Ikaria lies right at the southern tip of the Aegean group of Greek islands, southwest of Samos, and is beautiful. The island is quite large, but for some reason until recently has been neglected by tourism. Ikaria is most famous for its health spas fed by underground springs that seem to attract Greeks visitors but still manage to remain a well-kept secret. The island used to have a reputation as a bit of a 'hippy' island in the past – there was even a large, internationally known German commune here at one point.
Blessed with an imposing rugged landscape, some characteristic unkempt villages and lovely beaches, Ikaria will appeal to intrepid travellers looking for somewhere off the beaten track and who are hankering after a taste of authentic Greece.
Despite have less tourists, Ikaria still has its fair share of tourist delights and things to take pictures of. There’s also a great selection of water sports that visitors are encouraged to take part in, a reasonable nightlife and adequate shops.
Ikaria is sometimes called ‘the red island’ due to its historically political tendencies – it was used as a place of exile for communists after the Second World War. The sheer isolation of the island and its poverty have forced many of Ikaria's inhabitants to emigrate in the past few decades, and many have moved to America and other places in search of a better life. However, there’s still a good infrastructure on Ikaria, and the island is happy to welcome tourists, as the revenue generated is becoming a major source of income for the people who remain there.
According to ancient Greek mythology, Ikaria owes its name to Icarus, the son of Daedalus. The legend says that Daedalus and Icarus were the only people who knew how to escape from the Labyrinth in Crete, so Minos, the king of Crete, forbade them to leave. Daedalus tried to outsmart Minos and made some wings from wax for himself and Icarus in order to escape from the island. Icarus grew over confident and flew too close to the sun, his wings melted, and he fell into the seas off the island.
The Ionians came to Ikaria from Asia Minor in the 9th century BC, and in the 5th century BC it was involved in a fight against the Persians during the Persian Wars. The Romans conquered Ikaria along with most of Greece in the 2nd century BC, and after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the island became part of the Byzantine Empire. Like most of the other Greek islands, Ikaria has been attacked constantly by pirates and invading forces throughout its history.
The Venetians ruled Ikaria from the 13th century until the 16th century, when the Turks took charge. Most of the islanders had already moved into the mountains to protect themselves from the pirates and then stayed there, hiding from the Turks.
Ikaria revolted against the Turks in 1912 and was united with Greece later that year. The island was somewhat neglected by the Greek government, so the locals learnt to become self-sufficient. Ikaria suffered considerably during the occupation by the Germans and Italians in the Second World War, when many people starved to death. After the war, the island became well known for being sympathetic to communism, causing the then right-wing government of Greece, to use the island as a place of exile for communists and other people who spoke out against the dictatorship.
The National Airport of Ikaria is on the south east of the island, around 12 kilometres from Agios Kirikos, the island’s capital. Ikaria airport takes mainly domestic flights from Athens, although there are a few charter flights from abroad in summer.
There are several flights a week between Athens and Ikaria, and the island is connected by ferryboat and hydrofoil to Samos, Patmos, Kos, Kalymnos and Naxos, as well as Pireus on the mainland.
Ikaria is by no means a party island, but there are a few lively bars and places to let your hair down in Agios Kirikos and Armenisti. Armenisti is more geared up for tourism of the two towns and so for a proper night out you’re probably better off heading in that direction. The arrival of the tourists tends to liven things up on Ikaria in August, when the nightlife ramps up a bit to accommodate visitors.
There are some lovely restaurants in the main settlements, and some of the towns have bars that stay open until late. Many of these have gorgeous open terraces that overlook the Ikarian Sea, especially those at the two main ports, Agios Kirikos and Evdilos, as well as the beach resort of Armenistis.
Most of the island’s best tavernas are in Agios Kirikos and Armenisti, and if you get tired of traditional Greek food there are a few Italian places to choose from. The local red wine is an Ikarian speciality and the islanders are justifiably proud of it.
The locally caught fresh fish, lobster and seafood take pride of place in many of the tavernas, but the most famous local dish is roast wild goat, which might not be to everybody’s taste.
Ikaria also produces honey, olive oil and cheeses such as ‘kathoura’, a goat’s cheese.
The local currency is the Euro. For the latest exchange rates visit www.xe.com Banks on the island will cash Travellers’ Cheques and exchange foreign currency, and are usually open on weekdays from 8am until 2pm; although during the summer some banks also stay open during the afternoon and at weekends.
Major credit cards are widely accepted in towns and tourist areas, as are traveller’s cheques, but in smaller villages cash is preferred.
