Kythira. A short tour.

    The blog is generally 2,000 words long. Occasionally, for sport, I edit it to exactly that.

    There are days when enough has happened by lunchtime to fill those 2,000 words. Today was one such day.

    Xora Kythira.

    Kythira Xora

    Before we get onto that though we need to visit Xora. Simply – Town (Kythira Chora on the signs).

    From our portside residence the hill climbs steeply towards the town, and then becomes a cliff. The height gain is only 200m, but at 5pm with the temperature still topping 30° it was going to be tough.

    Tough. But worth it.

    The largely Venetian town on the hilltop is a beauty. 

    It combines the best blue shuttered white buildings that we’ve seen so far with the drama of steep cliffs, a castle, and a dozen little churches built into the hillside, even into the very face of the cliff.

    There are a dozen (or more) little churches in the hill.

    The village had been all but abandoned, but of late chichi holiday homes have emerged from the ruins of traditional cottages. There are more architects on the main street than you’ll find in any English town. The gift shops sell exquisite wares. The little supermarket stocks everything from essentials, through fine wines, whiskeys and even a good range of diving gear. That might not paint a picture of authenticity, but it is certainly beautiful, and what is authentic anyway?*

    There are plenty of old generation places still.

    We put our feet up outside a taverna while our faces slowly drained their high colour from the hot climb. Our one beer left us as tipsy as a shared bottle of wine normally would and The Wanderers giggled their way down the hill.

    Back down at the van a trio of important women of about my age berated me for parking in “their” spaces. I used my best Greek to apologise and say I’d be gone in the morning. It was enough to satisfy their need to say their piece. 

    We reflected that in over two years on the road, and sometimes outrageous parking spots, it was the first time someone has said something.

    Before leaving.

    On our morning stagger Polly and I found this cottage in need of love.

    Beautiful pile, needs love.

    With this view.

    View from some stones. Kapsali.

    Imagine how much that would fetch in Cornwall.

    Tripod dog and I had to crawl under a few monster spider webs to get there. Once we had got our eye in we saw these beasts all over.

    In flight meals with free rattle (dinner is a cicada).

    The heat.

    Driving up the hill was a whole lot easier than walking, but the van was showing 34° and it was going to get hotter.

    How many times when it’s like this do I reach for the window buttons only to find that they’re already open?


    Our 15 mile drive had two planned stops. The first was Mylopotamos.

    A small island’s best sights are generally on the coast, but this little village bucks that trend. 

    It’s a village of affluent hippies, the types who look stunning in rags, probably because those rags were once riches. There’s a herbalist, a basket weaver, a potter and a vintage clothing store. These are not the shops of your typical Greek spot. It smelled wonderful. The flowers were glorious.

    The village name means mill on the river, and in the past 22 water mills worked the stream. Today only one survives. Activity on the water is mainly from the ducks, until the Neraida waterfall.

    Mylopatamos. We were too busy looking to take pictures.

    Neraida Falls.

    To get to the falls we followed a ragged footpath that dived through a dense fragrant growth of pomegranates, vines and fig that all but covered the old mill buildings. 

    The first reward was cooler air. 

    The second was pure magic (oh god, I apologise if that sounds like clickbait – but it’s true).

    The falls cascade over rock smoothed by limestone deposits down ten metres or so to a perfect pool. In the pool no nymphs frolicked, but the incredible electric blue creatures that were between dragonfly and butterfly made damn good stand-ins. The pool was crystal clear and had newts, frogs, micro tadpoles, waterboatmen and more. Mayflies, dragonflies, butterflies, and the nymphs’ stand-ins all flitted about in a scene that on TV would have left you expecting CGI.

    The water was cold, the first time I have felt cold in months, and to swim in fresh water felt so good. Under the falls was extremely cold. I wish I could have taken pictures there.

    Cold. Fresh. Neraida Falls.

    Kastro Mylopotamos.

    A mile or so towards the coast came our next width challenge.

    The Kastro is the largely abandoned old town and castle of the Venetian era (in ten years I bet this will be developed into something expensive and special).

    Perhaps the Venetians didn’t have had VW Crafters. Perhaps they considered the Transporter was big enough. 

    To get between the buildings demanded folding the mirrors. That’s a tough call. You don’t know what’s next. There could be worse. If a gap is hard to drive through then it’ll be a whole lot harder to reverse through, up hill.

    We made it.

    What I saw of the village looked interesting, but I have to admit my mind was more on keeping ArchieVan safe than it was on the historic remains.

    ArchieVan fills his road. After Kastro Mylopotamos.

    The next heart in mouth moments were soon to follow. The narrow road that switchbacks down to Limnionas must have been designed by a Go-kart racer on acid. It’s often no more than 2.5 metres wide with an unprotected 100m drop to one side and a rough stone wall to the other.

