Sure, everyone knows about the popular and scenic Cycladic islands like Santorini, Ios, Naxos, and Mykonos, but not many people travel to the surrounding islands. Known as the Small Cyclades, these islands are lesser known and less traveled. However, since living in Santorini and traveling to the Small Cyclades, I must tell you that these beauties are just as wonderful, if not better, and worth visiting!
For one, these islands, which include Iraklia, Koufonisia (Pano and Kato), Schinousa, and Donousa, are just as easy to get to as the Cyclades, but less busy. A lot of tourists opt for the major ferry line, Blue Star Ferry, to get to popular destinations like Santorini or Mykonos, but in the summer, there are plenty of smaller boats that make frequent stops at the Small Cyclades. It takes a little research and usually a stop at a travel agency to find a boat, but Greeks are extremely helpful and they will tell you exactly how to get to whichever island you choose. I prefer to do my research online at Open Seas and buy tickets at a travel agency.
Secondly, I’ve found the Small Cyclades to be a lot cheaper! You can find a room-to-let or a villa with a view for a fraction of the cost compared to one of the busier islands. Food is also a lot cheaper. Taverna owners and local businesses in the Small Cyclades cater to Greeks and locals, not to tourists, so prices match what Greeks would pay. And did I mention the food is insanely fresh and delicious? My favorite place is Taverna Venetsanos on Koufonisia.
Thirdly, and in my opinion the best reason to visit the Small Cyclades, are for the beaches! I would much rather be on a secluded beach by myself than on an organized beach, like the kind you find on the Cyclades. Every time I’ve visited the Small Cyclades, I’ve found a gorgeous beach and had it all to myself. I’m able to relax in silence and swim nude if I want. The beaches are not only quiet and unorganized, but also absolutely stunning! You know the kind with fine white sand and the clearest blue water you ever did see? Yeah, that’s the kind the Small Cyclades has. And nothing has disturbed its beauty just yet.
And yet another reason to visit the Small Cyclades is for the hiking trails. I love the challenge of finding the locals’ paths that lead to a hidden cove, a small whitewashed church, or my very own beach. I’ve walked with goats on small dirt paths to end at one of the prettiest swimming holes I’ve ever seen. I’ve walked to the top of a mountain in complete silence to find the most sparkling views of the Aegean Sea and surrounding islands. These local paths are quiet, serene, and totally relaxing.
Tip: Once you get to one of the Small Cyclades of your choosing, find a local map and you will easily find the paths.
Lastly, the locals are definitely a reason to visit the Small Cyclades. Greeks are known for their hospitality and kindness and on the smaller, less populated islands, you will see why this holds true. Since the Small Cyclades are not so overwhelmed with bands of tourists, the locals will stop and talk to visitors and are genuinely interested as to why you are visiting their home. Locals are truly happy to get to know foreigners and will even invite you in for a Greek coffee, if you’re lucky!
So, if you’re planning your next holiday and what you’re looking for is budget-friendly, gorgeous undisturbed scenery, and amazing people, check out the Small Cyclades. From Athens, hop on a Blue Star Ferry to one of the main islands like Santorini, Ios, or Mykonos and spend a few days there because those islands are not to be missed, either. But rather than spend your holiday in the masses of tourists and overpaying for food and accommodation, spend some time exploring the magical Small Cyclades. When I visited Iraklia, I stayed at Maistrali Studios and everything from the room to the food was perfect. If the Greeks are taking their holiday to the Small Cyclades, you know it has to be extraordinary.