Foreign currency can be exchanged for Euros at the island’s bureaux de change. Greek banks charge a flat commission rate for cashing traveller's cheques, and you can avoid being charged extra fees by taking them in Euros, Pounds Sterling or US Dollars.
Ikaria doesn’t have much to offer in the way of shopping, but the best places to go are the villages of Evdilos, Agios Kirikos, Gialiskari, Therma and Armenistis. Most of them have plenty of shops selling standard souvenirs, local produce, groceries and there are also a few good quality ceramic shops that are worth visiting. The local wine, however, is sold almost everywhere!
There is a local bus that connects many villages, but out of the tourist season you’ll probably have to hire a car or take a taxi to get around the island. There are also tourist boats that will take you from Agios Kirikos to Therma and across to some of the island’s beaches.
Where to Go
Agios Kirikos, on the south east of the island, is the capital of Ikaria as well as its main port. It was founded over 300 years ago by sailors and is a lovely town that’s full of typically picturesque mariner’s houses with flowers on the balconies, set into narrow streets with stone steps. There’s also a pretty central square in the town, which is lined with attractive little shops and cafes.
Agios Kirikos is the main gateway to the island, and you’ll find most of the amenities here, as well as tourist accommodation, bars, tavernas and clubs.
The small fishing village of Armenistis is one of the more popular tourist resorts on Ikaria, mainly due to its close proximity to some stunning beaches. Armenistis village is home to some modern and well-restored older houses that are built up on the hillside overlooking the harbour and beach. It has a picturesque port, and a pretty church dedicated to Agios Nikolaos.
There are a few small hotels in Armenistis and it’s a lovely place to use as a base on the island with mix of traditional Greek village and modern tourist resort.
There are no cash points in the village but there is a bakery, mini-market, and a few tavernas and bars. There is also a small museum of Ikarian art in Armenistis village.
The main north coast port of Ikaria is the settlement of Evdilos – about 40 kilometres northwest of Agios Kirikos. It’s worth taking a drive along the island’s only main road to get there, taking in some of the scenery as it climbs steeply over the scrub-covered mountain ridge to the terraced slopes of the north coast.
The village is very colourful and the villagers take pride in their homes. The houses are festooned with flowers in yards and on balconies. During the second part of the Turkish occupation (1834–1912) Evdilos was actually the capital of the island.
The little port is a nice place to amble around, then stop for a coffee at one of the cafes dotted around the harbour. Evdilos is a typically traditional Greek village, with simple houses, narrow streets and old mansions.
There’s a small pebble beach near the port that’s really only popular with locals and is very quiet most of the time. There are no facilities on the beach, so most people tend to head off to the other, more popular beaches within walking distance of Evdilos.
Therma is set into a narrow rock cove with a row of cafes along the shore, overlooking a small, quiet beach that spreads out from a jetty in the centre of a stretch of sand and shingle. In 205 BC ancient Therma was destroyed by an earthquake, and the city slid into the sea. A 10 minute walk from Therma beach will take you to the ruins of the ancient town. Only the walls of the old Roman baths remain. If you carry on a bit further, you’ll get to a place on the coast where the hot spring water flows into the sea, and you can have a paddle in the warm waters there.
There are only a few hotels in Therma so it’s not a very busy resort, and is mostly popular with the locals who visit it for the curative waters. Therma can seem to be almost deserted out of season but can get quite busy at times in the summer with people visiting the hot springs.
The coastal resort of Fanario (or Faros) is on the eastern tip of the island and is a favourite haunt of the residents of Agios Kirikos who like to get away there for the weekend.
The long sand and pebble beach is one of the big attractions of this town. You will find a couple of large tavernas and a cafe bar here. Windsurfing is very popular and you can rent equipment locally, as well as stay in one of the rooms for rent behind the beach. Close to the town are the ancient ruins of Drakano (not to be confused with the third largest town on Ikaria) where there is an acropolis and ruins of ancient walls and houses.
To the east, and beyond the ruins of Drakano, are the coves and beach of Agios Giorgis, where a delightful sandy beach nestles in a small cove below the church and the recently restored Drakano Tower. There are no facilities at this beach.
There’s a small track that takes you from Fanario to the very remote beach at Iero. This beach is popular with for snorkelling due to some interesting rock formations that provide perfect conditions for underwater exploration. The beach is right at the end of a horseshoe shaped bay and is mostly stone and shingle.
