Lipsi – The Day We Hired a Car. Exploring Some of Lipsi’s Beaches. (Not All Goes to Plan!)

The heat continued to hover around the 40 degree mark and I was getting ‘beach fever’ at not being able to stray very far. Don’t get me wrong, there are better predicaments to be in but I’m just not very good at laying on a beach all day. Although Lipsi is small and most places in normal circumstances would be walkable, in this heat it just ain’t going to happen!

I’d been pondering about hiring a car. I’ve only done it once in Greece before and that episode is well documented during our trip to beautiful Kythira. Lipsi is small and there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of cars on the road so how bad can it be?

Anyway, over those first few days I kept pondering and mulling and then one day I bit the bullet. An agent that I work with had arranged for me to meet his friend Vasoula who owns the Poseidon Hotel and also Moto Rent Marko and Maria. After showing me the rooms at the Poseidon, we had a chat and I took the opportunity to ask about the car hire. She tells me that after the weekend there are a lot of cars free so I could have my pick. Great, I choose a class A car for the following day. I’m now committed so there’s no turning back now!

I’m not going to lie, I’m still a little bit scarred from my last car hire experience. The ‘driving on the other side of the car and road’ isn’t that difficult once you get into the swing of it. We just seem to have a habit of ending up in places that we really shouldn’t go anywhere near. Anyway, I convince myself that Lipsi is small and relatively flat. It’s hardly a mountainous island so what have we got to lose?

Car hire day arrives and it isn’t without a certain sense of trepidation that we go to pick up a little Suzuki Celerio. I tell Vasoula that I’m a bit nervous but she waves a dismissive hand and tells me that it will be fine. She tells me that the key is in the car and gives us directions on how to get onto the main road above the town.

We set off along the harbour front and follow the road to the left at a small church. All starts off well with Peter as my navigator giving me directions on Google Maps (though TBH his sense of direction is as diabolical as mine!). Our first destination is the Church of Panagia Charou (Virgin Mary of Death). The church is one of the oldest on the islands, built in the early 1600’s by monks from the monasteries of neighbouring Patmos. Inside the church, the icon of Mary is unusual in that Mary is holding a wooden cross with a crucified Jesus on it and not as she is usually portrayed, with babe in arms. Inside the church there are several people paying their respects to the icon so we don’t linger.

The outward-looking view from the church is rich and verdant and close by there is a field of grapevines so there is obviously a good level of fertility on the island. The Lipsi Winery grow several types of grape including Fokiano which is the oldest indigenous grape in the Aegean. The wine that is produced on the island is highly commended and since the Italian occupation of the islands, the wine has been sent to the Vatican.

We leave the beautiful tended church courtyard and get back in the car and head off to wherever – it’s all in the hands of the Egyptian!

Peter guides us to Tourkomnima Beach. Once parked up under tamarisk trees we get out and have a scout around. The beach is secluded with only a couple of people here. Tourkomnima is the name of the peninsula that divides Tourkomnima and Xerocampos beaches. We feel compelled to walk towards the little church of Agios Nikolaos that sits about a third of the way along the peninsula.

Down below there is a small jetty where there are a couple of little motorboats moored up. At the back of the beach, there is a small cluster of houses with some signs of new development. Apart from that there isn’t much else here which makes it a perfect little haven of tranquillity

As we reach the tip, the view looking backwards is quite something. Xerocampos Beach to the left and Tourkomnima to the right.

We return to the car and retrace our track back up onto the main road towards Panagia Charou. Between the houses, I get a glimpse of what I now know was Chochlakora Beach and it looks gorgeous. I ask Peter to wind down his window and take some snaps whilst I keep an eye out for any unsuspecting traffic. This beach has a long stretch of tamarisk trees and I read later that the beach is rocky but with very clear water. I make a note to come back later if we have time.

We are now back on the road above the town and we stop the car a couple of times to take some photographs. Peter does a little bit of his goat whispering. He loves animals and they love him. Back home in Egypt where his father has land, he was raised to tend sheep, goats and water buffalo from a young age.

At one point we find ourselves parking close to the island’s recycling centre – but more about Lipsi’s green credentials in another post. Just la short walk away there is an amazing view out to the little islet of Aspronisi!

Further along the road we reach a fork where to the right it leads to Monodendri, the island’s designated nudist beach and to the left, Kamares Beach. We opt for Kamares and follow the road along. The road suddenly becomes a rocky track and my nerves begin to jangle. “Peter I don’t like it!” I say through clenched teeth. “Turn around” he says. “Have you seen how narrow the track is?” I retort. Oh my God, this is going to be Kythira all over again! The roadside is banked up on either side. I dare say I could have turned around before the road got steeper but I didn’t. We continue down and hope for the best.

About halfway down there is a man in a solitary digger carrying out some kind of work – what we can’t see. Peter gives him a nonchalant wave giving the impression that we are here intentionally and we know what we are doing. He waves back. It’s reassuring to see some kind of life here and that he isn’t flapping his arms to say “No entry”. Maybe I’m overreacting a little.

