Amorgos: hiking in the clouds

I hadn’t seen The Big Blue so didn’t know what to expect. In the pre-instagram age of the late 80s Jean Luc Besson’s film catapulted this small Cycladic Island community onto the tourists radar. Even 30 years later people still visit to plunge into deep blue waters. Numerous places to stay are named after variations of film’s title as well as an annual ‘Real Big Blue’ diving competition. This was all lost on us. We went to discover Amorgos’ rugged land, famous hiking trails, not just the blue sea.

The early start in the island capital’s Chora coincided with dawn shuffling over the grey sky. We packed our rucksacks with supplies for the long hiking route #1. Stepping out into the eerie village  we were greeted a wild moan of wind rushing through the streets like an omen. Hadn’t we come here for the Hellenic sunshine?

The first part of the walk seemed easy, down a cobbled traditional stone path, seemingly headed right into the Aegean. Instead it dipped into a tarmacked road and became a car park at the famous whitewashed Monastery clings dramatically to the rocky cliff face. Panagia Hozoviotissa has captivated worshippers and travellers since the 11th century. Described eclectically as a chest of drawers by one intrepid explorer in the 1800s – it still holds true as a revered place of Orthodox worship.

“Bonjour, Ca’va?” a voice came from a hobbit-sized doorway. We were greeted by a monk laying out skirts for the women visitors to wear. Respectful dress codes still apply. Most visitors are French or Italian, so he practices less English. He chats in between offering a shot of honey infused raki and a bite-sized Loukoumi. We tell him of our hiking plans and he is surprised we are taking such a long route, ‘you are strong, right?’ he says doubtfully looking at our slight frames. Smiling he waves us off with “Kala Tichi” Greek for good luck. Between the dark clouds rolling in from the mountains and the doubt from the monk, I feel only trepidation as the rugged path stretches before us. The full route is 20km to Aegiali – the sign post states 4hours 40mins. We take this with a big pinch of greek maybe time!

After a sharp ascent and narrow drop to the sea, we keep pace traversing a shrubby plain weaving in and out of gigantic boulders. The 4 other hikers are crossing the opposite way, it becomes apparent we are doing the hike in reverse. The path direction less travelled.  Traditionally the Orthadox biers of Easter are taken in procession across the island from Aiegali to be laid the Monastery. Stopping off at every church on the way to give blessings. Hiking the path backwards perhaps is fitting in summer. The wild goats don’t seem to mind. As we reach the peak when the path converges, the clouds are descending fast, I feel like they are whipping round us and making the morning seem like a foggy winters eve.

20180828_10394820180828_102814It warm but the sun is nowhere to be seen. Never mind the big blue, this visibility means we can only see about 10 foot in front of us. Soon a clatter of goat bells clang harmoniously and we round a corner to see a whole herd emerging out of the clouds.  They converge round us unafraid and bleeting.

Onwards high above the roads and scattered farmhouses that remain in this harsh landscape. Past vast terraces of land once cultivated for wheat and grains, vines and olives. Reaching the abandoned village of Asfontylitis marks the half-way point in the middle of the Great Strata path. Although a couple of the houses are restored, village life hasn’t changed here in centuries. We saw two men carrying water from the well helped by their sturdy mules. The church marks the centre of the settlement, they waved kindly at us, probably used to stray hikers nosing around. Some amazing rock paintings of stick men appeared on large stones as the path veers left and up – were they a warning?

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We took a lunch stop after the vast valley of Oxo Meria facing the tiny chapel of Agia Mamas. Two men stood around in the shade. Soon one was whitewashing the church walls with a long extended brush. The other took photos with a rickety clicking digital camera. This must be the proof of their mornings work. How else would anyone know if the painting at been done, the church was a good few hours walk from any of the main roads.  Only hikers or mules would be witnesses to the new coat of paint.

Finally around 5 hours later we took the final decent down the path into Aiegali, the clouds seemed to part as if by magic and the sun blazed down.  There was no question then, the big blue sea beckoned us for a cooling dip.

Perhaps we were learning what the fuss was about after all.

