KYTHERA



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Kythera - general

General

Famous in Antiquity as the island of Aphrodite, and immortalised as such in the European imagination of the 18th century by Watteau’s celebrated painting L’Embarquement pour l’Isle de Cythere, Kythera still possesses something of the quiet enchantment which Watteau evoked. There is nothing particularly grand or showy here, yet no visitor can fail to be struck by the island’s charm, or by the den sity and variety of its sights for its modest size: churches, landscapes, ruins, houses, caves, ravines, villages—there is no corner that is not rich in interest and beauty, natu ral or man-made. A longer visit than would at first seem sufficient for an island of this size, may well be necessary.
   A glance at the map of Greece reveals why Kythera has had an enduring importance throughout history: it is the first refuge for ships heading into the eastern Mediterranean after rounding the often perilous waters off Cape Matapan, and is the obvious provisioning stop before the crossing to Crete and points further east. Today Kythera stands somewhat apart from the other Aegean islands: it belongs to no clear geographical group, although for a long time in its recent history it was administered together with the Ionian islands; nor is it on the ferry routes to any of the other islands, except for eastern Crete, whose colony it was in earliest Antiquity. It is close (20km) to the coast of Laconia, but its life and character are quite separate from that of the mainland; and today it is ad ministered as a distant eparchy of Piraeus in Attica. All these links have in different ways enriched the island, but none has ever compromised its quite distinct cultural in dependence.
   Kythera’s most remarkable heritage lies in its numerous Byzantine remains and paintings, hardly surpassed in quality or variety anywhere in the Aegean outside Naxos . They have survived so well here because the Turkish occupation of Greece scarcely touched the island. They include not only unusual painting and architecture—such as the freshly preserved 12th century figures in the frescoed cave-church of Aghia Sophia below Mylopotamos, or the curious composite church of Aghios Demetrios at Pourko—but also whole settlements, such as the stunning site of the deserted Byzantine town at Palaiochora and the tiny Kato Chora of Mylopotamos. Other Byzantine remains—for example the enigmatic fragments of mosaic floor in the church of Aghios Giorgios at Vouno—go back as far as the 7th century, if not earlier. Often, too, what is mediaeval covers ancient antecedents: the primitive and quite extraordinary interior of the church of Aghios Kosmas at Palaiokastro, which stands on the probable site of the ancient Sanctuary of Aphrodite, is dramatically fashioned out of Archaic columns, capitals and fragments. And the church of Aghios Giorgios, mentioned above, rises over the site of a Minoan hilltop sanctuary almost 3,000 years its elder.
   Kythera has numerous villages of great charm, with an attractive vernacular architecture. There are waterfalls, mills and verdurous streams at Mylopotamos and at ‘Amir Ali’ near Karavas; tranquil springs below Viaradika; and hidden grottoes and beautiful beaches, at many points around the coast. The island has good wine; the climate and vegetation foster a notably aromatic wild oregano and, above all, the island’s exceptional honey which was famous even in Antiquity.


Kythera Island, Greece


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access

Kythera Island, Greece.


Olympic Air
runs one daily flight between the island and Athens throughout the year.
Otherwise access is by sea from the southern Peloponnesian ports of Neapolis (one mid-morning ferry daily, making the journey in 1hr: T. 27340 22660 & 24004);  Gytheion (four sailings per week—3 hrs: T. 27330 22207); and, more occasionally, in summer from Kalamata (5 hrs).
These last two routes continue on to Kisamos (T.28210 28217 & 24147) in eastern Crete, from which there is the same frequency of return connections.
There are also weekly connections with Piraeus by ferry all through the year, and by hydrofoil in the summer months.
Most boats now dock at the new
port of Diakofti on the east coast of the island, 31km from the island’s capital, Kythera Chora.

Kythera Travel Guide

eating

Kythera Island, Greece.

In Chora it is not easy to find both good food and a pleas ant setting together.
Zorbas, in the main street, is known locally for its baked lamb at weekends, and the family-run
O Salonikos, on the main road, has commendably fresh dishes at reasonable prices; but both places slightly lack atmosphere.
One of the best tavernas to eat at on the island is Skandeia at Palaiopolis: it has excellent fresh wine, freshly-caught fish, and a variety of home-made, vegetable pittakia; the owners are welcoming and the setting is shady and beautiful.
At nearby Avlemonas, Korali also has good fish.
Kapsali has a number of adequate tavernas, of which O Magos is perhaps the best.
For Kytheran honey, Yiannis Protopsaltis at Mitata is recommended.

Kythera Travel Guide

lodging

Kythera Island, Greece.

Rooms for rent can be found in many of the villages on the island: the hotels, however, are mainly concentrated in or near Kythera Chora and at the port of Kapsali below. Particularly peaceful and with a good and panoramic terrace for breakfast, is the Hotel Margarita just off the main street in Chora, in the 19th century house in which Valerios Staïs, the archaeologist, was born. Open all through the year. (T. 27360 31711, fax 31325, www.kythira margarita.com).
Nearby, at the entrance to the Kastro of Chora is the small Pension Nostos, with half a dozen select, simple, well-appointed rooms of great charm (T. 27360 31056, fax 31834, www.nostos-kythera.gr).

Kythera Travel Guide

practical info

Kythera Island, Greece.

801 00 Kýthera:
area 277sq.km
perimeter 118km
resident population 3,532
max. altitude 506m.
Port Authority: T. 27360 34222 (Diakofti), 33280 (Aghia Pelagia).
Travel and information: Porfyra Travel, T. 27360 31888,www.kythera.gr

Kythera Travel Guide

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