Today I’m excited to be doing the day tour of Tinos, having been able to hijack a trip organised for people coming from Mykonos. I am to meet the guide called Valentina at the port. First stop though is a breakfast of bougatsa in the bakery come coffee bar that I had discovered. They have a fantastic selection of patisserie to choose from too – some amazing cakes! The building itself doesn’t look much to look at from the outside but the bakery itself is impressive.
As I make my way to the port past the bus station I stop to look at the small market close by. Here local traders are selling honey, olives and fresh produce. I’m always tempted to buy preserves from a little market like this but with three large jars of Ikarian honey already in my suitcase to transport home I fight to restrain myself.
As I look across to the bus station I see a pelican preening itself. I had been told about the pelican and that he (or she) could be found at a certain fishmongers. I’m not sure where the fishmonger’s is but maybe the pelican is just out for a stroll. I suppose the Mykonosisation of Tinos includes getting their own pelican!
Anyway – of course the pelican didn’t actually go into the bus station but the photograph gave me a good enough post title!
I make my way to the port and wait for the Super Ferry to come in. A lady approaches me and asks if I am Mrs Stephanie. It’s Valentina. I don’t know why but I expected her to be arriving on the ferry with the guests. Valentina asks me to wait where I am as she is getting the keys to the hire car.
Ten minutes later a frazzled looking Ken and Liz – both octogenarians I later discover, make their way over to us. After introducing ourselves Liz and Ken begin to tell me about the nightmare that they’ve had with all the travel paperwork. It seems they are having big problems filling in their Passenger Locator Form and they fly home the following day. I could see how much anguish they are in over this but can also see that Valentina is ready to start the tour. I tell them that we can talk about it later and if I can help I will.
Our first stop is the Panagia Evangelistria or Panagia Megalochari in Tinos Town. As I’d already discovered, the walk up the hill to the church is steep so it is good to be driven to the doorstep. Valentina explains that the church is not only an important church on Tinos but a significant church for Greece. It is said that a nun from a nearby monastery had dreams and visions of the Virgin Mary telling her to ‘find her home’. One day the nun began to dig in the soil on the hill above Tinos and eventually she found an icon of the Virgin Mary – the same icon that sits in the church and brings in pilgrims from far and wide.
You can read more about the church and it’s history here:
What I already knew about this particular church is for its destination for pilgrims who would make the ascent up the hill on hands and knees. As we enter the church there is a young girl wearing a short white lace dress ascending the carpeted stairs on her hands and knees. She hadn’t been on the road outside so it seems short cuts (and short dresses) are permitted. And there was I worried about my bare arms.
By the way I hope that no offence is taken at my comments. I am an atheist and a little suspicious of organised religion and so my thoughts are purely as an outside observer and I respect everyone’s right to believe and follow religion as they wish.
We first enter the small chapel. Here we can see a small fountain where people come to fill small bottles with holy water. There is a replica of the icon. The original icon is in the main church but covered with gold and silver offerings from the faithful – so much so that you can’t actually see the icon. There are also two baptismal rooms – all beautifully ornate.
We then make our way into the main church which is much smaller than I imagined. However, Valentina tells us that the monastery complex was built around the church. You can’t fail to be impressed by the amount of precious metals hanging from the ceiling around a magnificent chandelier. Valentina points some out to us and tells us the stories behind them.
The icon is indeed covered in jewelled offerings. Valentina tells us that there is a twice daily ritual where the icon is brought out at 8am every morning and put in a safe place at 8pm every night.
It is now early afternoon so our next stop is Drosia taverna in Ktikados for lunch. Ktikados is a small traditional village sitting above Kionia offering an almost balconic (I think I just made a word up!) view of the valley below. The picturesque cobbled streets take you past traditional houses each with beautifully carved marble fanlights above the windows and doors. There are vaulted alleyways and stone bridges over streams that run from the mountains. Pretty much a Greek storybook village. Valentina explains that the marble fanlights are made of Tinian marble and the intricately carved designs represent different themes such as flowers for fertility, ships for naval or seafaring connections and the crosses – self explanatory.
