by Dudley der Parthog, Greece Director, 2 May 2009
The quirkiest Greek island I have come across in nearly 30 years of putting together the Sunvil Greece programme has to be Ikaria in the north-east Aegean. Its remoteness (Samos 2.5 hours by ferry is the nearest island of any size) has ensured a self-sufficient, resilient population who don’t worry too much about what is happening outside the island’s shores. They live for the moment, as evidenced by the plethora of ‘panayiri’s’ – religious festivals which on Ikaria occur almost every summer weekend, involve plenty of the local organic wine and roasted goat, and can last up to three days each!
Magnificently mountainous, Ikaria is one of the most scenic and untouched islands in the Aegean – its interior, wonderful for walking, hides forests, mountain lakes, chapels hewn from the rock, and lunar-like landscapes. The coastline below has some Caribbean-like beaches, although beware the strong off-shore currents and high season waves which can restrict swimming.
Ikarian quirks include a ‘vampire village’ (Christos Rahes), which sleeps for most of the day and really only comes to life after sundown. Until recently even the schools didn’t open until the late afternoon, and the baker left his freshly baked bread outside his shop with an honesty box so as not be be woken up. Or the two churches, one at the top of the hill and one at the foot, who used to hold rival Easter services, each trying to outdo the other in terms of music, bells and fireworks – now a truce has been declared and, rather disappointingly, they alternate their Easter services. Ikaria is full of quirks like this.
The best person to fill visitors in is the personable Rania Mitikas who runs Dolihi Tours in the pretty fishing village of Armenistis. Her family is descended from pirates!
As befits an island named after a myth (Icarus’ waxen wings melted just off-shore) Ikaria is unique amongst Greek islands.
by Fiona Bartlam, Financial Director, 26 June 2009
My return ferry journey on the ‘Samos Spirit’ was even more relaxing, calming and wonderful than I remembered. This time we were treated to the sight of sea eagles soaring over the hills and woods of Samos, before being delighted by a school of dolphins spotted in open waters between Samos and Ikaria.
Sitting on the open deck, with the ‘Spirit’ chugging relentlessly away, with sensational indigo waters and white horse spray on either side of the boat, I could feel the stresses of ‘normal life’ rapidly seeping away. By the time the ferry docked in Agios Kirikos, and we trundled our suitcases off the boat past a handful of pickup trucks laden with fresh tomatoes, potatoes and patio chairs, I felt ready for anything.
And then the excitement of the trip to the other side of the island, on inevitable Greek cliff-hanger roads. Climbing steeply up the hillside behind the port, we were amazed that everywhere you looked, the countryside was so green, and crammed with wild flowers, pink cistus, and bright red poppies or yellow broom. Nearer the top of the mountain range we drove through acres of wild herb strewn hillside, with the heady scent of thyme, sage and curry plant wafting in on the cool evening breezes.
As we started to descend again, vertiginously, at what always seems excessive speed, I reassured myself that our driver had no doubt been using these roads all his life, and that the Greeks’ sense of balance seems equal to that of their own mountain goats. When that doesn’t work, I find you can always hang on tight, and shut your eyes! Reaching the coastal road, the mini-bus fought its way through small villages, where having one’s neighbour ‘just over the road’, meant the road was only about 8’ wide, and ‘corner houses’ no longer have corners. And eventually my destination, Armenistis. It’s not particularly pretty. It’s small and quiet, no night clubs, no lager louts, the friendliest of locals, a few restaurants serving fresh local food, two nice beaches, the best coffee shop ever; but that’s it!
But it was here that the magic that is Ikaria really started to work. Ikaria’s charm is indefinable, but within 24 hours everyone is captivated. The ‘Spirit’ has transported you here, and the ‘spirit’ within you is soon glowing contentedly. And when, after two wonderful weeks, I was dragged onto a ferry for the return journey, I was saying, ‘I’ll be back’ – and I will.
Ikaria; captivating, magical, spiritual, sensational. But please, don’t tell anyone!
Sunvil offers 7 night BB stays in Armenistis, Ikaria from £605pp at the Cavos bay Hotel in May. Based on Gatwick to Samos flights and includes transfers.