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Islands of Industry part 2: Milos

 

You will have definitely seen Milos, it perhaps exists in people’s imaginations long before they visit it. Its images infiltrated your vision when you think about that Cycladic Greek paradise with azure blue seas and white sand, the contrasting colours of fisherman’s houses right at the sea and boats bobbing in the harbour. Milos has all of this and a whole lot more, which is why it’s having a bit of a moment. This is a good thing for the Miliots haven’t been reliant on tourism – so it’s a supplementary activity. It has been a steady industrial island, with a history of mining and mineral extraction plants since the turn of the Century. In fact the mines here contribute about 5% of Greece’s national GDP.

Milos

 

I had ‘ummed and ahh’ed about Milos – for the reason that it’s getting lots of coverage in tourism press, so is building a following, not yet on the Santorini / Mykonos scale, but on its way as tourists add in Milos to an island hopping route. It has a ton of high speed connections too. That’s why we went in June before it got too busy. I was finding it tricky to secure somewhere relatively good value quite last minute. There is a lot of ‘boutique’ places which 10 years ago I suspect had meaning, now is a tired trend in hotels that often means double the price for some white painted furniture (sorry!).

As we’d just stayed in Kimolos, being blissful and low key, the inter-island hop to stay on Pollonia for 4 nights on Milos was super simple. The Panagia Fanomerini boat actually runs all year round and the mine workers use it to commute to work between the two islands. Although the timetable had just that day changed, hence a ‘will it / won’t it’ panic about whether there would be a 12 midday service or wait until 5pm. The café waitress offered to help us and a few conversations later soon established it was on at midday as promised. Like everything in Greece, having ‘travel-faith’ always helps (taxi’s turn up on time, boats run, people offer lifts).

Arriving in Pollonia was certainly a contrast to sleepy Psathi. Pollonia is a little harbour and swathe of sandy beach fringed by tamarisk trees, it has about a dozen café’s and restaurants on the front, from souvlaki houses to higher-end cocktail bars. Kind of traditional but feels well established for tourism as most of the buildings have sprung up in the past 10 years or so. But the traffic was a little crazy, lots of ATV, quads and mopeds buzzing around! When we rocked up at the travel office to check in to the apartments, the sales girl spent too long trying to tell me how I definitely needed a vehicle to see the island properly. Pah, we have legs! It’s not that I don’t trust us as drivers, its more I don’t trust other drivers – especially younger kids who maybe don’t drive mopeds normally.

We stayed in the Eleni, which was clean and quiet and just a short walk from the seafront at Pollonia. And more importantly close to breakfast at Kivotos ton Gefseos (the ark of taste!) which did amazing homemade honey, cakes and ice creams. We even ate breakfast there one day; eggs and bacon in the gorgeous paradise garden.

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So Pollonia is right next to this huge benzonite mine, which I think most people don’t even realise as they sip cocktails on the seafront and work on their tan. The island has been well mapped into 6 routes with descriptions here. As it was too windy to head to the beach, G decided on route 4 as it sounded like one of the most interesting and different hikes you can take. It covers a vast area still in use mines along the cost and interior sites.

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It starts in Polllonia, heading out the back of the village on a well –marked road. For the majority you are on unfinished roads with mining traffic. We did this on a Sunday and given everything else is closed in Greece, it was astonishing that trucks worked tirelessly up and down this road. The mine and processing plants form a vast area belonging to S&B Industrial Minerals whose main product in bentonite, used in clay and concrete manufacturing. The truck drivers have painted personalised trucks (like ‘the yellow dragon’) and given the strangeness of people wandering around a dangerous site, they were friendly too.  Waving at us, not to scare us away which is what I feared!

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This isn’t an ideal hike for everyone, the only other walkers we saw were a French couple, the lady was not having a good time and hated walking on the roads with the trucks. They stopped twice and asked us a few questions, eventually abandoning the hike before reaching its real highlight.

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The view from the massive mine makes it all worth it. They have even made a viewing point shelter where you can sit and enjoy the view. And it is quite an amazing view which really reminds you of the sheer scale of mines like this.

