Oinousses Island – The One That Took My Heart

As I prepare to leave Oinousses today and head off to Psara, I want to give a quick summary of some of the things I haven’t yet talked about (and maybe repeat some things that I have). This post is just a mish mash of observations and a summary of my last few days of generally mooching around. Yes that’s mostly what I’ve been doing for the last few days and it is very hard not to. Oinousses Chora is really beautiful. Not in that ’boutiquified’ way that you find on almost every Cycladic island nowadays but in its own unique and special way.

Oinousses has a real sense of grandeur in the form of its magnificent architecture. Set amphitheatrically (Yes I know I overuse this word) on the hillside that slopes down towards the port, the grand old sea captain’s and ship owners houses have a real presence in the landscape. Predominantly, the houses are in the neo-classical style, mansions painted in the pastel colours of cream, terracotta and pale blue – nothing too gaudy topped with terracotta pan tiles. Some of the buildings are modern but very carefully built in the style that will blend with the rest. A good proportion of the buildings are semi-derelict and some are just a façade defying gravity and the elements, refusing to fall. Several empty shells are now home to fig and ash trees. They most likely blew in on the gentle sea breeze as a seed, and many years later have established themselves as full grown trees now part of the structure. Literally.

It is these faded gems that makes Chora so atmospheric. There is so much beauty in dereliction. The cracked render and layers of peeling paint all tell a story of the lives that have taken place within the walls. The patina of time is a piece of art that only gets better as it ages.

Wander around chora and you will see emblems and carvings signifying a family connection to the maritime industry. Wherever you go on the island you will see references to several of the famous ship owning families that have long been generous benefactors to the island. The island has a sense of who it is and where it has come from and doesn’t feel the need to make concessions to tourism. Thank heavens!

There are three restaurants/taverna’s on the island (that I know of) with the odd cafe too. There may have been others in the past and maybe some are just seasonal that I wouldn’t see at this time of year. I have now had a meal (or two) at all of the restaurants and I would say that they all have great assets and all of them worth a visit.

Palio Teloneio (Old Customs House) Taverna is the first taverna that you will see in the square in the front of the harbour. It has a great menu including a good fish and seafood selection and they do a pretty good Caesar Salad too. The portions are generous and the cost is what I’d call normal for Greece – certainly no inflated prices. I also noticed them serving pitta wraps so this looks a like a good place for a small meal also. The menu is only in Greek but with the aid of Google Translate I was able to decipher everything quite well. I didn’t see it open during the day but this is the end of September as I speak so it may be different during the summer season. The service was very friendly and I think an excellent place to eat.

Pateranissos is located in the main harbour square just behind Palio Teloneio. It has a large terrace in the front and can accommodate a lot of people. I had a meal here twice – it’s surrounded by lots of greenery and nice and shaded. Unfortunately I wasn’t shown a menu – in hindsight I should have asked for one and used Google Translate. However, it was just a case of throwing food words at the guy until a couple of them stuck – you can’t go wrong with Greek Salad and Chicken Souvlaki! Again the food was good basic Greek food with big portions and a good price.

Rodostamo Trattoria is actually my favourite place to eat. It used to be the Aignousiotiko Taverna but 3 years ago new owners took it over and it is now a fabulous restaurant within a stones throw of St Nicholas Church which of course can be seen from most points in Chora – just look up. Get onto the path in front of St Nicholas Church and follow it around (with the church on your right) and you will come to the Rodostamo. It may not have the sea views but you have the wonderful atmosphere of old Chora.

Climb a couple of stone steps and you find yourself on an elevated courtyard with straw shaded lights festooned across the space, adding to the ambience. In summer they also have an open air cocktail bar which I’m sure would be a big draw for the yachting fraternity (if they leave their yacht and walk up) and locals too.

Of course being a Trattoria, you can expect to find both pizza and pasta on the menu but not only this there is a really excellent selection of appetisers many with a modern twist I had a fantastic quinoa salad last night that was truly excellent. They also do takeaway including delivery – however that have really been taking the Mick had I done that being a two minute walk away from my apartment. I did however, order a takeaway pizza one evening and it was fantastic – though much too much for one person!

Here is their Facebook page where you can see examples of what to expect. https://www.facebook.com/rodostamo.trattoria

The prices here are very reasonable and you will get a very friendly welcome, great food and wonderful experience.

There is Restaurant Cafe Glaros at the end of the harbour and close to the Merchant Navy Academy but this was closed whilst I was here – maybe just a seasonal affair. There is a small minimarket on the harbour front close to Captain Diamantis Mansion that sells soft drinks and has a few tables and chairs where you can sit. Also at the side of Palio Teleneio there seems to another small minimarket that also sells drinks and has a few tables and chairs.