At the bottom of this dirt and gravel track is a cluster of pine trees providing enough shade to park under. Beyond the trees, we walk by a low wall that separates the trees from the beach. It appears to have been constructed using the natural stone from the surrounding area. Needless to say, the beach is rocky – very rocky. Unless you have bones of steel you’d need to bring your own sun lounger to stay on this beach for any amount of time.

The dry stone walling technique has also been applied to create a seating area around a solitary tree which offers the only shade on the beach itself. Some thought has gone into making the beach comfortable but unfortunately, these structures have been left at the hands of the elements. Nonetheless, the turquoise, crystalline water and the outward-looking view across to the surrounding islets are beautiful.

Just out from the shoreline, there are some unusual rock formations. I can see that plates of rock lie under the water and assume that as this breaks up through the movement of the water, it gets thrown back onto the beach. I’m tempted to go for a dip, but I don’t have beach shoes with me. Entering the water would be a nigh-on impossible task. If you like solitude, and you can cope with a rocky beach then this may be the one for you.

After walking the length of the beach we get back into the car. We decide to move from the northeast of the island to Platis Gialis Beach in the northwest. I begin to drive up the stone track, waving to the man on the digger as we go. And that’s where it all begins to go horribly wrong. We reach a patch in the road where the wheels are just spinning in the dust. After several goes at trying to move the car forward I realise that the spinning wheels are creating a rut. If I continue we may get stuck and have to dig our way out with our hands.

As we are on a steep incline, I let gravity do its own thing and allow the car to slowly roll backwards keeping my foot on the brake to control it. I’ve watched TV shows such as The Worlds Most Dangerous Roads and reckon I’ve picked up a thing or two (I joke!). Although there isn’t much room for manoeuvre on the narrow track, my plan is to try and zig zag up and hopefully create a bit of traction. I tried this technique several times, letting the car drop back and then try to move it slowly forward again but it didn’t work. In fact, the bit of track that we’d successfully climbed earlier was now rebelling against us. As the wheels spun, clouds of dust were sent shooting through the open windows and nearly choked us in the process. This little class A car with its poxy little engine just wasn’t up to the job – and neither was its driver who was now on the verge of a meltdown!

Peter got out and tried to push it at one point. That’s fine on a flat road but it was an impossible task on a sharp incline for one man. Besides, the car by now is well and truly stuck in a deep rut.

All sorts of things were running through my mind. We’ll have to call for car recovery service (just exactly where the hell do I think I am!). Surely the island has a tote truck? Even more embarrassing, I’ll have to call Vasoula and tell her what I’ve done to her car! We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere so there is only one person that we can ask for help.

I’m sure that the man on the digger had been watching this spectacle from the cab of his digger with some amusement. Although rather embarrassing, at this point any dignity we may have had has gone out of the window. I remain sitting in the driver’s seat, just in case the brake cable decides to snap under the pressure. Peter walks over to the man who has now climbed down from the digger. I can see Peter is using a lot of body language to explain our predicament (though nothing really needs to be said) whilst the man slowly drew on his cigarette taking it all in. About 5 minutes later Peter returns to the car. “So what’s happening?” I ask, expectantly. “I don’t know”. says Peter. “But you’ve just been speaking with him for 5 minutes!” “Yes but he was speaking to me in Greek so I don’t know what he was saying”.

I exhale deeply and try and weigh up the possible outcomes. I can see that the man is speaking to someone on his phone. Maybe he knows someone with a utility vehicle – often the vehicle of choice on some islands. Maybe he will ask them to come and pull us to the top of the track. That will cost money but whatever it costs we will write it off and put it down to experience. I honestly don’t know what other options there are. We will sit and wait and see what unfolds – or even if anything unfolds at all.

A long and nerve-wracking fifteen minutes later, out in the distance, we see three men striding across the landscape. In my mind, as I recount this, I imagine that the sky gets a little brighter and they are surrounded by flames. Think of Antonio Banderas in that famous scene in Desperado. They do a nod to the digger man who then leads them towards the forlorn-looking Celerio. The car is now covered in so much dust that it practically blends in with the landscape. The digger man opens the driver’s door signalling me to get out. He gets behind the wheel and the three men plus Peter push and shove the car until it has come loose from its rut. The smell of burning rubber is strong on the breeze. I hope to God that it’s the tyres and not the engine!

They push the car almost to the top of the track and for the last ten metres, it manages to propel itself onto level ground Phew! What an absolute relief. I’m so grateful to these men and offer them my utmost thanks over and over again just short of flinging my arms around them. The three men depart as quickly as they arrived. The digger man (and I’m so annoyed that I didn’t ask him his name) speaks to us in Greek and I piece together that the men were builders working on a villa on the other side of the field. He points down the track and says something about electricity. I can only assume that new power cables have been laid – hence the condition of the track but who knows?

