Conde Nast: Why you should visit Koufonisia
Long overshadowed by neighbors like Santorini, this Greek island, is coming into its own. The Cyclades island cluster Koufonisia is Greece’s answer to the Hamptons, according to Conde Nast. These small communities, once rustic hideaways, have morphed into scene-y summer staples, luring visitors via superb weather, a chic setting, and delicious local produce. Think of Naxos, Santorini, or Mykonos as a sun-baked island answer to East Hampton but, of the more than 200 islands that make up this cluster, the closest thing to a Mediterranean Montauk is Koufonisia.
Much like Montauk, which is the the last stop on the Long Island Rail Road, Koufonisia was overlooked in part because of its location, far from Athens. It’s not a viable destination for day trippers; until three summers ago, there wasn’t even a direct ferry from Athens’s Piraeus port. Now, there’s a daily sailing (from $25 each way) from the capital, but it still takes four hours. Like Montauk, Koufonisia’s infrastructure was long bare bones—electricity only arrived in 1980, internet access remains hiccupy and Koufonisia still only has one ATM.
Even today, Koufonisia still has no big name or boutique hotelier operating. Fashion folk have started flocking here, too: the Missonis are regular visitors, and Robert Cavalli reportedly hosted a family wedding here on his yacht (by some estimates, around three quarters of the tourists most summers are from Italy). There are even parallels between their economies: both long relied on fishermen to keep them afloat, though the much-repeated maxim on Koufonisia that there might be more fishing boats than the 400 or so residents is probably fanciful.
Standing on the port in the chora or Old Town, it’s easy to understand the appeal of this Med-Montauk. It evokes the untouched, otherworldly island life that Jackie Onassis encountered as she yachted from island to island four decades ago. Strolling around its steep, cobbled alleyways—the main street is barely wide enough for a hand-held cart—it feels like a throwback to Greece’s glory days.
What’s known as Koufonisia (in English or Italian) is technically a trio of islands. The first, Keros, is off-limits to visitors as a site of archeological significance, while Kato (Lower) Koufonisi is windswept and somewhat unkempt. Its settlers largely confined to a few hardy locals and Athenian hippies who enjoy camping—and frolicking au naturel—on its beaches. The main settlement, and the best one to explore, is Pano (Upper) Koufonisi. It’s here you’ll find the island’s string of astonishing, and often half-empty, beaches.
Barely two square miles in size, there are few real roads or traffic outside that settlement around the harbor. The best way to reach those spits of sand is either on foot—bring a hat, as there’s little natural shade—or via one of the brightly painted wooden launches which leave regularly from a small hut at the main port ($6 per person each way) Like seafaring buses, they pitstop at the chain of beaches etched into the rocky edges of the island’s southern coast; the best approach is to take the boat to its terminus, Pori Beach, where there’s a chic, Italian Riviera-like beach bar there that’s ideal for lunch, Kalofego. Spend the rest of the day lazily strolling stroll back to the main town by sunset: there are ample private inlets where you can sunbathe shielded by the cliffs in total privacy or join the scene at the island’s buzziest beach, Fanos, which is rimmed with beach clubs. If you’re a strong swimmer, brave the natural swimming hole carved out of the rock by the crashing waters of the ocean – but be aware you’ll need to jump in, but the way out is via an underwater passage into the open ocean. Come sundown, the most romantic restaurant in town is Nikitouri, where the terrace patio overlooks the harbor; order one of the citrus and beet salads, then follow up with fresh-caught local fish.
There are signs, though, that Koufonisia is beginning to undergo the same trendy transformation that Montauk enjoyed, and endured, over the last decade.