The only other one that I wasn’t sure about was the Yacht Club set in an impressive looking building in the middle of the harbour front. When somewhere calls themselves a club it gives me the impression that it’s a members only affair. I’m not a member of the yachting fraternity and I’m afraid that the only yacht I own is the plastic one the grandchildren take to the beach. Anyway, I’m not able to comment on the Yacht Club and what it offers.

Oh and I almost forgot – Bilali Beach Bar serves drinks when it is open in summer. It looks like a nice place to while away a couple of hours with some nice tunes. I know they play nice tunes because on my walk back from Apiganos Beach I passed and there was a bloke in the bar blasting out some tunes through the sounds system there.

Beaches. Well Oinousses has a lot of them. The island has many deeply riven bays which make ideal settings for beaches that are protected from the elements. I’ve seen several of the beaches from above (whilst walking) and I’ve seen many beaches from a fishing caique. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are all natural with the exception of uniform straw parasols on most of them. This is a great concession in the absence of natural shade – most of the beaches are backed by rocks or low growing scrub. Oinousses has won a Natura 2000 award for its beaches and it something that they are incredibly proud of – and quite right too. Too many Greek islands have become a slave to tourism and have practically destroyed the nature of some of the most beautiful of beaches. Surely a balance can be struck but anyway – that was Naxos this year and I can’t say that I’ll be in a rush to go back. One thing’s for sure – I have never seen such beautiful seas – all shades of turquoise and blue. You can see more of this in my previous post.

I’ve had one real beach day here and I found the perfect beach too. Although there are a couple of small beaches close to the port area, you will have to walk (or drive if you’ve brought a car or bike with you) to find the best ones. I’m on Oinousses on foot and to get to Apiganos Beach I walked up towards Agios Spiridon Church – which is beyond Bilali Beach, and then followed the road down. Behind the beach is a cluster of trees and beyond that a space where sheep and goats tend to roam free.

This beach is gorgeous. It was totally deserted and with Chios across the way, curling it’s tip inwards towards Oinousses it creates a very sheltered bay. It is nestled between some large white villa’s belonging to the ship owning Lemos family – as if that isn’t a good enough endorsement of the beach!

Unlike some of the other beaches that I’d seen, this one is primarily sand with tiny pebbles – the ones you can actually walk on without maiming yourself. Further along the beach there are patches of larger pebbles but this only makes up a small part of the beach. The beach shelves very gradually into the sea which is absolutely clear as glass. No matter how far out you swim, you can see right to the bottom. I saw shoals of small fish darting around and at one point I nearly had a heart attack when I saw what I thought was a water snake. It was in fact a piece of twisted branch. Sometimes you’re best not knowing what lies beneath!

Although I was on the beach on my own I felt connected to the landscape. The church that’s part of the monastery complex was high above on the hillside and nature, whether it be butterflies skitting across the water, the sheep snuffling in the undergrowth or the crows flying from tree to tree. I wasn’t alone. The only unwelcome visitors were the wasps. Well it’s that time of year.

I spent most of the day here, alternating between swimming, looking at the pebbles, sunbathing, messing around on Instagram. I’m not very good at just lying on a beach and have a mind that likes to keep myself occupied. However, that really wasn’t the case here. There are moments when you can feel so at peace with everything – a sense of contentment I guess you’d call it. I’m usually in a state of permanent dissatisfaction so this is indeed a rare condition to be in.

So there I am, now 64 years of age on a beautiful beach in my bikini – yes I still wear a bikini. Saggy bits and flab doing its own thing. But when you are in this state of contentment and joy it doesn’t matter. I can be whoever, I want to be – and in my mind, today I’m Sofia Loren! 🙂 Sorry I’m getting carried away with myself there. Just these things pop into my head and I can’t make them go away. What I’m trying to say is that it is easy to find a deserted beach on Oinousses – maybe less so in summer but here you don’t have to contend with the tiered sunbed pricing system (very elitist – and you islands know who you are) and there is no judgment on your beach bod. Yes it happens.

Eventually I drag myself away from the beach. The sun has moved across the sky in front of me and that means it will soon dip behind the mountains of Chios. It has also clouded over a little and the temperature has taken a sudden drop. It’s time to go.

For more beach info on Oinousses see my previous two posts.

