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Ikaria

Ikaria is the most southerly of the North Aegean island group, 200km due east of Cape Sounion, Attica (Athens), 19km southwest of Samos, and 60km west of mainland Turkey. It’s oriented NE-SW. The island is about 40km long, and about 10km wide. It’s shaped like a rather fat lightning bolt. Eight and a half thousand people call Ikaria their home year-round.

Its name comes straight from mythology, from the story of Ikaros (or Icarus), the young man whose father, Daedalus, manufactured wings out of feathers embedded in wax, allowing him to fly, and to escape the prison tower king Minos of Crete had shut them up in. Ikaros’s problem, however, was his desire to fly higher than he should have, which spelled his doom when he got too close to the sun, which melted the wax. Ikaros then fell to his death in the sea near the island subsequently named after him. Ikaros  has ever since served as a picture of those whose ambitions outstrips their abilities.

Topographically, like all Aegean islands, which are essentially mountain peaks sticking out of the sea, the island is characterized by its summits, ridges, cliffs, valleys, and a few semi-flat areas. Ikaria especially has precious little flat, arable land. There has been  a lot of terracing of hillsides to coax crops out of the rocky soil. The main ridgeline is the wild and rocky Aetheras range, following the NE-SW orientation of the island and splitting it in two, with a high point of a thousand meters.

Villages can be found on its coasts, with a smattering in the highlands. Ikaria is a green island, with a lot of brushy growth on the shady side of its many gorges for its substantial goat herds to feed off of. It has fairly abundant water supplies. The local wine is known for its potency and its health-giving properties. Ikaria is home to a number of small mammals such as otters, although much of its edible wildlife has been hunted out of existence.

Ikaria is famous as the home of exceptionally long-lived people. We’ll have a bit more to say about that under the heading “The Island Today.”   

History

9,000 years ago the first Ikarians moved onto the island, a pre-Greek race known as the Pelasgians. Later- much later, Greeks from Miletus, a city-state near the Asia Minor coast due east of Ikaria,  made a colony of the island, around 750 BC, with its capital at Enoe on the island’s north coast,  near present-day Kampos. Sometime later a 2nd city-state, Therma, was founded on the south coast.

In the 6th century BC Ikaria was absorbed into the empire of Polycrates (tyrant of nearby Samos from 538-522 BC), and a hundred years later the chief city-states of Enoe and Therma became members of the Delian League, an Athens-led confederation designed to discourage further Persian aggression against Greece after the Persians twice invaded Greece during the 50-year Persian Wars fought in the first half of the 5th century, AD.

Enoe and Therma

Enoe and Therma, the 2 principal city-states during the classical era, were divided by the mountainous spine of  Ikaria. These two settlements correspond to the modern port towns of Agios Kirikos, the current capital on the southeast coast a few kilometers from ancient Therma, and Evdilos, on the northwest coast and a few kilometers from ancient Enoe. Ancient Enoe and Therma co-existed in peace, traded with one another, but maintained their identities as separate city-states despite sharing the same small island.

It was during the Classical era that these city-states reached their acme, generating enough revenue through their trade and what they could produce and sell to afford to each send one talent (equal to about 20 year’s wages for one man) to the Athenians in order to maintain their membership in good standing as part of the Delian League.

The two city-states presented their contribution as two separate entities instead of pooling their contributions, as most of the city-states of the other Aegean islands did. Enoe had, and has, the most fertile soil on the island. The port of Enoe was at the end of a long inlet which has since silted up, leaving it high and dry, which eventually led to the creation of Evdilos, about 1.6km up the coast to the northeast, as its new port.

Therma, the second city of the island, was on the southeast coast. It was built in the shadow of the natural barrier of thousand-meter high Mt. Pramnos, effectively cutting it off from the northeast coast. At first glance the location of Therma doesn’t seem advantageous. There are no great expanses of fertile ground to cultivate. Instead, the slopes of the mountain come down nearly to the sea. But when you factor in the existence of nearby thermal springs (which should help you understand where the word “Therma” comes from), you realize that the settlement grew for other reasons. The hot springs were likely the main source of income for the city-state during ancient times..

