At the risk of outing myself as a total hippie, I’ll do just that. The energy on Ikaria is wild. It’s a word that comes up a lot in conversation about the island, and one local made the argument to me for about 10 minutes in the midst of a rather – you guessed it, wild – panigyri (more on these below) that winter is more harrowing in Ikaria than anywhere else in Greece. Wild Ikaria, as I’ve dubbed her, is quite unlike any place, and forget about even comparing her to other Greek islands.
The wind threatened to blow me away the moment I step foot on this mountainous land. Last summer in Crete, a friend and I observed that we could understand how its landscape inspired myth in its more right-brain focused early inhabitants, and Ikaria stirred up the same suspicion in me.
The island has received quite a bit of press in recent years for being part of the “blue zone,” something its locals chuckle about in some wry admittance that they’ve been onto something all along. The New York Times dubbed it “the island where people forget to die.” Its rough terrain might make you wonder how this is so, wouldn’t people have to be quite tough to survive here? One wonders if in their “hardiness” (versus hyper-sanitized, “easy” but stress-filled life) there might lie a key to understanding living well and long. I digress…
That tiny bit of New Yorker in me found the island almost unbearably slow at first. But in the end, that became the medicine. Ikaria is a place where you might really begin challenging your belief that time is linear. And when you check out of your accommodations, your proprietor is unlikely to even remember it’s your check out day (mine didn’t). Taking a cab involves stopping mid-road to check on the status of the drivers’ olive oil, and checking out of a hotel can take so long (antidote to the fast-food-esque transactional life that happens in cities) that you might miss your much-anticipated surf lesson (more on THAT below). So, plan to not plan. Plan to take your time. Plan to stay up late and sleep late without fear of missing out on ANYTHING.
Below is our guide to a few days on Ikaria. As always, I believe most of the islands require many, many visits to really get to their core and write any sort of exhaustive feature. Then again, The New York Times sends people to cover islands who’ve never even been to Greece. So, here’s my perspective. I was lucky to have the founder of Digital Nomads Athens Evi Missa, as a guide of sorts. Evi’s been visiting the island for a decade and was the perfect friend to explore with. She deserves co-authorship of this article and is the best darn community leader ever (shout out to Digital Nomads Athens for being awesome!)
Below are a few ways to make the most of a *few* days on Ikaria.
(all photos ours unless credited otherwise. if you share, please tag @delphireclaimed)
1. Bring comfortable, closed-toe shoes
This is not an island for your new Greek sandals, wedges, or flimsy flip flops. If you’re going to dance at likely crowded panigyria (more on those below), you need closed-toe shoes, end of story. I bought an 8-euro pair on the island and they were perfect for dancing and keeping my toes protected. You’ll also want to pack something you feel comfortable hiking in, as Seychelles beach is a must visit and requires a bit of a scramble (I use this term lightly… and saw people doing it in flip flops, but wouldn’t recommend this…)
2. Dance at a Panigyri
Whether you’re Greek or not, this is an experience that must be had. I’ve been to many, many panigyria but had never experienced the famed ones of Ikaria. We went to a couple ~ and my favorite was in the village of Arethousa. Ikaria is famous for having these all year long, while in many places of Greece they happen solely around August 15 or for specific holidays.
You can come early and eat, but I’d suggest taking a post dinner nap and arriving around 12:30 …. or so… to dance till DAWN, which is a primal, ecstatic experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.
3. Take a surf lesson at Ikaria surf school
Ikaria is the best place in Greece to surf, and the size/strength of the waves makes it an ideal place to learn, as well. Ikaria has a rich history for surf (at least for Greece), and Ikaria Surf School has helped spread the love to international visitors. Located on beautiful Messakti Beach in Gialiskari (an area I’d recommend staying, as well), taking a class with one of their experienced, compassionate instructors is a must. If you want to sign up for one of their daily lessons, we recommend booking in advance, as they fill up and as with serving anywhere, it’s dependent on the mood of mother ocean. In addition to board rentals and lessons, the school offers yoga, and a number of camps + retreats (think surfing and acroyoga) throughout the summer months. If you’ve ever wanted to learn Greek AND surf, they have an amazing surf + speak GREEK event this September.
4. Drink a coffee OR cocktail at Christos Raches
Unlike many islands whose towns make themselves known from the coast, Ikaria’s villages are mainly hidden as a defense against pirates in days of yore. Tucked up onto a mountain but close to popular beachy tourist towns like Armenistis and Gialiskari, Christos Raches is a must-visit. Here you’ll find stores that open, well, when they feel like it. It’s not very crowded during the day, which isn’t a bad time to see it and have a coffee or delicious local desert. The plateia fills up by night, and you can stay up drinking as late as your heart desires. There’s something about this village I can’t quite place a finger on, but we’ll file it under places where you’ll forget time exists.
5. Visit Seychelles Beach
Firstly: this popular beach WILL be crowded, so come early. Nonetheless, it’s worth seeing and makes for an excellent option if you find yourself staying on the North side of the island and it’s a particularly windy day.
Its waters have a color unlike anything I’ve seen outside of the Caribbean, and there are rocks to climb and scramble about. It’s not an “organized” beach, but a couple did show up on a boat to set up a stand with coffee and snacks. So, prepare! As mentioned above, you’ll have to walk a bit downhill (you know what that means about leaving) to get there, so bring good shoes!
6. Take a trip to the monastery of Agia Theoktisti
This saint was a lesbian who sought asylum atop this mountain and now has a monastery in her honor. The real draw here (pictured above) is the home Agia Theoktisti built. Carved into a stone, one wonders if A: elves actually built this and B: how the heck one woman pulled this off. The nuns also make coffee, loukoumades, and local products.
Leave a bracelet as an offering and make a prayer in the name of bravery in all forms. SR shoutout to all those who go against the norm and profess their sexual / gender liberation.
7. Try the local honey
Ikaria is full of honeybees, and one of its most well-known products is the honey. It’s sold just about everywhere, and makes for the perfect addition to morning breakfast. This might also be the only way to really back some fountain of youth effects from the island of longevity.
8. Book in advance.
Ikariots don’t really care too much about tourism. That’s part of the charm and also probably why they live longer than the rest of us (note to less, care less about everything). Yes, they’re welcoming. No, they don’t respond with vigor to the demands of capitalism. Book your room early here, as supply is lower than most islands.
9. Visit Nas / Naos Beach
Close to Armenistis and home to the Temple Of Artemis Tavropolion, Nas is a must-visit. Come to see the site or stay all day, but bear in mind that Nas can be a VERY dangerous place for swimming. Unexpected currents (remember, WILD IKARIA) have taken many unsuspecting swimmers to meet their fate. Not to be dark but this is just something that has to be said, because I, for one, have been known to swim out quite far.
This is a holy place, and since I’ve already outed myself as a hippie we’ll go ahead and say it has “a vibe,” not to mention that Artemis is such an important figure of pre-patriarchal goddess-hood that you should make this a pilgrimage of sorts.
10. Check out thermal springs
Regarded for centuries for its healing thermal waters, there are many ways you can experience springs on Ikaria.
Many visit Therma, located just east of the port town Agios Kyrkiros. You’ll pay, but it’s more ‘organized.’
There are also free, natural springs as an option. Check out Therma Lefkada, located on the South side of the island, west of Agios Kyrkiros.
Click here for a deeper run-down on hot springs in Ikaria.
Not an exhaustive list, at all, but below are highlights from what I tried. A +++ recommend them all! Not reviewing because that warrants another post…
Mary Mary in Armenistis ~ not your average Greek taverna. Just about died for the salads here. Beautiful view of Armenistis as well!
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