If you want to see the many facets of the island, you will – unfortunately – have to exchange your hiking boots for a set of wheels
I think we can all agree that walking is the perfect way of experiencing foreign destinations. The problem is that you do not always have the choice between good, better and perfect, but must instead take what is possible or do entirely without.
Take Ios in the spring, for example. While some popular trails, which give you a good first impression of the island and its charms, start in the conveniently reachable twin towns of Limani and Chora, most of the rural hinterland of Ios is inaccessible on foot if you have no set of wheels to take you there in the first place.
Bus services to the more remote parts of the island are sketchy, particularly outside the high season, but even in summer, the public transport network mainly exists to connect Limani and Chora with the islands’s most popular beaches.
So if you want to get around to experience the sights of Ios, you only have the choice between hiring a car and finding someone who is willing to drive you around. As far as we were concerned, this decision was taken out of our hands by the Town Council of Ios who generously supplied us with one of their cars and a driver throughout our stay: we were chauffeured around either by the inimitable Christos – a sprightly 72-year-old who always picked the first hairpin curve of any drive to fumble for his seat belt – or, on more than one occasion, the Mayor of Ios himself, Mr Michalis Petropoulos.
(Destinations, listen closely: this is the standard we will expect from now on. So next time we visit London, we shall be looking forward to being picked up from the airport by Boris Johnson who will then invite us to dinner with his charming wife and introduce us to most of his friends and associates.)
The exploration of some of the following sites does require some walking, either because the sites are relatively large and spread-out or because there is a long (often scenic) route leading to them from the parking lot. Most of these sites are difficult to reach by public transport, but foregoing the experience of seeing them altogether would leave your visit to Ios sadly incomplete.
The Tomb of Homer
Questions you should not ask on Ios: How authentic is this grave? Is there any archaeological evidence to connect the tomb with the man? And can we be sure that Homer was a real person in the first place?
Herodotus says yes, he was. According to the “Father of History”, Homer was buried in his mother’s home country (Ios), on a mountain overlooking the neighbouring island of Naxos (which would describe the present site pretty well, as a matter of fact, appearing to confirm the authenticity of the find). But we also have to take into account that Herodotus wrote at least 400 years after the events he describes, and that you can’t expect him to be a more reliable source than you or I would be on the minutiae of the life of, say, William Shakespeare.
Having said that, the tomb does feel somewhat right. At the very least, even skeptics will have to agree that this is the type of grave Homer should have had, a simple monument of austere grandeur on a windswept cliff.
(Another question you should not ask on Ios: If this is Homer – where is Marge?)
Ios is located pretty much near the centre of the Cyclades archipelago, and from certain spots on its coast, you can see most of the other major islands – and overlook as well as control the sea traffic between them. This was important even at periods when the Cyclades as such were not of immediate strategic interest, which is why both the Byzantinians and the Venetians, perhaps even the Romans before them – none of whom had any great interest in the islands themselves – used the eastern slopes of Ios’s highest mountain to make sure that their military and commercial interests were well protected.
The fortress of Paleokastro near Psathi in the east of Ios dates back to the 10th century and was used by the Venetians as well as the army of the East Roman Empire (it also includes a small Byzantine church). The ancient buildings now lie in ruins, most have crumbled away and been washed into the sea, but the views over the Aegean are as splendid as they were more than 1000 years ago.
This is the oldest church on the island, having been constructed in the 16th century on the ruins of an ancient temple of Apollo. The church overlooks a popular beach of the same name, and near-by, you can find traces of an old Roman aquaeduct, the island’s only visible remains from its Roman past. What impressed Mrs. Easy Hiker more than all of this, however, was the abundance of wild oregano in this part of the island.
This tip comes from her: collect as many stems as you like (including leaves and buds), dry them for a few days in your hotel room or preferrably on the hotel balcony (protecting them from direct sunlight). When dry, just put them between your palms and gently rub/grind them and bring the resulting “powder” home for your own cooking or as a special souvenir for friends.
The most popular resort on the island’s south coast and specifically well protected when the wind comes in from the north. Manganari is 25 km away from the island’s capital of Chora, but there is a regular bus service in the summer.
Odysseas Elytis Amphitheatre
This is a new theatre, named after the Greek poet who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1979 (he often came to Ios to write) and built by the German architect Peter Haupt.
With the Aegean Sea at your feet, you are encouraged to fantasize a little – theatre, after all, is a medium that lives through a suspension of disbelief – and to pretend that you are part of an audience in classical or Hellenistic times more than 2000 years ago, perhaps while you are enjoying a performance of the same play that contemporary theatregoers would have watched. For tourists who are not fluent speakers of ancient Greek (there are always some, after all), there are also musical events and dance performances staged throughout the summer.