Folegandros: a ruggedly cosmopolitan beauty
There is an old Greek expression for when you can’t explain why a place or a thing is very popular: “Meli ehi?” loosely translated as “Is it covered in honey?” This is what I thought of Folegandros for years. Everyone went there and everyone raved about it or went on about it turning into a mini Mykonos and how it was to be avoided in August. How could a tiny island in the southern Cyclades, with 600-700 inhabitants and barely three or four villages become such a bone of contention? I decided to take the plunge, albeit it in late August.
As the driver, kindly sent for us by our hotel, starting driving up the hill from the port to the main town of Chora, I realised there was literally nothing there. Just that striking Cycladic rock, some whitewashed churches and the beautiful late afternoon light. That’s until you get to the Chora itself and you start becoming part of the island’s rhythms; one of the most beautiful island towns you’re likely to see anywhere in Greece. Cute alley ways, beautiful squares surrounded by trees and little tavernas and cafes, churches and stores, all hanging off the side of a dramatic 200 metre cliff. You have to walk around at different times of the day as it looks equally as beautiful as the light changes. The colours of the sun and sea against that sheer cliff face are what Greek holiday dreams are made of. For an extra special view, climb up to the church of Panagia which literally seems to be hanging on for deal life at the side of the hill above the Chora. Built where an ancient temple used to stand, it’s the picture perfect island church.
The Kastro, i.e. the original part of the town within the castle walls, is a lovely walk down memory lane. A true jigsaw puzzle of small whitewashed houses and one opening (where you could see the pirates approaching) which is the perfect spot to watch the sunset from and get another viewpoint on the crazy cliffs the Chora is built on. The town is also full of great accommodation options, from apartments to boutique hotels with incredible views. All built in traditional Cycladic style on the outside but full of all mod cons on the inside. There are a lot of eating and drinking options too from basic souvlaki or meze, to Cretan or Italian food. Make sure you come to the Chora in the evening, the place is alive but in its own laid back style. The good-looking people are out in force and whether you choose a restaurant or a perch outside one of the churches, you’ll be in the perfect spot for endless people watching. Perfect for families, couples or groups of friends. All different groups seem able to mingle here as it’s busy but without any blaring music alienating anyone or getting in the way of a good ‘how you doin’!
If you’re a real foodie and are after a more authentic local meal, take the bus or walk to Ano Meria. A tiny village sprawled along a narrow road north of Chora, it provides perfect views towards the main town and towards the sea as you’re at a high point, right in the middle of the island. The rugged beauty of this place will take your breath away. Look out for perfect photo opportunities with lone donkeys or an octopus drying in the sun, with the sea as a backdrop. Ano Meria is known for its traditional tavernas serving ‘matsata’, a type of handmade local pasta traditionally served with rooster and tomato sauce. Definitely worth the trip.
The best-known beaches on the island (Katergo and Agios Nikolas) are easily reachable by boat from the port or the small village of Agali. For the more adventurous among you, you can walk to them as well but the boats definitely get you in the summer mood and provide ample opportunities for more socialising! Agali bay itself is cute and perfect for families as there are tavernas near by. The island also has a number of other coves, which are there to be discovered if you have good walking shoes or your own boat. This is not the place to come if you’re a lover of sun loungers and beach bars. Things are simpler here and for many people, that much nicer for it.
A special mention must go out to one of the oldest restaurants on the island and definitely our favourite breakfast spot. Pounta, by the taxi stop, encapsulates the island’s quirkiness in its bougainvillea filled back garden: a wonderfully chatty and welcoming owner, its own take on many Greek favourites and truly reasonable prices. It’s these tables that we will dream we’re sitting at on dull wintery nights.
Folegandros, honey coated or not, but we’re sold. If you avoid the peak period spanning the month between the middle of July to the middle of August, you might find your own little corner of paradise here.
This article was first published in Australian newspaper Neos Kosmos on 26th September 2015. Reproduced with kind permission, all rights reserved.