COULD Kea be the last unspoilt island paradise in Greece?
This gorgeous bit of the western Cyclades islands, which has just 2,000 permanent residents, is a mere hour’s ferry ride from the mainland, via the port of Lavrio.
But it’s a world away from the big city hustle and bustle of the capital Athens, which is itself a short taxi ride from the port. And it’s also a fantastic alternative to the well-worn tourist hotspots of Crete and other popular Greek getaways.
The tiny island’s stunning deep blue lagoons and spotless beaches, its mix of quaintly rustic but luxurious accommodation and olde worlde Greek charm make it a perfect haven for honeymooners.
And if you’re not married yet, even better. This picturesque postcard-like location could provide a fairytale setting for the wedding of your dreams. You could even get a blessing from one of the local Greek orthodox priests! Think Mamma Mia without the Abba songs and high drama.
In fact it’s interesting to note that while Kea - on initial impressions - has many of the outward trappings of a Santorini or other sun-soaked and visitor-drenched Greek hotspot, it retains a solid, almost stubborn resistance to over-touristification which I found quite delightful!
I guess that’s because part of me wanted to keep this beautiful new discovery all to myself. It’s the kind of place you are desperate to tell everyone about, but at the same time loathe to share. But share I must.
Our stay was centred on Ioulida, the island’s capital, also called ‘chora’, which is built into the slopes of two hills.
The traditional architecture is characterized by all-white two-storey houses and “stegadia” - roofed courtyards - and small squares. This is a place proud of its heritage and keen on preserving its unique identity.
Our three night stay was a joy from start to finish.
We started our break at Villa Lefkothea and Kea Villas, a trio of charming cottages and attached mini resort of luxury suites which started as the vision of one man, Christos Liodakis, but has now become the shining jewel in Kea’s brimming crown of delights.
This stunning group of holiday apartments sits perched on the top of Ioulida.
Set within gorgeous vineyards, with the ever-present scent of olive, fig and lemon trees wafting across, it is a feast for the senses.
Built in 1890 and recently renovated, Villa Lefkothea - the collective name for the three mini cottages - is named after the owner’s mother. Walking into the leafy courtyard of our cottage, which directly overlooks the island, we were immediately enchanted.
Greeting us were panoramic views of the glistening Aegean sea, with the coastline of the mainland visible on the horizon. Watching the sunset from the top of Kea was truly an exquisite experience.
Villa Lefkothea has so many individual delights, it is difficult to list them all. I could easily imagine spending my whole holiday gazing out onto the sea from my personal sun lounger. The self-catering, fully equipped cottages - with excellent wireless broadband, it should be noted - are ideal for block-booking for a family who want a quiet break, away from the madness of the resorts. Or they can be individually hired out, as in our case.
Decorated in earthy colours and natural lighting, with quirky touches straight out of the owner’s eclectic tastes, the feeling of relaxation and calm at Villa Lefkothea envelops you immediately.
Its special features include an orthodox chapel which was built to protect the house and its owners. It would make an amazing wedding chapel for those looking for a unique setting to exchange their vows.
We were in awe of the beauty of the property, and of the island.
But especially heartwarming was the welcome we received from all the staff, whose obvious love for Kea can’t help but infect visitors. Not that visitors need extra help to be enchanted!
One of the highlights of our stay was an evening barbecue, with a feast of fresh, locally reared meats and traditional delicacies, served by the resort’s small, dedicated team.
And it wouldn’t be unusual to find yourself dining in the company of the owner himself. The personal touch and the genuine hospitality was lovely.
As well as Villa Lefkothea, visitors on a slightly smaller budget can enjoy a stay at the attached Kea Villas, a complex that again oozes comfort and Greek hospitality, genuine warmth and friendliness.
With six spacious suites, with names like ‘honeymoon’ and ‘sunrise’, the accommodation can’t help but delight.
There are several local shops where you can pick up fresh essentials every day. There is a welcome sense of escaping from the rat race, but not so much as to leave you craving your modern comforts. Mr Liodakis and his team serve up the perfect balance of proud tradition and modernity.
For couples looking to add an extra layer of luxury to their stay, Porto Kea Suites, just a few minutes from Kea Villas - and owned by another island entrepreneur, George Dimitriou- is also a delight.
