Discover Donoussa: History, Customs, Festivals & Traditions Guide

Discover Donoussa: Unravel its rich history, customs, festivals, and traditions with our comprehensive guide.

Discover Donoussa: History, Customs, Festivals & Traditions Guide

Discover Donoussa: History, Customs, Festivals & Traditions Guide


Welcome to Donoussa, a hidden gem in the Cyclades island group in the Aegean Sea. This comprehensive travel guide will take you through the rich history, unique customs, lively festivals, and cherished traditions of this enchanting Greek island.

History of Donoussa

Ancient History

Donoussa has a long and storied history dating back to antiquity. Evidence suggests that the island was inhabited during the Cycladic period (3200–2000 BC). Archaeological excavations have uncovered remnants of ancient settlements, including pottery and tools that provide a glimpse into the lives of its early inhabitants.

Medieval Period

During the medieval period, Donoussa was part of the Duchy of Naxos, under the rule of the Venetians. The island served as a refuge for pirates and a strategic point for seafarers navigating the Aegean. Despite its small size, Donoussa played a significant role in the maritime routes of the time.

Modern Era

In the modern era, Donoussa remained relatively isolated, which helped preserve its traditional way of life. The island's seclusion fostered a close-knit community that maintained its customs and traditions throughout the years. Today, Donoussa is a peaceful retreat for visitors seeking to experience authentic Greek island life.

Customs and Cultural Practices

Traditional Occupations

The residents of Donoussa have historically relied on agriculture, fishing, and livestock farming for their livelihoods. Over the years, the islanders have perfected techniques for cultivating the land and sea, producing olive oil, wine, and fresh seafood that are staples of the local diet.


Hospitality, or "philoxenia," is a deeply ingrained cultural practice on Donoussa. Visitors are often welcomed with open arms and treated like family. It's common for guests to be offered homemade delicacies and wine as a gesture of goodwill.

Music and Dance

Music and dance are integral parts of Donoussa's cultural heritage. Traditional Greek music, featuring instruments like the bouzouki and lyra, is played at social gatherings and festivals. Local dances, such as the syrtos and kalamatianos, are performed with pride, reflecting the island's vibrant spirit.

Festivals and Celebrations

Easter (Pascha)

Easter is the most significant religious celebration on Donoussa. The entire island participates in a series of events leading up to the resurrection of Christ. Holy Week is marked by solemn processions, church services, and the preparation of traditional foods, such as lamb and "tsoureki" (sweet Easter bread).

Feast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary (15th August)

This major feast day is held in honor of the Virgin Mary, the island's patron saint. The celebration includes a church service followed by a grand feast featuring local dishes and wine. Traditional music and dance performances continue well into the night.

St. John's Festival (June 24th)

The festival of St. John is celebrated with bonfires, symbolizing the purification of the soul. Islanders and visitors gather to jump over the flames, an act believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. The festivities also include singing, dancing, and a communal feast.

Donoussa Festival (Late August)

The Donoussa Festival is a contemporary cultural event that aims to promote the island's traditions and lifestyle. It features concerts by local and Greek artists, theatrical performances, and art exhibitions. This festival provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the island's culture and connect with the locals.

Interesting Facts and Local Anecdotes

The Charm of Mersini Village

Mersini is one of the most charming villages on Donoussa, perched on a hill with stunning views of the Aegean Sea. The village is known for its traditional whitewashed houses, narrow alleys, and vibrant bougainvillea. Visiting Mersini feels like stepping back in time, offering a serene and picturesque setting.

The Legend of Stavros Beach

Stavros Beach is famous not only for its crystal-clear waters but also for a local legend. According to the myth, a ship carrying the relics of St. John the Baptist was caught in a storm near Donoussa. The sailors prayed for salvation, and miraculously, the ship was saved and landed on Stavros Beach. The islanders built a chapel on the spot to honor the saint.

The Sacred Springs of Donoussa

Donoussa is home to several natural springs, which are considered sacred by the locals. The water from these springs is believed to have healing properties. Visitors often seek out the springs to drink the water or take a refreshing dip, hoping to benefit from its reputed health-giving qualities.

Gastronomy of Donoussa

Local Delicacies

Donoussa's cuisine is a delightful blend of traditional Greek flavors and locally sourced ingredients. Some must-try dishes include:

  • Kserotigana: Sweet fried pastries drizzled with honey and sprinkled with sesame seeds.
  • Chorta: A dish made with wild greens, served as a salad or cooked with olive oil and lemon.
  • Fava: A creamy dip made from yellow split peas, often garnished with onions and capers.
  • Fresh Seafood: The island's fishermen provide an abundance of fresh fish, octopus, and squid, which are often grilled or cooked in tomato-based sauces.

Wine and Spirits

Donoussa is also known for its local wine, produced from grapes grown on the island. The wine is often enjoyed with meals or during social gatherings. Additionally, "tsipouro," a strong distilled spirit made from grape pomace, is a popular drink that is occasionally offered as a welcome gesture to visitors.

Travel Tips and Information

How to Get There

Donoussa can be accessed by ferry from Athens (Piraeus port) or from neighboring islands such as Naxos and Amorgos. The journey offers stunning views of the Aegean Sea and the Cycladic islands.

Best Time to Visit

The ideal time to visit Donoussa is during the spring and summer months, from April to October. The weather is warm and sunny, perfect for exploring the island's beaches and participating in outdoor festivals.


While Donoussa is a small island, it offers a range of accommodation options, from traditional guesthouses and family-run hotels to vacation rentals. It is advisable to book your stay in advance, especially during the peak tourist season.

Transport on the Island

The best way to explore Donoussa is on foot or by using local transportation. The island's small size makes it easy to navigate, and walking allows you to fully appreciate its natural beauty and charming villages.

Respecting Local Customs

When visiting Donoussa, it's important to respect local customs and traditions. Dress modestly when visiting churches, participate in local festivals with an open heart, and always extend a warm greeting to the islanders.