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After this stop the trail returns to the rural farming fields and olive groves that one gets used to in the Cyclades. It heads out to the coast in a loop so we extended the walk through to the beaches at Pachena, where we ate a picnic lunch on the lunar landscape and tried to swim in the huge waves crashing on the shore. We contined the walk to Kambos and the caves at Papafragos- where we saw a few people idly ignore the crumbling rocks and warning signs to take slightly eye-watering photos leaning over ledges! Heading back into Pollonia, we passed an abandoned looking garden Nursery owned by the mining company – where apparently they grow plants to help stabilise the rock shelves and re-green the land.

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Milos is a unique place, its geology and coastline are unique. That’s why going out on a boat trip seems to be one of the definitive experiences on the islands .But when I found a day trip offered on kayak this seemed like a much better experience than being trapped on a crowded boat for 6 hours!  Rod who runs Kayaking Milos, a geologist and Australian ex-pat knows the islands coastline like an expert having lived on Milos for over 20 years. The day trips are 9.30-4pm, with snacks and lunch, tons of help and guidance for new and novice kayakers. He plans routes based on the winds and currents each day, so our small group went out at Aghia Kiriaki on the south coast and kayaked about 13k on the water – which sounds like a lot but it is entertaining and informative, so you don’t notice the exercise! (well not much, but my arms were tired the next day!) The route took us past Tsigrado beach, which can only be reached by climbing down the rcks on a rope ladder. Yikes, I was much happier seeing it from the safetly of our double kayak. We explored the coast, team work all the way, paddling through caves and sulphur springs. Stopping for swim breaks along the way, firstly at Firaplaka and then lunch at Gerakas beach. All breathtraking views and a really interesting way to see the island up close.

Milos

Milos

Although it is a relatively small island it has a lot to do. Not just admiring the interesting industrial landscape and geology – of which there is plenty. But there are also stunning beaches and traditional tavernas. Like the one very close to our apartment in Polloonia, called Liofyto – a fab open air terrace set in a lovely garden. We fed our holiday bellies with a local speciality of lasagne with veal, tiganes pork bites and green salad with mustard dressing. The place was full of Greeks and locals celebrating a babies christening late into the evening.

Other nights we found some great seafood at Enalion on the sea-front– a sun-dried octopus with tangy fresh lemon and chickpea salad. I’d also recommend the souvlaki place on the main road, so cheap and so tasty. Luckily we balanced exercise and eating on this trip!

Even if you have a week on Milos there is probably a lot to see and do, contrary to belief you need a car or moped, or ATV, the islands bus service is frequent so you can get by without.

Here is my top 5 things to see and do:

1.Go hiking
Choose one of the 6 mapped routes to experience the island on foot. With 75 beaches to explore by foot, boat or vehicle, it is still possible to find your paradise. Despite the popular ones being Sarkoniko with its white lunar landscape and the caves at Kleftiko, there are dozens more to see off the tourist trail.

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2. Walk down to see the restored fisherman’s houses at Klima
Most are painted in colourful hues and used as holiday homes. This would have been the islands original port for the ancient city of Melos.

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3. Visit the Catacombs just outside Trypiti
Here outside the smaller settlement of Trypiti is a wonderfully preserved catacombs – the best in all of Greece apparently. Only 4 euros entry and you get a guided walk through, where the roots of plants hang spookily from the ceilings of the two open chambers. It’s well maintained and shows an interesting explanation of the islands shift to organised religion as orthodox buriels were established. There is a ton of interesting graffiti there too from as early as the 1920s

Milos

Milos

4. Explore the site of the ancient city of Melos and see the amphitheatre
The area is well signposted and explained. On the way you’ll see the marked spot where the famed statue of the Venus di Milo was found in the 1820s. Now in the Louvre in Paris, she is an interesting claim to fame from the islands past glory in the ancient world.

Milos

Milos

5. Wander around the streets of Plaka
Although I didn’t find it the most atmospheric of Chora settlements you can see in the islands, it is undeniably pretty, well maintained and has lots of interesting shops, bars and café’s.

