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Ikaria Island -Aegean Sea - Eastern Mediterranean - Greece - Its People Hold the World Record for Longevity

Retired from investment banking and teaching, Philip has written several books on investing.

A plunging Ikarios

A plunging Ikarios

Ikaria Airport

Ikaria Airport

Therma

Therma

Converted Fishing Boat

Converted Fishing Boat

Day 1 and 2 – 28th and 29th July 2015

The flight to Athens was on EasyJet leaving from Gatwick Airport. So after a three-hour drive I deposited the car with APH near the airport and was taken by shuttle bus to the South terminal. The flight left on time at 6 pm and after a smooth flight landed at 11:40 pm Athens time. As the flight to Ikaria wasn’t leaving until 7:30 am the next morning I had booked a hotel for the night near the airport. The hotel manager was kind enough to pick me up from the airport and take me to his hotel.

Day 2 - 29th July 2015

I awoke early and without breakfast was driven back to the airport to catch the 7:30 am flight to Ikaria. I managed to grab a cup of coffee and a bite to eat before I boarded the Olympic Airways turboprop plane for the 30-minute flight to Ikaria. After I landed I took a taxi from the airport at Fanari to my home for two weeks in Therma. Ikaria is one of the biggest islands in the eastern Aegean island chain with 160 kilometres of coastline. However, due to its mountainous terrain, it only has 8,000 inhabitants. The topography is a mixture of grey bald steep towering rocks interspersed with pine forests, green hillsides and seaside villages where the green hillsides meet the sea.

I was greeted at my guest house Plumeria by Maria the sister of Kyriaki who owned the place. The apartments were nicely laid out around a lovely garden area where breakfast was served every morning. I unpacked and decided to explore my surroundings.

A converted fishing boat left Therma every hour for the main port and capital of Ikaria - Agios Kirykos – so I jumped on for the short ten-minute ride around the headland to the port. Ikaria’s name came of course from Ikaria the son of the sun god who made a pair of wings out of feathers and wax. He was warned not to fly too near the sun, a warning which he ignored and the wax which held the feathers together melted and Ikaria crashed into the sea at the spot where Ikaria island now stands. A huge statue of Ikaria’s plunge to earth stands at the harbour entrance. Interestingly enough the Ikarian people have the world record for longevity of life. This is put down to the multitude of natural thermal springs, a relaxed lifestyle and healthy diets.

At Agios Kirykos I booked a car for later in the holiday and a motorbike. I walked around the town, had an iced frappe then returned on the next boat back to Therma. That evening I ate at The Beach Restaurant which became my favourite eating place.

Therma

Therma

ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity

Day 3 - 30th July 2015

I awoke nice and early and ate my first breakfast in the garden of the guest house. What a spread was on offer. Fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, tea, coffee, Greek coffee, toast, jam, marmalade, honey, butter and cheese, and ham. The fresh figs had been picked that morning from Maria's mother's garden. Then it was off to the beach to try and get a place under a sun umbrella. This proved difficult as the beach was small and there were very few umbrellas to be had. So my only option was to share or grab a sunbed owned by the Beach Restaurant and use the two or three trees on the beach for shade.

I learned that Ikaria has been a known center for hydrotherapy as evidenced by numerous references in historical texts and by the presence of archaeological remains of ancient baths and facilities such as the Roman baths in ancient Therma. Today, Therma is still the principal region on Ikaria for organized hydrotherapy with three active bath/spa facilities: Cave, Apollon and Kratsas springs.

ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity

Day 4 and 5 - 31st July 2015 and 1st August 2015

Today was a beach day. I spent the whole day at the beach only stopping for coffees, lunch and more coffees. On one side of the beach was a large cave with thermal springs. I would swim into the cave from the beach and sit on the VERY hot rocks in the springs and chill before returning to the cold sea and swimming back to the beach. Later on after the usual Mythos, shower and shave I wandered down to my favourite Tavern on the beach-side. Further on from this Tavern was a spa treatment centre and also the thermal cave. As the tables spilt out over the pathway to this centre you were quite likely to see several old Greek ladies walking back after their treatment in towelling bathrobes and fluffy slippers – something you don’t get in many British restaurants!

Day 5 - 1st August 2015

Another beach day exactly the mirror image of day 4. More coffees, lunch and more coffee, oh and of course the mandatory Mythos beer before showering and changing for dinner.