Drosia taverna is fantastic – the setting, the food, the hospitality. We have a lovely lunch here. I choose the lamb in lemon sauce which really is exceptionally good.
Here we discuss politics and life – the former which has be navigated quite carefully with differing views on topics such as immigration. Liz even as a life long Labour voter (so she tells me) says that “the UK is only a small island and we don’t have much room for immigrants”. Anyway, let’s not veer down that route. It was an interesting conversation anyway and Valentina and I concluded that we both view immigration as a positive thing.
After an absolutely delightful lunch we are back in the car again to head off to the village of Volax to see the basket makers.
Before we get there Valentina says that although it isn’t on the itinerary she will take us up to the top of Exombourgo the site of the former Venetian Kastro. Now I’ve seen that rock – that’s one hell of a rock which by the way looks totally inhospitable and also unclimbable – or even undrivable. However as we make the ascent you can see that there are a series of plateaus and the drive up isn’t that bad. You can see why this location was chosen as a fortress with views out to sea and across the island.
There isn’t much to see there but the views are fantastic and Valentina’s telling of the history of the Kastro is fascinating. The place itself now serves as a seasonal fire station.
We take a nice drive to Volax and as we approach the village Valentina points out the huge boulders that litter the landscape. These are the result of volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago and within which the ancient village of Volax was built.
Around 50 people live in Volax, a really pretty village which starkly contrasts with its rocky almost lunar like surroundings. It has been know for it’s basket making for centuries, having been established in the 1600’s and is one of Tinos’s oldest villages. We are shown a traditional grape press where the grapes are trodden by foot and an old communal oven. You won’t miss the poetry written on the doors and windows including Kavafy’s famous Ithaka.
The village also has a small amphitheatre. I could actually stay longer here but I think the tour with the heat is already beginning to takes its toll on Ken who actually stayed in the car for the village visit as he’s clearly in pain.
Before we get back in the car Valentina introduces us to Nikos, who is selling honey from the back of his truck. Not in the dodgy way that selling out of the back of a truck can often infer. He is selling not only honey but the bee pollen of which I am a big subscriber. He offers us tastes of both and I’m telling you this honey is absolutely unique. The honey is heather honey as has a rich, deep taste. The pollen is fresh and sweet and I do believe it has good health giving properties. Liz is up for some of that and buys a jar of each – and I do too! Nikos is a really lovely man – if you are every passing Volax do stop by to purchase some of his fantastic honey products – making a living like this is hard – not least of all during times of Covid.
We are now heading for Pyrgos, along the road passing the Turtles Head. Valentina stops so that I can photograph it close up but to be honest – the photograph I took through the dirty window of a speeding bus resembles a turtles head more accurately!
I know it has been an exhausting day for Liz and Ken and they are still stressing about their PLF form.. We arrange to speak over the phone once they are back in Mykonos to see if I can help them navigate the form. If necessary I’ll have my laptop charged up to try my end but one way or another I’ll do my best to help. This gives them a little bit of reassurance.
We don’t spend very long at Pyrgos. I don’t mind having already spend most of a day there but we stop by a fantastic old tree in the square for a drink. We reflect on the highlights of the tour and what an amazingly knowledgeable guide Valentina has been.
I highly recommend Valentina as a guide and you can find her at Tinos Exclusive on Facebook and Instagram
We drive to the port to drop Ken and Liz for their ferry back to Mykonos. I help them find their Covid certificates on their phone’s whilst Valentina makes a phone call to arrange for their hotel transfer from the port.
What a day that has been. I call in at the patisserie below the apartment and stock up on goodies whilst I await the phone call from Liz and Ken later.
Several phone calls later, Ken manages to complete the passenger locator form after advice about the postcode. It didn’t work at first but second time around it did – Just one of this little glitches that sometimes happens and I don’t think I actually did much to help apart from being a reassuring voice.
I stuff my face with Kormoz (a Greek version of Rocky Road or rather a no bake biscuit) in celebration! I think I should have bought a little bottle of something stronger!