The Minor Cyclades
The archipelago south-east of Naxos consists of four inhabited islands and a few smaller uninhabited isles. Most crews usually ignore this group of islands on their way to Ios, Santorini or Naxos. If looking for unspoilt nature, sheltered bays with long, not overcrowded sandy beaches and the original Greece, then include the Lesser Cyclades in your itinerary.
The Lesser Cyclades islands are also called “Erimonisia”, which more or less means “the deserted ones“ or “the lonely ones”. In fact, the islands are not really well-known among boaters and it is a lot less crowded than their more well-known sisters in the north and south. Numerous yachts bustle around here only in high summer, bringing turmoil to the otherwise so tranquil way of life of the locals. Iraklia and Schoinousa in detail (Kato Koufonisi and Pano Koufonisi are presented in the second part of this article):
Iraklia is the most south-westerly island of the Lesser Cyclades, bare and mainly unspectacular. However, it does look friendly and inviting. The port of Iraklia lies on the north-eastern side in the fjord-like bay of Ormos Georgiou. When approaching the port, a power generator can be seen on the starboard side. Yachts moor stern-to at the short side of the quay. The inner side, which is better protected, is occupied mainly by local boats. The north side of the pier has to be kept clear for the regular ferry service. Should the harbour be full, then it is also possible to anchor slightly further to the north-west. The harbour protects from southerly winds, but it can become rough when the winds blow from the north. When there are strong Meltemi winds, it is better to haul your boat to Schoinousa. There are several lovely taverns, bars and smaller supermarkets on shore.
Livadi Bay is located slightly further to the south-west. When the weather is calm or there are southerly winds, boats can anchor here at 4-8 metres in front of a beautiful sandy beach. In summer a tavern is open now and then.
Alimnia Bay lies in the south-east of the island and provides two more anchor opportunities amidst unspoilt nature. Only a few people know that there is a plane wreck from the second world war at about 8-10 metres deep in the bay.
This quite flat, bare island has a number of wonderful anchorages with dream beaches and one of the best havens for sheltering from the Meltemi when it blows yet again. Local skippers regard Mersini harbour as one of the best harbours which will shelter you from strong Meltemi winds. There is practically no swell, but expect some strong gusts. Yachts moor stern-to at the eastern side of the ferry dock (let out a lot of chain when the Meltemi blows). The south side of the jetty is reserved for ferries. Alternatively, it is also possible to moor at the quay in the north. However, the water is quite shallow there at just over 2 metres and boats need to keep at least 2 metres distance to the waterfront.
There are two taverns at the waterfront. The Mersini tavern is very popular with locals, but “Nicolas” also serves good food.
The roughly 10-minute march into the Chora (hillside village called Panagia) is very worthwhile. In 2013 a new footpath was built and is lit-up at night so that visitors can now confidently leave their torches on board. There are several lovely taverns, two supermarkets, a bakery and some cafés in the Chora. In the off-season, time seems to stand still. Farmers riding on their donkeys, wind chimes converting the Meltemi into a harmonious sound, chickens clucking and a breathtaking view of the Aegean Sea. Panagia radiates a sense of calm. Hectic doesn’t seem to exist here. Simply soak up this tranquillity and enjoy.
In the south of the island there are a few sheltered anchorages. In Livadi, for example, boats anchor at a water depth of 7-10 metres in front of a beautiful beach with fine sand. At the Livadi restaurant, guests can not only eat well but can also enjoy the glorious view of the bay. And should a guest have a toothache, then Nikos, the boss’ son, can help. Nikos works as a dentist for 6 months of the year and the rest of the time he helps out in his parents’ restaurant. Hardly surprising considering how beautiful the island is.