The Chalari Gorge is a fabulous natural attraction that’s very close to the resort of Armenistis and the beach of Nas. It’s absolutely beautiful to stroll through, and is packed with natural beauty in the form of small lakes, rivers and waterfalls. The Gorge is well promoted locally as a great place for trekking and walking. It’s also a terrific place for nature lovers, especially as the abundant plane trees and bushes provide a natural habitat for some interesting birds – great for bird watchers. The trekking path connects Nas beach with the village of Jesus Rachon, a mountainous village with some interesting traditional architecture – worth taking a look around.
The Temple of Artemis
The Temple of Artemis in Nas dates back to the 6th century BC and was supposedly built by the Ikarians in honour of the mother goddess Artemis. Nas was probably the first settlement on Ikaria.
You can still see the ancient jetty and the floor of the sanctuary. The sanctum sanatorium where the religious rituals were once performed are just ruins. A portion of the floor and columns of the temple have survived, and the area is strewn with tiny pieces of ancient marble.
Fourni (or Fournoi) Island
Fourni is a small group of islands that sits in the Aegean Sea between Samos, Ikaria and Patmos.
The main islands (or islets) in the group are Fournoi, Thimena, and Agios Minas and there are another ten rocky islands. Only Thimena and Fourni are inhabited. Fourni is wild, remote and peaceful and has only very recently become known to tourists, so keeps a lot of its original charm. The main village has some lovely family-run hotels and great tavernas if you fancy staying over.
Fourni is primarily a fishing island, and the main village, also called Fourni, is an adorable hamlet which is suitably adorned with mulberry trees which stand in a line from the harbour to the village square. The island is well worth visiting if you want to completely get away from it all. The hidden coves with sandy beaches and crystal clear water are the perfect place to spend time in solitude A couple of other good beaches to try are Psili Ammos and Petrokopio, but explore the island and you will find a perfect retreat!
Fourni can be reached easily by ferry from Samos or Ikaria and is the perfect place for peace and quiet.
The Byzantine fortress at Koskina was built in the 11th century on a mountain peak overlooking the village of Koskina in the centre of Ikaria. You have to travel along a dirt road near Koskina to get to the fortress, which forks off the main road from Agios Kirikos to Evdilos. Inside the fortress you’ll find a chapel dedicated to Agios Giorgios Dorganas.
The island is blessed with some gorgeous beaches, some of which almost totally isolated. There are also plenty more accessible resorts and beaches that boast a full range of amenities, such as Armenistis and Evdilos.
The beautiful sandy beach of Nas lies in a picturesque cove, near the village of Armenistis. It’s situated at the end of the Chalari Gorge where the river Chalaris flows into a deep inlet. The beach can be reached from Armenistis via a lovely coastal walk.
The small bay is enclosed by an outcrop of rock, and the pebble and sandy beach is quite small.
There are several tavernas in nearby Nas village that have some spectacular views across the water, and are especially recommended at sunset. There’s plenty of tourist accommodation in the village as well as some camping facilities.
Messakti and Gialiskaris
The village of Gialiskaris has a lovely white sandy beach, and the waters at nearby Messakti beach are also beautiful too. The resort is at the junction of two small rivers that form fresh water lagoons at the back of the beach, and the resulting shallow water makes it ideal for families. Be careful of the strong currents further offshore though.
At the eastern end of the beach, you’ll see a cute traditional white and blue chapel that’s perched on the end of an outcrop of rock. There are plenty of facilities on the beach, although don’t expect it to be quiet as it’s really popular with visitors. In August it can get extremely crowded as beach volleyball and soccer tournaments are held on the sands, but it’s all good fun.
Seychelles beach is found in one of Ikaria's most stunning settings. The beach is covered in brilliant white stones, in a picturesque cove that’s bordered on both sides by limestone cliffs. It’s not widely visited as it’s not that close to any of the bigger resorts, but because it’s small, it can feel more crowded. The beach is on the southwest coast about 25 kilometres from Agios Kirikos and it’s almost as if you have to prove yourself before you can find it – it’s accessible only via a very steep path that follows the river all the way from the village of Manganitis.
Manganitis itself is worth seeing too, as it’s another lovely Greek village full of traditional houses and a church with views over the sea.
The white stones on Seychelles beach are quite dazzling in the sunshine and they make the beach look amazingly white while giving the already pristine waters a clear azure turquoise hue. Despite the natural beauty of the beach, the drop into the water is actually quite steep and it can make swimming dangerous – it’s certainly not a beach for children. There are no facilities on the beach but there are some tavernas and cafes in Manganitis.