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The Queen of Small Cyclades

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The Queen of Small Cyclades

Summer laziness and absolute liberation from time find their real meaning in Iraklia. Although the "queen" of Small Cyclades, the pace of life in Iraklia is defined by simplicity, sweet silence, and a deep connection with nature. Less is more on this island; with its only two hamlets where all you need to do to know its history and way of life is wander its streets and trails.

Marked paths lead to small natural monuments, secluded beaches of unparalleled charm, the nests of rare birds that spread their wings over the Aegean, rocky landscapes of unique beauty that seem to emerge straight from Homer's myths.

Routes & attractions

Get to know the two hamlets of the island: Agios Georgios, the port of the island, and Panagia or Chora, on the inland. Panagia lies at the foot of Papas, the highest peak of Iraklia that reaches 420 meters. Both villages are amphitheatrically built, resembling two small nests with just a few, simple and tidy houses, that reflect the authentic Cycladic style.

The cave of Agios Ioannis Prodromos is the most impressive sight on the island. It is the largest of the Cyclades and one of the most impressive geological sites on the Aegean. You can get there by walking about 45 minutes from Chora. The cave is very close to Vourkaria bay and has wonderful views. Its ornate decoration of stalagmites, stalactites, and natural columns, along with a small lake, make the cave’s exploration even more fascinating. In the early 19th century, the icon of St. John the Baptist was found by shepherds inside the cave. According to mythology, Cyclops Polyphemus lived in this same cave.

Most visitors come to Iraklia for an unforgettable hiking experience. The wild, rocky landscape, the steep coastline and the unobstructed views of Small Cyclades form the perfect set up for thrilling hiking experiences, always considering the size of the island. Choose among the eight developed trails of the hinterland and discover the unspoiled beauty of the island that has been included in the Natura 2000 Network. The most sought-after paths are those leading to the Cave of St. John, Prophet Elias and the cliff of Merichas.

In the south of the island is the bay of Merichas, an impressive landscape that matches the rocky beauty of Iraklia: it is formed by vertical cliffs of 100 meters and in its caves nest predatory birds, such as eagles and vultures. The best way to get there and enjoy the scenery is by walking. The beaches down at the bay are accessible only by sea.

It is worth taking a walk to the northeast of Iraklia in Kastro Livadi, a stronghold of the Hellenistic period. Built in the 4th century BC, it was also used in the Middle Ages as fortifications against pirate raids. The area yielded many findings of the Early Cycladic period and archaeological remains that are most likely part of the temple of Zeus and Goddess Tyche. It is easily accessible from the path of Livadi.

Agios Athanasios is the third settlement of Iraklia, now abandoned. However, if you head northwest, it is worth making a stop to wander among its stone-built houses.


Beaches & Activities

In the natural bay of Agios Georgios, which is also the small port of Iraklia, you will find a large sandy beach with transparent waters and tamarisk trees for natural shade. There you will find tavernas for dinner or snacks.  

The largest and busiest beach of the island is Livadi, which is just a 20-minute walk from the port and overlooks the islet of Venetiko. It has golden sand, tamarisk trees for natural shade and shallow, emerald waters.

In Tourkopigado, a wonderful beach that resembles a fjord, you will enjoy swimming in emerald waters among rocks that form a remarkable landscape, in sweet isolation and sheltered from the Etesian winds, known as the “meltemia”. The setting usually also includes anchored fishing boats or... wild goats that go down to the sea to quench their thirst. You can reach the beach by car or by footpath (2.3 km) from Panagia.

Between the impressive bay of Merichas and Alimia lies Karvounolakos: Contrary to its name, that means “charcoal pit” the beach has beautiful emerald waters. However, it is accessible only by sea. At Alimia, the carcass of a German seaplane of World War II rests in the quiet of the seabed for almost a century now. It is located seven meters deep, which makes it visible with a mask; diving enthusiasts will surely appreciate it.

If you are lucky and there is no north wind blowing, the North Cave (Vorini Spilia) is the perfect destination for a lonely swim. It is an enclosed bay, with green waters that you can reach from the path that starts from the church of Taxiarches in the village of Agios Georgios

Hike up the cliffs of Xylobatis, on the northwest side of the island for a bit of romance. There, according to the locals, you will marvel at the best sunset of the island.

Organize an excursion to the islet of Venetiko and Avelonisia: the small islets that, according to Homer, Cyclops Polyphemus threw at Odysseus and his men to pursue them.

It is worth taking the route that leads to the small beach of Vourkaria. It is a small bay that stands out for its crystal-clear waters and pebbled shore. A path that passes through  the cave of Agios Ioannis will lead you there.

Tastes of Iraklia

The island’s trademark - as in neighbouring Amorgos - is the local fava with velvety texture. You can try it in all tavernas on the island.


It is worth tasting the melitinia, the small, sweet mizithra pies sprinkled with cinnamon, similar to the Cretan kaltsounia. Melitinia owes its taste to the fine thyme honey produced on the island. You can buy some at the local grocery stores or try it in traditional sweet xerotigana and pastelia.


Little Iraklia has a special tradition in cheeses, as do most of the neighbouring Cycladic islands: kopanisti, xinomyzithra and the local hard cheese are among the most popular cheese products here.


If you’re a meat-eater, the recipe for goat stuffed with rice has two versions here: oven-cooked in a roaster or stew in tomato-sauce. Trust the local fishing boats that supply the tavernas with tasty fresh fish and seafood.


In Iraklia, homemade noodles are called pitaridia and are most appreciated by pasta lovers. If you’re one of them, you should try the arantista, that is, lentils cooked with a kind of trahana - a recipe that is found in variants in other Aegean islands.

Traditions & Events

On the day of St. John the Baptist (August 28), the namesake Cave hosts the evening prayer service in its first hall. Dozens of pilgrims are present in this mystical ceremony.

Don't miss...

Look up into the sky: According to the most recent record of 2010, Iraklia hosts 175 species of birds of which 26 are predators. The vertical cliffs of the island are eroded and therefore provide natural shelter for the birds.

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