Let’s talk about accommodation on Oinousses. There isn’t a lot and virtually nothing was advertised on booking.com when I looked. Through a bit of investigative work I found the contact details for Ksaplas Studios. They were booked from September all the way through to June and tell me many of the properties are taken by teachers during this time. They were very helpful and gave me a list of about a dozen properties – many just a name and a phone number. That was a good starting point.

The Thalassoporos Hotel used to be the only hotel on the island, but it is currently closed. According to the kindly gentleman in the bakery it hasn’t been open for a while – but maybe next year it will be. It looks like it’s in need of a bit of refurbishment from what I can see through a broken pane of glass in the door but obviously a glorious hotel in the past. It’s in a great location with views over the bay and next to the bakery so what else could you ask for! Hidden Greece used to deal with them many years ago but hopefully we can make the connection again when they open.

There is another hotel that is actually on the port level (everything else is uphill) and that is Captain Diamantis Manson. It’s an impressive looking mansion with a large sweeping staircase up to the front door. It looks very swish and again there is no signs of life. However, it could just be open in season. This is the only hotel that I know of here that you won’t have to climb uphill to get to. I imagine that this is in the upper price range.

Ksaplas Studios is right at the very top of Chora – almost directly above St Nicholas Church. Let me tell you – it’s a trek up to where I’m staying and that is only half way up! Unless you are super fit I’d say that you definitely need a car or bike to stay here.

I’m staying at Oinousses Apartments and Studios and I can’t rate it highly enough. My host Despoina and her husband Captain Margaritis have been so welcoming and helpful – I couldn’t have asked for more. I love the apartment that I’m in. I love the bed on the mezzanine level (though the curved wrought iron stair case isn’t for the faint hearted or for people with dodgy knees. Despoina had stocked my fridge with all the basics for breakfast and the kitchen is fully functioning for those who’d like to self cater. It is definitely suitable for long term stays here too and it really has become a home from home. Kind and welcoming hosts are of course the most important thing where accommodation is concerned. It’s not the swimming pool or the luxury room that matters, but the kind heart of your hosts and it is Despoina and Captain Margaritis that have made this stay so special.

What I love more than anything though is the view from the terrace. I overlook the red pan tiled rooves of the mansion houses and over to the cluster of cedar trees surrounding what I think is the blud domed church of Agia Paraskevi. The small islets of Penteleimon and Pateroniso sit out at sea and come alive at night when their lights come on. Beyond this of course is Chios – so close it looks in touching distance but also keeping this channel calm from the prevailing winds.

Just out of sight to the left is the port itself which I can’t quite see. However, I can always hear the horn of the small ferries as they make their presence known.

Oinousses Apartments is a place that I would definitely come to stay again. Be prepared for a bit of a hike up the hill (or the steps) to get here but I can feel the weight dropping off me already!

Talking of the ferries, there are just two boats that I know of that serve Oinousses at the moment. I say at the moment because the harbour wall is being repaired and the large Blue Star ferries can’t dock there until it is fixed – apparently soon. The Oinoussai iii that has now gone to dry dock for a month or so in Peramas and the Psara Glory. I’d seen them side by side in port at Chios. Psara Glory is bigger and bulkier – I haven’t seen a ship like her before. I wonder what her history is.

I had arrived on the smaller Oinoussai iii and had become rather attached to her. She keeps the island in supplies, delivers and picks up the mail and takes the locals shopping to Chios – a real lifeline to the locals. It was always a pleasure to see (and hear) her arriving or departing from the port sounding her customary horn – usually three long blasts.

After she went to Perama, there was a day or two where no ships came here. Of course there is the water taxi – a good sturdy motor boat but it doesn’t have the character of a ferry

I’d seen the Psara Glory in port at Chios and also from my terrace sailing through the channel from Psara to Chios. One day whilst eating breakfast on my terrace I could see that she was heading towards Oinousses. I grabbed my bag and flew down the hill just in time to see her arriving into the port. She only gave one single blast on her horn – nowhere near the volume of the Oinoussai iii but what she did do instead was a full 360 twirl – in fact more than that before docking. Whether this was her way of greeting Oinousses at the beginning of her stint here or in fact a necessary manoeuvre I don’t know – I’ll watch next time she comes in.

Nobody disembarked. Just a few deliveries were off loaded. About a dozen or so people boarded – nobody with luggage so there didn’t seem to be any other tourists here. Maybe there’s another shopping trip happening. A truck loaded with rugs and carpets boarded – he’d had his wares out in the port for the last few days – now onto another islands. Anyway, in a few days I’ll be boarding her myself so I wait until then for the experience.

