PARADISOS AND THE MASSACRE OF 1916

PARADISOS AND THE MASSACRE OF 1916

Unspoilt as applied to Cycladean Kythnos, for once is very accurate. Despite being close to the mainland, it gets few tourists, most of them Athenian weekenders, plus copious yet thankfully come-and-go yachties, principally from Scandinavia and Germany. The only time you fight for space on a sandy shore is in August, and the last two weeks of July in watering-holes like Episkopi and Loutra. In high season, you definitely avoid Episkopi, half an hour’s walk from the port, with its noisy bar and its wall to wall sun-loungers. But many of the finest sandy beaches are deserted all the year round, and like anyone with any sense, it is those I love the most. My favourite of all my many favourites is:

Gaidharomandra

This massive exquisitely sandy bay is in the south of the island, and adjacent to quirkily named Simousi, a nonsense word the equivalent of Thingumajig Beach. Gaidharomandra means ‘Donkey Fold/ Enclosure’, but there are no longer any donkeys there,  even though plentiful ruins of animal enclosures. There is also a lovely little chapel, Ag Sotiras, which has a crowded panagia festival every year. The chapel marks the end of the navigable road, and only 4-wheel drives, farmer’s pick-ups and motorbikes proceed any further. Taxis refuse to continue downhill the one kilometre of dirt road, though at the end of it is a cheerful dilapidated sign saying ‘Parking’. What they mean is, here is a bit of nondescript dirt road just like the rest of the scratty little dirt road, but we have decided in our civic wisdom to call it Parking, though we know damn fine you will park anywhere you bloody well like in God forsaken Donkey Fold…

Donkey Fold has half a dozen smallholdings and holiday homes, but I have been there May, June, September and October, and never seen a soul. I have taken three visitors from the UK, and they have all been eloquently enchanted, not least because it was roasting hot in all cases. In June there were myriad enormous crickets leaping at every turn, a hallucinatory light show of a kind as they made a queer skrarking sound as they leapt. The last time I was there was October 2014, when we were visited by a sad and starving cat, who must presumably have been left by cold-hearted August weekenders, to fend for itself or die. Luckily we had plentiful tzatziki and aubergine salad, both surprisingly good seeing they were proprietary brand convenience food. The cat thought they were surprisingly good too, but refused to come anywhere near us. I had to put its tasty picnic on the stone terrace of the abandoned, forlorn and tumbling villa which is only  a footstep up from the sand.

Zogaki

Zogaki was the most sympathetic and beautiful beach we discovered on Kythnos, back in June 2007, when Annie and I first came here. We walked it from the old hilltop capital Dryopida, an hour’s mesmerising ramble as you see all the glittering littoral glories of Lefkes, Kaka Maria (Naughty or even Bloody Mary), Liotrivi (Oil Press) and those other tender and misty mirages way down below. We walked it all back uphill as well, and that was a sweating slog in boiling heat, but en route we had a phone call from Ione who was dating unhappily in Zakynthos, and that made our day (when she got back to Cumbria she immediately gave his lordship the boot, and still in Kythnos we got out the fireworks and champagne and breathed easy again).

Zogaki is the most Hebridean of the island’s bays, by which I mean it feels like a child’s vision of perfect seaside joys, with its small comfortingly enclosed bay, its flaking little shacks and tattered smallholdings. But the sociological and historical reality were once very different. There are, as in Lefkes, Ag Stefanos, Skhinousa and Kalo Livadhi, old abandoned jetties, and other quaint industrial remnants, from a massive German-managed iron-quarrying concern that flourished, if that is the questionable term, in the early 20th century. The same holds true for the adjacent island Serifos, where in 1916 the local workers went on strike in protest at truly appalling work conditions. Police from nearby Kea were called in by the German manager, four of the strikers were gunned down in cold blood, and a dozen seriously wounded. Almost a century later, above Zogaki, the massive processing plant sits in rather handsome mellowing ruins. I had no idea what these ruins represented  in 2007, and bizarrely I had to ask about ten people in the port before someone was able to identify them. The other nine I interrogated were even puzzled that I was interested, and when I told them of the Serifos atrocity, a few of them admitted it was news to them, and shrugged their shoulders as if it had nothing to do with peaceable and predictable old Kythnos.

Adjacent to Zogaki, a ten minute walk round the headland, is pristine and paradisaical  little Kouri, with its seasonal taverna and its two crazy dogs. The bay is more of an open affair than Zogaki , though still tiny  and with a magnetic view of glistening Serifos and its uninhabited satellites Piperi (Pepper) and Serifopoula, which hearteningly always remind me of the tantalising and uninhabited Treshnish Isles off Mull. Beyond Kouri is Naoussa Bay where there is a little tidal islet with a snow white chapel perched like an elegant curious jewel upon it. Like the Hebrides and its sister bay Zogaki, it has that special melting poetry one associates with infancy and the tender euphoria of that lost and magical estate.

TO BE CONTINUED

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