Old Man

Old Man

Church Window in Arethousa

Church Window in Arethousa

Day 6 - 2nd August 2015

Today I took the boat early in the morning to Agios Kirykos and picked up my car. I set off back on the road to Therma where I turned inland and crossed the island over the mountains towards Mavrikato, Katafygio, and Mileopo before hitting the coast road on the north side of the island. I traveled along the coast road and stopped at a lovely place called Evdilos which is the second largest town on the island. It is here that ferries also stop on their way back to Piraeus from Agios Kirykos. Here I had a coffee and a stroll before heading south once more towards the picturesque village of Avlaki. After lunch, I headed back the way I had come until I came to a road that led inland over the mountains. The road was good in parts and very scary in others. About halfway across I came to a village called Arethousa, which had a church with its tower away from the main building joined to it by a sort of bridge way up high. I stopped for a coffee in the village square and met an old man (he was younger than me but didn’t look it) who had an enormous beard. He regaled me with his life story but the most intriguing was the story of the second world war when the island was invaded by Germans and they had put their Nazi flag atop the church. One of the locals climbed up to the roof of the church and took the flag down and replacing it with the Greek flag. He was shot where he was and fell through the glass dome, that formed part of the roof of the church, to the floor below. I think I treated the old man to three shots of Tsipero, so by the time I bade him farewell words were streaming from his mouth. I continued across the mountains which on the northern side were covered in forest and greenery but on the southern side were bare towering chunks of rock-face, quite majestic if you like that sort of dramatic scenery. The road too seemed to deteriorate on the southern side of the mountains but in the end, after some scary moments, I hit the southern coast road and headed back to Therma.

Church at Arethousa

Church at Arethousa

ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
Nas

Nas

ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
Old Mill

Old Mill

Day 7 - 3rd August 2015

Today was the second day that I had a car and once again I set out for the south side of the island intending to drive all the way down to the end. I stopped on the way for a coffee at Agios Kyriaki which was just a short journey inland and where I passed an old tree which was very knurled and provided an interesting photograph which I could not pass up. Then travelled down to a seaside village called Galiskari. A small seaside settlement in the northern part of the island west of Evdilos. It has about 165 permanent inhabitants. This pretty fishing village with the picturesque inlet, attractive beaches, the church of Agios Nikolaos, and surrounded by towering pine trees uniquely combines the salty sweet breeze with the sweet heady smell of pine wood. Its houses both old and new and set among the orchards are spread over pine clad slopes which contain crystal clear streams running down to the shore. On the 15th of August, the day of the Virgin, a traditional feast is held in the village with local wine, food, and dance until the early hours. Gialiskari is one of the main tourist centres on the island and is home to numerous shops, pensions/hotels, cafes, restaurants and taverns. In Gialiskaris' environs you will find some of the densest pinewood forests on Ikaria and an abundance of water features such as rivers and streams. It had a lovely harbour and way out at the end of the harbour jetty was a beautiful church painted in Greek blue, called Analipsi the Ascencion.

I then travelled onto Armenistis, a small seaside settlement in the northern part of Ikaria west of Evdilos which has about 70 permanent inhabitants, a number which increases substantially in summer. Locally speaking, Armenistis is a small fishing village with a picturesque harbor, its parish church dedicated to Agios Nikolaos, patron saint of sailors, and the few year-round houses of its inhabitants. In recent years it has become a major tourism centre for the island while still retaining a relaxed and traditional atmosphere.

Next was lunch at Nas which is a village further west and at the end of the tarmac road on the south side of the island. Nas is an idyllic place seemingly frozen in time. It is situated at the union of the Chalares River and the Aegean Sea, and was the site of one of Ikaria's earliest settlements. During the 6th century BC, the Ikarians built in Nas a temple to the Goddess Artemis, patroness of sailors & protector of wild animals and hunters. Only the temple's foundation and retaining walls of the Tauropolos waterfront of the ancient harbour are visible today and, but the natural beauty of Nas remains as it was in classical antiquity. The beach is open to nudists and non-nudists. Hiking up the riverbed will eventually bring you to a small waterfall and pool. On the cliff above the beach there are a few peaceful tavernas in which to try the local cuisine. The name "Nas" derives from the Latin word for a temple. In Greek, the word is "naos". I stopped for lunch in a restaurant which was perched high on a clifftop affording a fantastic view of a secluded beach and the sea.