Even now the thermal springs are the focal point of a modern spa. There isn’t much left of ancient Therma, apart from a few Hellenistic and Roman-era baths. Locals say, however, that about 20 meters offshore you can find submerged remnants of the old settlement. A stone with the inscription of the god Apollo was also said to be found,  in 1930,  at the site of the modern hotel of the same name. Modern Therma has hotels, coffee shops, tavernas, bakeries, and rooms to rent. The thermal springs are close to the town center.

Samos conquered Ikaria in the 2nd century, BC. This is when the temple to Artemis Tauropolion was built in Enoe. Coins minted at this time show both Artemis, and a bull on their face. Another small temple to Artemis Tauropolion was built at Nas, on the island’s northwest coast. Nas had been a place of worship for the pre-Greeks of Ikaria, and a major seaport during the centuries before Christ.

Ikaria’s fortunes began to decline during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC).  Later, Ikaria became a military base during the conflicts that occurred after the death of Alexander in 323 BC. Philip V of Macedon (221-178 BC) spent most of his reign fighting off the emerging Roman empire, during which the Aegean islands, part of his kingdom, suffered further decline. In 129 BC the Romans took over the region, but due to domestic unrest did not securely govern the Aegean, which led to the capture of Ikaria by pirates.

Ikarians abandoned their coastal towns and moved into the interior uplands. The population declined from its Classical era peak of 15,000 to two small inland settlements. Caesar Augustus (29 BC- 14 AD) pacified the region, and the island was mostly used to house livestock by ranchers from Samos.

Around 600 AD, the Byzantines, ruling from Constantinople, created a bishopric at Kampos, and Ikaria was protected from pirates by a fleet from Samos.  In 1081 a monastery was established at Patmos, 50km to the southwest. It became a pilgrimage center and helped keep Ikaria relevant.

The pirates came back in the early 1200’s when the Byzantines stopped actively defending the area, and in response the Ikarians built fortifications at Paliokastro and Koskino. There is a report from the Patmos monastery during this time telling of pirates fleeing Patmos and landing at Ikaria, where they were summarily executed.

In the 1300’s the Genoese conquered Chios and incorporated Ikaria as part of their Aegean empire. The Genoese were displaced by the Turks, who in their turn were displaced by the Knights of St. John from their base in Rhodes. They controlled the island until 1521, when the Ottomans came. The first man that the Ottomans sent to collect taxes from the islanders got himself hung. Nobody was punished because no one would identify the perpetrator(s).

The Turks ruled with a light hand. The island paid its taxes and didn’t see a Turkish official for hundreds of years. They took care of tax collection themselves, and as long as they paid, things were fine.

There is a surviving account of Ikaria from an archbishop named Georgirenes dating from 1677. He described about the poorest island in the Aegean, a place of a thousand inhabitants who lived remarkably long lives. The island had no port to speak of because they had dismantled their ports in order to prevent pirates from raiding, which had become a common feature in the loosely administered islands of the Aegean under the Ottoman Turks.

Instead, Ikaria’s contact with the outside world depended on small boats which were beached. They became expert boat wrights, selling their product, and their lumber harvested from the island’s then-abundant pine forests, to nearby Chios.

Georgirenes’s account goes on to describe how the shallows close into the island grew the tastiest cockles (sea urchins) in the area. Animal husbandry depended in large part on wild goats and sheep feeding off the vegetation of the island.   

Ikarians did not export their wine. They stored it, not in barrels, but instead in the fired clay containers called pythi, their use going back at least 2,500 years.  To keep the wine cool they buried them in earth up to the rim.

Ikaria declared itself independent from Turkey in 1827, 5 years after the start of the Greek war of independence, but the infant Greek state couldn’t guarantee its safety and Ikaria was pulled back into Turkey’s orbit.

Ikaria continued to be ruled by the Ottomans until July 12, 1912, when the islanders expelled Turkish forces. On July 18th, Ikaria declared itself a free and sovereign independent state, adopting as its flag design something resembling the Swiss flag. Ionnis Malahias was its first and only president.

