...a distinctive civilization...
The Cyclades are one of the Greek island groups that constitute the Aegean archipelago, southeast of the mainland Greece. The ancient Greeks called them Kyklades, imagining them as a circle (kyklos) around the sacred island of Delos, the site of the holiest sanctuary to Apollo. Archaeological finds point to human presence on the islands since the prehistoric times. In the third millennium B.C., a distinctive civilization, commonly called the Early Cycladic culture emerged with important settlement sites. It left behind a wonderful sense of design and sculptures. A bridge between East and West, the Cyclades became the landing place of an endless tide of invaders from ancient Phoenicia, Persia, Imperial Rome and Constantinople, followed by waves of Genoan mariners, Venetian merchants and turbanned Turkish troops of the Ottoman Empire. The mix of influences brought by the various foreign rulers the Cyclades have seen over the centuries is evident on a plethora of archaeological, historical and cultural monuments which make the islands a point of reference for world cultural heritage. Today, the islands are scattered with impressive archaeological sites – the entire island of Delos is a world cultural heritage monument; ongoing excavations throughout the islands continue to unearth significant ancient settlements and artifacts. Information at: www.cyclades-tour.gr
The Byzantine period and the advent of Christianity left their strong imprint on the Cyclades. Monasteries, churches and lovely chapels built centuries ago (their estimated numbers exceed 10,000 throughout the Cyclades) are still standing today, decorated with wonderful woodcarvings, splendid frescoes and rare icons, some of them truly unique works of religious art. The following are three major pilgrimages in Greece: Our Lady of Tinos (in Greek Megalochari tis Tinou or Panagia Evangelistria tis Tinou) is the major Marian shrine in Greece. It is located in the town of Tinos on the island of Tinos. It constitutes the major Christian pilgrimage in Greece equal to what is Lourdes in France. Panagia Ekatontapiliani - literally: “church of the hundred gates”- on the island of Paros (4th century); it is an impressive monument of Christianity and one of the most significant early-Christian monuments in Greece. The Hozoviotissa Monastery on Amorgos: the Monastery of Panagia Kynigimeni (of our Lady Persecuted) or Hozoviotissa is literally clinging onto a steep rock promontory visible only from the sea. The monastery celebrates its feast day on 21 November each year with widespread participation among residents and visitors. Information at: www.cyclades-tour.gr
The Aegean is not very old. In the Tertiary, a land bridge joined the Greek mainland with Asia Minor. This landmass was named Aegaeis. About the Late to Middle Pleistocene (600,000 to 1,000,000 years ago) the Aegean began to look like it does today. Since then, sea level fluctuations have continuously changed the size and form of the islands; the Cyclades, the same as all of the Aegean islands, are peaks of a submerged mountainous terrain, with the exception of two volcanic islands, Milos and Santorini (Thera). The history of the geological creation of the Cyclades explains their enormous geological wealth; each island has impressive features and monuments with great geological, paleontological, archaeological and historical interest - the volcanic craters of Milos and Antimilos, the caldera of Santorini and the crater at Nea Kameni, the volcanic vein of Thirassia, the caverns of Iraklia, Naxos, Serifos, Antiparos and Folegandros, the tall monolithic rock at Kalamos in Anafi, the eclogites (volcano-sedimentary rocks) of Syros, the mushroom-like rock formations and the thermal springs of Kimolos, the thermal springs of Kythnos, the fossils of dwarf elephants found on Naxos and Delos and the ancient quarries in Serifos. The geological history of the islands also explains the impressive morphology of their coastline: craggy outcrops jutting out of the sea (Hozoviotissa Monastery on Amorgos, Hora of Sikinos, Hora of Folegandros), rugged cave-laced coastline where volcanic activity and water erosion have created rare rock-formations – the lunar terrain of the Kolymbithres site on Paros, Smaragdenia Spilia (Emerald Cave), Glaronissia (volcanic islets inhabited by seagulls), the volcanic rocks at Kleftiko and the Venetsianes rock formations on Milos, the white, black and red sand beaches or the ochre-hued rocky sculptures and caves of Santorini. Information at: www.cyclades-tour.gr
Trekking & Trails/Thematic routes
The Cyclades are ideal for walking, for exploring nature’s astonishing monuments, “off road” escapades and wandering through the winding alleys of tiny Cycladic settlements. The majority of the islands are scattered with ancient paths leading from bustling coastal towns through rustic woodlands and up along cliff-side trails to villages perched atop craggy outcrops. Walking the Cyclades offers an extraordinary palette of colors, with bright azure skies, white limestone cliffs, deep blue seas and special vegetation on the slopes of the relatively low mountains. Mt. Zeus (1004 meters altitude) on the island of Naxos is the highest mountain of the Cycladic archipelago. Visitors who opt to explore the Cyclades on foot have the opportunity to go beyond the crowds and experience the hidden treasures and authentic culture of the islands. The majority of the trails are signed and mapped; an effort to complete the trail-mapping is currently underway. Information at: www.cyclades-tour.gr
The clear waters of the Aegean combine with a mild Mediterranean climate to create ideal conditions for sea sports and activities; windsurfing at Paros and Naxos, diving at Kythnos, Serifos, Antiparos, Ios, Mykonos, Santorini, Syros, Paros, Naxos etc. Organized facilities, as well as professional water-sport training are available at most of the Cyclades islands. Information at: www.cyclades-tour.gr
The art of living well
The art of living well starts with health, a sense of well being, mental and physical balance. Everyone in support of that view will undoubtedly be happy with the options available at most of the Cyclades islands: organized spas at Amorgos, Ios, Mykonos, Tinos, Santorini, Sifnos etc.; thermal springs at Kythnos and Milos. Information at: www.cyclades-tour.gr
Farm-stay holidays in the Cyclades are a special experience, different from any other place in Greece. The poor soil here did not allow for large farming units. Nevertheless, a younger generation of farmers have recently created several agro-tourist units offering guests a great chance to get involved and experience host farm activities - including bee-keeping at Iralkia, Naxos, Ios and elsewhere; at the same time they preserve the relics of the Cycladic agricultural heritage that tells us about the good times and the bad and how the local resources were used in the past: elaborate dove-cotes, white-sailed windmills and impressive lighthouses, old-world threshing grounds, dry stone-walls and man-made farming structures of yore grace many areas in the Cyclades and constitute significant monuments of peoples’ daily lives in times gone by. Some of the wind-mills and lighthouses have been refurbished to serve as museums, sparking a romantic mood to visitors. Information at: www.cyclades-tour.gr
People in the Cyclades are in love with life. Local customs are faithfully preserved and feast days are grandly celebrated with song and dance at the streets and public squares; the panigirades (feast organizers) on the islands of Sifnos and Koufonissia, as well as the ktitores on Serifos attend to every detail for the smooth running of the festivities – an ideal opportunity for visitors to get a close-up view of island-style fun with thongs of revelers partying with traditional songs and dance to the sounds of violins and the lute. The Cyclades are mostly mountainous. The mountain slopes are suitable for the cultivation of olive trees, vines and Mediterranean crops such as legumes, vegetables and fruit. The island cuisine is distinguished for its variety and originality. Simplicity born of necessity is apparent in recipes passed down from generation to generation, prepared with time-honored methods and local organic ingredients that please the most discerning gourmands.