Milos

 

It’s not often I have regrets about Greek Islands, but I do with Milos. I wish we had had just maybe one more day there so we could have visited the Milos Mining Museum in the capital Adamas as I understand it wonderfully weaves together the islands history and industry. Next time, there definitely has to be a next time!

Steps βήματα

Breaking it down into tiny steps seemed to be the only way. One foot in front of the other. Squinting in the bright sunlight. Not looking up ahead to what may lie at the ridge and especially not looking down. There seemed to be more dramatic views the higher we got – not that I saw any of them. I enjoyed them later with aching legs and safely sat on low ground when G showed me them on his phone.

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It wasn’t that the hike was particularly steep. It wasn’t meant to be particularly challenging either – we’d walked from Kini to Gallissas on a route I love as it takes you out into wild headlands and over the stone steps that connect the two villages.  The route out to Katokefalos (only funny because Google translates it as the ‘headache’!) was described as a medium easy hike. Of course it totally felt like that at the start pondering up the incline at the end of Gallissas beach – we looked up and found the path, fairly steep at first for 100mtrs and then balanced out into a fairly flat but HIGH up – a goat clinging path. With every turn and whoosh of the warm breeze, it got slightly worse and my vertigo-fear kicked in.

The walk paralysed me with fear. Just focusing on getting through the steps ahead was the only tactic. Giving myself over to the crunchy gravel-like stones that’s seemed to be shifting underfoot creating a moving surface. When there was flatter rocks and boulders, it was slippery underfoot. My faithful spider stick was now doubling up as a leaning stick. By the time we were at the end of the Katokefalos headland, I was clinging on. Trying (and failing) to channel my Inner Cheryl Strayed.

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If there is one comparison to be made between hiking and life, it is this: by attempting to look at the whole route will do nothing but set out intimidation to block your way. To look at every pitfall and high ledge with fear might feel natural. Yes, that path looks to be fit for nothing more than skinny goats, it probably is. But you’ll try anyway. G led the way – he had this look in his eyes that was less about his fear and more about the fear I have of falling and how he’d need to support me if I freak out.  Leaning silently on one another is needed in relationships. How to be supportive, without leading and telling. Being scared and making mistakes, giving them space to find their feet and way of seeing things.

Life’s preciousness has a brutal way of reminding you not to take it for granted. Like the path it is impossible to take it all in at once – it is too much to process, every twist and turn, marker on the way, snake in the grass and wildflower clinging to the rocks. Looking for too long and too hard can leave nothing but a sheer drop into the deep frothing sea. But by taking the path for what you can see can be part of this. Not just the few metres in front –  just each step. One by one. No looking back, no looking up and ahead. Not down to the vertiginous plants clinging to the rock, not to wonder how they survive in an impossible feat of nature. Just take life for what it is. There on the path I learned to follow these rules.

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In the village there are white painted steps that rise up from the main road and lead to the church – on one side and on the other.  A common sight in any Greek village – instead of all roads leading to Rome, nearly all paths lead to a church in Greece. The steps are painted white so you can see them in the dark, there often isn’t street lights on every path so that helps. I have little routes around and across the village, to the small harbour one day, then across Loto the next. Up one way and down the other. As someone who grew up in a large town and lived in cities all my adult life, I find the village atmosphere refreshing even when I’m on my own. It isn’t scary to be alone. The  funny thing is you can’t really be lonely in a village this size, there are Kalamera’s and Kalaspera’s and other nods and smiles, and often, a crazed barking dog on every wander. I spent 5 days here alone while G was in the UK and am more than pleased to admit I wasn’t bored at all. I took myself out to lunch and on a trip around the Industrial Museum. Drinking coffee and watching the day slowly unfolding with quiet dramas of island life. I was social and went out with people for dinner which was fun as I like listening to people’s stories. The stories about the villages, the politics of places and people who live here are fascinating. Syros is an island of contrasts – rural farming and goats grazing, beaches and bars, heavy industry and commerce. An island of nomads – why they came, how they live and what grounds them here.