After lunch, I retraced our route back to Evdilos, turned inland and stopped at Kambos stopped for coffee in a small hotel where I was served with a silver service and presented with an Ikarian mug.

After that, I passed through several picturesque villages, Xanthi, Akamatra, Dafni, Stili and Kasikia. Stopped for coffee at Tragostasi a beautiful little village.

When I hit the southern coast road I headed to the village of Xilosyrtis. I had to park up at the top of the village as it was built on the side of the mountain whose sides ran down to the sea. It is called the village of apricots and is especially beautiful and picturesque as it is hidden in the sweet shade of apricot trees. On the 26th of July, a traditional feast takes place in the village with the enthusiastic participation of the local people and foreigners. The large pebble beach stretching out below the village hosts the summer visitors enjoying the sun and sea. I walked around the village and found an old mill which was for cleaning long-haired sheepskin rugs (Flocati). It was just ripe for some of my photography artistry.

I then headed further west along the coast road to the village of Magganitis, a small seaside hamlet with about 150 inhabitants. The entry to the village is impressive, passing through a tunnel cut into the gigantic granite bluffs that surround it. It also imposing as you view it from the sea with a large stone church soaring above the steep cliffs. It is an incredibly beautiful oasis surrounded by huge cliffs which captivate the visitor with a succession of scenery. The area around the church is called "Livadi" as it has ample water and vegetation. Magganitis is a unique place having many surprises in store for the visitor. Manganitis has pretty little houses, cobble paths lined with fig and fruit trees, a traditional oil press, two watermills, enchanting beaches, and a magnificent succession of landscapes sometimes wildly remote with various forms of rocks, and sometimes calm and reassuring with only the view of the lush green mountain slopes.

After that, I headed back to Therma for dinner.

ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
Taverna at Nas

Taverna at Nas

ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity

Day 8 and 9 - 4th and 5th August 2015

Day 8 – 4th August 2015

Another beach day exactly the mirror image of all beach days. More coffees, lunch and more coffee, oh and of course the mandatory Mythos beer before showering and changing for dinner.

Day 9 – 5th August 2015

Today I decided to take the boat to Agios Kyrikos and look around the capital of the island. It is the capital of Ikaria and the main gateway to the island by land, sea, and air. Most of the public services of the island can be found here. Today, together with its environs Panagia, Kountoumas, Agios Pantelemonas, Christos, and Glaredes it has about 2150 inhabitants. Agios Kirikos, with its old two story captains' mansions, flower filled neighbourhoods, narrow cobbled paths, endlessly ascending stone steps, central square flanked by shops, and the non-stop comings and goings of the people, combines the picturesqueness of the Aegean architecture with the bustle of a modern day. The main square or "platia," lined with Mulberry trees, traditional coffee houses("kafenia"), cafes, bars, and shops in the centre of the town's life and is situated on the coastal road facing the sea. Here stands also the marble war memorial to fallen Ikarian soldiers. In and around the square's pedestrian only granite cobble roads and old alleys are located almost all of the restaurants, cafes/bars, pensions/rooms for rent, shops, public and private services, tourist offices, and agencies of the town. Wondering along the narrow paths of Agios Kirikos and its environs is a pleasant exercise and evokes memories of long forgotten times.

I walked around the town and before going back not by boat this time but by the local bus, but not before I had arranged the hire of a motorbike for the next couple of days.

ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity
ikaria-its-population-have-the-world-record-for-longevity

Days 10,11,12,13,14,15 - August 6th - 11th 2015

Day 10 – 6th August 2015

I took the boat early to Agios Kirikos to pick up my motorbike. I had my knapsack with me because I was heading for one of the better beaches on Ikaria at Fanari (Faros) which is at the eastern tip of Ikaria. Faros is located on a small plain with many vineyards and is home to a growing number of houses, most of these summer cottages used by the inhabitants of Agios Kirikos and Perdiki. Faros' coastline, with its two-mile-long beach, crystal clear sea, and abundant fish and sea life is a delight for every holidaymaker. An interesting architectural feature of the village is the non-existence of a seaside road, making it perfect for families with children. Instead, pedestrians pass through the yards of the houses and tavernas/cafes which are built on the waterfront.

