Visiting The Islands of Folegandros, Greece With a Dog
After our wonderful stay on Santorini (a.k.a. Thira) our fearless Captain Toby took us out for a four hour sail to a very little known island called Folegandros.
According to that all knowing source of information called Wikipedia: “…little is known about the ancient history of Folegandros. Its inhabitants were Dorians. Later it came under Athenian rule. The island was conquered in 1207 by the Venetian Marco Sanudo and remained under the rule of Venice until 1566, when it was taken by the Ottoman Turks. The Greeks reclaimed it in the 19th century…”
But honestly Dear Reader, the lack of historical knowledge on the place will hardly be a reason not to go. The island is absolutely charming and is still, blissfully, an untouched piece of true Greece. In fact, it has distinguished itself from the other islands around it by being relaxed and mostly rustic with just a hint of pizazz.
It’s known as the “Island of Peace”.
We visited two of the islands small villages.
The first was an obvious one: Karavostasi (the port) where we docked our sail boat. The first thing we noticed were the many many cats. They were rather curious about me but that was about it. No drama to report. Maybe my small stature made them feel less threatened?
Then we discovered the big rocks that led to crystal waters in a multitude of shades of turquoise. The humans all felt the need to go for a swim, right then and there. I simply watched that craziness and chased some crabs back into the little water puddles left when the waves retreated. Oh and … guarded all the gear.
The dog friendly beach near the marina is a pebbled beach, these are warm and soft. I really enjoyed the feel of them under my paws even if walking on them was something to be undertaken with care. Little coffee shops served snack foods and drinks for anyone nearby and it really felt like everyone was on a completely different schedule than the rest of the world.
As in … slow, a perfect place to be on vacation.
We ate at a restaurant (name?) that served fresh fish and seafood. I will not lie to you; it was a feast and obscenely expensive. But the bipeds and others on our crew all had a wonderful and memorable meal. They still talk about it.
The squid was enormous and cooked to perfection on the grill. The scorpion fish was a must for Dad to try. He had often seen them diving but had not known you could eat them. There was octopus, and sardines, and Greek salad and humus, tuna, mackerel, fava bean puree, fried feta cheese, eggplant dip and lots lots more. Our advice to you is to just order the medley or starters. You’ll likely have plenty of food with some to spare and it will save you the horrible situation of not having enough room to eat all of that glorious food. It’s such a shame to throw away fresh, perfectly prepared by “Mama”, food. Don’t let them lure you into the kitchen to see all the wonders they have to offer – your eyes will be larger than your stomach. Promise.
We took the bus to the Chora (village) of Ano Meria. As we sat on the bus (dog friendly, no charge for canines and cash only for humans) we could not help notice the series of walls that have been built over centuries by the locals to create terraces that could support the growth of cereal. It seems the practice is no longer a part of the culture, since everything was dry … or we missed the season for it … but it was striking to see so much aridity on the rolling hills. It was eerily beautiful
We also discovered the best peach ice tea EVER. So we asked how it is made and here it is Dear Reader. In the words of our waiter (fun instructions – I did not change them!)… And …You’re Welcome!
- Make a BIG 2 L pot of black tea (to avoid bitterness follow seeping time guideline for your tea)
- Let it cool to just above room temperature (a little hot to the touch)
- Add cool water (At this point should be about three liters of liquid)
- Cut up 3-4 very (sun) ripe peaches into slices
- Place the sliced peach in the very large jug of tea
- Let it cool all the way down to room temperature
- Place in the fridge overnight
- Serve on only a little ice with a slice of the peach in the glass (too much ice dilutes flavour)
- Add a drizzle of local honey into glass when serving
YUMM!! Seriously good stuff! We can’t wait to see if we can duplicate this at home. It’s not been all that warm since we returned to Canada, so ice tea has not been on our minds but we may have to make it anyway. Finding sun ripe peaches and raw organic honey will be impossible… but we will do our best!
But I digress….
Everywhere you look in the Chora there are grapes hanging on their vines, hibiscus or startlingly bright bougainvillea exploding against the all-white and blue backdrop of the little homes, cafe’s and boutiques. There are some really swanky hotels too but they are all small and kept to scale with the traditional feel of the place. Small. Quiet. Intimate. And if my nose was going a thousand miles an hour Dear Reader, it was because riding on the gentle breeze that weaves itself along the tiny spaces… was the alluring scent of lime trees and the local bread.
