First Impressions from the “Flower of the Aegean Sea”
Whenever we told somebody in Paros that we were planning to visit other islands of the Cyclades as part of our trip, he or she would invariably inform us that all islands were different, that they all had their unique character and that there were plenty of reasons to love each one of them. This is something that we have since been able to confirm on the basis of our own experience.
Or let me rephrase that: we cannot, of course, pass judgment on all of the Cyclades islands – there are more than 200 of them – but the two that we have visited are indeed rather different: where the landscape of Paros builds up from the maritime lowlands to the climax of a central peak, Ios (the Greek word for “small flower” as the mayor kindly informed us) is hilly throughout. While Paros is an island of many sprawly settlements, Ios by contrast feels more compact, more focused and more concentrated. It is livelier, but at the same time more quiet.
The island has only one town, called Chora or “The Village”, which is connected to “The Port” by a footpath. Ios can get away with this generic style of labeling, because there are no other larger settlements or harbours that could cause confusion: neither “the village” nor “the port” have any competitors in Ios.
In northern Europe, some towns – including towns that are much larger than Ios – use the same linguistic economy to simply refer to “the church”. This is something that would not work in Ios, because the island, famously, has so many of them, 365 it is said: one for every day of the year. This estimate is questioned by guesthouse owner Antzela Fakou – she thinks that the actual figure is higher still. “One for every day of the year, and one extra for every Sunday and public holiday”, she laughs.
Ios is blessed with almost as many beautiful beaches. The beach of Milopotas, the one which is closest to Chora, is also the liveliest and busiest on the island – it is this beach to which Ios owes its reputation as a party town.
Antzela, who was born in Sydney Australia, famously the home of one of the largest Greek communities in the world (it is said that there are more Greeks in Sydney than in Greece), told us that her niece from “down under” commented after her first journey to Milopotas that Milopotas featured “more Aussies than there are in Sydney”.
We cannot possibly comment on that, of course, but we have spotted an Australian shop on the beachfront. Ios may be a small place, but has room enough for visitors from all over the world during the summer months.
Ios’s party life, too, is concentrated: most of the partying happens on one (the southern) side of Milopotas, while the rest of the beach is relatively quiet and mainly frequented by families. Milopotas is long enough (altogether 1 km) and wide enough to accommodate different tastes and preferences. (It also features the island’s only restaurant which has been built directly by the seafront.
Up to a point, one might even say that the coast of Ios is simply one long beach. Perhaps the most famous part of this coast is Manganari on the southern tip of the island. Many scenes for Luc Besson’s cult movie The Big Blue were shot here, and when the film crew returned to France, they left their trained dolphin behind.
Not being able to survive on her own, the dolphin – no doubt searching for human company – eventually found her way into the harbour (“The Port”) where many locals still remember having thrown her some fish into the water and seeing their children play with her by the quayside.
But all this changed the day a wild male dolphin found his way into the harbour – “It was love at first sight”, remembers Mayor Michalis Petropoulos, “one day, we saw them swimming together through the harbour, and the next, they had already left” – for their own version of the “big blue”, presumably, and an unequivocally happy end which is denied to the protagonists of the movie. (Come to think of it, the love story of the dolphins would probably have made a better film.)
The nightlife in Chora, too, is concentrated along the same lines: all the discos and bars are located in one street, leaving the remaining lanes in the picturesque maze of Chora’s old town to old-style Greek cafés, charming little shops and wonderful tavernas such as The Nest, run as a family enterprise by two brothers while Mum does all the cooking – at home! (The results are truly stunning.)