There are two villages on Irakleia, namely Chora or Panagia, and Agios Georgios where the island harbour is. This is where you’ll find a mini market, tavernas, a grocery, bars, cafés, a bank ATM and the local consulting room (just in case…). Enjoy a walk in Chora, stroll along its stone-paved alleys and pass by the traditional stone-built houses where the Cycladic architecture’s white and blue colours reign supreme. Agios Athanasios village is also worth visiting; it is now deserted but you will be impressed by the beautiful architecture of its buildings and the interesting town planning.
Follow any (or all) of the eight paths that stretch and wind in the hinterland and discover the island’s unspoilt beauty which has secured it a place in the Natura 2000 Network. One of these tracks starts from Panagia and will take you, after a one hour hike, to Agios Ioannis Cave – the biggest cave in the Cyclades with multiple chambers and amazing stalactites and stalagmites. All tracks will offer you breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea and the other Minor Cyclades Islands. However, the spot offering the finest view is the top of Papas Hill, south of Panagia. This is the highest location on Irakleia, where you will drink in the panoramic view of its winding shores and coves, as well as of all the neighbouring islands dotting the deep blue Aegean Sea waters.
On the east part, south of the harbour, visit Kastro (meaning fortress) which dominates Livadi Beach (the longest on the island) from its elevated position. You will see the ruins of a fort dating to the Hellenistic period (4th – 1st century BC), which was also used as a stronghold during the Middle Ages when the island suffered pirate attacks. This spot also offers a great view of Schinousa Island and Venetiko Islet.
Merichas Cove is part of the island’s south shores; it is a rugged and impressive landscape, as you will see two small beaches located against a backdrop of crags that surpass 100 metres in height. If you enjoy bird watching this is the place for you to be, as the weathered cliffs offer cracks and openings for wild birds to nest.
Those of you who enjoy diving will love Alimia Cove on the southwest coast. Seven metres below the water surface lies the wreck of a German World War II aeroplane, beckoning scuba divers to explore its secrets. So, grab your gear and maybe get a couple of underwater snapshots that will impress your friends back home.
Take part in the local fairs which take place on religious feast days such as that of the Dormition of the Mother of God (on August 15th); St. George’s feast which takes place in Agios Georgios (Greek for St. George) village; and St. John the Forerunner feast on August 28th – 29th. You can also watch theatre performances and music events which take place during the summer on the island.
Whatever dishes you taste on Irakleia, one thing’s for sure: they’re bound to be fresh, tasty, and fragrant! Try fish cooked fresh off the sea, local meat (lamb, goat, pork), traditional cheeses (ksinomyzithra and anthotyro among others), and the one and only fava, a well-famed flavourful dish made with local split peas, onions, capers and extra virgin olive oil. Last but not least, taste the famous local thyme honey; you’ll probably want to buy some for home before you leave.