    Occasionally I’d glimpse ahead. I knew it would be worth the effort, but this driving is more than the British test ever prepared you for.


    At the bottom of a 4km descent is the perfect little bay of Limnionas, the most westerly point of the island.

    There are 12 tiny buildings, and a church no bigger than the van, all in the island vernacular. White painted. Of course. Blue doors and windows. Of course. Curved roofed. I could see into one, it had a simple raised bed platform with mattress, a few chairs, a fireplace. These would once have been homes.

    One has been rebuilt and has discrete solar panels, a satellite dish, neat rendered walls. It would be a perfect retreat.

    Over three days we were mostly alone here. A couple stayed in one of the hovels. Two old boys visited theirs daily. Families came and played on the safe beach. In the distance the Mani, a rugged area I love on the tip of the Peloponnese, came in and out of view according to the haze.

    Limnionas. ArchieVan partly hidden right of centre.


    The lack of wildlife is made up for by the incredible volume of the scratching cicadas. By mutual agreement they strike up their chorus at around 7.30am and then go at it hard until dusk. 

    They’re difficult to see, especially in a natural environment. We were lucky that Minty spotted this fellow trying to blend with a telegraph pole in Kapsali. I know his picture appeared last week, but he fits better here.

    Incredibly loud. Cicada rattles his best.


    The summer solstice usually brings on a melancholy. I love light evenings. I know the darkness is a long way off, but that knowing doesn’t stop the sadness that accompanies its approach. 

    This year though is such a mess that I was able to enjoy the longest day without the dip. 

    Our little cove doesn’t have high cliffs, but they’re enough to bring an early sunset. On the 21st we ate our dahl and red cabbage on the porch of one of the hovels as the sun dipped under at 8.30pm. It was the close to one of the most perfect days I can remember.

    There are no mosquitos here so we have had the windows open to the stars night after night. Cool breeze. Lapping sea. A million tiny lights in the sky.

    Do we have to leave?

    Solstice. Early night. Limnionas.

    Clean up. Thank you.

    Our way of thanking our hosts is usually to do a beach clean. It’s easy, satisfying, and does some good. 

    At Limnionas we took it one stage further. There is a little toilet block, and it had cleaning materials. By the time we’d finished our three day stay it was sparkling clean, and we were pleased with our work.

    There has been a fire recently. This is as much tree as we saw on the hills.


    Greece doesn’t like to rush at things.

    Decades after other European countries banned the sale of over the counter antibiotics Greece has announced that it will do the same.

    To prevent revolt there’s a three month notice period. You can be sure the Greek mamas will clear every one of the country’s pristine pharmacies of stocks before then.

    Thyme. A more traditional remedy.


    The ancient capital of the island was built inland at the confluence of two deep craggy gorges. For years Paliohora was unassailable, in part because it was hidden from view of the coast. But in 1537 a Turkish fleet led by the fearsome sounding Barbarossa attached and destroyed the city.

    Today you can wind peacefully down a narrow lane, decorated in the island’s summer colour scheme of yellow gorse and purple thyme, to explore the remains. Were someone to set out to build their church on the very edge of a precipice today we’d question their sanity and wonder if money had gone to their head. In Paliohora almost every building has one or more sides built onto the edge of cliffs that plummet 100m to the valley floor. 

    Worship on the edge. Paliohora.

    Everything is open. The worse drops may have a stretch of rusted chicken wire to dissuade children from launching themselves into space, but every footfall is perilous. It’s fascinating, there’s hardly any signage, and all the better for the fact that coming across it feels like a discovery.

    Kevin (McC) would advise building further back.

    Lagarra Beach.

    It’s a small island. Monday was a long drive taking in the west coast, the old capital and ending on the east, yet we only covered 31 miles. From the resort of Agia Pelagia (more restaurants open than people. Pretty. Empty) there’s a 4km red dirt track to Lagarra Beach and the small lake at the mouth of the capital’s gorge. It was ours. It is ours. We’re still here.

    I won’t rest until I have got the van back up the track though. Had it rained this spot would have become home for a considerable time.

    Rest for the van. No rest for the mind. Lagarra Beach.


    After what felt like a holiday week we rolled down to the harbour at Diakofti, bought our tickets, then joined the random assortment of vehicles waiting for the ferry. Although they do this daily there never seems to be a system. Cars are used to push onto the ferry just as trollies are at the supermarket checkout. It all happens in slow motion and it all works in the end.

    Kithira is beautiful. Its 40 villages are more pretty than you’ll see in most places. Its beaches are smarter. Apparently it’s as quiet as we experienced for most of the year, but busy with Italians in July and August. It’s not as friendly or as generous as Crete, but the spirit of Crete is special indeed. 

