Visiting Ios Island, Greece With a Dog
No really. I have never felt an island was more misrepresented than Ios. It’s “the Crazy Party Island” right? But there is so much more than that to Ios. Even if the reputation is actually well deserved… and trust me we saw some crazy stuff… but it’s not all there is.
You see Dear Reader; silly young humans will start to party at around 10:30-11:00 p.m. and keep at it until 7:00 a.m. the next day. This is why most people travel to Ios. But, if getting “hammered” is not on your travel agenda please don’t let this side of Ios stop you from visiting. Don’t let the drunken foolishness stop you from discovering a place of incredible beauty; because here is my little secret. Like all islands in the Cyclades, the main town is simply called the “Chora”… and the advantage of the party craziness is that if you do not follow that schedule, you’ll pretty much have the Chora all to yourself.
And that is pretty amazing.
We docked at the Yialos Marina and ate there the first night. We never made it to the Chora as we went to bed early. Mom had a terrible journey that day. For three hours she was very seasick and it had pretty much wrung her out. She had no energy or strength left. We dined at an adorable little place right there on the docks, accross from our sailboat, and afterwards slowly walked to Yialos Beach about 5 minutes away.
The Beach is dog friendly, with loads of little café’s and Greek Taverna’s happy to bring you a drink all the way to your beach chair on the sand. The chairs and sun umbrellas are free. Mom was just happy to sit in the sun, enjoy a fruit smoothie and let her body recover. Dad dosed off and even snored for a bit. I ran like a crazy dog in the sand then slept under the chairs and even waded into the sea when the bipeds went in together. I know … I know… I went IN the water. Shocking. But it was actually warm if very very salty. I got a good fresh water rinse that night!
The next morning, we were awakened by the wonderful smell of fresh baked goods. It was absolutely, alluringly, delightful. So it is that at 6:30 a.m. we were up and out on the dock following our noses. The rest of the crew was still fast asleep since they had partied hard and we knew we were on our own that day!
We found the Buonyorno Bakery (The name made us all laugh a little too loudly for the time of day). The selection was amazing. I walked in with the bipeds and sat quietly waiting for them to choose something to eat. Turns out the bakery also makes their own chocolate! Dad got a sort of omelette inside a filo pastry and Mom just got a good old fashioned “pain-au-chocolat”.
After eating some of Dad’s ham and bacon, the bipeds realized I likely needed “to go”. We found a charming little bar just to the left of the bakery … of course it was closed… but behind it we could glimpse a little park! Not sure if we could access the park any other way we walked across the bar terrace…and there it was; a small park with dry grass and its own tiny little chapel was just waiting for my visit. Surrounded by absolutely massive geraniums I quickly claimed it, as I ran off leash, as a dog park. It was a perfect location just steps away from the marina where we were docked. There were no signs indicating anything about dog etiquette for the park, but the bipeds still picked up the poop with our biodegradable poop bags and tossed it in a garbage. It is better to be too polite than make a terrible social faux pas.
As I did what I needed to do, and the bipeds finished their treats, we realized we were wide awake and ready for a little adventure. So, leaving the little park from the back entrance, we found the steps that lead to the “Chora” (a.k.a. village). There is a bus that goes up – but you know us Dear Reader … why take the bus when you can walk and discover treasures along the way!? One glance between the bipeds and we were off. This wasn’t planned. I assure you we had intended on returning to the sailboat and having more of a “real” breakfast there and maybe … brushing our teeth and hair/fur. But it was pleasantly cool and the sun was showing us a lovely scene of four tiny little chapels high on the hill above the chora.
A vista beckoned.
The chora of Ios is likely one of the most picturesque villages you will ever see in the Cyclades. Beyond the few stragglers still drunk and barely standing (or dressed), we discovered beautiful alleyways, colorful flowers, winding staircases, cafes, tavernas and boutiques (still closed) and as we tried to find our way up… we got a little lost in all the twists and turns. A kind sidewalk sweeper cleaning up all the broken beer bottles saw our perplexed looks and offered his help. We told him were we wanted to go and with a big smile he said “follow me!” and he walked us all the way to the bottom of the steps that lead to the trail to the 4 chapels. All the while he happily told us, his job was assured with the mess the tourist left behind. With a “goodbye and enjoy Ios!” He walked away and the bipeds marveled at his joy as he went back to doing what he was there to do: make the Chora clean, safe and beautiful again. Here was someone that was truly just…happy.