I must share with you a most lovely walk! From Pounda Square in the Chora take the well paved zigzagging path up the hill to the Church of Panaghia. It should take about 15-25 minutes depending on how often you stop to take photographs along the way.
Like everything on the island the path gives off this sense of timelessness. You are invited to walk it, but to do so peacefully. Don’t rush. Enjoy. It zigzags the way it does so that you don’t have to climb a steep hill, but rather you can slowly access the Church and meditate along the way. Stop and see all the wonder around you. The plants, the birds, the bluest of skies … it’s calming. For us city folk it was much needed. Come and enjoy the now the path whispers to your feet as you ascend slowly.
And enjoy I did. I ran off leash, ahead of the group… said hello to a poor hobbled donkey (Mom was livid! She kept asking if anyone had a knife to let the poor animal go free). We stopped a thousand times to breath in the heavy with herbs scented air. The sun was slowly setting, and the light was warm and golden, the temperature perfect. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.
There is a gate keeper of sorts at the Church that watches over the place. An old man with white hair all dressed in black. Not a priest but a stern member of the community. Well, the surprise of the day was… he was kind enough to let me enter…off leash no less. That was a first. Normally the bipeds do a sort of hand off for Churches and Museums. One Biped goes in while the other stays with me and then …switch. Mom was waiting outside – letting Dad go first when the old man waved her in. She lifted me up and shrugged and he nodded and waved us in. We were stunned. When Mom made the international symbol for thank you with her hands (together in prayer and bowing the head “a la Japanese”) in very broken English, the gate keeper said in his rough voice – pointing up to the sky: “He… make… yes?” I think Mom could have kissed him if he did not seem so “proper” all dressed in black. He never smiled. he never cuddled me. He never even seemed warm in personality. But there was a sweet soul in there. Dear Reader it is never allowed for animals to enter a Greek Orthodox Church. Ever.
We made sure to remain respectful of the silence required for a place of worship. Although we are not religious, we try and be polite. Mom covered her shoulders knowing that the Greek Orthodox Church favors this. I tried to be quieter than a mouse. Mom bought two of the biggest candles they had as a way of saying thanks (how they make some money for upkeep) even over paying for them a little… and lite them. One she lite for her dad and one for this nice man – that he may have as many blessings as his faith allows.
Dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Church of Panaghia was in all likelihood built right on top of an ancient temple. In fact, the bipeds spotted many marble parts that were used as building material for the church that had ancient and very much pagan in origin inscriptions on them. The exact year of the construction of the church is not known. But we did find a marble sign indicating renovations in 1687. The gate keeper informed Mom – by writing it down – that the Church took its present shape around 1821. Or maybe that was the year of his birth…? Nah …
This one-aisle basilica with many domes and a tall bell-tower (that some not so polite tourists climbed! *gasp*) is typical of Cycladic architecture. If you go you’ll find the typical whitewashed exterior and, the interior has some frescoes, a marble throne for the archbishop and a marble icon screen. The silver icon of the Virgin Mary inside the church is believed to be a miracle worker. Legend has it that in 1790, 18 boats with Algerian pirates were about to come ashore. Desperate, the Folegandros residents went to the church to pray for their lives. They kissed and prayed to this Virgin Mary, and suddenly a very strong northern wind blew and sank all the boats killing every single pirate. Since then, the locals consider The Virgin Mary the official protector of their island.
We sat on the short wall outside the Church and snacked on some food we had brought and drank from our water bottles (never go anywhere without those!) and decided to head back to town… but to walk really slowly and watch the sun set as we made our way back down. It was magical.
There is something about this island. Its landscape varies from dry terraced fields, to steep hills and tall cliffs and large caves. It brings out in you that little child that wants to wonder off and discover hidden treasure or just some out of the way secret place or garden. It’s a small place. Only 32 square kilometers (12 sq. mi) with only 765 inhabitants to call it home.
But it has something … unique. It really is utterly ..peaceful.