Have you visited the western Cyclades? They’re a set of Greek islands in the Aegean sea. If you’re trying to get away from the beaten track on a Greek Island holiday, the Cyclades are the best islands to visit. Parts of them look like they’ve stayed the same for centuries, with dazzling white houses set around pretty coves, where fishermen drag nets from the jewel-blue sea.
There are a few islands to choose from. If you book early enough, you can usually find a room with a view on Sifnos, Naxos, Paros or Serifos, for instance. Accommodation ranges from the luxurious, like Verina Hotels, to smaller hostels and campsites. There’s something to suit all tastes, and all budgets.
I visited the Cyclades once, a long time ago. Our destination was the tiny island of Kato Koufinisi. Here’s a short description of our trip.
I travelled to Kato Koufonisi with a new friend, made through work. The journey to Kato Koufinisi from London was long and cleansing. A night in Athens, then another on the cheapest ferry out to Naxos and the Aegean Sea, where we dozed, upright, on squeaky faux-leather seats from the 1970s. A third night, this time in a tent on the larger island of Ano Koufonisi. We stayed on a campsite where residents were no older than 35 and the evening cicadas competed with the sound of trans-national romance. Then, at the insistence of the Greeks in our group (“this place is too busy”), we piled our tents and backpacks onto a small fishing boat, which took us on the short journey to Kato Koufonisi.
We discarded our tents in a heap, at the foot of a clifftop on the island’s beach. And then, everyone began stripping off. All their clothes.
My friend had forgotten to mention: on Kato Koufonisi, everyone goes naked.
For me at the time, even wearing a bikini felt daring. But there was no way back. Everyone was nude: my friend from work, the group of Greeks we’d travelled with, the Finnish woman and the Swede in our party, as well as the dozen or so other travellers sleeping on Kato Koufonisi’s beach. I didn’t want to be the British woman who was happy to eat snails in a restaurant, but was a ‘typical’ prude when it came to baring my body. So, off came the knickers, off came the bra. On went the factor 50, and into the sea I went.
We slept on the beach, in sleeping bags like colourful canoes. One person at either end stayed awake through half the night, to look out for the goats: mountain goats, gnarly, wily creatures with weathered knees and half-cracked horns. They scuttled up the sheer face of the rocks like bristly ice-climbers, and would nibble into anything left on the beach, given the chance.
Those Greeks taught me a thing or two about beauty. By day, they slathered olive oil across their pistachio-brown limbs, and lay prone on the sweltering sand. Time slowed down, and conversations became less frequent. Gazes lengthened; people stared. At first I’d felt self-conscious. Not about being looked at (I was comfortable in my skin, in those days), but in the looking.
Must not look at the penises. Must not look at the penises.
But then, like he Greeks, my stare lengthened, and I succumbed to the warmth of the sun soaking into my body.
Sometimes, it’s good to look.
Evenings were spent in the taverna, eating salad topped with a large slab of salty feta, tender lamb stew or braised goat’s ribs. After several shots of ouzo, we usually ended the night dancing around in a circle to the joyful carousing of fiddles. Then, a scramble back down to the beach, hands linked behind the dark figure of the one woman who had thought to bring a torch. We laughed at the sounds of shifting scree. Our tipsy giggles were replaced by nauseous gulps the next day when, returning in daylight to the taverna for lunch, we saw the 12-foot drop, down on to jagged rock. But night after night we went back to the taverna, and braved the dangerous walk home through the dark.
It was as though our linked hands gave us some kind of invincibility: here, now, on this island, we were young, alive and strong. If we had to die, we’d do it together, and it would be for the best of reasons: an evening spent talking, and eating the simple, flavoursome food of Greek’s ancients. In drinking, and in whirling each other round by the hands, each dancer moving to their own internal rhythm.
For a short time, on that island, there felt like no better cause.
Pin for later:
This is a collaborative post. All views (and nude beach holidays) are my own.