Up up up we went and the reward was magnificent. The view was stunning. From the top of the hill we saw the Evangelismo Cathedral, the Amphitheatre Odysseas Elythis, the Windmills and the Panagia Gremniotissa Church. Not to mention the Chora itself and below the marina and our sailboat. We even watched the first large ferry of the day arrive.
With such a view still in our minds eye we walked back down. Now the revelers were all asleep and the town was slowly recovering. Buckets of water were tossed to clean the tiny pathways. The smell of alcohol and “sickness” was replaced by coffee and baked goods. People that live there were taking their dogs out for their morning walk. They were friendly, and smiling, wanting to know my name and introducing me to their own little four legged kids. That is when it hit me. I had not seen a single wild dog. And I wouldn’t the entire stay on Ios. Not even a cat. I have no idea if they have resolved the pet overpopulation problem or? … But we also saw the only pet boutique we would on any of the islands.
Tiny trucks delivered goods at the lower more accessible parts of the Chora. Shop keepers opened the heavy metal window protectors. Old ladies told off younger women and old men laughed at them. Ios was waking up! And we were now really eager to discover the rest of it!
The only way to do that was to rent a car. And rent a car we did! Of course we first headed back to the sailboat to brush our teeth (yes mine too!) and pack up water bottles, towels and bathing suits and then, from the marina went straight to the car rental place our Captain had recommended. (Funny side note – Mom wanted to take a shower first, but the sailboat ran out of fresh water! She was assured there would be some upon our return. She just shrugged her shoulders, put on a scarf to control her hair and decided a swim in the sea would do the trick for now! You go Mom!)
We rented a car for the day for about $25. A pretty good deal if you ask me. With Dad at the wheel of our small car (No international license needed on Ios) and a little map of the island in Moms hands our mini-road trip of Ios began.
Stop #1 – Prehistoric Settlement of Skarkos
Looking at the map Mom guided us not far from the port/marina for our first stop. Abruptely the road ended and we collectively giggled as we realized that the map was not… ahmmm… entirely to scale. Luckily we found some signs and we made our way to a dirt parking lot where, under a single massive tree we parked our car in the shade. What a luxury that is on an island where big trees are so rare!
A quiet stroll up another dirt road allowed us to take in the Greek Island country side. Goats with bells around their necks where guided by a shepherd on the back of a donkey with two dogs trailing behind … more goats or sheep could be heard bleating not too far off in the distance. The rolling hills around us were covered in butterfly bushes and laurel trees in full white or pink bloom. Away from the sea’s edge, we were hit by the heat rippling like an unpredictable fan. We were suddenly very happy for the extra water bottles we had packed for the day’s adventure. Olive trees bent like old frail men and women all around us; green and yet to ripen in the sun olives already hanging heavily from the delicate branches quivered in the heat as well.
Appearing before us and surrounded by a short wall, was the site we had come to see. Starting at the top of the hill and working its way down; the prehistoric settlement of Skarkos revealed its circular shape. To me it looked like the rings you see in the water after you have tossed in a stone. We suddenly grew more curious and more exited. What was this place?
A beautiful main entrance with a shaded pergola showed a plaque indicating that we were at an award-winning archaeological site that had won the 2008 EU prize for Cultural Heritage, the “Europa Nostra Top Prize for Conservation”. This “let’s go see what it is” had just gotten a lot more interesting! The bipeds paid their 2 Euros each to enter, after asking if I could come in. The lady just looked surprised to see me and then said “yes… yes of course. Stay on path yes?”
That we could do! And off we went!
Large “information plaques” told us what was found on that spot, why it was interesting and gave us a bit of a Skarkos 101. We followed the path and were amazed at how on this hill things felt cooler than the dirt road we had followed to get there just moments before. Is that why they chose this location? But why so far away from the seas edge?
Questions … I just had so many questions.
The kind lady left the booth and followed us for a little and explained to us in rather good English that Skarkos is an early Bronze Age settlement from about the 3rd millennium BC. It has been exceptionally well preserved. Most of the buildings are about ¾ metres high and 2 storeys. You could easily see that the floors were stone paved, that there was a really well thought out drainage system throughout the settlement and even a cemetery. Unfortunately most of the items found were now housed at the archeological museum in town, but we saw photos (on the plaques) of the pottery, kitchen utensils and working tools made from metal, stone or bone.
The site was excavated between 1984 and 1997. But when we were there a new team was hard at work. So who knows what else they will find? All and all it was an excellent visit and a good start to our mini-road trip of Ios and I would recommend it to anyone that loves ancient places.
