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You may have sooner heard about Antikythira’s “big sister”, the larger neighbouring Kythira.
Having seen its popularity grow in the past few years thanks to a frequent ferry link with the Peloponnese, Kythira is relatively well-known. From mid-June until about mid-September, entire busloads of tourists from mainland Greece arrive on Kythira daily, with numbers soaring further on weekends.
Very few continue to Antikythira. Sitting midway between Kythira and Crete, Antikythira does not belong to any island group and is unlikely to feature on many visitors’ itineraries. With limited facilities and a permanent population not exceeding 40 people, the island is a perfect getaway for peace seekers. The nearest airport is on Kythira, and ferry connections are few even at the peak of the summer.
Inside the main village and port of Potamos
Greek Orthodox Church in Potamos
Whitewashed walls and blue doors: classic Greek island look
Two ferries, “Porfyrousa” and “Vitsentzos Kornaros”, connect Antikythira’s port of Potamos with Kythira four times a week, and with Crete a couple of times a week in the summer. Because the ferries are so infrequent, important visitors to the island often get picked up and dropped off by the Hellenic Coast Guard – or, in case of true emergencies, by helicopter.
“Porfyrousa” departing the port of Diakofti, Kythira
The island is also frequently visited by fishermen from Crete and the Peloponnese, and, with time in hand, I would seriously consider giving my next visit an extra streak of adventure by hopping aboard one of those fishing vessels. The most flexible, albeit expensive, way to arrive to Antikythira is by own boat.
Manolis, the Cretan fisherman (on the right), was prepared to give me a ride
Perfect stopover for migrating birds
I stayed on Antikythira for three days at the end of May, and found the island completely deserted of tourists – indeed the only other visitors to the island were two Orthodox priests and a group of three road workers who had arrived to lay new asphalt on Antikythira’s modest network of paved roads.
There are countless cats on Antikythira; 19 of them are owned by one old lady!
Many houses on Antikythira are shut for most of the year
Antikythira’s churches are plenty for the small population
The situation changes notably in August, when the island’s population soars and every available accommodation is occupied by visitors. The hiatus of the entire year, and the day most locals prepare a long time for, is the “panigyri” (festival) of St Miron, the patron saint of Antikythira, held at his namesake monastery on 17 August. The islands transforms unrecognisably as the number of visitors, many of whom arrive on private boats, reaches well into the hundreds.
The panigyri (festival) of St Miron takes place at his namesake monastery
Home to Greece’s only bird observatory, Antikythira is also frequently visited by birdwatchers. The tiny island serves as an important stopover for birds migrating between Africa and Europe, and around 250 kinds of birds have been recorded on Antikythira and the surrounding islets. It is not unusual to see film crews on the island collecting video materials on bird migration. However, do not expect to bump into rare birds on every step: the birds tend to be in remote locations and require a prolonged effort to be seen, let alone photographed.
No accommodation listings
When I arrived on Antikythira, a group of visibly tired birdwatchers carrying a mountain of equipment boarded my boat and departed. Watching the two priests – the only other non-resident passengers on my ferry – make their way to an awaiting vehicle as the harbour once again immersed into silence, I realised, for the first time, just how remote the island was.
“Porfyrousa” abandons me on Antikythira
I tried pre-booking accommodation, found no listings for Antikythira anywhere and decided to chance it upon arrival. Asking the first person I saw if they knew of a place to stay, I was quickly pointed to a middle-aged woman called Maria (the key holder) and led to a modest room in a one-storey building overlooking the harbour. It was a community-owned hostel used for housing visitors to the island. There were only two rooms (one had already been occupied by the road workers), each with its tiny own bathroom and shower. My room had access to a small kitchen. The furniture was somewhat tired and extremely basic, but the sheets on my bed looked clean, and the price, at EUR 12 a night, was the lowest I had paid anywhere else in Greece for accommodation.
Potamos is full of quiet corners like this
On a personal level, seeing an indoor bathroom made me sign with relief. Locals on Kythira seem to have exaggerated opinions about most aspects of life on Antikythira, and plenty of grandma’s tales are in circulation: according to one, all of Antikythira’s toilets are outdoors. While my bathroom could certainly do with a facelift, everything was in working order, and the handheld shower even produced a trickle of hot water.
Sole taverna as the centre of activity
After showing me the room, Maria pointed in the direction of Antikythira’s only taverna. Imaginatively called “Antikythira”, the taverna also serves as the island’s only grocery shop and “kafeneio”. Theoretically, another eatery, a souvlaki place, also opens in Potamos at the peak of the summer.
Flower pots at the “Antikythira”
“Antikythira” is run by Maria’s brother Miron (named, like many local men, after the patron saint), who combines running the shop with breeding goats. Not unsurprisingly, the most common dish of the establishment is goat meat cooked in various ways. My favourite was fried liver (“sikotaki”), prepared freshly from a goat slaughtered by Miron on the day and chopped into pieces graphically outside the taverna – making every cat in the village jealous. Vegetarians need not fret, however: even in the remote Antikythira, Greek salad is always available.
Fried goat liver with a slice of lemon – all locally sourced
The taverna is an important social hub. This is where most villagers will be seen at some point during the day and where the “habaria” (news) of the day is exchanged. The activity begins in the morning, when many locals start their day with a Greek coffee brewed by Miron. During the afternoon lull, Miron takes a break to visit his goats and the taverna shuts; but, from about 7pm, it starts filling up again. Most houses in Potamos are no more than a couple of minutes away, and locals come and go in a constant flow.
