Hiking around Donoússa

Evaluation: On a small island like Donoússa (16 km˛) it is possible to hike around the entire circumference in a couple of hours. Leaving from Stavrós you successively get to know the villages of Kalotarítissa (there are still 5 elderly inhabitants...), Mersíni and Messariá. It is a pity that the ancient trails are often buried under broad gravel roads – roads that are completely useless on this island without cars. This is especially a problem in between Kalotarítissa and Messariá. Some great aspects of this hike are that you get to know beautifully carved coasts and 4 magnificent bays, and that you get a taste of what real loneliness looks like. Negative points are that you get to hike on gravel roads for a couple of times and that the shortest way from Mersíni to Messariá turns out to be a rather dangerous climb. But still, this hike gets an evaluation ***.

Estimated time: Unless you stay at Donoússa, the best thing to do is to get to the island by boat from Amorgós. This boat will almost definitely be the Express Skopelítis, which leaves from Katápola basically every day at 6am. The boat stops in the village of Egiáli and brings you to Donoússa in a little over two hours. It is quite likely that you will be able to return to Amorgós at 7pm that same day – quite likely, because in the course of the day the wind can rise and the Skopelítis can decide to skip the stop in Donoússa. You therefore have to check the weather forecast before you decide to make a day trip to Donoússa. 
The entire hiking time takes 4 hours: a little over one hour to Kalotarítissa, about 70 minutes to the source of Mersíni, half an hour to the beach of Livádi and then again - depending on which route you take - 40 to 50 minutes to Messariá and 35 minutes back to the harbour. These four hours of actual hiking time turn this hike into quite a long day, and even more so if you want to spend some time on one of the beaches you meet on the way. You should therefore select a day on which the Express Skopelítis returns from Donoússa late in the afternoon. So, you better get some reliable information and also buy your return ticket in Katápola in advance.

Route description: You depart from the harbour pier and walk in northern direction and on the left of the beach through the village of Stavrós – do not go up too much, but walk more or less horizontally until you get to the right hand side of the church of Timios Stavrós. You take the tiled street on the right of the medical centre (iatrío) and after 50 metres you go to the left up the paved staircase (there is a sign post to Kalotarítissa). You thus leave the village and arrive at a little gravel road. You go up slightly for about 5 minutes and you cross a “main road”. Straight ahead you then find a vague rocky trail, in the direction of a kind of windmill. About 50 metres further down this trail gets clearer when it runs in between walls. In between the walls this path curves to the left and it then reaches an open, rocky terrain. Stay close to the left wall and keep an eye on the parasol tree in front of you on the north eastern slope. After about 7 minutes you pass this tree; underneath you see a dry river bed. On the side of Stavrós you have a great view on Amorgós, on the other little Cyclades and on the larger island of Náxos.

View of the coast of Donoússa.

Higher up and more obvious, the trail now goes up the hill side. It then continues almost horizontally and just underneath the summit of the hill; the trail then goes down again. You cross the valley and on the opposite side you immediately go up again (do not stay in the valley!). You will then get to the rocky wilderness of the new road, which blocks the entire valley. Out of necessity you have to stay on this broad road; this road is absolutely useless since there are almost no cars – besides, the road is already collapsed in certain places. In this way you continue going up in the direction of the pass. After 17 minutes hiking on this road you get to a sharp curve to the left. Over there you find the remnants of the old trail straight ahead. Later on you cross the road again, but you can easily continue on the trail on the opposite side of the road. The trail runs on the left hand side of the road and you can follow it for a couple of minutes by walking in the direction of the 2nd and the 3rd electricity pole starting from the left. But on the pass underneath the Papashill (at an altitude of 383 metres) you do have to climb on the road again – in any case, this road runs to a dead end here and you can wonder what will happen in the future.
Deep down, in between the 1st and the 2nd electricity pole, you can now see the trail which continues to Kalotarítissa – the trail also gets easier at this point. The monopáti describes a wide curve and it gives you a nice view on the village and on the protected bay. It goes down gradually, sometimes just underneath the hill crest – you should sometimes have a look over the crest on the rugged and steep coast and towards Náxos.
Some 15 minutes later the trail starts to go down zigzaging and after 25 minutes all together you reach Kalotarítissa, a village with about 10 houses and with 5 remaining elderly inhabitants.
You descend in between the houses and past the little church till the brown and broad earth road. There is also a possibility to visit the two small beaches.

At the curve, underneath the biggest double electricity pole, you can still find the old trail, fortunately. This trail continues, about halfway in between the sea and the line of the new road above you. It then runs nicely in between walls and after 8 minutes you get to a rocky triangle. Over there you do not take a right towards the road, but you go straight ahead. After about 50 metres, before the corner of a vegetable garden, you do not go straight (this trail runs to a dead end at a well). Instead, you take a left up the hill, on a vague path – the view on a rocky bay with many gradations of blue is beautiful. Very soon you get to the remnants of a kalderími, it is crumbled but easy recognizable because of the retaining walls. After another 10 minutes you get to a rocky spot where you go left in between two walls; finally however, you will again reach the new road.  

The path that follows the coast of Donoússa.

