The island of Aphrodite’s ancestors
Another large relic backed by lore is the Panagia Myrtidiotissa monastery, the largest in Cythera. Situated on the western side of the island near the village of Kalokerines, the monastery – which translates to “The Most Holy Virgin Mary of the Myrtle Trees” – was built next to a myrtle tree where a shepherd, according to legend, found a holy icon of the Virgin Mary in the 14th Century. Pilgrims travel here to venerate the icon on 15 August’s Feast of the Dormition and on 24 September, the day of its finding. The icon is the patron saint of all Kytherians and is on display in the monastery save for Easter, when there is a religious procession to transfer it to Chora.
An island for nature lovers
Whittled away by wind and sea, Cythera is generously composed of steep, rocky cliffs and deep bays – and all of these elements are on display in the lush village of Mylopotamos, situated approximately 13km northwest of Chora. Meaning “mill on the river” in Greek, the village was once home to 22 watermills used for grinding wheat. Today, only one renovated mill remains, situated near the island’s notorious 20m waterfall, Neraida, which is a fount of folklore. Also known as Fonissa (“female killer”), the waterfall was reputedly the site of a murder: legend has it that two women were fighting atop the waterfall when one pushed the other over the edge.
Many hiking paths originate by the Neraida waterfall and loop through the village, incorporating a variety of cultural and scenic elements that illustrate Cythera’s combination of natural beauty and historical significance. Hikers can follow one such monopati (a one-person path often used for donkeys) – recently signposted with numbers and arrows – that loops 2.6km past ruins of old mills and back to the town, though the more intrepid can choose to break away from the path before it loops back up and descend 2.2km down steep rocks and through the gorge to Kalami Beach, which can only be reached on foot by climbing down the rocks or through the gorge. Another scenic hike starts in the cypress forests of Lourantianika, in the island’s southern region, and passes 4.6km through wild olive trees while affording spectacular views of Chora, the Kastro and the sea.
Such discoveries of isolated beauty remain standard on Cythera, said Fivos Tsaravopoulos, programme coordinator of the Kythera Hiking Project, an organization centred around the creation of trails and sustainable tourism on the island.
“Cythera is a small paradise for walking,” he said. “It combines incredible landscapes – forests, waterfalls, cliffs, gorges, beaches and a Mediterranean desert – and picturesque villages, beautiful churches on the top of mountains and an incredible amount of wildflowers.”