Category: East Aegean Islands (page 1 of 14)

Top Greece travel reads of 2019: Best articles, stories & profiles of Greek islands

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Tinos island as seen from a departing ferry

Chania harbourfront at sunset

Arkoi island ferry port

cliffs below Chora village on Folegandros island

Sarakiniko beach on Milos island

the western coast of Andros island IMG_1111

From the top: Tinos seen from a departing ferry; the Chania harbourfront at sunset; the small port pier at Arkoi; soaring cliffs beneath the whitewashed buildings of Chora village on Folegandros; rock formations at Sarakiniko beach on Milos; a mountain and beaches on the west coast of Andros. These are some of the places profiled in my favourite articles about Greek islands in 2019.

 

Magazine articles and newspaper stories about Greek Islands are the focus of this post, the latest instalment in my series of “best travel reads of 2019.”

The reports I have included in this list are the ones I liked the most last year because they me made wish I could rush right away to the island being discussed; taught me about interesting places, attractions and activities I wasn’t aware of previously; or provided thoughtful insights by exploring destinations from a unique and captivating perspective. Some are educational; some are inspirational; others are simply fascinating or fun to read.

 

Though they were published during 2019, all of the reports and profiles are worthwhile reads for anyone planning or thinking about a trip to one or more of the islands either this year or sometime in the near future.  They provide helpful practical information about intriguing things to see and do,  suggest areas to stay in or specific accommodations to consider, and offer ideas for discovering and experiencing the unique local character, history and features of each island. I have included links to the online source of the articles so readers can bookmark the ones that interest them for further reference.

The islands featured in my best articles round-up are:

♦ Amorgos, Andros,Folegandros, Ios, Kea, Milos, Paros, Santorini, Serifos, Syros and Tinos in the Cyclades;

♦ Ikaria in the eastern Aegean;

♦ Arki in the Dodecanese; and

♦ Crete

I’ve listed the articles in alphabetical order by island name so readers can easily scroll to a specific destination that interests them.

— Amorgos —

Screenshot of National Geographic article about Sister Irini on Amorgos

Screenshot of National Geographic article about Sister Irini on Amorgos

 

A highlight of our trip to Amorgos back in 2009 was a visit to the island’s best-known monument, the Chozoviotissa Monastery. Founded in the 11th Century, the whitewashed, fortress-like edifice clings to the face of a rugged cliff hundreds of meters above the sea. It is such an incredible sight, my first glimpse of the brilliant white building literally took my breath away.  I’m still so fascinated by Chozoviotissa that I get excited whenever I see photos of it on my Instagram feed, or find video views of it on YouTube.

While I’m certain we will pay it another visit next time we return to Amorgos, there’s a much newer monastery I’m equally keen to see. It didn’t exist when we travelled to the island, and I didn’t learn about it until I read Meet the tourist who became the only nun on Amorgos, a National Geographic piece published on January 17 2019. 

 

 

Written by Terri Steel, the article is an engaging story of transformation — a profile of a woman who decides to turn her life in a totally new direction while restoring a derelict church property into a lush garden “paradise” now known as Agios Georgios Valsamitis Monastery.

“She first came to the island as a young mother and wife 35 years ago; after her husband passed, she chose a new path. Her name is Sister Irini, now, and she remains Amorgos’s only nun,” Steel writes, noting that Sister Irini took her vows as a Greek Orthodox nun in 2011. 

“Seven years ago, Sister Irini began transforming a long-abandoned monastery into an oasis. Visitors come throughout the year to walk her bountiful garden lined with Byzantine frescoes, to hear her story, and to purchase her magnificent paintings of religious icons.”

Steel relates part of the sister’s story, outlines how the nun spends her days and speculates on how the “heavenly landscape” of Amorgos may have encouraged Sister Irini to pursue a simple, holy life there.

The article is illustrated with images of beautiful Amorgos sights and scenes captured by photographer Chiara Goia.

 

— Andros —

Screenshot of Conde Nast Traveller September 2019 article about Andros island

 

In 2019, prolific travel writer Rachel Howard penned two feature articles about Andros — one for Conde Nast Traveller magazine (top), the other for The Sunday Times newspaper (below).

