Island Tour – is Ikaria Utopia?
I set off for the curvaceous lady statue by the beach with large wedges of freshly baked apple caked in hand from Filipos and Mariana. There are several of us from the Oinoi hotel going on the island excursion. Dolihi Tours alternate their tours for those staying in the Agios Kyrikos/Therma locations OR those staying in Armenistis so it is lucky that there is a Therma tour taking place during my stay.
The small bus arrives and in the usual Greek way a charge is made to the door of the bus whilst I stand back to watch the mini stampede. When in Greece you need to leave the notion of queuing at home! Urania asks if everyone has tickets – one of the guests translate for me. Urania says “Ah you are Stephanie. You have the first seat behind me so if you have any questions you can ask”. She invites me to board the bus first – I can’t lie – I feel a little guilty – just a tiny bit!
It is a Greek language tour but that I don’t mind but it is good to know that Urania will explain bits of it in English for me.
Ikaria is a mountainous island and there is no getting over to the other side without ascending up a mountain road. The road is good though in parts quite precipitous which convinces me that I should not hire a car whilst I’m here. This is certainly the best way to travel for me. There is a point at which we enter the richer and more verdant and fertile side of the island. The mountains are thickly forested with pine trees and gradually we make a descent to the north side of the island.
Our first stop is the village of Evdilos which is the second port town of the island. It is indeed very pretty. We have just thirty minutes here so I walk around the bay and ascend up into the village to have a scout around. I must admit I don’t really like these time constraints. It does stop me from doing the thing I love best and that is just to get lost in streets and alleyways. Instead I feel like a contestant on Supermarket Sweep! Nonetheless I do get the chance to get the feel of the place and spot at least one fabulous door knocker for my collection
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Back on the coach, Urania tells me a bit about Ikaria and how life on the island is very different to other islands. Firstly she tells me that it is the only Greek island never to have been abandoned. When Ikaria was invaded by the Turks, the people left to go and live up in the mountains. They suffered many hardships making them stoical people. In Ikaria there is no difference between women and men. Ikarian girls are given the same opportunities in education the same as the boys and has the highest amount of female university graduates in Greece. There is no difference between the old and the young – everyone socialises together.
Ikarians generally dislike people who show off their wealth – it has no place in their society. The Ikarians are not particularly religious and they all eat well from the abundant island and believe in taking a nap in the afternoon. Apparently, the older generation are still having sex as long as they physically can! I have also noticed that the locals love to listen to music and sing. I’ve walked past several ladies sitting on their doorsteps in the evening playing music and singing along. Urania also tells me that on Ikaria there are hardly any known cases of dementia or depression.
The island also has a number of thermal spa’s which historically have been an aid to good health. Ikaria has been studied along with a number of other places throughout the world known as Blue Zones where people live long and healthy lives. Urania tells me that not only do Ikarians live long and healthy lives – they live happy lives! The saying is that Ikaria is the place where the people forget to die.
Our next stop on the tour is the Monastery of Theoktistis. We drive higher up into the mountains through pine forests and through the village of Kampos formerly known as Oinoi and the former ancient capital of the island. We are also driving through wine territory here and Urania points out one of the winery’s that can be visited.
Although the monastery is no longer inhabited I did ask Urania if I needed to cover myself up before going into the church and with a wave of the hand and a smile she said that Ikarians don’t care about things like that!
The church is small but very interesting with some beautiful byzantine frescoes. Urania tells us the story about the the community that lived up in the mountains to evade the pirates. One day an Ottoman army discovered the church amongst the rocks and told the priest that he wanted the people to surrender themselves to his army. The priest asked if he could wait until after the church service after which he would ask the people to give themselves up. On the floor of the church there are circles in the marble by which the floor can be lifted and the villagers were told to escape through the network of tunnels below. Eventually the pirates got fed up of waiting and entered the church to find it empty except for the priest who had continued to hold the service, knowing that he had ultimately sacrificed himself. The priest was decapitated and his head mounted on a spike for all to see.
Just above the main church is the chapel of Theoskapasti formed within a cave with a flat curved rock for its roof and with the nickname of the ‘Mushroom’ and it does look a bit like a stone hobbit house! Just a few steps will take you up to the small doorway that leads into the chapel – mind your head as you go in.
This tourist site is really well tended with pots of well looked after flowers and views over the valley. The courtyard has a couple of seating areas in which to enjoy some refreshments. There is a wonderful little shop attached to the monastery where you can buy freshly cooked loukoumades laden with spoonful’s of local honey. Here you can see the cheese curds hanging to dry and a fantastic selection of herbs, conserves and honey to buy.
Our next destination is the village of Christos Raches also known as the village that never sleeps! We enter through one of three slate gateways and a path takes us past a selection of shops and taverna’s including the Women’s Association of Raches where you can sample the homemade desserts. Urania recommends a visit to Melia where Vassilia sells a range of handmade products all made from natural products. The honey she sells here I’m told is pure and very good so I make a purchase of a jar of spring honey.
I take a wander to the edge of the village which is surrounded by dense forests. Outside of the main square and close to the large church, the village begins to drop down rapidly with streets that require a handrail to keep you vertical. I watch an old man carry a large container of water this way and admire that I can only walk a few steps without slipping.
I take some refreshment at a little taverna in the heart of the village before we have to meet back at the slate gateway that we entered through for the bus.
Apparently they hold a big festival here in Christos Raches every year on the 6th August.
We travel through what Urania describes to us as rock climbing territory. Our final destination is the village of Armenistis which is probably the most popular tourist spot on the island – but we’re not talking Santorini here! It still feels pretty laid back and the water looks stunning – crystal clear and deep turquoise. Here we have several hours to spend on the beach or however we want to. The first thing notice is the stream that comes down from the mountain and a freshwater pool teaming with terrapins.
The beaches do look inviting but I continue to walk around the village and down to one of the beaches to look at the terrapins closer up.
I spend the rest of the day in Pes To Café. The reason being is that my eldest granddaughter Marni was playing her first tennis match at Wimbledon in the Wimbledon Juniors tournament. I was glued to the results minute by minute for the duration. She didn’t win but this has been an excellent experience for her tennis career. How proud can a grandmother be!
Back on the bus we take the one hour and forty five minute drive back to Therma – everone looks shattered but thrilled to have been able to see another part of the island.
A quick shower and change and I’m back in Paralia for Saganaki cheese with rose petal jam and Gemista one of my favourites! As the sun sets that water taxi takes the last of the visitors back to Agios Kyrikos.
Fascinating peep into the villages of Ikaria . Clear descriptions and excellent photos
As always – I really appreciate your kind comments and that you actually take time to read my ramblings! Thank you Ann! x
We were there, in Armenistis in May 2019, oh how I wish we could go back right now, beautiful place, beautiful people
It really is a special island. I was based in Therma but definitely want to go back and explore the other side of the island one day. xxx