The following five months saw a great deal of hardship for the infant island country, with the economy weak and failing, food shortages, and threats from the Italians who wanted to make Ikaria part of the Italian-ruled Dodecanese. Ikaria finally allowed itself to be annexed by the Kingdom of Greece in November, 1912.

During WWII, hundreds of Ikarians died of starvation under Italian/German occupation. From 1946-49 Greece fought a civil war to determine whether it would adopt communism or a western-style government. After the western-backed government forces won, they exiled thousands of communists, 13,000 of which ended up on Ikaria. Ikaria as a whole remains sympathetic to communism, despite its obvious failure in places like the former Soviet Union. Ikaria is sometimes referred to as the “Red Rock,” for its communist-leaning sympathies.

Life in Ikaria improved dramatically during the post-1960 tourist boom, during which Greece invested in infrastructure improvements on the island. Infrastructure improvements during the first half of the 20th century came almost exclusively from former Ikarians who had moved to the US. 

The Island Today

One of the best introductions to Ikaria can be found on Greecetravel.com’s article by travel writer Alexia Amvrazi:

“Having travelled extensively around Greece for the last decade to write for Greecetravel.com and Fodor’s Travel Guide, I have never been so impressed by the seductive oddity of a place. The island is part of the Cyclades group and could not be more different to all of its neighbors: naturally abundant but very touristy Samos to the east, expensive and glitzy Mykonos to the west, historical and cultured Chios to the north and barren, religious Patmos to the south. Throughout the days (that turned into weeks, as we could not pull ourselves away), I was constantly impressed by the island’s rugged, verdant landscapes, plethora of rivers, waterfalls, gorges, giant Neolithic-style boulders perched tentatively atop hills, cool turquoise waters and a series of stunning sunsets that blend the sea and the sky into an orgy of resplendent colors. Although the island has (mainly Greek) visitors in July and August, it remains silent enough to stay off the tourist map.”

Ikaria is most famous for its long-lived citizenry. It is one of those places known as a Blue Zone (www.bluezones.com), a place where people who live to be 100 and beyond are a much higher proportion than the norm.

Factors involved include environment, diet, and lifestyle. Other factors could be Ikaria’s self-imposed exile from the world during the time of pirate raids, which greatly simplified its diet, and the loss of what some estimate at 20% of her population during WWII and the Greek Civil War in the 1940’s, which had a survival of the fittest consequence.

Raches (pop. 2,200), a mountain village near the island’s center, is particularly well-known for its numbers of centenarians. Rachians are not tyrannized by time- if their market isn’t open at 8AM, it’s because the owner is still sleeping, and you can just cool your heels until he gets out of bed and opens the place up.

Even now, Ikariotes have little need of outside help- they feed themselves from their own gardens, raise their own meat and milk with goats and sheep, and eat fish they themselves have caught. Their chief physical exercise is digging their gardens, which happens to be some of the healthiest physical work a person can do.

Ikarians have been so insular for centuries that they have developed an accent distinctly different from most of the rest of Greece. Ikarian emigrants to Athens would be asked if they were from Cyprus. (Cyprus was an ancient trading partner of Ikaria.) Cypriot is more than an accent; it’s a dialect with certain letters pronounced markedly different from mainland Greek. There is a slightly musical quality to Ikarian Greek (and Cypriot) that is absent in modern spoken Greek.

Ikarians love to party, and the islanders throw at least a couple “Panygyria-“ local festivals- every week in its villages from late spring on into October. In general, Ikarians like to stay up late- sometimes dancing till dawn at a local Panygyri- and get up late, a lifestyle that can be traced back to the time of pirate raids. I’ve listed the main Panygyria under the heading “Festivals” further down.

Villages- Agios Kirikos

Agios Kirikos is the principal port and capital of the island. It’s home to about 3,000 year-round residents if you count the surrounding area. It sits on a picturesque little bay on the southeast shore of Ikaria. There is a tall, stylized, abstract stainless steel monument representing Ikaros with his wings at the harbor side.

