Off-the-Beaten-Track Leisure and Little Pockets of Luxury on the Bohemian Greek Island of Kea
Kea is one of the islands in the group called Cyclades in the Aegean Sea. It is uncontrived and intriguing with little pockets of luxury and natural beauty you need to discover driving on bumpy roads and to remote locations. A 30-minute taxi or rented-car drive from the Athens Airport to the south of Athens will get you to the port of Lavrio which is way smaller than that of Piraeus. If you haven’t booked in advance, you can buy tickets on-the-spot; just take a look at the schedule. A one-hour boat ride will get you to the port of Korissia (also known as Livadi) on the small island of Kea (also known as Tzia). Quite popular with Athenians due to its proximity to the capital’s coastline, this island has gradually become known to a wider audience from all over the world. Its bohemian spirit and wild natural beauty are accented with little pockets of luxury you might discover along the way. Fine dining and accommodation are redefined here, and some of the greatest opportunities to enjoy the island come from more exclusive sources such as agencies and leading luxury brokerage firms selling incredible villas. Repeat visitors from across the globe have bought amazing properties on the island and those who haven’t yet, are definitely tempted to do so. After a COVID19-related delay and a great deal of speculation the ultra-luxe One&Only Kea Island Resort is expected to open in April 2024 but they are already selling their private villas, so if interested check it out. The complex will include a spa, restaurants, bars, and more. This sparsely populated island is evolving into an effortless chic destination with its own pace and vibrant attitude. Yachting aficionados are regulars on a year-round basis anchoring and spending the night on their way to the next Cycladic island. Serenity, privacy, and a healthy lifestyle are goals that can definitely be met in many parts of the island, although there might be crowded places too in the high season.
Accommodation in Kea
Aigis Suites. Roads are quite steep and bumpy on this island, yet this one leads to a sea-viewing luxury retreat equipped with 9 distinctively designed suites and the perfect infinity-pool bar. This family-owned hillside boutique hotel, surrounded by nature and offering a fine example of Greek hospitality, clearly represents the luxury experience you are looking for on this island. Oriental-inspired treatments are offered at its spa, and farm-to-table Greek recipes are served around the pool area or in your suite. From private balconies to fireplaces, stone-clad walls, and a majestic sunset view, this resort is special. Enjoy a stellar breakfast, great cocktails, music, and ambiance day to evening. The name ‘Aigis’ that freely translates as ‘under our auspices’, the logo, and certain works of art on the property, are created by one of Greece’s greatest contemporary visual artists, Alekos Fassianos.
Porto Kea Suites. Near the port, this seaside 5-star hotel has a sleek classic feel that blends nicely with the nonchalant aspect of the island. A wide range of suites, a Mediterranean restaurant, a sea-view pool lounge, a spa with steam room and sauna, and access to the private beach bar-restaurant Ammos are definitely way beyond the average expectations. The large waterfront pool framed by manicured gardens is an elegant centerpiece in this property located just across the street from the beach.
Ydor Hotel. Owned by the same family of hoteliers as Porto Kea Suites, whose members have a 60-year-old history in the area of luxury hospitality, this is a stylish newcomer in Kea. Perched on a hillside in the bay of Vourkari, overlooking the Aegean sea, this retreat is absolutely zen. It has elegantly designed suites & rooms, a spa, a restaurant-bar, a sea-view pool, and ultra-chic indoor and outdoor spaces.
Kea Retreat. Located in Psathi Bay on the Greek island of Kea, this new retreat (initially planned to open in 2020) is nestled within a rocky mountain range in front of a remote bay. And by remote, we mean a really bumpy dirt road you need to really be dedicated to going through until you reach this seaside oasis. Its virgin landscape, bountiful farm, and traditional design allow its visitors to enjoy the silence and peace of nature and the authenticity of Greek culture. Traditional Greek stone farmhouses that date back hundreds of years are merging into the hill’s rocky habitat overlooking the Aegean. It is a culinary experience as it is a yoga and nature retreat. The owners, Zviki and Anat from Israel, discovered Kea almost 3 decades ago on a family vacation with their two boys, Yehonatan and Uriel. Zviki is a restauranteur known as Israel’s “Greek lifestyle ambassador.” Anat is an expert in Hakomi, a body-centered approach combining somatic awareness and experiential techniques to promote psychological growth and transformation. Their son Yehonatan, also known as Yoni, holds a bachelor’s degree from NYU’s Gallatin school for individualized studies and has acquired experience in meditative practices from traveling to many eco-transformation centers and villages across the world. Last but not least, because he is the one who creates visually mesmerizing delicious farm-to-table dishes, their son Uriel is an artist, concept designer, and the retreat’s chef who studied at the International Culinary Center in NYC and has worked for some of the world’s most acclaimed restaurants – Noma, Ikoyi, Amass, Estela, and Blue Hill. The whole experience is definitely barefoot luxury in the middle of nowhere! It is totally worth the fuss, just make sure you locate their tiny, obscure sign that unexpectedly leads to their place.