Stop #2 – Homers Tomb
Our next stop was on the Northern face of Ios Island not too far from Psathi beach where we planned to have lunch. Allegedly the great Greek poet Homer is said to have died on the island, and his tomb is now a major tourist attraction. The road that leads to it serves absolutely no other purpose other than to connect the Chora to the tomb. It’s a wonderful winding road through arid hillsides covered in wild herbs and grasses that smell divine through the open car window. Beehives dot the hill – pretty little blue, green, red and white boxes.
There are several stories about Homer and Ios. The one that people like most is that Homer’s mother lived on Ios, and that is why he was there, and he died of illness or… was it they killed him for not being able to solve a riddle? I can’t recall. Others say he drowned nearby and the locals buried him with honour on Ios. Who knows really? Who knows if its even him in that tomb? Other islands have claimed they have his body … so … I leave it up to you to decide Dear Reader.
The tomb itself is about a 300 meter walk to the top of a little hill. There isn’t much there other than a small square structure built of stone and marble and lots and lots of inuksuk’s (that was a surprise!) and cairns. A marble plaque reads: “Here the earth covers the sacred head of men and heroes – Homer the Divine Poet”.
It was windy and a beautiful sunny day. We were the only ones there and the view of the Aegean Sea and nearby islands just took our breath away. Homer … or no Homer.
Stop #3 – The Paleocastro
This stop on the Eastern side of Ios on the way to Psathi Beach is not an easy one to find. Because Paleocastro means “old Castle” in Italian we kept looking for what would look like an old castle on a hill but never saw anything. Luckily we had the map and there was a small sign where the path to the castle starts at the roads edge. From there – we saw absolutely no sign of … anything…other than a path. The parking spot is oddly situated in the bend of the road (the only place we suppose). So you actually see this seemingly random parking area before the sign to the Paleocastro (also spelled with a “k”).
But find the starting point we did, and off we went to see what was to be seen. We followed a most impressive and scenic winding path leading up the hillside. Steep drop offs on one side and a cliff and rocks on the other, the Bipeds decided I had to be on-leash. I was not amused. After days of freedom this seemed so unfair. But after getting too close for comfort to the edge – I suppose I had not helped my cause. The steps are all whitewashed and it’s a pleasant 20 minute walk. I do recommend you bring water for there are no guides, information booths, plaques or anything of any kind on location… other than absolutely stunning views.
The castle itself is disappointing. There is very little left. All I could dig up was that it was built in 1397 AD by a Venetian ruler named Marcus Crispi (I know I giggled like mad too… Signor Crispi? Really?) in order to protect the island from pirates. Then the Turks invaded and it was more or less destroyed. All that is left are some walls on the very edge of the cliff and some inner chamber walls and the small but pretty Church of Panagia Paliokastritissa. It’s shaded by a really large Olive tree and we also found some benches to sit on and have some water and share a little sesame snack.
What stuns are the views.
From the Paleocastro you can see the small island of Iraklia close by, and the big island of Naxos (our next stop) in the distance. Sailboats sway like tiny little white insects on a deep indigo sea. The sky and sea seem to merge in places confusing the eye. So if you like winding pathways, and fantastic views this is a must. We are glad we went and still grin at the craziness of that pathway!
Stop #4 – Psathi Beach and Alonistras Tavern
We were getting hungry but decided to go find our first beach. We found Psathi Beach in the valley by the same name and were amazed (I know I use this word a lot lately but … there was a lot of that going on!). The beach has fine golden sand and large flat rocks. The sea is a stunning deep blue. It’s ideal for relaxation and tranquility, its wild and almost deserted. How could this be? The wind was picking up and we could tell the waves could, under the right environment, rise high enough to be of interest to surfer’s. And maybe that was why that day it was deserted. Maybe it’s a surfers beach and the winds were too calm. Either way. We had the place to ourselves and it was perfection.
but… all things come to an end and we made our move to find a place to eat lunch.
Far away from the party vibe, in a remote spot is the Alonistras Tavern. Still in the Psathi valley, it’s really the only place to eat near Agea Theodoti beach, another charming and deserted stretch of sand. It seems Ios has more spectacular beaches than it knows what to do with!
We settled down in a shaded spot on the terrace overlooking the sea and fields with goats roaming among the dried herbs. I got my own chair with a view. The bipeds ordered and when the food arrived we ate like kings. It was fresh, local and perfectly prepared. We lingered a long time. The place was quiet, only two other tables were occupied. We just relaxed, let the tension loosen from our shoulders and realized how lucky we were to be there; so far from everything surrounded by so much beauty.