By Greek standards, Agios Kirikos is a new settlement, founded in the early 16th or 17th century. It’s a village full of narrow streets and features many beautiful neo-classical buildings, making it one of the prettiest villages on the Aegean. Many homes are decorated with blue and red window frames. There is a nice central platia or square bordered by coffee shops, restaurants, and stores, and a marble monument dedicated to the Ikarian heroes, with a fountain at its base.

The patron of the village (and of the island) is Saint (Agios) Kirikos (Quiricus in Latin), who was martyred in Asia Minor at the age of 3, which makes him Eastern Orthodoxy’s youngest martyr. Little Kirikos and his mother were tortured during the Diocletian Persecution (303-305). The large, blue-domed church just above the harbor is dedicated to him. His feat day is July 15th. A local brass band plays on the feast day as part of the village’s celebration and has been doing so since 1928. Elsewhere on the island are other churches named after its patron.

Agios Kirikos is the transportation hub of Ikaria: whether it’s a road or bus or ferry connection, it passes through, departs, or arrives here. It’s also the place to go if you want to party- it’s home to most of the island’s night clubs, discos, and bars.

The Archeological Museum of Agios Kirikos is in a neo-classical building paid for by Ikarian Greek-Americans and built in 1925. The building, which had served as the town’s lyceum (music school), was renovated and re-opened as the archeological museum in 2014. This modern museum features multi-media telling of the island’s history, its culture, including a film on the myth of Ikaros. It offers a panorama of Ikaria’s history, as well as artifacts from its ancient past.

The Agios Kirikos Folk and Historical Museum opened in 2010. It’s the brainchild of Professor Themistocles Katsaros. Its stated goal is to preserve Ikarian folk culture which is rapidly changing in the modern era. Objects on display include clothing and textiles, household items, documents, agricultural implements, building trades tools and other implements, all of which present a snapshot of island life from the 1700’s onwards.

The Spa at Therma

The spa at Therma is just a couple kilometers up the coast from Agios Kirikos. A funny thing about the spa at Therma is that if you go to their sites they talk about the radiation levels in each of the 3 springs bubbling to the ground there. They proudly proclaim that they are the most radioactive hot springs in Greece. The level of radiation varies from 65 to 557 Mache units, which is an antiquated means of measuring radiation (There’s no table transferring Mache units into a more contemporary unit.). However, there are proven health benefits to exposure to low levels of radiation, and there are a number of radioactive springs people use around the world.

The springs at Ikaria can help rheumatism, arthritis, neurological problems, respiratory issues, endocrine gland problems, a whole host of skin-related issues like eczema, blistering, and acne, gynecological disorders and infertility, chronic fatigue, post-surgery pain, and allergies.

Bathers immerse themselves in the water for short periods of time- about 20 minutes- and often do special exercises pertaining to their problem.

Curative spa therapy in Greece goes as far back as Hippocrates. Most springs have some form of unique mineral composition, such as sulfur salt and hydrogen sulfide, or are noted, like the springs at Therma, for their radon and radium content.

In addition to radon, the springs at Therma have enhanced levels of therapeutic minerals such as sulfur and sodium chloride. Technically, the springs belong in the saltwater springs category, but as the water bubbles to the surface through fissures in the rock they come in contact with slightly radioactive rock and carry the radon and radium with them to the surface, which then is inhaled by the bather as a gas. Radon’s half-life is very short; 80% of it passes out of the body within an hour, with the rest being sweated out through skin pores during the following 24 hours.

Most of the springs in Ikaria are above 38 degrees (99F), with a temperature of 34 or higher necessary for therapy to be effective. They have been recognized as being among the best in the world, and have been in use at least since the 1st century, BC.

In addition to the springs at Therma, there are a number of spots around the island where radio-energic hot springs flow into the sea and vacationers can take their spa therapy in a less formal setting. Three such places are Lefkada (near Agios Kirikos), Leumakia (near Therma) and Agios Kirikos (near the airport).

Information

Apollo Spa phone: +30 22750 24049

Spileo Spa hone: +30 22750 24048

The springs are open from May to December during morning and evening and efforts are made to keep them open throughout the year.