Anamar Kea. A 30-minute drive from the port to the picturesque seaside location of Koundouros, this elegant Cycladic-style 4-star boutique hotel that opened its doors in 2018 has a minimalist flair, luxury amenities, and a perfect sea view. Rooms and suites (some of them with a Jacuzzi), a pool bar, a breakfast lounge, and a restaurant make for a refreshing experience and an opportunity to explore nearby beaches and coves.
Kea Village. Elegant suites and villas including the ‘Lefkothea’ estate, a pool, and the Greek gourmet restaurant ‘To Spiti sti Chora’ are all amphitheatrically perched on the hills of Chora with a distant sea view and great island vibes.
Porto Koundouros Villas. Set right on the most beautiful and well-organized beach of Kea, with access to the facilities and services of Porto Koundouros, these independent beachfront villas are a very convenient option for beach lovers. You’ll be located near the Alas restaurant, Isalos beach bar, and a cafeteria.
Agrikea. A panoramic view hillside farm with rooms, suites, a jet stream/hydromassage-equipped elongated swimming pool, and a farm-to-table breakfast option is designed for those who want to get reconnected with nature. It aligns with the agrotourism trend on the island.
Restaurants in Kea
To Spiti sti Chora. A gourmet twist on traditional recipes plus a unique multi-level indoor and outdoor space in the hillside town of Kea called Ioulis or Chora account for a major culinary point of attraction on the island. Great live jazz and ethnic music often make the evenings feel even more special. Enjoy brunch, lunch, sunset drinks, and dinners cooked with ingredients from local organic farms and breeders. On the terraces blooming herbs fill the air as yummy iterations of the Mediterranean cuisine arrive on the table. The surrounding mountains form a great romantic setting. ‘Spiti’ is the Greek word for home and this is really how it feels like.
Aristos. On the small and vibrant bay of Vourkari or Agios Nikolaos which is often buzzing with sailboats, speed boats, and yachts, everybody wants to try Aristo’s famous lobster pasta along with fresh fish and other Greek specialties in a very casual waterfront setting; totally unpretentious, yet still quite cosmopolitan.
Ennea Kores. Freshest seafood rendered in delicious traditional ways and served with a direct view of the quietest end of the bay of Vourkari is surely memorable. Some of the tables are placed right on the waterfront and others are elevated with a panoramic view of the bay. Try oysters and pick your own fish from the kitchen. Farm-to-table veggies, Greek wine, and a wide range of local ouzo liquor are keys to casual gastronomic excellence!
I Strofi tou Mimi. In the bay of Vourkari, another sunset-view casual restaurant with most of its tables placed right on the sand serves fresh seafood and other Greek specialties. Romantic lights and seaside serenity make for a great date night.
Abourkouna. An experienced chef cooks creative versions of the Mediterranean cuisine with Greek ingredients from farms served in the simple setting of a beautiful terrace in Chora.
Things to Do in Kea
Kea has a long history visible today through the ruins of the Ancient city of Karthea (12th-5th century BC – hikers are recommended to visit the remnants of two temples and a theater overlooking a wonderful beach), the hillside ‘smiling’ stone ‘Lion of Ioulis’ (late 7th century BC), and a wide chronological range of artifacts at the Archaeological Museum of Kea in Chora (Ioulis). Maze-like medieval Ioulis (town) with visible hints of its archaic past is a great place to walk. If you want to explore and exercise further, a well-preserved network of footpaths on the island includes 12 routes. Roads to many sites and beaches might be rough but if you love exploring natural beauty it is often worth it. The largest organized beach is the aforementioned Porto Koundouros. Next to it is Koundouraki beach (meaning Little Koundouros) with a casual bar and water sports facilities. Sunbeds and beach bars on other beautiful remote sandy beaches you will find at Spathi (it has also a restaurant and seaside bungalows), Pisses, and Xyla, while closer to the port you are recommended to have a post-swim drink at the Eora Gialiskari beach bar. The most beautiful remote one without service is Sikamia. If you want to buy local products, visit the Red Tractor Farm (also a guesthouse) that produces homemade marmalades, limited edition red organic wine, acorn cookies (rich in proteins, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin B6), and St. John’s Word Oil (an ointment drastically healing injuries). Nightlife isn’t the island’s forte yet you are encouraged to have some seaside street cocktails at the iconic, recently renamed Acqua bar in Vourkari. Find a table near the water!