Kythira Discovered – Impressions of A Greek Tour Guide
We will never find Kythera
we missed the boat
on the waves of the Aegean we will be lost
two waves that were extinguished
Τα Κύθηρα ποτέ δε θα τα βρούμε,
το χάσαμε το πλοίο της γραμμής
Στα κύματα του Αιγαίου θα χαθούμε,
δυο κύματα που σβήσανε κι εμείς.
This beautiful verse from a song about Kythira, Τα Κύθηρα ποτέ δε θα τα βρούμε, should have served as a warning to me before I ever took my first step toward the ancient and storied shores of the enchanting island of Kythira. The verse describes the futile quest of journeying to Kythira and the fate of many who are lost in the attempt.
Even with today’s modern modes of transport, the legend survives as rough seas or mysterious disruptions can frustrate the ferry crossing from Peloponnese or the short flight from Athens. But, the truth of what is lost is something altogether different. For it is the heart that once given to Kythira can never be recovered.
The First Visit to Kythira
As the owner and operator of Definitely Greece, a boutique touring company which brings travelers from all over the world to Greece, I had traveled the length and breadth of my homeland. A native of the mountains of Central Greece and a resident for many years of Thessaloniki, I knew Greece’s heartland and northern beauty as well as most. But, recently, I had focused my efforts on discovering and understanding the appeal of Greece’s many beautiful and popular island destinations.
This was less an attempt to capitalize on that popularity but more an effort to unearth the lesser known idiosyncrasies of these alluring destinations so as to expose my clientele to a more authentic, less commercialized Greek experience.
There are many personal, playful touches around the island that make reference to the magic of Kythira. Like this vase that writes: “We Found Kythira”, waiting for visitors that dare to explore this little far away treasure.
The Right Opportunity Arrives
So, when an invitation arose to visit the legendary island of Kythira from an enthusiastic group of locals motivated and determined to bring the Kythirian experience to a broader market, I jumped at the opportunity knowing that this particular island could potentially be a perfect fit for the ‘authentic’ Greek experience that I was so keen to find.
My hosts represented backgrounds ranging from the Kythirian municipality, Maria Kasimati, to a local entrepreneur and do-it-all island guru, Vrettos Sklavos, and finally, another local, Rigas Zafiriou who is a ‘trail hunter’ working for a group of charitable foundations discovering and charting the ancient trails that wind endlessly around the island upon which local shepherds, island merchants and even marauding pirates traversed, all with their own agendas. These trails will be linked, marked and become heritage trails that are ultimately offered to the island’s explorers as day hikes and trekking excursions.
For the next 10 days and through these newfound friends, my life became merged with Kythira and this rugged yet enthralling island gem.
Right away, I knew I needed to experience the magic that so many before me had described.
Mythology and Beauty
Legend has it that Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, was born on Kythira so it is no wonder that this island possesses a raw beauty which can be found in its many accessible beaches and the rugged gorges scattered about the island. Beyond what nature so abundantly provides across the island, the presence of man has had a marked and profound impact on Kythira’s history as well.
Maybe all of this was best portrayed as I stood on the battlements of the medieval Castle at Chora, above a steep and jagged gorge which cascades to the sea culminating in the breathtaking, dual harbored town of Kapsali. There is no question that standing there, I experienced a truly “WOW” moment and for that moment, I was no longer a tour agent evaluating a destination but was, instead, just another traveler thanking my lucky stars that I had somehow landed on this spot with the chance to behold this incredible view. But, Kythira is so much more than just this must-see photo opportunity above Kapsali as I soon realized.
The blessings had really just begun.
A view worth of the journey.
Describing What Needs To Be Felt
This is where the chronicle of my Kythira experience begins to become somewhat of an exercise in futility, for Kythira is truly something to be experienced and not just written or talked about. Artists, poets and songwriters have attempted this task with great aplomb but their efforts still left room for the naked eye to mock their literary and artistic accounts.
I know this because it was with my own eyes and hands that I came to know and understand this amazing island.
I experienced several of the more than 50 beaches and their typically Grecian, cool, azure waters. Each beach provides a different experience of natural beauty and Kythirian hospitality. Beach bars, sun beds, and umbrellas are usually provided and make the experience one that can spoil even the most demanding traveler.
The words that come to mind when describing the beaches at Kythira are pure, untouched and wide.. wide as the eye can see.
I also strolled through more than one gorge and marveled at the abundance of fruit trees bearing plums and pears and almonds and acorns. More than this, however, are the footsteps of history that I followed. Among these are the trails leading to hidden caves which told the tragic story of island locals’ desperate attempts to escape the marauding pirates of the medieval ages.
Perhaps the most famous of these stories is the account of the famous pirate, Barbarossa, who invaded the island of Kythira in the early 1500s and found what locals believed to be the unassailable fortress of Paleochora perched high above the Kakia Lagada gorge. However, Barbarosa dressed his men as locals and then, most amazingly, scaled the sheer cliffs of the gorge at night to assail and conquer Paleochora murdering or enslaving much of the Kythira population.
The Food in Kythira
No account of Greek life would be complete without a mention of local cuisine and culinary delicacies. Due to Kythira’s relative isolation and “off the beaten track” status, many of Kythira’s local dishes have a flavor that is clearly identifiable as Greek but express a unique taste belonging only to this island.
My favorite dish, prepared by a local master chef, Giannis at the highly popular restaurant, Familia in the village of Fragia, was a healthy slab of pork slow smoked using olive tree wood alone and then grilled to give it that most succulent flavor only offered by the living flame.
A Rich History
Finally, having a personal interest in the World War II era (and a husband who is a Kiwi), I was very interested to learn of the presence of ANZACs on the island during the German occupation. Far more is known of the ANZACs and their wartime exploits in the battles for Crete. My colleague, Anna Papadaki, is currently undertaking extensive research to discover the links between the ANZACs and Kythira.
She is particularly interested in the story of a Kiwi soldier who was hidden by locals on the island for more than 3 years. He is known only as “Curly” and later married a local woman for love and for gratitude cementing his ties to Kythira.
So, like “Curly”, I too was not lost in finding Kythira but have become ‘lost’ in my love for the island, its history and beauty, and, most of all, its amazing people who give this most ‘authentic’ Greek island its true magic.
The last image in my mind before leaving the island!