today.
We uncovered some incredible frescoes and the buildings looked as if the were left to crumble to the sea and since we were the only two people there as if we were uncovering some archeological treasures never seen before. It was eery and beautiful all at the same time and the intertwining of the history and the legend makes it extra unique.
The trail continues on to Potamos, the island’s largest village where we apparently uncovered the world’s largest stop sign. We took a break to have what I thought to be my most delicious lunch in Greece before returning back to the guesthouse by footpath.
I made a friend “Vanna White” & pose by the stop signs for scale, I could not get over how huge the one on the right was and the most comedic part about it is that we saw hardly any cars driving on this road that day.
More of a walk than a hike, the interesting religious artifact & the soothing views of the sea make this stroll worth the time. The Panagia Myrtidiotissa is a woman of many names, goddess of myrtle, or the Black Virgin, aka Black Madonna) and is a mysterious religious relic that is associated with Kythira. She sits in the Monastery Myrtidion and many make pilgrimages to the icon as she is said to have healing powers.
There is a peaceful walk where from the monastery to the cliff side sits a small Greek Orthodox Church dedicated to the sea, St. Nicholas that provides some epic views where you feel like you’re at the edge of the world.
Running theme here: abandoned buildings and ancient ruins. Kato Chora isn’t as much of a hike as it is a long walk to the old town with dozens of small churches and the long route leads you along the shoreline showing you a picturesque view of the sea and bringing you to the deserted city from the completely different vantage point making it more dramatic than finding it through the edge of town.
I got stuck photographing butterflies on the lavender bushes, it’s easy to loose track of time when you are frantically following a flitting winged creature around. For another time that week we were fortunate enough to be the only people on the trails providing you an indescribable sense of adventure when you come upon a medieval village and there’s only you there to explore it. Kato Chora has some of the oldest architecture on the island with it’s amazingly preserved Byzantine churches, a settlement and an old English schoolhouse from British rule.
We made it to Kato Chora towards the end of the day and I can only imagine the sunset you could see from here. I walked ahead for a bit and when the rest of the group caught up my friend said to me, “Did we catch you skipping down the road up ahead earlier?” Totally busted, this was one of the most relaxing days yet and I never thought I’d never see a day as an adult where I was so happy I was skipping down the street.