The resort sits just five minutes’ walk from the ferry port of Korisia and its variety of shops and restaurants.
If you can pull yourself away from the resort’s swimming pool - with its ever present soundtrack of ambient chillout music and cocktail bar - the small private beach just 10 yards from the villas is a must-see, especially at sunset, when the small lighthouses peppered across the island’s edges throw their beams across the water to startling effect.
During our short stop-off, we also enjoyed a delicious Greek buffet cooked by the hotel’s resident chef, a half-Yorkshireman with family roots in York!
He told us he had recently catered a small wedding for a British couple, with pool party pre-dinner and beach ceremony, which was the best function he had ever been part of. There is something wonderfully romantic in the air of Kea, which makes it perfect for couples.
Our suite at Porto Kea Suites was again the essence of comfort and affordable luxury. And our roomy balcony, with clear views of the sea and of the port, was another winning touch.
The essence of Kea island is relaxation and dreamy escapism.
But if you can dare to tear yourself away from the gorgeous accommodation - difficult I will admit - the island’s other offerings won’t disappoint you.
We enjoyed a seemingly endless feast of local produce and wine - some of it from the vineyards of our host - all served with a smile as wide as the sun.
We also ventured into the main town centre for dinner at one of the many traditional Greek restaurants in and around the cobbled square in the main chora.
The height meant we were in a perfect spot between the stars and the sea, and the addition of a cool breeze drifting from the water made it all very idyllic and romantic.
Another absolute highlight was a short trip - ideally taken by hire car - to the chapel of St Simon, high on a hill at one of the island’s highest points. I have rarely enjoyed such a tranquil, spiritually uplifting experience. The open-door chapel has fresh coffee on tap for visitors, and you can go and light a candle and make a wish. The views of the Kea coastline, as well of the nearest sister islands, are just spectacular. I was rooted to my viewing point for a good hour.
We were also accompanied by our host Mr Liodakis to another chapel, where the resident priest welcomed us with a pre-lunch shot of ouzo!
Wherever you are on the island, you are never more than 15 minutes’ drive from its many secluded and small beaches, which are individually stunning.
We visited at the end of the summer season, and found the weather just perfect - plenty of blazing sun during the day but with none of the sticky ickiness of the high season.
Even for those more used to a more active holiday, these pure shores are a must see.
There are secluded lagoons, but also various organized beaches equipped with deck chairs and umbrellas. Each has its own restaurant serving up snacks and more complex delicacies, as well as a healthy supply of cocktails served on the beach.
There are some limited facilities at many of the beaches to go snorkelling or boating, but again calm enjoyment is key.
We were told that things can get a whole lot busier in the high season, however never to the point of overcrowdedness. This must partly be down to the fact there is no big main beach, just a peppering of small sandy getaways.
Kea is truly a magical place and a must-see destination for couples looking to enjoy their very own slice of island paradise.
Whether you are looking for a quiet break, or a bit of island-hopping, make Kea the gateway to your dreams. It won’t disappoint.
KEA: ROOMS AND RATES
Best available rates for 2015 (per night, 2 people, unless stated otherwise)
Honeymoon Pool, Honeymoon Sunset, Superior Waterfront, Panorama Deep Blue, Panorama Blue Sky, Villa Horizon
Honeymoon Pool Suite 165 Euros
Honeymoon Sunset Suite 165 Euros
Superior Waterfront Suite 230 Euros
Panorama Deep Blue Suite 230 Euros
Panorama Blue Sky 230 Euros
Villa Horizon 230 Euros
Estate Lefkothea 3,500 Euros per week
Honeymoon Pool Suite 215 Euros
Honeymoon Sunset Suite 215 Euros
Superior Waterfront Suite 295 Euros
Panorama Deep Blue Suite 295 Euros
Panorama Blue Sky 295 Euros
Villa Horizon 295 Euros
Estate Lefkothea 5,000 Euros per week
PORTO KEA SUITES
Double Room, Junior Suite, Suite with Sea View, President Suite, Family Suite with Garden View
Double Room, 89 Euros
Junior Suite, 109 Euros
Double Rooms, 179 Euros
Junior Suite, 209 Euros