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Last Saturday I went out early to pick caper berries from a bush a little further out from the village. It had been damp overnight and the smell of seaweed hung in the humid air as I walked over the soft wet sand on Loto beach. The caper bush I found was abundant with flowers and berries, all graciously unpicked. I know won’t really be a secret – I bet at least one wise lady knows it’s there. But that’s why I only took enough to half fill the jar, barely making a dent on its bounty. I love walking alone, although always consider the risk of snake-bite, which people warn us about as now’s the time of year they roam around. The other night we overheard a conversation about a snake bite. A typical tale involving a trip to the hospital, anti-venom injection. Always a lucky escape.

I’ve still never seen a snake on the path and hope it stays that way.

I myself have always found that if I examine something, it’s less scary. I grew up in the West, and we always had this theory that if you saw – if you kept the snake in your eye line, the snake wasn’t going to bite you. And that’s kind of the way I feel about confronting pain. I want to know where it is.”- Joan Didion,

 

In time for Easter

The ferry from Pireaus was simpler this time. In fact everything we do now is strangely predicated by this statement; ‘ last year’. Which hangs on every action like a shadow in the midday sun. I know I feel less fraught and nervous about it all now I am here. For months we have had the questions from well meaning loved ones and negotiations with work stuff to deal with. It has been worth it. Things will be different and change is inevitable. After last year’s inventive skateboard / suitcase transporter incident which involved a hill and a tantrum, our luggage a little more streamlined. No more wheelie massive body bag, which has been resigned to the end of its travelling life. Everything we need, nothing we don’t, well so far at least.

Even in this Easter week, we have had glorious days of sunshine that feel like summer but it’s cold at night. Duvets and extra blankets are needed – as are warm socks to keep out the chill. It won’t stay like this but Spring has a way of tricking you every time.

I do love the thrill of the ferry ride, its escalators upwards to the desk when you arrive. Not quite the grand treatment but I do appreciate the welcomes you receive from the staff with their Blue Star waistcoats. Makes the idea of ferry travel somehow like a cruise. Although I’ve never been on one – I’ve seen enough of  Jane MacDonald’s attempts at promoting them on that TV show to have a good idea 😉 We bustled through the port under darkness and onto the ramp, were the man pointed us to the Mykonos bag storage section. Of course he imagined that most tourists in March would be heading there. “Oxi, Syros parakelo” “ahhh, endaxi” he looked surprised. Loading our 4 neat bags on the shelf and headed upstarts to get coffee.

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Instead of a golden sunrise full of pinks and oranges, when we left the mainland there was a dull slump of dark grey into light grey. A nothing sunrise. I was okay with that. The Blue Star left the smokey harbour and crazy traffic behind, half empty or half full with passengers depending on how you see life. To me then, as the wind whipped round the deck and setting sail across the Aegean, it was half full.

There is a magic moment when the boat comes towards the port at Ermoupoli just a few minutes after the captain sounds the horn echoing across the island and the Church at Agios Dimitrios replies by chiming its bells. It then turns to let the two hills come into sight in all their pastel shades tumbling into the blue sea and stretching upwards to green hills in the distance. It gets me every time – even in the grey patched clouds this time it looked spectacular. 

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Arriving back in the village was a little like time travel – the same turns, twists and views from the taxi.  Finding warm welcome’s and hello’s, noticing new things as we stumbled blindly retracing our steps like survivors of a small but significant storm. The past week has been both strange and familiar at once. Getting into the swing of life again here, settling into familiarity and making a home.  Separating out the week for work, shopping tasks and buses into town. Enjoying time with friends and neighbours, sampling new places and old favourites.

We took time out for a walk to Aetos beach last Sunday under clear blue skies and a howling wind. It was funny as we both had completely forgotten how to find the right path, we remembered the jumper tied to the post and the gap in the wall. But then we went too far and walked through a threshing circle before looping back and starting over. 

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Eventually we found the right path, it looked like not many had walked it as the bushes were so overgrown. This meant we were rewarded with Aetos beach to ourselves and it was the best place for the first swim. Bracing and brave would be two good words to describe it! 