 

Screenshot of Rachel Howard Sunday Times article about hiking on Andros island

 

Andros is a big island, and we knew we would barely scratch the surface when we spent six days there in late May of 2015, even though we split our stay between towns on opposite sides of the island. Last year, when I read two revelatory articles about Andros, it really hit home just how much we didn’t get to see or experience. I felt hugely disappointed when I realized we had missed some of the island’s best features.

Both stories were written by Rachel Howard, for different publications.

The first, Andros: Greece’s hidden hiking hotspot, was published January 27 2019 in The Sunday Times.   

Noting that Andros is a lush, mountainous isle, Howard observes that the “forested peaks are ribboned with streams and ravines careen down to wetlands teeming with wildlife. One third of it is a nature reserve, there are dozens of stone villages camouflaged in the hills and it has about 70 beaches, many of the best accessible only by boat or on foot. So it’s hardly surprising that Andros is carving out a niche as a year-round hiking destination.”

Hiking is what drew Howard to the island — she spent several days walking segments of the island’s 200-mile network of footpaths, many of which have been cleared and waymarked by the Andros Routes volunteer organization.

She describes trekking a circular route in Livadia, “a valley dotted with magnificent manor houses, where some of Greece’s most illustrious shipping families hole up for the summer,” gentler walks from the Ktima Lemonies guesthouse estate to the villages of Lamyra and Menites and to the island capital, Chora, and a 6-mile trail from the mountain village of Vourkoti to remote Achla beach. 

“Venture towards the highlands and you’ll stumble upon abandoned watermills, medieval watchtowers and cascading waterfalls. It’s easy to imagine Pan charging through the woods, but you’re more likely to meet a farmer threshing with an ox or frying sausages and potatoes in pork fat in an outdoor wood-fired oven,” Howard says.

 

Although we did some scenic walks during our own Andros visit, we didn’t get to explore any of the specific paths Howard talked about, or any of the trails marked and maintained by Andros Routes.  I’d love to get back to Andros to check some of them out, and perhaps attend one of the programs at Melisses guesthouse, located above Paleopolis Bay on the west coast of Andros.  Howard says bloggers and authors visit Melisses “to present cooking workshops and creative retreats such as illustration and travel photography, hosted by Allegra Pomilio, a glamorous Italian food stylist and a wonderful cook.” An Andros holiday with plenty of scenic walks and the opportunity to attend a creative retreat would be right up my alley.

Howard’s second article, Is this Greece’s undiscovered island? appeared in the September 2019 edition of Conde Nast Traveller magazine. Unlike the previous story, which focussed on island walks, this report is a more general overview of the island’s recent history as well as its top sights and leading attractions.

Howard notes that three Greek shipping dynasties — the Embiricos, Goulandris and Polemis families — put Andros on the map in the early 20th Century.  These wealthy families shared some of their largesse locally: They “paved the streets in marble, built imposing mansions and museums filled with billion-dollar art,” constructed the island’s first high school and hospital, and built a beautiful retirement home.

“Because the island’s shipping families used patronage as a show of power, Chora has an embarrassment of cultural riches. There’s an archaeological museum, a maritime museum, the Kaireios library with archives stretching back to the 16th century, and an open-air theatre where Pandelis Voulgaris, one of Greece’s most accomplished directors, stages the Andros International Festival, a summer-long celebration of the arts,” Howard notes.

Since  shipping was the island’s primary source of employment and income for so long, Andros didn’t have to begin  developing a local tourism industry until just a few decades ago. Tourist traffic is now picking up as more people learn of the island’s scenic hiking opportunities, and visit to see its lush natural greenery and “densely wooded hills and ravines” — features they won’t find on other islands in the Cyclades.

“Divided by four towering mountain ranges, the landscape is surprisingly varied and the weather can change around each bend. One moment it looks and feels like Tuscany, the next the Scottish Highlands. Watermills, dovecotes and watchtowers materialise in misty valleys,” Howard says. “Andros has plentiful springs and streams, waterfalls and wetlands. Every village has a communal marble washbasin fed by ice-cold mountain water. Venturing deeper into the mountains, carved fountains in village squares give way to waterfalls cascading through forests of chestnut, white poplar, oak and maple,” she adds.

