Haven’t we all heard about the beauty of the Greek Islands, the deep blues of the Aegean reflecting the blue of the sky? There are more islands than we can ever hope to visit, so choosing a few means a little bit of research. There’s lots of information about the larger, well known islands like Crete, Mykonos or Santorini, but investigating some of the others can be rewarding.
If you decide to visit some of the smaller, lesser known ones, as we did, I think you’ll be in for a delightful surprise. The first thing that’s noticeable is their immediate feeling of intimacy. These are island communities with small, charming villages. Many of them look like picture postcards with their stark white, almost cubist architecture and their winding streets, especially those invariably perched on the highest hills, where we can still visit the ancient towns or choras.
All of the Greek Islands have beautiful and varied beaches, some set up so that you can have a delightful lunch by the seaside and combine it with a swim in the warm, calm waters of the individual bays or lie out in a lounge chair under an umbrella. Other beaches are waiting for you to discover them and are easily visited by arranging for a boat to take you there, equipped with a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine.
Greek wine has become more sophisticated in recent years, going beyond the customary table wines that have been part of the culture for thousands of years. There are now a number of wineries that have been established over the past decades that have developed fine wines to fit the experienced palate using modern, up-to-date equipment. Many of these are 3rd generation enterprises with each generation contributing to the growth and perfection of their products. The soil, so rich in potassium from a volcanic soil base, produces grapes in an already ideal climate with lots of sunshine and moisture from the sea.
Our trip was focused on the Cyclades Islands in the Aegean. From the main dock of Piraeus outside of Athens, you can catch a ferry to almost any of the islands. Our first destination was the island of Paros, traditional in flavor while, at the same time, it is completely immersed in the 21st century. Of the many places to visit, including wineries, restaurants and organic food stores as well as beaches and wonderful shops of every kind from bakeries to boutiques, a visit to the chora is a must.
The choras were originally built to protect the local populace from the marauding pirates, moving the village from the harbor side to the highest hill. Here, the houses were deliberately built close together both for protection and to foil the invaders by creating a labyrinth of twisting alleys, all of which have been converted to walking streets. Wonderful shops and restaurants line the streets and there is always a village square. Bougainvillea spills profusely over the walls or in planters in front of shops and houses, providing the intense color that is so very beautiful against the white houses with their predominantly blue accents in doors and windows or balconies. It seems that every corner is a photo shoot! With the abundance of tavernas and coffee houses, an afternoon’s stroll can turn into a whole day’s activity.
Dinner can be enjoyed at any one of a number of small, upscale restaurants on the harbor which looks like a fairy land in the evening with boats launched at the quay and laughter and talk spilling out from all the tables set up in the square. It generally takes several hours to enjoy the incredibly fresh seafood prepared in any number of ways, fresh Greek salad, an assortment of appetizers and scrumptious desserts. The use of sesame and honey in these desserts are not only delicious but, without the use of refined white sugar, can be savored and enjoyed without guilt.
Paros figures prominently in the days of antiquity with the still functioning quarry, providing the exceptional marble that was so widely used by the stone carvers of 3,500 – 4,000 years ago. Even today the use of marble is to be found almost everywhere from private homes to small hotels. There is also a small museum close to the main dock that provides some archaeological glimpses as well as a history of the island’s every day life from the time of the pirates.
From Paros, it was a short ferry ride to the next island on our list, Ios. Although this island has received a lot of notice because its summer beach scene has become a destination for young people, mostly from all over Europe, it offers much more. It retains a strong feeling of community and offers a great variety of accommodations, including the truly delightful Liostasi Hotel & Spa. Perched on a high bluff overlooking the Aegean, it provides unobtrusive luxury with a hands-on owner overseeing the wonderful food offerings. Here, too, fine wines hold an important place and great attention is placed on having an extensive offering available.
Ios, like most of the Greek islands, is blessed with a beautiful quality of air. With so many herbs growing freely without cultivation, and vineyards, small or more developed, providing the rich aroma of freshly growing grapes, the soft, gentle air always seems fresh, clean and bathed in perfume. Little automobile traffic on the island accounts, too, for the clarity. Because of the ideal climate and the caressing quality of the air, you’ll find lots of people, both those native to the island and tourists as well, enjoying sitting outside on their balconies or at a table having their iced cappuccino, walking around visiting or shopping, enjoying the beach or eating at one of the seaside restaurants serving fresh fish. Octopus is popular, prepared in many tantalizing ways, especially grilled or pan fried.
Visiting the chora here as the evening turning into night had a special, magical atmosphere. Shops line the alleys, with extensive offerings, ranging from hand-made leather goods to boutique Greek designed clothing to lots of jewelry, both in silver and gold. Although much of the jewelry designs reflect ancient symbols, their designs seem modern and elegant.
Our next stop was Milos, the largest of the islands we visited. Here we stayed at the main port at the Portiani, a lovely hotel overlooking the harbor where we enjoyed a sumptuous breakfast outdoors on their terrace and had a view both day and night of the picturesque harbor. Although there were many fine restaurants that we drove to, there was also the option to have dinner at one of the restaurants that lined the harbor. Shopping, too, was within walking distance including many wonderful boutiques and jewelry shops as well as inviting bakeries and small, organic shops selling their own locally made products.
One of the interesting features of Milos was the small cove that was still being used by the fisherman, as they’ve done for many years. Here, the fishermen would find safe harbor during storms and moor their boats inside the attached houses on the beach while they had a place to sleep upstairs and a place to cook downstairs. On a boat trip later, we had a view from the water and the picturesque houses painted in assorted bright colors was a photograph waiting to be taken.
Speaking of a boat trip, we enjoyed a spectacularly wonderful cruise with the captain and first mate both looking as if they stepped out of a magazine ad, inviting people to visit Greece! They brought along an octopus in their cooler which later became part of the fabulous sauce they served over homemade pasta accompanied, of course, by wonderful Greek wine. We moored for a while just off one of the many charming coves that had no one else there, where we enjoyed a relaxing time in the sun after the delicious lunch and spontaneous dancing.
There were many more visits, including an underground tunnel built during W.W.II, a tour of the mining museum which proved extremely interesting and an evening sunset visit to what could easily pass as a lunar-scape. Between all the delightful places to see and the abundance of fine restaurants and variety of accommodations, be prepared to spend some thoroughly enjoyable time at this special island.
If You Go
Visit Greece visitgreece.gr/en
Where to stay, dine and see in:
Paros Island http://www.parosweb.com/
Moraitis Winery www.moraitiswines.gr
Marios restaurant & farm firstname.lastname@example.org
Tsitsanis Taverna, Prodromos
Xilofournos Bakery www.xilofournos.gr
Ios Island http://www.iosgreece.com/
Liostasi Hotel & Spa www.liostasi.gr
Pavezzo Guest House www.iospavezzo.com
Elia food & drink
Meze Meze www.niotisa.gr
Mosenta hand made local products email@example.com
Midas Gold & Silver
Milos Island http://milos.gr/en/
Portiani Hotel www.hotelportiani.gr
Flisvos restaurant/taverna firstname.lastname@example.org
Home-made sweets, pies & more www.paradosiaka-edesmata.gr
Chrysovalandou Catamarans www.sailcatgreece.com
Ergina restaurant, Trypiti
Armenaki restaurant, Pollonia
Sirocco restaurant, Paleochari
Faskomilo, Adamas https://www.facebook.com/faskomilo.gr