Aglaia Kremezi

The islands of the Aegean Sea have something for every kind of traveller. For those looking for a destination where the locals outnumber the visitors, Kea – also know as Tzia – is the place to be. While Kea might be low on tourists, it’s big on outdoor sports, archaeology and, according to food writer and journalist Aglaia Kremezi, some of the best produce in the Cyclades archipelago. Considered one of Greece’s foremost cooking authorities, Kremezi lives on the island and runs a cooking school there. Who could possibly plan a tastier vacation to Kea?

A “Real” Island Destination an Hour Away From Athens 

Located just one hour by ferry from mainland Athens, Kea (Kéh-ah) is an ideal spot for well-off Athenians to have their weekend and summer villas. Having said that, the open sea that separates it from the mainland can be quite rough, especially in the winter. You need to check  weather reports and ferry schedules carefully, making a casual visit difficult. This is a blessing and a curse as this distance creates the feeling of a ‘real’ island rather than a piece of land close to a mainland. 

When To Visit Kea

High season is very brief on Kea and takes place between the end of July and the end of August. You can count the number of hotels on the island on the fingers of one hand, but there are many villas and homes for rent when their owners are away. Most have spectacular sea views overlooking the mainland and the sunset. Even more magnificent are the more remote ones such as those hidden past the thick oak forest on the top of the mountainous island. These face east and offer a drone-like view over the neighbouring islands of the Cyclades. 

Getting Around by Foot, on Wheels or Underwater 

Although there are many wonderful places to swim on the west coast, the east side boasts Kea’s best beaches. Those can only be reached by dirt roads, which can be quite difficult for the inexperienced driver. A car is essential to get there, preferably a four by four, which you can rent on the island from places like Rent a Car Kea. There are other ways to explore Kea: I am often amazed at the people who ride their bikes up and down the island’s steep winding roads. E-bikes make riding easier and are available to rent from Kea Terra Active. If hiking is your thing, pack light hiking shoes as there are many old, even ancient, stone-paved paths and mule roads that crisscross the entire island. They are  numbered, but you can plan your trail beforehand through Destination Kea. Snorkelling is very rewarding around the island, and there are organised expeditions to old shipwrecks via Kea Divers. Interestingly, just off the coast of Kea lies the wreck of the Britannic, Titanic’s twin sister.

An Archaeologically Rich Hike

You should definitely plan a visit to magical Carthaea, the ancient city in the southeast. If you are not into walking rough paths, you can get there by mule or boat. I recommend hiking to the ruins of Carthaea. The wonderful site overlooks two pristine sandy beaches where you will certainly feel tempted to swim. Carthaea is one of the very few archaeological sites left in the Mediterranean that you can still enjoy without buses and tourists. As you explore the two partly restored Greek temples – one is archaic and the other is classical –  the wind and waves will be the only sound you will hear. As you climb up the acropolis, the thick scent of wild sage will fill your nose. Big caper bushes hang from the rock, and at the rock’s feet, the Hellenistic theatre that has recently been uncovered sometimes holds performances. Roman baths are adjacent to it. Many of the finds, along with a few awesome Bronze Age clay statues of ladies discovered at Agia Irini in the island’s north, are kept in the main town’s small but most interesting museum. 

Learn Some Regional Cooking and Enjoy a Perfect Stay

You will find taverns on the port; in the main town (capital) of Ioulis; in the Marina at Vourkari; at Otzias in Kato Meria; and other places. All of them are more or less good. Appreciating tavern food will depend on your mood and company, not just on the people who cook and operate the establishment. In my opinion, Greek food is best savoured in private homes: you can get a good taste of it by joining one of our Kea Artisanal cooking programs or day events. We usually put our guests up at Porto Kea Suites, otherwise they can opt for private villa accommodation. 

Addresses For Wine and Produce in Kea

For your home-cooked meals, there are a few reliable places to buy local provisions. Kea produces seasonal vegetables mainly in the fertile south. In the summer you will find producers selling their crops from pickup trucks at the port and at farm stands. We usually buy ours from Maria Marouli, on the road to Otzias Beach. In summer, we buy tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and eggplants. In the fall, we get very good squash, pumpkins and oranges. Eklekton Supermarket has whatever one needs, plus a good selection of wines and other interesting local liquor like ouzo and tsipouro. On Kea the indigenous grape variety is the red mavroudi. For an exciting choice of new Greek wine labels from small producers that are difficult to find elsewhere, visit boutique wine store and deli Abeli at the port. The staff are very helpful and will assist you in finding what you’re looking for. 

Local Fish, Cold Cuts, Thyme Honey and Preserves 

At the port you can also buy fresh fish from fishing boats, or from Nikolaras’ fish shop at the front of the port, next to the butcher. The port is so small, you can’t miss it, he is the only fishmonger on the island and everybody knows him. On the way to the main town, stop at Yiannis’ butchery, where you can buy very good loza, the local smoke-cured pork rubbed with the very aromatic, local savoury thyme. Further up at Aristaios, you will find a wide selection of local artisanal products and delicacies. There you can get Kea’s famous thyme honey, including honey collected by Giorgos Thodos which is regarded as one of the best on the island. Aristaios’s speciality is the local pasteli: a bar of sesame seeds in honey, scented with orange peel. He also makes local spoon sweets (fruit preserves in syrup) such as unripe figs, orange slices and quince preserves. He collects and dries the very aromatic local wild oregano, and also sells pickled capers and Kea almonds.

Where To Buy Local Cheese and Homemade, Goat’s Milk Ice Cream 

For locally produced cheeses, you should stop at Tyrakeion in the main town. Xerotyri is the local, aged cow’s milk cheese. Tyrakeion makes a plain one, and a version with peppercorns. There’s also kopanisti, the Greek, fermented, spicy “blue” cheese. The outlet of the creamery in the main town offers a variety of homemade ice creams from local cow’s and goat’s milk. We always get different flavours.

A Family-Run Bakery Baking Sourdough Bread and Classic Kea Cookies

For wonderful, wood-fired sourdough bread made with wheat or barley flour, a trip to Tsourtis’ bakery in the main town is a must. The family has been baking bread for generations and also bake savoury and sweet biscotti and local cookies including carob cookies and cookies with almonds, orange and anise seeds. Most of these cookies are baked with olive oil instead of butter.

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