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Since then I have swum a few more times at Kini beach. As it is Easter week there are plenty of people here as the Island prepares for one of its busiest times. Last night we ate a feast of calamari and fava; as its traditional to eat seafood during lent (nothing with a backbone) and only eat meat after tonight’s church service – when the magritsa soup is cooked. Not quite sure if I’m up for making lambs entrails soup yet, maybe next year… As traditions go, Easter certainly goes with a bang here and there will be fireworks near midnight after the services to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. We have been given red dyed eggs – so can battle them in a cracking match tonight!

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At this time of year there are beautiful wild irises dotting the paths, bees buzzing in bountiful flowering sage and wild thyme, a wonderful reminder of nature’s hold on the seasons. In these weeks after the Spring equinox and the shift to summer time it feels right to celebrate change, growth and rebirth. 

Happy Easter – Kalo Pascha!

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The small cyclades – Donoussa

The small cyclades (Μικρές Κυκλάδες) are a set of satellite islands out from Naxos that are some of the smallest inhabited islands of the Aegean. The islands of  Iraklia, Schinoussa, Koufounissi (or Ano Koufonissi) and Donoussa make up the motley crew. They might be less well- known to tourists, but are certainly not undiscovered. Their charms are simple; beaches, relaxation and peace.  But their popularity is growing every year.

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We started the near day-long journey on the Aqua Jewel from Syros at 7am, (the replacement for the Aqua Spirit) this route gave us a 3 hour break for a long lunch in Naxos before hopping on the Express Skopelitis. To say this boat is a bit of legend might be an understatement; it’s been ran by three generations of the same family for 30 years bringing thousands of tourists every season. The historic ferry runs a loop connecting these ‘barren islands’ every few days, a life-line to bring tourists, food supplies and is certainly a big event when the small cyclades ferry enters each port.

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Given how ferocious the meltemi wind has been in recent weeks we were lucky with the weather as it was relatively calm and sunny. Koufonissi was the first stop on the 4 hour long trip, this being the most ‘popular’  island and from what I could ascertain attracts the bigger crowds, with more restaurants and places to stay – it is also better connected with a couple of regular high speed ferries each week. Schinoussa felt even less busy, as much of the island is out of view from where the ferry docked at Mersini with the inhabited Chora 1km further  uphill. On the ‘tour’ route of the Skopeltis we might not have experienced the other islands but it was impossible to miss the deep aquamarine of the sea and the pale sand – making these islands appear at first glance more like the caribbean than the rocky barren Greek Islands they are. Iraklia also similar approach – blue seas and beaches – only a couple of buildings visible at the port but has the largest land mass of the group at 19 sq KM.

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The 13 sq KMs Donoussa seemed like a dry-land paradise by the time the boat docked. What started off as calm waters was shattered after we sailed into a choppy stretch of sea out of the sheltered waters of Naxos and out to the wild open stretch of sea with Amorgos island in the distance . The tiny port Chora of Stavros is the main settlement of the island with a permanent year round population of around 200. It has just one handful of taverna’s and one supermarket – it’s as big of a slice of civilization as you’ll ever need. It being the first week in September we had booked ahead, apparently in August it’s impossible to get a room to rent without advance planning. The garden facing studio at Firoa Rooms was a good call (well done G, you do like booking trips!). The island might not be famous for sunsets of high-end cuisine, but what it does have in droves is peace and charm. The To Kyma Taverna sits over the harbour as an eatery, kafenion and general store,  it’s a family affair with mama in the kitchen and daughter waiting tables, serving as the heart of the village as locals play backgammon and wistful cats wander between the tables. We went here for a quick drink to acclimatise ourselves, but went back several times to eat – great food, no menu’s just whatever the ladies in the kitchen have cooked up that afternoon. We gorged on artichokes, stuffed tomatoes and rooster in wine. Delicious and incredible value.  

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In the blissful 5 days we enjoyed great traditional local food at Illiovasilema and Meltemi  as well as visiting Captain Georgios for seafood – sampling delicious stuffed Calamari and deep fried shrimps. There was probably 2 more places we could have tried in Stavros, but there’s enough variety to keep your palate satisfied if you were here a week or even two.  Although tranquil and free from mass-tourism, the thing I appreciated were the lack of cars. It was heaven just wandering about and never being passed by more than one or two cars.