You now follow this road for about 10 minutes: this is a large road where two trucks could easily pass one another – and this road leads to a village without cars and with 5 inhabitants…
A French walker form Bretagne, Hervé Eličs, wrote me on the 8th of Marche 2008 the following comment: "La route est une véritable déchirure (inutile, pas de voiture) dans le paysage et cela est criant quand on découvre l' île du ferry. Nous avons bien connu cette île il y a prčs de 30 ans, avant que les subventions Européennes ne viennent la défigurer, nous en sommes trčs attristés; néanmoins, elle reste trčs belle, mais pas pour y rester: cette balafre faite ŕ la nature est trop importante. Il faut dire que ceux qui n' ont pas connu cette époque ont la chance de la prendre tel que sans le retour nostalgique sur image... Merci Bruxelles et ses Euro-députés, qui n' ont jamais mis les pieds sur Donoússa et qui ne les mettront jamais... "

The hills on your right form a great amphitheatre; halfway, when this road goes up again and near a recently cemented well, you find another piece of the ancient trail on the right – do not miss it. After 5 minutes you necessarily get to the new road again, which you have to follow for the next 20 minutes.

Past the highest, often most windy part of the road you go down for a little while, with a view on Mersíni on the left hand side. However, at a sharp curve of the road to the right you get behind the square building of a petrol station. Over there you try to find a way to descend in the direction of the first house of the village. At this first house you see the beginning of a steep and neglected staircase – on your way down you only meet chickens.

Past the village you curve to the right, still above the coast. You then descend for another 5 minutes on a meandering concrete trail until you reach a marvellous well under a large maple tree: there is a large basin with a lot of water (in May 2003).  

The well near Mersíni.

After a pause you walk back for about 10 metres and through a hole in the wall you go left onto a kind of fallow terrain. On the left of a small building (with a flashing light!) and on the right of a pole with an electricity meter, you find a vague trail – above and underneath there are terraces with traces of solar panels. The trail curves to the left and descends somewhat; it then gets rather rocky and goes further down in between crumbled walls. After 5 minutes, at a parasol tree, the trail splits up and you go left.

[When going right you would reach an alternative and extremely small beach, to the left of the bay of Livádi. You get to a metal fence, which you follow to the left for a little while. At the beginning of the wall you go through a hole and in this way you get on a red-brown path, which you follow downwards. Further on you get again to some metal wiring; at the end of this wiring you descend somewhat in order to end up in between walls and to the left of a pine tree. The rest of the trail is a little difficult, but when walking on the right hand side of the walls you still reach the beach quite easily. The water is crystal clear and you can go for a relaxing swim since there is absolutely nobody. To continue the hike you have to return to the crossing near the parasol tree – in about 10 minutes.]

By taking a left you can already see the beautiful beach of Livádi in front of you after 5 minutes. You descend another 8 minutes and also on this wonderful beach there is often nobody, especially off-season.

The beach of Livádi.

The next part of the hike, in between this beach of Livadi and the hamlet of Messariá is fairly problematic. We have chosen for the most direct way, with a climb from the beach to the stump of the windmill on the crest of the hill – a beautiful but difficult scramble.
You thus walk to the far end of the beach and, immediately past a narrow (and dirty) gorge there is a vague path going up the hill, always in the direction of the lonely tree and the stump windmill beyond, high on the crest of the hill. You have to go higher and higher all the time, but DO NOT climb over the walls. You should stay on the left hand side of the walls where you more or less have to find a trail. After 20 minutes going up you can again see the stump of the windmill in front of you. From this point onwards you do not walk towards the mill anymore, but you can describe a wide curve to the right and then more to the left to walk around the hilltop. On the other side you go down the round and grassy top. You first go in south western direction to the pine tree and the little gardens; after the first wall you can find a small road and soon thereafter you can take a right. You then go down via a deep, rocky trail to the high cypress next to a well; later on you go in western direction till the gravel road. At this gravel road you go left, but just past the sharp curve to the left you find a trail off the right, which leads to the houses of Messariá.

[If you think this climb of 25 minutes is way too much, you can leave from the beach of Livádi and go back the way you came, via the road all the way to Mersíni. Over there you can, near the church, take the gravel road - and sometimes the monopáti next to the road - in the direction of Messariá – until you get to this same sharp curve to the left…]

From the final house of Messaria you go straight (not on the concrete to the left) and already after 3 minutes you can see the double church of Panagía appearing in front of you and then also the small harbour. The rocky monopáti describes a wide curve in the direction of the harbour, with a beautiful view on Náxos, on the little Cyclades and on Amorgós. On this beautiful trail, with sometimes the obvious remnants of the kalderími you descend fairly quickly for about 18 minutes – on the left you can also see the beach of Kéndros in front of you. You get to the road, you follow the curve to the right for a while and then, after 20 metres, you take the vague road to the left, which leads to Kéndros. After 20 metres you go right and up, on the narrow monopáti, on the left of the modern road. Some 5 minutes later you have to clamber to the road again, but another 80 metres further on you can leave the gravel road again and go up towards the double arch of the church. At last, some 20 metres before the Agia Panagía you will find the broad monopáti on the right, which goes down in between walls. This monopáti soon turns into a concrete path, still in between walls, and after about 8 minutes you arrive on the beautiful beach, on the left hand side of the harbour. You then have to walk for 2 more minutes to the tavern of Nikitas Markoulis, where you can spend the rest of the afternoon and early evening. You can eat something on this terrace; it is near to the harbour so you will be able to see the Express Skopelítis approaching long before its arrival.

[If you stay on Donoússa for a longer period you can turn this long hike into two shorter trips: one trip up and down via the same route to Kalotarítissa, and a trip to Messariá and Mersíni, where you can descend to the beach of Livádi.
In order to find the departure point of this second trip you have to follow this route: from the harbour you walk over the beach until the far end. Over there you find a little concrete road going up to the Panagía-church. The road going straight to this church is neglected, so 20 metres before this church you keep to the left and you continue till the main road. After about 80 metres you do have to clamber somewhat in order to find the trail leading to the houses of Messariá.]

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