Beetroot garnished with yoghurt, walnut and orange. Washed down with fresh, unfiltered, unpasteurized beer. From neighboring Chios.
That is an experience to behold. But some pleasures are accentuated after a slight hardship - the first gulp of water after a half marathon, a soothing stretch after a long-haul flight, a hot pizza and movie after an endless day at work.
And that’s the magic of Koufonisia, the smallest island in the Cyclades, an archipelago in the Aegean. It doesn't offer up all of its treasures easily. But when you’ve toiled and the island deems you worthy, it's an experience like no other.
Koufonisia actually consists of two islands - Upper and Lower Koufonisi. With just 300 or so residents, the island was until recently a selfishly kept secret amongst the most curious adventurers. And you can understand why - anyone that visits experiences an undeniable feeling of lust and possessiveness, a primal instinct to protect something precious from the hordes. Mine, all mine.
From the moment the ferry docks, you see that something special lies ahead. You will never encounter such a pristine port. Ever. Tiny caïques suspended in the cyan water as if in mid-air. White sand hugged by the traditional white Cycladic architecture of the town. It’s easy to be fooled into a sense of fulfillment early on, thinking everything you could ever want from the island is right at your feet in town, or Chora as it’s commonly called. Whatever you do, don't stop there. You'd be missing out on the rest of the island’s gems. And in order to experience them, you’ve got to put in some effort. There is a very limited road network (most transportation is done on foot), but a short taxi ride will get you from Chora to the most famous of the island’s beaches, Pori.
Skip the taxi, put your sandals on, pack some sunscreen, water, beach towel, and get trekking!
Peppered along the 3-mile southern coastline are dozens of coves and beaches intertwined with one of the most beautiful Aegean landscapes - wind-carved sedimentary rock surrounded by turquoise water. In fact, the name Koufonisi likely derives from the greek words “Koufo” (hollow) and “Nisi” (island).
Head west out of Chora. At the very beginning of your journey, a solitary tree trunk at the famous Sorokos bar bids you farewell, or maybe more of a “see you later” at the end of your day’s adventure. It’ll welcome you back to a cocktail beneath the stars. And trust me, there are a lot of effing stars.
Making your way along the rocky path, it becomes clear that the trek to Pori beach will take longer than the one hour initially expected. And that’s because every beach and cove along the way beckon you to dive in and refresh your bronzing skin in the ice-cold water.
Finikas, one of the first beaches you will encounter is also the best for underwater exploration. While most of the beach is pristine shallow sand, underwater ridges gradually form at the western end, creating large peaks and troughs teeming with sea life.
Now mind you, most spots aren’t as accessible as Finikas beach or Italida (another flawless beach with the most serene vibe after sunset).
They are protected by steep inclines, jagged rocks and slippery ridges. For most people, they are a no-go. For you, they’re a must.
And the effort is absolutely worth it. As the more accessible beaches will be bustling with tourists vying for a place under the sun, these spots are almost guaranteed to give you a private encounter with the island and its energy. Like Pisina, a small natural pool located between Italida and Pori beach, which is a favorite for those who manage to reach its shelter.
And as the day progresses, you finally see Pori beach stretched out beneath you, realizing that you’ve spent the better part of your day walking along changing trails, climbing, swimming, exploring, drying and repeating. You arrive and collapse on its soft sand, your body feeling tired but in equilibrium. Only now do you realize how hungry and thirsty you are. And how lucky you are.
Because you get to eat at Kalofego. And their food is beyond awesome. Especially their beetroot salad.