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Walking on the island was great – well signposted and decent trails that make up the network of Paths of Cultural Interest. Most of them used to be part of the old mule roads that covered the island and united its four villages, Stavros, Mersini, Messaria and Kalotaritissa. We managed to do the three main hiking trails – the first day we went up over to the beaches of Kalotaritissa which you can do a nice detour up to the highest point of the Island at the peak of Mount Pappas – yes, we managed to time that badly with a particularly hot day and I actually thought I would die at one point on the climb up! But the views were well worth the pain!

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The walk takes you  over some spectacular scenery to the tiny settlement of Kalotaritissa which has one taverna and 5 occupied houses. The beaches were clear and clean and we rested a while to enjoy a swim, before exploring further beaches and the cape. Then we walked back which the climb was steep again, but the sun was lower in the sky and behind us. We also had a chance to have a look at the old mines on the hillside, these were once a huge industry for the island swelling its population into the thousands but closing in the late 1930s . What remains of the mine Spooky and full of goat bones, forcing me to wonder if old goats take themselves off to die quietly in caves?

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The second full hiking day we did the route that connects Stavros to Mersini to then onto Massaria. This is a varied route taking inland hillsides across to the Spring at Massaria.

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Then on to the amazing beaches at Livadia, and the hidden bay of Fikio. The swimming was perfect, so clear and blue.

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We agreed that this might have been one of the best beaches we’d swam on for sheer out-there-photogenic-ness-in-real-life!

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We had some map issues where we couldn’t locate paths but eventually found our way back on the trail to see explore the old windmill and then down to Kedros beach. We swam in the wreck of the Orion, an old WW2 German boat which was sunk by allied forces – just the hull remains decaying in the bay but still a fascinating place to snorkel.

 

Donoussa isn’t quite the land that time forgot, it has enough facilities to keep the more peaceful travellers occupied. It thankfully doesn’t have any big hotels or music clubs and retains a small-island atmosphere is reminiscent of a by-gone time.  As tourists we only get to see a small part of an island and experience it in a moment in time, Donoussa has bags of charm and lIke many islands it has suffered from dwindling industry and opportunity, and now turns its hand to tourism to boost its island economy. Over time it has attracted new generations of islanders, returning to set up apartments and businesses. While we were there a village wedding took place on a Saturday, everyone came out to wish the couple well. It seemed like most of the locals attended or were involved in some way, a reminder of what a close-knit community the island still has and one that I hope remains.

 

What also makes the island unique is a tolerance to that hippie-vibe that tolerates naturism on (most) beaches, there is also a blind-eye turned to free-camping with a surprising amount of tents on the areas behind Kedros and Livadi beaches. This all seems friendly enough, but my only criticism to this is the outward appearance of the tents on the landscape. I know it sounds mean as free-camping trumps an organised beach-bar pumping out music and paid for sunloungers, but it would be better if it was confined to one area like Kedros beach, but we more than once we came across tiny coves with 2 tents taking up the whole beach space. Fair enough, like the first one on the beach rule you can set up wherever you want  – but if some people are there for weeks. This little aspect jarred with me – especially when we went on walks and found little piles of rubbish left over from camping and those intolerable wetwipes left in bushes (no they never biodegrade). Free-camping is great for tourism and the island and environment, if you are responsible and leave no trace.   

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On our last full day we walked out to Aspro Cavo – the cape of the island which stretches out with some amazing rock formations. It is a very barren lunar landscape, with rocky little pools of water forming salt crystals in the sun and driftwood dotting the landscape . That evening the wind was started to whip up a storm which turned our farewell to the island the next morning into a rather eventful mission.

 

To say the journey back to Syros was a little rough might be the understatement of the year. The Express ran 2 hours late as it made its way from Amorgos, once onboard we hunkered down below deck while it was battered by waves and Beaufort scale 7 winds for a long 3 hours back to Naxos. Main thing is we survived and weren’t sick (thank you miracle travel tablets and tuc crackers) – I cannot imagine how the hardy crew keep going in all weathers!.

 

Now, back on Syros and into the September slow-down of the season, I am keen to just realx and enjoy life on dry-land.