The Greek islands have held so many people in their thrall over the ages. Many have roamed their shores and written about their beauty and the special light of the skies and the colours of the sea. I grew up In London, and because my parents were Greek, we visited Greece a lot as a family and made many trips around numerous islands. Later I travelled farer afield, but I felt myself constantly drawn back to Greece and her islands. Deciding that the Cycladic group of islands appealed to me most, I island-hopped extensivey, discovering many beautiful places, until I came upon Ios. Here, I had found my dream island and the source of my inspiration, so I decided to stay.
What is so special about Ios Island Greece? When I first arrived in the early 1970s, I was looking for sun, sea and fun (much like people are nowadays). These I found in abundance.. Along the road, I discovered stunningly beautiful landscapes, a graphic traditional village, stupendous beaches and a sense of timelessness. Yes, Ios has changed over the years, but somehow it has remained basically the same. The old traditions of the locals are entwined with modern technologies and the influx of visitors only really changes the rhythm of the island during the few summer months.
One of the reasons I love Ios so much is the beaches: most islands have one or two lovely beaches – Ios has over 30, some of them spectacular. There’s a beach to suit all tastes – sandy, rocky , pebbled, busy or remote. If you want to participate in watersports activities or poolside fun, you can – and there’s even a scuba diving school. On the other hand, if you want a beach to yourself, you can also find one. The waters are crystal clear which make swimming and snorkelling very enjoyable.
If you get tired of the beaches, there is always the picturesque village to explore with its little white houses with varying hues of blue doors and shutters and its winding narrow alleyways – some of them partly covered. The little back streets have a charm of their own with beautiful little patches of colour of bourgainvillea and other plants. Lining the main lanes are shops, little bars and places to eat. No cars are allowed into the traditional part of the village which is built on a snail-shaped hill, with many steps to reach the higher parts. It is well worth the climb as when you reach the top with the 4 churches, the views over the sea are incredible.
The nightlife is vibrant with a vast choice of places to drink, socialise and dance the night away. The main square of the village is a great meeting place and people of all nationalities and ages congregate in the evenings to meet up and have fun. In the bottom square you can listen to live Greek music in the summer evenings. Both squares are great for people-watching and having a catch up with your friends and can get quite busy at night, while in the mornings they are peaceful places to linger over coffee with friends. Here, I made the best friends of my life and also met my future husband.
If you are a lover of nature, there are various treks through the hills and mountains which show you a different aspect of the island and some very strange rock formations. In springtime, if there has been enough rain, the mountains are covered in a carpet of wild flowers and wherever you tread the scent of thyme & other herbs perfumes the air around you. My husband has found 16 different varieties of wild orchids on his walks and well as many other flowers.
Maybe it is village life itself which is the main draw of Ios Greece for me. Here, I know so many people – the locals, the workers, the visitors who come back at set times every year – and I also get to know new people every time I’m here. Not only do I know the people, I know their pets also. A walk through the village involves many stops to chat to the butcher, the baker, the boutique owner and also pat their dogs & talk to their cats. This feeling of community & lack of anonymity is common to most villages, but Ios offers something else as well. Because of the tourist nature of the island, there is a metropolitan flavour and a break down of barriers. One day I may meet an artist or musician, another day a bricklayer or a carpenter. The millionnaire rubs shoulders with the back-backer. The young mingle with the old and nobody looks askance at the 83 year old artist who comes every year to drink her retsina and dance the night away.
All these things contribute to why I’m in love with Ios and I hope I have managed to convey the “Hotel California nature” of the island – I am not the only one who keeps returning. Even those who do not visit the island for years, often come back with their families to show their partners & offspring the magic of Ios. It gained its reputation as a party island in the 1980s, but in truth, it is much more than that. Ios Island caters not only for the party animals, but also for those who seek peace & serenity. It may be an island for youth, but older people also appreciate its charm. The locals have seen various tribes of visitors pass through their land – from the hippies to the Goths, rockers, punks – you name it. Many eccentrics have graced its shores. The Niotes (people of Ios) have looked on with acceptance (and amusement) at the various antics that people get up to. They embraced us with hospitality and love, although our customs are so different to theirs. They allowed us to be ourselves and to act out our dreams. On Ios I can be as silly as I like & find people to join me in my silliness – it is the only place in the world that I feel I have the freedom to be me – and I think that is the real reason for its magic.
The isles of Greece! The isles of Greece,
Where burning Sappho loved and sung
Where grew the arts of war and peace
Where Delos rose and Phoebus sprung
Eternal summer gilds them yet
If you would like to know more about my life on Ios, you can find my paintings and my stories on my blog