On and around the beach there are a few seaside restaurants and cafes, a mini-market, art/gift shop, rooms for rent, and a few guesthouses/pensions, making extended stays highly desirable, especially for families with children and visitors seeking peace and quiet. Faros is also becoming a center for water sports including windsurfing, kayaking, scuba diving, sailing, and snorkeling. The unobtrusive Ikarian airport is a mere stone throw away, but invisible from the beach or village and there are only 1 or 2 flights per day.

In the area of Faros lies Drakano Fortress, the ancient third capital of Ikaria. Its name originates from the mountain bearing the same name, which today is called Atheras. The Eastern promontory where the ancient town was situated was also called Drakano for the same reason. The location can be spotted from the sea and is a must-visit for those staying in Faros along with Agios Giorgis Beach

Also of interest close by is Iero Beach and the Cave of Dionysos and the hilltop Italian Fortress from WWII.

Near Faros and at an elevation of between 100-150m and West South West of the airport near the main road, is located the ancient burial ground and tombs of Propezoulopi, thought to be associated with the cult of Dionysus. These megalithic monuments (Menhir) are identified by columns of limestone with heights between 1,22m and 2.80m. They lie in their original positions and are spread throughout the area. The stones that mark the tombs are characterized by sharp tips and are typically arranged in groups and in a straight row.

I stayed at this beach all day eating lunch at a beachside taverna before enjoying an afternoon swim. The sea here was much warmer than the seawater at Therma.

Day 11 – 7th August 2015

Another enjoyable day spent on the beach at Faros relaxing in the sun and swimming in the sea.

Day 12 – 8th August 2015

I took the motorbike back in the morning and then returned to Therma by the boat and spent the day on the beach. Today I met an English couple, Nik and Stef who ran the tourist information shop where they supplied tourist information and sold locally made crafts, foodstuffs and soaps. They told me they had sold everything in the UK and come out five years earlier to Therma and set up the tourist information office. They were also very much into community work trying to improve the cleanliness of Therma beach and the surrounding area. Nik also ran the surf riders business on the beach itself.

Day 13 – 9th August 2015

Another beach day exactly the mirror image of all beach days. More coffees, lunch and more coffee, oh and of course the mandatory Mythos beer before showering and changing for dinner.

Day 14 – 10th August 2015

Another beach day exactly the mirror image of all beach days. More coffees, lunch and more coffee, oh and of course the mandatory Mythos beer before showering and changing for dinner.

Day 15 – 11th August 2015

Another beach day exactly the mirror image of all beach days. More coffees, lunch and more coffee, oh and of course the mandatory Mythos beer before showering and changing for dinner.

Faros

Faros

Day 16 - 12th August 2015

Up for an early breakfast before saying my goodbyes and taking a taxi to the airport for my flight to Athens. As the flight home was not until 9 pm I decided to take the train into the center of Athens. After leaving my luggage at the airport I caught the metro and forty-five minutes later alighted at Syntagma Square in central Athens. From here I could see the parliament building and the royal gardens. I then walked down Ermou street and found a nice restaurant where I had lunch. After lunch, I continued down Ermou street towards Monastiraki the old quarter of Athens situated just below the Acropolos which towered over the area. In Monastiraki I found the church where my mother had been married to my father over seventy years ago. I spent several hours looking around the old markets and tourist shops taking many photographs before catching the metro from Monastiraki station back to Athens airport.

The flight left on time at 9pm and was uneventful, arriving at Gatwick around 11:15pm. It was the last flight in apparently and I hung back a bit because it was raining and was one of the last people off the plane. I rushed to catch up with the rest of the passengers through the glass-walled corridors when suddenly the door closed both behind me and in front of me. That was it locked in! I banged on the glass trying to attract people’s attention before anyone noticed me. I was trapped for about 20 minutes before the doors were unlocked. It wouldn’t have been so bad but I was dying to go to the loo!

After that excitement, I was shuttled back to where the car was parked and started the three-hour journey home.

Comments

Dianna Mendez on January 11, 2017:

I enjoyed this wonderful place through your sharing here. I especially loved having that yummy breakfast of yogurt and fruits. What a lovely place to visit.

Gina Welds from Tampa, Florida on January 01, 2017:

I loved reading about your adventures. Thanks for sharing!

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