My 7 favorite experiences in Ikaria, Greece

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Greece has over 6,000 islands and islets scattered along its coastline. Only 227 are inhabited. Some large islands have busy airports and attract resort-like crowds. Others are too small for airports and only have ferry services – only infrequently during the winter months, meaning you’ll have a less crowded, more traditional experience. They can also be less packed in summer.

Ikaria (also spelled Ikaria) falls somewhere in the middle. The mountainous, 98-square-mile island in the eastern Aegean has around 8,423 year-round residents and a small domestic airport on the northeastern tip.

The name of the island comes from Greek mythology. Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a craftsman. Together they created the labyrinth in Crete where the monster of Knossos, the Minotaur, was kept. To escape from Crete, Daedalus fashioned leather wings to fly away. Icarus was impatient and created wax wings to fly higher. His father warned him, but Icarus didn’t listen and took to the skies, flying too close to the sun and melting his wings and throwing him into the sea. Where he fell, the island is said to have arisen.

Expect long beaches, wild landscapes, authentic people and unique experiences that will stay with you long after you have left. You see, Ikaria is nicknamed “The Island Where People Forget To Die” and is one of five Blue Zones in the world.

Karavostamo Villaga, Ikaria Island, Greece. One of the many traditional villages on the island.

Rebecca Hall

What is a blue zone?

Researchers have long studied why some segments of the world’s population live longer than others. Why are they living longer and healthier?

There are five blue zones that writer Dan Buettner and demographers Gianni Pes and Michel Poulain have identified as the places whose residents live the longest and healthiest: Loma Linda in California, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Okinawa in Japan, the Region of Barbagia Sardinia and the island of Ikaria, Greece.

Blue Zones are common around the world, but share a few things in common:

  • Environments that encourage natural movement
  • meaningfulness in the lives of its citizens; no live-to-work concept
  • Broad adherence to the “80 percent rule”: eat until you are 80 percent full to appreciate food
  • A plant-based diet with beans, legumes, soy, lentils and the like; Meat is eaten in smaller quantities; In Ikaria, they consume goat’s milk, which is rich in potassium and the stress-relieving hormone tryptophan
  • high-quality alcohol consumption; 1-2 glasses of red wine a day are considered balancing on Ikaria, presumably because Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, was born here
  • appreciation of family and belonging to friends; Family takes care of each other until old age, and strong social circles support each other

Most important is the routine to reduce stress. Stress is known to lead to chronic health problems like intestinal inflammation. Blue Zone countries take action to limit stress. Ikarians do this by taking regular naps. As a person who likes to sleep, I found it comforting to know that my nap is accepted!

Ikaria is an island with rich traditional values, longevity and a relaxed attitude. Let’s look at some of my favorite experiences in Ikaria, Greece related to the Blue Zone concept.

Messakti beach, Ikaria island, Greece

Golden sands of Messakti Beach

Rebecca Hall

1. Beaches of Ikaria

On Ikaria you will find an abundance of beautiful beaches to choose from; sandy, rocky and organized with sunbeds or hidden coves. Named for its blue waters, white sand and white cliffs plunging into the water, the Seychelles beach is one of the most popular, created by a landslide years ago.

But as I was driving my rental car from the port of Evdilos – the temporary capital of Ikaria during Ottoman rule from 1834-1912 – I had to stop when I saw a strip of golden sand and small umbrellas. This was Messakti beach, one of the most popular of Ikaria. The river Myrsonas flows in and forms a small wetland. With the small, blue domed Church of Gialiskaris looming out to sea in the distance, this was the perfect place to spend the day, snoozing on my sun lounger, safe in the knowledge that this lowered my stress levels.

Waters of Agios Kirykos

Waters of Agios Kirykos

Rebecca Hall

2. Port and Marina of Agios Kirykos

Neoclassical houses, flowering balconies, narrow streets lined with taverns and cafes, all built like an amphitheater around the port, await you when spending time in the island’s capital.

Founded by seafarers over 300 years ago, Agios Kirykos is the island’s main gateway with its port and marina.

It is worth spending some time exploring this port. Visit the large, colorful Agios Kirykos Church, the archaeological museum housed in a room of the high school, or just sit by the water with a Greek coffee and relax.

It’s also worth a visit for some unique traditional Icarian products such as honey, herbs and olive oil at the organic shop Troubi. You are sure to find a unique gift to take home.

3. Wine tasting

Ikaria is reputed to be the birthplace of Dionysus, the god of wine – and with Ikaria’s Blue Zone concept for healthy wine consumption, what better place than to sample the unique wines produced here?

