By ALEXANDRA TZAVELLA
1. EVERYTHING IS WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE
Cars are unnecessary on an island measuring 3.5 km from one end to another. All beaches on Koufonisia are easily accessed by foot and distances are short. The longest walking distance, from Hora to Pori, takes roughly 40 minutes to cover. Small boats offer transport to the beaches every day, from morning to sunset, a municipal bus provides free rides from the town to Pori, and a van covers the short distance between the town and Finikas beach. Bicycles are a popular option since there are few cars on the island and the highest point rises to just 113 meters. It’s also popular with runners and trekkers exploring the island’s trails.
2. IT’S JUST POPULAR ENOUGH WITHOUT BEING CROWDED
In the 80s and 90s, Koufonisia served as a secret hideaway for off-beat yet sophisticated Greeks and visitors whose knowledge exceeded the content featured in travel guides of the time. Nowadays Koufonisia is regarded as the “Mykonos of the Cyclades”. The stream of visitors wearing expensive hippie-type attire who come spilling off the ferryboat in August may have discovered Koufonisia but it is a very different story during the months of June, July, and September, when it’s much quieter.
Resort tourism has not reached this island. Although camping is prohibited, visitors may find charming accommodation for all budgets. The island’s six beaches are not serviced but various conveniently located spots provide anything from Greek salad to mojitos. Having dinner in your swimsuit is perfectly fine anywhere on the island, walking around barefoot in the town won’t raise any eyebrows, while Italida beach is nudist-friendly.
3. THE WHITE SAND OF PORI BEACH
The image of Pori beach’s white sand and clear blue waters continues to captivate the minds of visitors even after they have left Koufonisia. Located on the island’s northeast edge, 3.7 km from Hora the only town on Koufonisia, Pori beach may be reached either by an asphalt-covered road cutting through the island or via a rocky seaside dirt track that passes over a number of tiny beaches. This isn’t the place for anyone with a penchant for beach bars and endless lines of deckchairs.
Tamarisk trees serve as sea umbrellas here and the sound of waves as music. Although the beach, stretched over 500 meters, is the main attraction during the day, Kalofego, a pleasant Cyclades style taverna-bar with a shady stone courtyard and chef who holds his own with the best in the Cyclades, is the main draw at night. You may catch a gig by some musical act one night, a romantic dinner to the gentle sound of the waves another night, or stay up late playing board games with a bunch of people you have just met and feel like you have known for years.
4. THE STARRY SKIES OVER SOROKOS BAR
This place, named after a southeasterly wind, is the oldest bar on Koufonisia and the nightlife hot-spot to look out for once on the island. Located in the town, right next to the sea, it is equipped with just five or six tables outside. Most groups of friends sit cross-legged on colorful rugs laid out over the cobbled surface as they enjoy their cocktails around glowing lanterns. The stars above are clearly visible from here.
The bar, which offers a view of Keros, an uninhabited island, and Kato Koufonisi, is open until very late with lots of wild dancing inside this old, converted Cyclades house. The lit-up ferry boat coming in from Piraeus port is unfailingly applauded by Sorokos revelers as it edges past the bar at around two in the morning, makes a sharp turn, and moors at the adjacent port to bring in the next day’s visitors.
5. GOOD FOOD WITH LOCAL INGREDIENTS
The island offers picturesque little tavernas set up at whitewashed Cycladic courtyards and small restaurants featuring tables on terraces with superb views, and others with seaside or alley-side tables. Although the island is small, it offers a wide range of food choices. Fish is supplied from all the Cyclades, while the meat is provided by local and regional producers who keep livestock on Koufonisia, Naxos and Keros. Meat and fish choices are well prepared on charcoal grills. Recipes are passed on from one generation to another. If you decide to have something on the go, don’t miss trying the renowned souvlaki at Strofi in town.