Kythira Island Greece - Greek Holiday Destinations

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Kythira is one of the Greek Ionian Islands but its landscape and location, off the southern tip of the Peloponnese, make it quite distinct from the other islands in the group. The island lies at the point where the Aegean meets the Ionian Sea and is nearer to Crete than its closest Ionian neighbour, Zakynthos. It's a popular holiday destination among Athenians and also for Greek-Australian emigrants who return to their native land in the summer months to enjoy its many unspoilt beaches. But Kythira has been largely overlooked by northern Europe's package holiday hordes making it an attractive stopping off point for independent island-hoppers.

The island has an airport with daily Olympic Airways flights to and from Athens. There are ferries twice a week from the mainland port of Piraeus (journey time 6.5 hours) and in the summer months there are regular ferry connections between Kythira and the Peloponnesian port of Gythio. There's also a shuttle service running between Agia Pelagia, in the northeast corner of the island, and Neapoli in the Peloponnese (only an hour's boat ride away). From June to mid-September you can take a Flying Dolphin from Piraeus to Kythira's newer, second port of Diakofti, located mid-way down the island's east coast.

To get the most out of the island you'll need to hire a car or scooter because public bus services are virtually non-existent. Kythira is about 30 kilometres in length and 18 kilometres wide with a barren, mountainous landscape peppered with some 40 traditional villages. With your own set of wheels you'll be able to take to the winding lanes that criss-cross the island, find remote beaches and explore Kythira's ancient sites.

There's really only one tourist centre to speak of - pretty Kapsali at the southern end of the island which is where the majority of visitors choose to stay. It's a picturesque place, set behind two sandy bays and overlooked by the impressive 13th century Venetian fortress of Hora, the island's capital.

Hora itself is in a dramatic location perched on a ridge, a steep two-kilometre climb up from Kapsali. Cycladic style white houses with blue shutters are clustered on a hillside crowned by the magnificent "kastro" built during the 13th and 15th centuries. There are spectacular views down to Kapsali harbour and to the inaccessible islet of Avgo (meaning egg), reputedly the birthplace of the goddess of love and fertility Aphrodite. According to legend, the goddess rose from the water and made Kythira her home after the somewhat fiery Zeus castrated his father Cronos and cast him into the sea at this very spot.

To the north west of Hora there are three dramatically sited monasteries which are well worth a visit if you have your own transport. The island's ruined medieval capital, Paleohora, also occupies a breathtaking location - it's set on a hilltop at the head of a gorge with a sheer 100-metre drop on three sides. The fortified town was built among the hills, invisible from the sea, with the specific purpose of protecting the islanders from marauding pirates. But it was discovered and destroyed by the notorious pirate Barbarossa in 1537.

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