Note: It’s important I mention this to you Dear Reader, take cash with you when leaving the main town. Almost everywhere else will not take any plastic of any kind. Luckily Mom still had some cash in her purse … we would have been in trouble for that lunch otherwise.
Stop #5 – Greek Orthodox Monastery of Kalamos
On our way back to the Chora we decided to stop at the Aghios Ioannis Kalamos Monastery. On the highest mountain of the island (713 m) this Byzantine monastery dates back to the 17th century. It was built on the remains of the antique temple dedicated to Apollo. On August 29, the most important religious holiday is celebrated at the monastery, the Aghios Ioannis celebration. The monastery is a sacred place for the inhabitants of Ios.
East of the monastery is the long stretched and quiet beach of Kalamos. The beach is also a natural park and the water is supposedly crystal clear but we could not for the life of us find the path to the beach!
We let ourselves into the monastery after trying to see if there was a bell or a person to talk to. It was completely and utterly deserted and the gate unlocked. I suppose it is only occupied during the religious holidays …or …? Well I have no idea Dear Reader. I will be honest. But we walked about and took some photos. Spoke in hushed tones and tried not to feel like trespassers. It was such an interesting place with activities obviously held mostly outdoors. From long desks built outside, too spaces under trees in the shade, and the rooms barren and small. I just wish I knew a little more.
All I can tell you is that this well-preserved 200-year-old-Byzantine Church is worth the stop – yes even if the Church door is locked. There is something about this location; you sense it is a place of spiritual refuge. It’s deeply peaceful and profound. It’s typical in appearance, with its painted white walls to resist the merciless heat of the Greek sun and the expected blue doors and windows. But there is “something” else there. Something words can’t explain. It’s really very pretty. Oh… and the door to the bathroom was kindly left unlocked … with toilet paper. The bipeds were ever so grateful for that.
Stop #6 – Kolitsani and Manganari Beach
Before I forget we did stop at two other beaches on our road trip through Ios!
First Kolitsani Beach. It’s beautiful and small and quiet, just what I enjoy the most. It’s really just a small cove protected on all sides by rocky hills. It’s the perfect refuge on really windy days. The sea is clear and turquoise with pale soft sand. There was no one on the beach but there were a few yachts anchored nearby.
We never made it to the most famous Ios beach. I think we didn’t really want to go. We don’t like crowds. We don’t like … following them either. As a result we missed Mylopotas beach (One of Europes top 10 beaches) and instead made our way to Manganari beach.
We have absolutely no regrets. It’s technically not one beach but a series of sandy coves that shape into several smaller beaches. Its waters are shallow and the atmosphere is very relaxed. Peaceful and well organized, with a specific section of the beach for sunbeds and umbrellas (free) near water sport rentals like kayaks, and windsurfing and so on. But there are also sections of beach far away from all of that for those who just want nature. There are a handful of Greek Tavernas to enjoy fabulous fresh seafood and traditional Greek dishes open for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
It’s a perfect final stop on a mini-road trip of Ios before heading back. The beach I was told has changed very little over the years. There are even still goats that enjoy the sandy beach now and then if you come later in the day or early in the morning. So I sunbathed, or dug a hole in the sand and imagined how the place must have looked when taken over by film crew in 1988 to film parts of “The Big Blue” one of Dad’s favorite movies.
And so … with the sun slowly setting we made our way back. Mom nursing a bee sting (Random!! She was in the car, enjoying the sun coming in from the window when a bee stung her – on her left arm – between her and dad… no idea how or why that happened! But no fun for Mom! She’s just glad she isn’t allergic.) and Dad feeling very relaxed and ready to find a nice place to enjoy an early dinner. We went to the gas station to fill up the car before returning it to the rental place, finding one just outside the Chora only meters away from the car rental place. When Dad went to pay the man told him cash only. WHAT? So we told the man we would be right back. He trusted us to leave… and so we did… made a very illegal U-turn to get to a cash machine … and drove back. Apparently folks – being Canadian makes you trust worthy. But please note Ios seems to be a very “cash only” kind of place.
Car returned, we went back to the sailboat. Mom got her shower and we walked along the waterfront. The port was quiet, and slowly you could see the party goers getting ready for a night of debauchery. For us, it was time to find a quiet place for a meal, before heading back to the sailboat to take notes of the day, have a cup of tea on the deck and just enjoy being on the water as the stars came out.
The next morning was a long day of travel. I woke up the “boys” in our group by jumping in from the “sunroofs” of their rooms and into their bunk beds. There were a lot of startled sounds that morning followed by giggles and cuddles… but that’s a story for another day.
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