If you have been to the Cyclades before but haven’t yet seen Andros, try adding it to your next island-hopping itinerary; you’ll find it’s a striking contrast from the arid brown landscapes dotted with whitewashed villages that are so characteristic of its neighbouring isles.

Please click on the link below to continue reading island profiles on page 2 of this post.

 

CONTINUED ON PAGE 2

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Moments in Molyvos Part 3: Visiting the 650-year-old Castle of Mithimna

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Molyvos Castle on Lesvos island

The Castle of Molyvos on Lesvos island

Molyvos Castle and houses in the town of Molyvos on Lesvos island

The Castle of Mithimna dominates views of Molyvos town from all directions. 

 

Editor’s Note: This is the third instalment of my Moments in Molyvos series of photo reports from our 8-day visit to Molyvos (also known as Mithimna) in spring 2019. Part 1 featured photos of sights along the main commercial road and harbourside, while Part 2 contained pictures from walks in the town’s traditional market, and on the hillsides below the castle.

 

It’s the biggest, most important and most visible monument in Molyvos, so of course we had to pay a visit to the Castle of Mithimna during our  first-ever Lesvos island holiday in late April 2019.

Nearly 650 years old, the castle occupies a hilltop location that has been historically significant for more than 2,500 years. According to a leaflet published by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Lesvos, an ancient acropolis stood on the site from around the 5th Century B.C. until sometime during the 6th Century A.D., when the Byzantines built a fortification in its place. The Venetians conquered the  fort in 1128, but from 1204 to 1287 it was occupied by Baldwin II of Flandre.  At the end of the 13th Century, the fortress came under Catalan control; however, much of the structure was destroyed when the Genoans seized the stronghold early in the 14th Century.  In 1373, the Genovese Francisco 1 Gateluzo ordered the reconstruction of the castle, and the Genoans controlled it until the Ottomans took occupation of Lesvos in 1462. The Ottomans made repairs and additions to the structure in the 15th and 17th Centuries, but the form of the fortress — an irregular trapezoid shape with 10 towers and two strongholds — has remained essentially the same to this day.

Further historical background information is available on the Molyvos/Mithimna Castle page of Odysseus, the official website of the Greek Ministry of Culture and Sport. The link contains two pages of historical and descriptive information, and while it’s available in Greek only, you can use an online translation program to read it in English or other languages. Additional information, along with maps and a video, on the Castle of Mithimna page of the Kastrologos Castles of Greece website.

 

To reach the castle from the main road in Molyvos, we had the choice of walking or driving to the top of the rocky hill. We preferred to hoof it, which meant huffing and puffing our way up dozens of flights of steps on the steep hillsides below the castle. It sounds like an arduous trek, but it’s actually a great opportunity to explore some of the scenic residential neighbourhoods of Molyvos en route. (You can see what these areas look like in Part 2 of this series). 

Admission to the castle cost only €2 per adult in April 2019.

This video by Yiorgaks takes you on a scenic flight over Molyvos, providing excellent views of the castle and upper town areas of Molyvos, and beyond

 

Please click on the link below to turn to page 2, where I have posted our photos of the castle (inside and out) and its views.

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Moments in Molyvos Part 2: Exploring the old market and hillsides below the castle

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Houses on the hills below the Castle of Molyvos on Lesvos island

Even though it meant climbing up and down hundreds of stone steps, we couldn’t resist exploring the residential districts that line the steep slopes beneath Molyvos Castle. 

 

My first Moments in Molyvos post included of photos we shot, during our spring 2019 vacation, of sights along on the town’s main road and harbour. 

In this instalment, we venture uphill to explore the residential areas situated on the steep slopes that descend from the hilltop Castle of Molyvos to the main road. Photos in this collection include elegant stone houses, villas and hotels; four of the town’s major churches; shops and restaurants lining the cobblestone lanes of the historic market district; a lovely pine-forested park; the municipal cemetery; and occasional scenic views from the hillsides. We will visit the castle in Part 3.

 

 

buildings cling to the steep hills below the Castle of Molyvos on Lesvos

Tile-roofed stone buildings, many of which are centuries-old, cling to the steep hills below the Castle of Molyvos. In this post, we enter the maze of lanes and steps between the buildings to take a closer look at what’s there.

 

Please click on the link below to continue the photo tour of Molyvos. 

