The Cyclades Islands are usually defined by laid-back Naxos and Paros, the more bohemian Mykonos and Ios and the picture perfect Santorini. Yet not many have heard of Kea – the closest Cyclades getaway to the mainland, but one that feels much, much further away.
One hour from Athens, the island of Kea remains a local secret – an Athenian weekend hangout and summer hideaway where people mark their patch with a second home and a speedboat. You can reach the island from the lesser known port of Lavrio in the very southeast of Attica (Greater Athens) – a port that’s not as easily accessible or as connected to the scattering of Greece’s islands as the popular ferry hub of Piraeus.
Maybe this is what gives Kea (known to locals as Tzia) its untouched charm, coveted by those in the know like a secret garden whose gate is open… if you know where to find it.
It sure is deserving of a little more tourism injection.
A mere breath away from Athens lies the small Cycladic island of Kea. It’s often overlooked by its more prominent siblings, Mykonos and Santorini. Kea does not reveal its secrets easily. It’s more an island for Greeks to visit, rather than an island that tourists seek out. But it’s one of my favorite islands. If you take the time to get to know her, you will discover that this quiet island holds many hidden treasures worth exploring.
In Kea’s crystal blue waters lies the wreck of the Britannic, sister ship to the Titanic. It’s a favorite destination for diving enthusiasts. Kea is also home to a variety of hiking trails, Oak tree forests, and secluded beaches.
Below is a list of my favorite places to visit on the island.
Where to stay in Kea Island
Porto Kea Suites
At the edge of the port of Korissia in Kea, across from the quaint church of St. George, lies Porto Kea Suites. The hotel sits directly in front of the beach, providing endless views of the Aegean. The hotel is part of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. The rooms combine classic island décor and modern luxury. The service, rooms, view, and food are all first class. The hotel is only open from April-October, so plan accordingly.
What to do in Kea Island
Red Tractor Farm
Walking distance from Porto Kea Suites is Red Tractor Farm, which is owned and run by Kostis Maroulis and his wife Marcie Mayer. The farm is not widely advertised. There are no signs pointing down the small dirt road that leads to the farm, but it’s definitely worth finding! Kostis has an interest in botany and bee keeping and Marcie ran a successful restaurant in Athens for years. Together they make some amazing and unique products on the farm: spicy tomato & watermelon ketchup, tamarind & honey spice glaze, green tomato & orange marmalade. Marcie also runs the islands acorn initiative, educating the public about acorns and restoring the islands once abundant acorn economy. Visitors can walk around the farm, purchase products, and even rent a room at the farm house if they decide to spend the night!
Located on the northwest part of the island, with a calm atmosphere and picturesque windmills, the emerald waters of Koundouros Beach beckon you after a long hike.
As you travel away from the port of Korissia, up towards the mountainside village of Xora, there is a small shop by the side of the road. A small wooden sign hangs outside the shop, listing in Greek the traditional products awaiting you inside: honey, spoon sweets, olive oil, handmade pasta, cheese, and rice pudding. It’s a family run shop, with children playing inside and pasta drying underneath nets on the patio. They have a great variety of products from the island and all around Greece. It’s a great spot to pick up some local products to enjoy back home, or to take to friends as gifts.
Where to eat
On a narrow road lined with shops, next to the yachts and small fishing boats on Vourkari’s dock, is Aristos. The restaurant specializes in seafood and classic Greek dishes. You can enjoy a slice of spinach pie known as spanakopita, a simple Greek salad, octopus marinated in ouzo, pasta with lobster, or freshly caught whole fish. If the weather isn’t too hot, they are famous for their “psarosoupa,” meaning fish soup. Enjoy a leisurely meal, sip some ouzo, and then wander to the nearby shops to do some late afternoon shopping.
Without a doubt this is the best place to eat on the island. Located next to the port in Korissia, Odale is set in a contemporary and playful building with a door (minus the surrounding wall) marking the entrance to the restaurant and pastry shop. Odale is the perfect spot to enjoy a meal before leaving or after arriving at the port. It’s also the perfect spot to grab an afternoon cup of coffee and something sweet from the pastry shop. The pastries are creative, elegant, and some of the best I have had in Greece. Be sure to try their contemporary version of the classic Greek dessert galaktoboureko, as well as the profiterole filled with rich chocolate custard and fluffy cream.
To travel to the island of Kea, take the ferry from Lavrio port in Athens to Kea. The island is so close to the mainland that you’re there within an hour.