As he hands me back the car keys, he points to us both and tells us that the night before he saw us both in Manoli’s restaurant. “Ah yes, that was us!” I exclaim surprised that he recognised us. He then points to himself and says “Eeme Baba to Manoli!” He is Manoli’s dad!

We give him our heartfelt thanks again and say our goodbyes. “Blimey, Manoli’s dad eh?” I say to Peter as I start the engine. “Hmmm, your name is going to be mud all over this island by tomorrow!” he retorts”. At this moment in time, I’m just relieved that we can continue on our way, determined to stick to the main roads this time!

Just as we leave the track, two women on mopeds arrive. They took one look at the track and swiftly do a U-turn. If only we’d done the same!

We are now back on the main road above the town and we pull over to take in the view of Lipsi and its archipelago of islets just beyond. Just as we do, a blast from the horn of the Panagia Skiadeni announces her arrival. Now this really is a sight for sore eyes. Down below is Lientou Beach and the small promontory hiding the port from view. There is a good view of the Aphrodite Hotel from here and next door, Alpha Farm dairy which I’ve put on my list to visit – not hard staying right next door to it.

A little further along the road, a little place catches my eye. The sign painted on the wall says Giannilos Farma but what I can see are scores of bicycles. Bikes of all shapes, sizes and colours are strapped to the railings to form a fence of bicycles. I can’t make out if this is a bike recycling place or whether it’s just one of those quirky little places. It looks like a bicycle graveyard and it doesn’t show up on Google Maps at all.

Back in the car we now head for Platis Gialos beach purported to be the most beautiful beach on the island. Thankfully it’s an easy road to the beach and there is plenty of car parking space with shade. My first impressions are that the beach really does live up to its reputation. There are a good number of well-established tamarisk trees along the beach offering shade and the sand runs from the beach out into the deep bay making the water appear in every shade of blue and turquoise that you can imagine.

We decide to stay here for a while to give us time to decompress from our little ‘incident’. We secure a little spot under some shade for our bags and then swiftly cast our bodies into the calming waters. It’s absolute heaven!

After shaking off the dust and the stress we realise how hungry we are and decide to eat at the beach taverna also known as Platis Gialos. Greek salad, chicken souvlaki and swordfish are just perfect for a lunchtime bite although unusually, accompanied by Coca Cola rather than with wine. Just when I’m in the most need of an alcoholic drink!

After a couple of hours here we head back towards the main town on our way to Katsadia Beach. Along the way I had seen advertising signs for the Honey Farm. Every trip to Greece sees me going in search of a good quality honey and I always bring at least a kilo jar home with me. Let’s try and kills two birds with one stone.

We park on the road close to the entrance of the farm but everywhere is shut up with no signs of life. This is a shame but hopefully we will be able to find it in one of the shops in the town before we leave.

Katsadia Beach is in walking distance of Lipsi town though there are several cars parked up along the back of the beach. We take steps down onto the beach and can see that it is mainly families here. Dilaila Beach Bar and Restaurant is set just at the back of the beach and offers some lovely shaded seating areas.

There are several yachts moored up in the bay so this is obviously a popular beach though certainly not crowded and this is in the middle of July. I think that Lipsi’s pledge to keep sunbeds and parasols off their beautiful beaches is absolutely commendable and I believe a lot of credit goes to the island’s Mayor.

I think back to my visit to Naxos last year and how I’d seen its popular beaches crammed with beds and brollies along with a graded charging policy, it makes me truly appreciate islands and beaches like this. My views on what I saw on Naxos last year are already documented but it is refreshing to see the authorities clamping down on this money-grabbing (and not to mention illegal) profiteering. Let’s hope that those beaches are rightfully reclaimed and restored back to their natural state so that their true beauty can be appreciated.

Before heading back to the town to return the car we give it a once over. We pull out the mats in the footwells and shake out as much dust from the inside of the car as we can. We use our towels to wipe the dust from the seats and dashboard. That all looks fine but the outside of the car is filthy complete with builders handprints on the car’s rear end. We use the last of our bottled water and a towel to wipe down the outside of the car but unfortunately, it has made it look worse. The dust is just smeared around and definitely looks like we’ve tried to cover up evidence of some kind of misdemeanour. We have to let it dry and then wipe it with a dry cloth otherwise known as my lovely James Lakeland sarong. A small sacrifice to make in the grander scheme of things – it could have been worse!

The car is returned to Vasoula with a full tank of petrol. It wasn’t checked before we picked it up nor was it checked when we drop it off. Anyway, she knows who I am and where I work but hopefully everything is OK.

Needless to say we end our day with a few swift drinks and try to shake off the memory of Kamares Beach as best we can!

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  1. Lipsi is still so beautiful and unspoiled and I really hope it stays that way, there’s so few areas like it. I think Wendy and I will use the local taxi service like I have done previously !!

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