I’m now ten days into my solo trip and that is ten days away from my family and all the hustle and bustle that comes with that. Solo travel isn’t for everyone and being someone who’s happy in my own company is an advantage. (I don’t know about you but I think I’m hilarious!) But of course I haven’t been totally alone – with family a video call away it feels as though they’re not that far away. I can also hang up if they get on my nerves!

There have of course been interactions with several people whilst I’ve been here which have been very special. In most instances we haven’t spoken each others language but that hasn’t stopped us having an exchange that we’ve understood and appreciated.

Coming back from Apiganos Beach I met a man and his wife walking up to the church carrying a bunch of flowers. We greeted each other and they stopped to talk. The lady asked me if I’d been swimming (the word “banio” and swimming action was easy). I told her yes – at Apiganso Beach which I said was beautiful. They agreed. They asked me where I was staying and how many days I was staying for. They seemed genuinely surprised when I held up 8 fingers and said “octo”. The lady tells me with arm movements that she has been on Oinousses since she was a small child.

On Tuesday morning I was on my way to the bakery when I stopped to take in the view over the bay to towards Turkey. It is overcast today and the wind is certainly at its most vigorous since I got here. I hope that this is a one off and not a change in the weather. As I turned to come back an elderly lady was coming through her gates. We greeted each other and stopped to have an exchange. During our chat I told her that I was staying with Despoina to which she seemed pleased about. Again she asked me how long I was here for and I told her 8 days which pleased her even more. She asked me if I like Oinousses to which of course I said that I loved and by now she was ecstatic! Her name is Penelope and her husband has passed away she told me with a shrug of her shoulders. Not the “I don’t care” shrug but the one that is resigned to the fact and which has left her with untold sadness. I don’t remember the whole of our conversation as I was concentrating heavily on the verbal and non verbal cues. It is the little moments like this that touch your heart.

After saying a reluctant goodbye to Penelope, I proceed to the bakery. The kind man there now almost knows my order which is always a slice of bougatsa and sometimes some nice fancy biscuits. He offers me a biscuit from a box. He says to me “You are the last tourist on the island”. He then says “So you are not on a boat?”. No I tell him. I’m staying with Despoina and I’m here for 8 nights. “Bravo” he says as if I’ve somewhere achieved a badge of honour. That’s one that I’ll wear proudly.

It is here where I ask him about the Thalassporos Hotel – firstly asking it’s location. I have tried to follow the signpost for it but can’t see where it actually is. As I’d kind of expected it’s the large pale blue building right next door to the bakery. Nothing is signposted here apart from the beaches by the way.

It will be with great sadness that I leave here tomorrow. Yes I’m getting more sentimental with age and I do sometimes get that pang of sadness when I leave some islands. However, Oinousses really has stolen my heart.

I think the landscape is something quite exceptional. I’m not just talking about the outward looking view over to the islets and to Chios – that really is breathtaking. The interior of the island is quite unique – whether you travel east or west, there is always something that will catch your eye. I was amazed that for a rocky island it is also so fertile and green. Also when walking through Chora you will see an abundance of cultivation of foodstuffs which are grown in smallholdings including tomatoes, grapevines and courgettes and more. Fruit trees seemingly left to their own devices heavily laden with pomegranates bursting open ready to be picked. Pear trees, fig trees, olive tree, lemon trees. A gardeners paradise I think. The scent in the air will change around every corner. Sometimes the heady scent of fig or the sweet perfume of jasmine. Then it will be the wild fennel and then thyme. The island is a sensory wonder – if you take it slowly and absorb your surroundings.

For all the reasons above is why I say that Oinousses can’t be done in a day. It can’t be done as a day trip from Chios or the hop off a yacht. It needs time to travel through the landscape and by doing that it’s also possible to connect with the gentle souls that live here and to just feel the very unique gifts this special place has to share.

Farewell Oinousses. I really hope to be back one day.

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  1. This really sounds like my sort of island – a quieter Lipsi maybe ? I fancy sitting on that terrace and enjoying the view. Definitely on my list !

    1. Hey Liz! It’s an exceptional island. It has a completely unique character to it. You can tell that there’s a lot of wealth on the island but it still has very simple and beautiful characteristics. 🙂

  2. Your blog was shared on Facebook by a local. I’m happy you discovered the unique charms of Oinousses! I own and manage a property on the island. They are listed on Airbnb and are also promoted on my website: http://www.Evgenikon.com. Although many spaces (including my two flats) are rented longer term during the winter, there are also some options for shorter-term stays (such as my main house and elsewhere).

    1. Hi Paulette. Thank you so much for your messages and the information about your property. This is reall interesting – I’ll send you an email! BTW Oinousses is very very special! x

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