Page 2 contains pictures from our walkabouts in the town’s traditional market and surrounding neighbourhood, while

Page 3 features photos of our walks on the hillsides below Molyvos Castle.

Page 4 has pictures from our walks on the hills northwest of the castle, high above the harbour.

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20 alluring, authentic and quieter alternatives to the major tourist islands in Greece

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Tourlitis lighthouse ancient Kastro and mansions of Chora on Andros island

Port city of Ermoupoli on Syros island

Views of the Tourlitis lighthouse, the ancient Kastro ruins, and mansions overlooking the seaside at Chora on Andros (top photo); and the stunning port city of Ermoupoli on Syros (bottom). Andros and Syros are among 20 islands Greece Is magazine recommends as alternatives to crowded mainstream places like Mykonos and Santorini.

 

It’s understandable why many people planning a first-time trip to the Greek Islands quickly feel overwhelmed by the task of arranging their itineraries — there are so many isles to choose from, and all of them look and sound amazing based on pictures and descriptions in brochures, magazines and online travel sites.  How can you possibly tell which ones would be the best choices for what you would like to see and do during your vacation?

The dilemma of selecting ideal destinations doesn’t get much easier for repeat island hoppers, either, if they’re hoping to discover someplace new rather than revisit isles they have already experienced.

 

I had expected my bucket list of must-see islands would gradually shrink after each trip to Greece, but it keeps growing longer. Whenever we visit a dream destination, locals and fellow travellers tell us wonderful things about nearby places we haven’t considered before, and those inevitably get added to the list. 

I’m resigned to the reality that I won’t get to see everything I want unless I live well past 100!

But thanks to a helpful article published by the Greece Is magazine and website on January 3,  I will be able to quickly narrow down my options whenever I’m seeking islands that aren’t super-commercial or bursting at the seams with thousands of tourists and cruise ship daytrippers (something we’ve been striving to do on recent holidays!). 

view toward Ano Meria and the Panagia Church on Folegandros island

A view toward the village of Hora and the stunning clifftop Panagia Church on Folegandros, another island recommended as a great alternative to the busiest tourist isles

 

In the feature story 20 Alternative Islands to visit in 2020, writer Paulina Kapsali has profiled “off the tourist-beaten path” islands that will be ideal for avoiding the crushing summer crowds of perenially popular tourist magnets like Mykonos, Santorini, Rhodes, Kos and Corfu.

Each of her selected destinations will offer a quieter, less busy and more authentically Greek island experience than any of the mainstream tourist draws, “whether you’re looking for a typical Cycladic island to enjoy without the hordes of tourists, a historically significant location that none of your cultured coworkers have heard of, or a remote place to spend days on the beach without the pressure of any human interaction” she says. 

 

The 20 islands that Kapsali singles out can be found in five distinct regions of Greece:

♦  the Lasithi area of eastern Crete, and Gavdos island south of Crete;

♦   the Northeastern Aegean islands of Limnos, Psara, Samothraki and Skyros;

♦ the Dodecanese islands Astypalea, Halki, Karpathos, Kastellorizo and Kasos;

♦  Kythira island south of the Peloponnese; and

♦ the Cyclades islands Andros, Folegandros, Kea, Kimolos, Kythnos, Sikinos, Syros and Tinos.

The article includes a photo and brief description of each island, transport options to reach them, and links to any feature stories that Greece Is has published on that particular place. 

We have been to five of the spots Kapsali recommends  — Andros, Astypalea, Folegandros, Syros and Tinos — and I have illustrated this blog post with photos that we took on each of those islands.  Most of the other islands she suggests are already on our list for future travel.

Click here to read the full write-up of what Kapsali calls “20 island destinations you’ll be the first of your friends to visit in 2020.”

And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to bookmark the Greece Is website while you’re reading the article. I find it’s a superb resource for information about travel, culture and gastronomy in Greece, and I check it regularly for ideas, inspiration and advice.

pilgrims crawling uphill to Evangelistria Church on Tinos island

Pilgrims crawl a long uphill road to the Holy Church of Panaga Evaggelistria (visible at the top of the picture) on Tinos island

 

Chora and the castle on Astypalia island

Chora and the imposing castle on Astypalea island 

 

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