    Ahead, on the mainland, there are roads big enough for two vehicles. We’ll probably change up to sixth gear for the first time in a week. There’ll be shops. People. It’ll be easier, but we’ll miss our island jewel.

    The path to the fairy place. Neraida Falls.
    Come on Polly. Time to cool off.
    View from the edge. Near Limnionas.
    When the council doesn’t trim the hedges.
    Chicken wire safety. Paliohora.
    Like a tortoise, but beetle shaped.

    There follows a little thought stream that I’m working with at the moment. Typing it, knowing someone might read it, has helped focus my mind. I’ll be grateful for anyone’s comments.

    *Authentic. It’s a term I struggle with. We live in what some consider to be the last authentic Cornish town. But it’s only ‘last’ in that there’s nothing further west of us. Change is constant. A sense of place comes mostly from people, followed by landscape, and then arrangement of the stones that we live in.

    We’re born, and that changes the place we’re born into, we move, and by doing so we change the place we move to. We die and that leaves a hole, another change.

    When was St Just (or anywhere) authentic?

    Was it in the mid 1800s when the Tin Rush was at its height? Back then slave labour forced men down the pits to work in dreadful conditions while their families struggled in disease ridden hovels. Most died very young while just a few grew phenomenally rich.

    Was it the earliest time I can remember? That was the 1970s. Then there were farmers working their West Penwith fields with horses. That sounds authentic. It looks wonderful in films, but if I mention it nostalgically to mother she’ll put me right and tell me how hard their lives were then (in Redruth for us).

    I considered for a while the church, probably the closest the town has to a constant, it certainly looks ancient. The first church was built there in 1334, but completely rebuilt within 200 years. At some stage the frescos were plastered over, then at a later date they were rediscovered. There was a massive investment in heating. The roof was replaced, and now is being replaced again.

    It’s impossible, but let’s imagine that the church remained exactly as it was first built until now. It would still be a completely different place by virtue of its altered standing in society and the utterly different views of its congregation.

    In years gone by our slate came from Delabole, our granite from Castle an Dinas. Now the slate comes from Brazil and the granite from Portugal. The deeper you dig, the deeper the answer sinks.

    You get the idea. Authentic can only be original.

    It is our duty to conserve using the very best materials available, where ‘best’ is a meeting of affordable and environmentally sustainable (another subject for debate).

    Conservation depends on change. It’s a difficult concept. The attractiveness of change is subjective.

    16 Replies to “Kythira. A short tour.”

    1. Just magical ..we are so glad you enjoyed Kythira..the waterfalls were where we found a little Italian lady who had got lost from her friends she was crying so we had to take her back to her coach party .. she had heels on what a struggle …we have lots of memories ..we loved about everything in Kythira..mylopotamo was quite busy when we were there but just beautiful some of these out of the way islands are the best day you must visit kimolos ..and sikinos …both wonderful …safe trip x

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Hi Sandra.
        What a lovely story. I imagine the poor soul, lost, out of contact, unable to call.
        You inspired us to explore the island. It was hard to leave.
        I hope that we’ll be returning to Greece for many years. I really like the idea of wintering here on a regular basis.
        It’s now punishingly hot on the Peloponnese, we visited the wonderful Mystras yesterday, but I just dragged myself around.
        Enjoy the sun at home.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    2. Authentic, that got me thinking, I suppose it means the real thing as opposed to a copy. Genuine as in Rolex watch and not a look alike Chinese copy could be an example. We stayed in “an authentic” watermill in Tuscany, the mill race had been diverted and it was charming. The broken hovels you mention seem to be prevalent in some Mediterranean countries Greece and Italy in particular, not so Spain. We came across one in Tuscany in a mountain area the amazing thing was that less than half a mile away was a really up market restaurant in total isolation which was packed, maybe two hour wait said the Maitre d, we travelled back to the Watermill collecting a sandwich on the way!
      I have forwarded a copy of some frightening driving experiences, in what I believe is Mexico, life would appear to be cheap wherever it is. Take care, safe travel on in the Peloponnese

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thanks Rick.
        Tuscany. What an area. if you find the right routes it is so beautiful. We haven’t been for years, I think a Panda would be better than the van.
        I look forward to seeing but not trying those roads!

    3. When I said that the watermill was authentic of course it was nothing of the sort. Completely gutted inside re-roofed etc., but still a comfortable place to spend some time. But it had waterwheel!!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Fantastic. I love it.

    4. Fabulous photos. Great blog and food for thought.
      Thank you for taking me there.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Thank you Anita.
        With so much beauty around us the hard part is editing the hundreds of shots we took.
        The heat is now growing and only regular swims are keeping us moving, it has been almost as hot in London this week – that must have been horrible.
        Best wishes. Kelvin.

