Santorini isn’t going anywhere. The popular, picturesque island will always be one of Greece’s top calling cards, for its whitewashed, blue-roofed buildings trailing down the hillsides; its wonderfully saline wines; and its captivating caldera views. But if you’ve been there recently, you know that Santorini is on the verge of being loved to death — sometimes there are just too many tourists for it to feel like the relaxed good time that it should be, especially if there’s a cruise ship (or more) in port. This is why curious travelers — and travel writers, editors, and especially providers — are looking for the next must-visit destination. Which brings us to Kea, an Aegean island that’s just a short one-hour ferry ride southeast from Athens. “I can hardly imagine Kea turning into Santorini,” admits Titos Siopoulos, the owner liaison for the ultra-luxe villa rental agency Five Star Greece. “But I can see the point as Kea is fast becoming the next hot spot, soon to welcome a One&Only and with more openings planned for the near future.” Maybe it’s more accurate to compare it to Santorini 20 or 30 years ago — and by that logic, now is very much the time to go. Kea, which is also known as Tzia, has diverse offerings. On one side are the “chic coastal villas and yacht heaven of Vourkari, notes Siopoulos, with agrarian farmlands on the other side. “Kea feels very different from the other Cyclades,” he continues. “It lacks the photogenic white cubic architecture of Mykonos or Tinos, but the lovely sandy beaches are an obvious draw and the pastoral, timeless interior of the island is the real allure of Kéa.”
Worth Traveling For: Beaches and Villages
Well, the beaches, of course. Kea has more than 60 beaches, each of which has its own distinctive features. Koundouros, arguably the island’s most popular beach, offers gin-clear waters, soft white sand, and a range of water sports. For a more secluded and peaceful beach, there’s Sykamia, which is surrounded by lush vegetation. Beyond the beaches, Kea is also home to picturesque villages, including the main port of Korissia and the seaside resort of Otzias, which is known for its traditional stone houses. The island’s capital, Ioulida, is a charming hilltop town that offers historical sites and stunning views of the surrounding landscape. And of course, Vourkari and its harbor are almost always lively, given the number of international sailing and motorized vessels that dock there over the course of a year.
Where to Stay in Kea
Visiting by boat is always a good option, and Greece has no shortage of yacht charter companies that will pull out all the stops to orchestrate a memorable getaway. Five Star Greece is one of them, which access to carefully chosen crewed vessels ranging from picturesque wooden caïiques (fishing boats) to superyachts. Five Star Greece also has a number of exclusive villas in Kea in its luxury land portfolio, including a new one with five bedrooms and a terrific traditional design that relies on natural materials. (Request permission to view the password-protected listings at fivestargreece.com.) Another good option is the rooms and suites at Kea Village, which have a pared-down decoration and killer sea views. For a more full-on hotel experience, with a spa and concierge services, consider Aigis Suites, a family-owned property on a hill overlooking the capital.
Where to Eat and Drink
Kea is known for fresh seafood and traditional Greek dishes like lobster spaghetti, and paspalas (an island mainstay that consists of pork cooked with eggs and tomatoes), and there are a number of excellent restaurants. Siopoulos recommends two standouts. Vourkaríōn is an upscale Greek tavern specializing in dishes like stuffed calamari and grilled octopus with fried potatoes, in the heart of Vourkari. And in Ioulida, Piatsa is making waves with its authentic plates like cucumber salad and grilled fish, and its frequent live music.
Kea is home to a unique underwater sculpture park that was created by the British artist Jason deCaires Taylor. The park features a series of life-size figures and sculptures that are submerged off the coast of the island, creating a unique-in-the-world underwater museum. Visitors can discover it with snorkels and fins or with full-on scuba gear.