Folegandros: Sophisticated Island of the Winds
The ancients described it perfectly when the said it's “sharp and made of iron”. Arid, barren, rugged, with steep cliffs defining the turquoise beaches and strong north winds. Nowhere else in Greece you can find the so-called “tree houses”, which in reality are circular stone buildings constructed around the trees to save them from the fierce winds. Chronic isolation has kept Folegandros' innocent beauty untouched. When, six years ago, tourism began to grow rapidly, the locals handled the new experience with responsibility and love for the fragile beauty of their homeland.
Despite all the changes, Folegrandros still looks like the “artsy” island of the early 90s as it has managed to maintain its unique attitude and the characteristic wildness of its rocky landscape. Thankfully, the newly built resorts are harmoniously integrated into the landscape of the port and of Chora, which still remains one the most beautiful of the Cyclades. The contribution of the municipality, which from the beginning of the island's development has put some boundaries, was decisive: the beaches remain mostly free without sun beds, the signs are all hand painted, even the terraces and stone walls that had to be demolished in order to widen the road have been rebuilt in the traditional way. So, even though transportation is now more comfortable, the scenery remains the same. Recent road construction has made it a bit easier to reach some of the island's beaches - not that the beaches are the strongest of Folegandros' assets. However, because of the landslides, every summer are created new private creeks along the coastline. Even though sometimes Folegandros is called the “new Santorini”, this coastline and the magnificent views from the vertical rock are where the similarities with the neighboring island end. And that's a good thing, as locals and businessmen of the island seem to have realized that Folegandros has nothing to gain by following the same development model. This is why the scarce raw beauty of the Cyclades has been retained here.
As a small island, it doesn't have any widely famous attractions or beaches - although the water is clear and turquoise - so it is mainly a destination for sophisticated travelers who are looking for a beautiful atmospheric island. The morphology may sometimes make it difficult to explore. So, if you aren't a sworn hiker, the best way to move around is by boat. The hikers on the other side will be happy to discover a highly developed network of paved paths, some of which leading to inaccessible beaches.
On the coastal road starting from Karavostassis and leading to Livadi, you will encounter various little beaches: Latinaki, Vicenza and Pountaki. If you are willing to work a little harder, Katergo is probably the best beach on the island with small pebbles and turquoise waters, however, it is only accessible by boat or on foot on a rather tough path starting from Livadi. A more easily accessible beach and also family-friendly is Agkali, surrounded by beautiful rustic taverns. From Agkali you may walk a little bit more or get on an 8-minute boat trip to the pebbled beach of Agios Nikolaos. Alternatively, fans of hiking can seek the atmospheric beaches of Vorina Serifiotiko, Saint George or the Vineyard, but be warned, those paths aren't for the faint-hearted.
Besides the popular walk around the village of Ano Meria to look at the “tree houses” of the outdoor folk museum and try the handmade pasta called “matsatsa” in rustic taverns, tours can be limited. Even classic holiday treats, like traditional ovens, are scarce, and in most taverns you will cherish mostly the atmosphere rather than the flavors themselves. But what makes up for everything that might be missing on the island, is the magnificent Chora, the main village of the island, that is amongst the most sophisticated and well-preserved in the Cyclades. It is obvious that tourism arrived late to Folegandros. Nowhere else will you see plastic chairs and neon signs, wooden store signs painted by hand, traditional hotels and bars. Nothing here can spoil the "Cycladic dream". Chora, perched on the cliff, consisting of a series of consecutive squares, a labyrinthine castle and several “balconies” with the most spectacular views over the Aegean. The locals go from cafιs to taverns and bars, depending on the time of the day and the mood. Backgammon and coffee when the sun is up or drinking rakomelo while awaiting the sunset.
When to go
Easter is celebrated in a special way making it a perfect time to visit the island. Everyone opens their houses to welcome the image of the Virgin wandering in procession around the village. Also, in July the increasingly popular festival of Folegandros gives the island extra "color". If possible, avoid August as the island is small and can get crowded.
Easter in Folegandros
What to see
- Castle: You should definitely take a walk over the old part of Chora with its medieval atmosphere and that vertical rock that brings to mind Santorini's famous Caldera. The settlement of the old Venetian castle (dating back to the early 13th century and built by Marco Sanudo) always stays serene, protected by the 200m height cliff. Large steps lead from the cobbled passages into the houses through colorful doors and small wooden balconies.
- Chrysospilia: At the Castle's base lies the mysterious Chrysospilia, an unexplored cave where human remains where found among broken pots and Roman water reservoirs. Meaning Gloden Cave and not easily accessible, this cave at the northeastern steep side of Folegandros is of great natural beauty and archaeological interest. Located at a height of 10 meters above sea level, its interior décor is full of stalagmites and stalactites of various sizes and shapes that will impress every visitor, as the biggest of them took several centuries to be created. It is also the only cave on the walls of which are written countless ancient names, probably the names of adolescents who took part in some initiatory ceremony. As already mentioned, access is possible only by sea, in good weather and after authorization by the Archaeological Service.
- Panagia: Perched on the cliff, the church of Panagia is easily reached by climbing the twirling path above Chora. It is said that the church was built over the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Artemis and Apollo - after all, some ancient fragments are embedded in its structure. It is an aisled basilica with many domes, has part of a Roman marble statue in its belfry and well-preserved images from the 17th and 18th century.
- Ano Meria: If Chora is the urban face of Folegandros, Ano Meria is its rural yard. Built gradually by crofters who bought the land from the rich and started creating this settlement since the 19th century. Pick an afternoon to visit this windswept village with its wonderful Folk Museum, which in fact was a farm back in the 19th century built in a special way so that it would be invisible by the pirates.
- Karavostassis: Only 8km separate the isolated and windswept Ano Meria from the harbor, Karavostassis. The harbor livens up when ships arrive only to get deserted again while waiting for the next ship to come.
Ferries arrive from Piraeus to Karavostassis (the island's only harbor) almost daily during the summer. High speed ferries need about 4-5 hours but triple that if you are going to take a conventional ferry. Also, during the holiday season, Folegandros is well connected to all the nearby islands of the Cyclades, Dodecanese and Crete.