    5. The Marmites says: Reply

      Great blog, as ever! But in response to your point about authenticity:
      Authentic means “made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original.”
      If something is to be truly authentic you would need to step back in time and source materials from their original place. But if those resources no longer exist, a suitable and, as you said, environmentally or ethically sourced alternative is the only solution. Notre Dame is being restored after the fire that ripped through its structure. They’re doing their utmost to recreate the original structure in a way that actually improves it. Will it be “authentic”? No as it will never be the same, but will it be equally beautiful or if not improved? Yes it will.
      So, I would say nothing can be truly authentic but can embrace change in a way that doesn’t forget or disrespect the past. Something new that improves the rubble of the original but nods its head to its former glory. Authenticity has to evolve, and therefore the meaning of the word itself has evolved too.
      Sending positive waves and lots of love from us Marmites 😘😘😘

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Wow, what a well thought through comment. Thank you.
        I’m particularly struck by your thought that authenticity has to evolve. It sounds like a contradiction in terms, but it’s so right.
        Greece gives us lessons in history every day. The Romans built on the ruins of their Hellenist predecessors. The Byzantians, Venetians and sometimes even the Turks continued the work in their own ways.
        Temples to Greek gods became churches, then mosques and sometimes reverted to churches again.
        It’s easier to accept, or even embrace, change when your working life has existed purely to forward the search for better.
        We don’t always succeed, in fact more times than not we fail, but if you don’t go forwards you definitely slip backwards. Staying the same is not an option.
        The greatest threat to us today is that most people assume someone else will do something about the dire situation we’re in.
        Phew, that’s a bit heavy for a travel blog.
        Thank you for your comment.

    6. Keith Giddens says: Reply

      Wow. I could sense the relief as you found wider roads but also a sense of some sadness as you left beautiful Kythira behind for a while. I t certainly looked stunning.
      Authenticity is a hard concept to grapple with. I think The Marmites have summed it up beautifully. I would simply say respect the past and honour the principles of local character, but never in a slavish way. Building should be within a design context which echoes those principles, excites through change, and enhances our further appreciation of the area.
      Have fun coz we are not!!

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Grrr. It’s the thought of people who are not having fun that grates. Mum relied on the buses, made really good use of them, but I doubt she’ll be stepping on one for a long time now.
        Thank you for your thoughts. Exciting through change.
        As I said in reply to the Marmites, standing still is not an option, standing still actually takes you backwards.
        Then French take a very different approach. Their town centres are super strict about touching the old, but beyond the old centre anything goes so long as it’s efficient. Their towns are often a delight as a consequence.
        I’m delighted with the thoughts people have shared on the authenticity topic.

    7. Sarah Fussey says: Reply

      I feel like I’ve had a much needed holiday reading your blog. This year is certainly a mess but I feel fortunate to have enjoyed every moment of lockdown. Making the most of watching the children, flowers and vegetables grow and spending time with my love. Don’t get me wrong, I miss adventure and our wider family and friends but trust that will come back.
      On authenticity, I think it’s difficult to use in the context of a ‘thing’. We trust that something is ‘authentic’ due to the stories that are written. I feel its more about values. Staying true to them or to an ideology. A different view but authentically mine 🙂

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        If I can bring a little sunshine then I’m happy!
        When things started going wrong I wrestled with whether or not I should keep writing. We were far more tightly controlled in Greece than Britain or Germany but we were still making the most of it, learning, and experiencing a different life.
        Minty convinced me that the weekly burst of sunshine, or whatever else we were having was important for people, so I kept going.
        Your positive outlook on the past few months is a delight.
        I wish we could do a week’s life swop with you, with some others who would gain so much from being where we are.
        And personal authenticity, what an excellent angle. Thank you.

    8. What a gem! Such beauty and tranquillity, even if was hard to come by in lots of places.

      I feel sure you have a wealth of authenticity to draw on from your travels . . . in all its forms, from the reconstruction of temples ‘conforming to an original so as to represent original features’ – the crafting of materials to piece together fragments which exist from antiquity – to indigenous chapels high in the hillsides which are neither ‘false nor copied’ – existing in situ for all to visit and in which to take refuge – to ‘genuine, real ‘ amphitheatres which conjure up scenes from ancient times and the structures which fit today’s memes. Everything was once new, everything was once an addition to its site, standing out until it became familiar and blended into the consciousness. All these forms add to the landscape and its historical context which we aim to understand from within our modern world.

      Or you could say it’s something worthy of trust, something to rely on or plain, simple belief just like the Greek mamas and their medicinal fall backs and ‘Sarah’s values’.

      1. Kelvin Collins says: Reply

        Top response. Thank you.
        I’m delighted that a few people took time to consider the question. I had a long and well thought through response from Margret too.
        I’ll try to use the “Everything was new once…” line.

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