Family business Afianes Wines has been growing grapes using organic methods for over 20 years, which has resulted in an internationally renowned label. During your tour of the winery, you’ll have the opportunity to see the wine fermenting in underground clay jars, visit the winery’s stone amphitheater with beautiful views of the countryside, and see the granite press where the grapes are foot-pounded in the traditional way . Three guided tours to choose from ensure that you appreciate this drink in a whole new way.

4. Village of Christos Raches

Ikaria is not known for its nightlife in the traditional sense. But if you’re looking for alternative nightlife then head to Christos Raches, nicknamed ‘The Village That Never Sleeps’.

Strictly speaking, that’s not true. The village, with its traditional architecture, is very quiet during the day as most of its 300+ residents are indoors. They show up in the early evening and open stores that stay open well past midnight.

The custom goes back to the pirate days. The locals wanted to make their village look uninhabited to pirates so they wouldn’t be raided – they would be less seen during the day. In later years, locals worked their land during the day and opened their shops at night, providing two sources of income. The result today is a picturesque remnant of the past and is maintained for tourist reasons.

A visit to Christos Raches will convince you to “go Greek” about time, another stress-relief exercise.

5. Raches Village Women’s Cooperative

While in Christos Raches be sure to stop by the Women’s Cooperative. Founded about 13 years ago by seven local women, each with their own skills to keep the business running, the initiative aims to create jobs for the local population around the village by making products made with ingredients from raw producers on the island manufactures and sells. Step through their door and you’ll find goodies like jams, pastries, pickles, sweet and sour sauces, herbs, candles, and soaps to name a few.

Browse, chat with them about life in Christos Raches, then take a seat under the plane tree in the square where their café will serve you a refreshing homemade orangeade or lemonade.

Their co-op embodies Blue Zone values ​​of finding a sense of belonging with friends and not just living to work.

6. Panygiria

If there’s one thing Greeks enjoy, it’s a good panygiria, a traditional village fete and festival held in village squares across the country and its islands. And Ikaria is no exception.

There are several throughout the year, mainly during the summer months, and they celebrate the patron saint of each village.

Panygirias can start at any time of the day and are organized by the local cultural associations. Everyone brings a local dish or two to share, not forgetting the local Ikarian wine. There are benches on the square where people can sit, eat and chat. There is usually a service as well.

The highlight: dancing in the square with live music, traditional island songs, bringing the community together regardless of age at festivals and celebrations.

In the past, traditional Icarian costumes – kilts for the men and woven linen dresses for the women – were worn. You can find examples of this in the Folklore Museum in Agios Kirykos.

Yes, Ikaria may be an island, but the concept of “no man is an island” lives on here. On Ikaria you can be alone, but never lonely.

7. Ikaria Longevity Retreat

Immerse yourself in Ikaria Longevity Retreat, founded and run by two Greek women who are passionate about sharing the Blue Zone/Ikarian Way with others.

Learn the secrets of Icarian longevity yourself, implement them in your daily life (at least for a week) and try to pass them on.

The week introduces you to the 5 steps to longevity the Icarian way. They learn meditation techniques, eat a plant and fish-based diet, encourage light movement through various water exercises, rest with a midday siesta, and connect with one another through theater techniques and participation in a panygiria. Other courses include cooking and wine tasting.

One thing is certain; You won’t want to leave.

Port of Karavostamo

Port of Karavostamo

Rebecca Hall

Ikaria Pro Tips

  • The summer months are usually the best time to visit a Greek island – especially if you want to swim in the sea. Temperatures in July and August average around 30 degrees Fahrenheit in Ikaria. August is high season but luckily Ikaria doesn’t seem to be affected by mass tourism.
  • Don’t rule out visits in September and October with temperatures hovering around 75 and 66 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. In addition, the main holiday season is almost over.
  • Access to some beaches of Ikaria, such as B. the Seychelles, can be difficult. So bring good shoes in case walking is required.
  • Other beaches, such as Messakti, are easily accessible with roadside parking.
  • Renting a car is definitely recommended as public transport is sparse on the island. In addition, you will certainly want to explore the mountain villages on your own. However, I suggest you email in advance as many places may only have manual cars. Aventura which I used seemed to have a wide range including all wheel drive, in excellent condition.
  • And most importantly, come to Ikaria and just “be”. Before my visit, a Greek friend told me about the saying that Ikarians didn’t know what crying was because they had no reason to. After my visit, I’m beginning to believe it’s true.

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