Miron chops up the goat
Like the rest of the news, it was in the taverna that I learned what the priests (one of whom was Lebanese) were doing on the island. The permanent population of Antikythira has been decreasing for some time and currently lingers around 40 people. There are talks of settling several Christian refugee families from Syria on Antikythira. Specifically families are being targeted as there are currently no children on the island, and the only school had closed some time ago.
There are hopes to reopen Antikythira’s school in Potamos
The presence of families with children would notably change the skewed age and gender balance of Antikythira. The youngest resident that I met was Maria’s son Giorgos, who looked about 30 years old. Women are greatly outnumbered by men: besides Maria, I have met only three other women on the island, all of them middle-aged or older.
And there’s a beach!
Antikythira is fairly mountainous, leaving beach access limited. There are only two relatively easily accessible beaches on Antikythira: one next to the harbour in Potamos and one in a place called Xeropotamos. Of the two, Xeropotamos is the closest to what most of us would think of as a beach, while the Potamos beach consists of a tiny strip of pebbles next to the main jetty.
Small beach near the port of Potamos
Xeropotamos beach in all its glory
Getting to Xeropotamos involves either a short drive or a 30 minute walk from Potamos past the hilltop Church of St. Nikolaos. After the initial steep ascent, the walk goes relatively flat and easy towards the church, from where a paved road descends in some loops towards the beach. There are no organised (or any) facilities in Xeropotamos, so bring whatever you may need.
Prety hilltop Church of St. Nikolaos
Another place on Antikythira marked (perhaps ambitiously) as a beach is Kamarela, a beautiful bay some 30 minutes’ walk from Potamos. Locals will remind you of old plans to develop a proper path to the sea, but, for now, the access to the “beach” remains difficult. I certainly wouldn’t risk it before the promised path is in place.
The unapproachable “beach” of Kamarela
Famous lighthouse keeper
Antikythira is well known for its archaeological heritage. Modern time excavations have revealed an ancient acropolis (“Kastro”) up on a hill near the Xeropotamos beach, where locals likely fended off pirates in the ancient times. There is a well-marked path from the beach, and many archaeological findings can be seen easily. The relatively large area of the Kastro has been well discovered by goats who like to rest in the shade of the dilapidated buildings – but you are otherwise likely to be the only visitor.
Buildings in ruin in the Kastro area
View towards the sea from the Kastro
Zooming in on the shy goats
Another major attraction of the island is the Antikythira Lighthouse. Built in 1926 at a highly strategic point between continental Greece and the island of Crete, the lighthouse had permanent keepers until 1987. Its first and most famous resident was Nikolai Filosofof, Admiral of the Tsarist Russian fleet who settled in Greece after fleeing the 1917 revolution.
Antikythira Lighthouse stands abandoned on Apolytares Cape
Approaching the Antikythira Lighthouse
The lighthouse is located at the tip of the Apolytares Cape on the southern tip of Antikythira and can be reached from Potamos by a series of paved and dirt roads culminating, for the last couple of kilometres, in a hiking trail. The trail is virtually non-existent, and proper walking shoes are a must. There are no facilities for any part of the way from Potamos (unless you decide to knock on doors!), so bring everything you need – especially water, of which there is an acute shortage on the island.
Walking along the dirt road towards the Antikythira Lighthouse
Hiking “trail”, anyone?
A doctor who likes his beer
Undeniably, the best attraction of Antikythira is its people. Three days was plenty of time for me to get to know almost the entire population. A foreigner speaking Greek – a solo woman, no less – intrigued the islanders endlessly, and I spent entire evenings engaged in elaborate, if sometimes a little repetitive, conversations at the taverna.
I was particularly charmed by the simple hospitality of the locals. An old fisherman called Miron took an almost fatherly liking to me and would do his best to talk me into staying longer at the taverna at dinner – not that I needed much convincing. People greeted me like an old friend all over the island, stopping what they were doing to share life stories. Every passing car would slow down to offer me a lift. I was asked to visit people’s homes and join fishermen on trips into the sea.
Peristeris, the dog of the taverna
Miron the fisherman
Penelopi, the lady who didn’t want to let me go without a chat
One person I will remember best though – if not for all the right reasons – is the island’s only doctor. Posted on Antikythira against his best preferences, the gentleman in question passionately disliked the island and did not forget to remind the others about the fact, providing a local streak of wonderful eccentricity. I would normally see him with a can of beer in hand and couldn’t help but smile, wondering how the person with the biggest appetite for a drink on all of Antikythira was the island’s only doctor.
The most convenient way to arrive to Antikythira is from or via Kythira. Kythira is not that difficult to get to: it has an airport and is served by two flights (Sky Express and Olympic) almost daily June to September, and at least twice a week for the rest of the year. The flights are reasonably affordable if booked in advance: I paid around EUR 100 for a return flight in May-June – which of course may seem like a lot given a one-way flight barely takes one hour!
Sea connections to Kythira are also reasonable. The most reliable is the “Porfyrousa” ferry, which connects Kythira with Neapoli, a charming port on the eastern tip of the Peloponnese. The crossing to Kythira from Neapoli takes 1 hour 15 minutes and costs EUR 12.5. Timetables for Porfyrousa can be found here, but it is best to double-check the timetables at the ports of Neapoli and Diakofti (Kythira), or call in advance. The sea journey from Kythira to Antikythira takes another 2.5 hours and costs EUR 7.