Evdilos

If you drew a line due west from Agios Kirikos, at 9km you would be just 1.5 km south of Evdilos, the principal north coast city on the island. That line, by the way, would take you across the top of Mt. Pramnos, the highest point of the wild, bare, spectacularly rocky Aetheras Ridge, at about 1,000m in elevation. So, even though Agios Kirikos is on the “south” cost of the island, and Evdilos is on the “north” coast, because of Ikaria’s northeast-southwest orientation, the two towns are nearly due east and west of each other.

To actually drive from one place to another is more than 3 times as long as their 10km straight-line distance, being a much more roundabout, twisting and turning 38km which of necessity circumvents the steepest parts of the ridge.

Evdilos is the 2nd-largest village on Ikaria. Built in 1830, it is even newer than Agios Kirikos. The town was settled when the scourge of piracy, which had been a problem on and off for centuries, was finally stamped out permanently.  Evdilos has 500 residents, with a population of about 2,800 in the surrounding area, similar to Ag. Kirikos.

From its founding to the end of Turkish rule in 1912, Evdilos was the island’s capital. Its port has ferry connections to some Greek islands, and with Agios Kirikos. It is a pretty little place of narrow, stone-paved streets, neo-classical buildings, abundant flowers decorating the landscape, and excellent cafes, restaurants, and hotel accommodations. The port and waterfront of Evdilos are small and charming, and there is a very nice beach nearby.

As with Ag. Kirikos and Therma, its ancient counterpart, so it is with Evdilos and ancient Enoe, a couple kilometers to the west, near the tiny modern village of Kampos. As has been stated, Enoe used to be a port until its inlet silted up, leaving it high and dry. There are some ruins to be seen there, as well as an archeological museum at Kampos containing finds from ancient Enoe.

Raches (Christos Rachon)

Mentioned previously as a place with an unusually high share of centenarians on this long-lived island, Raches sits on the highlands in the north-central part of the island. The village has about 350 permanent residents. Kato (or Lower) Raches, is 3km away, on the coast.  Raches is known as well for its great Panygyri, and for the late to sleep, late to rise lifestyle of the villagers. Its central square, paved with local slate, has been cared for and preserved by locals. The village is home to the largest Panygyri or festival on the island, held every August 6th, the day of Jesus Christ, when every Greek named Christos or Christina celebrates. It is a wild, wine and food-filled Dionysian holiday which has many of its residents, including those in their 80’s and 90’s, up dancing till dawn to traditional island music.

Gialiskari is a fishing village about 8km west of Evdilos on the north coast. It has 165 residents. There is a nice little inlet, a very nice, sandy beach, and a small, blue-domed chapel of the Analipsi (Ascension or Assumption) on the breakwater which forms one side of the marina. The locals celebrate their big Panygyri on the feast day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, August 15th.  There are a number of fine hiking paths which have their origin at Gialistraki and take you through the hills which have abundant pine forests.

Armenistis is just a couple kilometers west of Gialiskari on the north coast. The 2 settlements are separated by a couple of really nice, sandy beaches which are divided by a rocky headland. It’s 70 inhabitants see a significant increase during the summer months. It has a small church dedicated to Agios Nikolaos, patron of sailors. In the area are several streams, hiking paths, and forests. The pine tree-fringed beach at Armenistis is fine white sand. Armenistis is a gateway to western Ikaria and its rich offering for the nature lover as well as having archeological and religious points of interest.

Dafni is a mountain village in the approximate center of the island. It is in a well-watered part of Ikaria with lots of vegetation. There are hiking paths in the area. There’s also the Byzantine-era castle of Kossikia, dating from the 10th century.

Archeology

I’ve already mentioned some sites and museums, such as the Kampos and the Agios Kirikos Archeological Museums, the ruins at Enoe, near Kampos, and the Roman ruins at Therma.

Drakano Fortress is one of the best-preserved Hellenistic-era watchtowers in the Aegean. It is the extreme northeastern tip of the island, not far from the airport. Built during the time of Alexander (4th century, BC), the 15-meter tall tower monitored ship traffic between Ikaria and Samos. The ruins of a garrison are nearby. It is built of limestone blocks with an arched doorway and several embrasures set into it near its now-missing top.

The Menhir Monuments, also near the airport, are rather strange-looking several meter-high stone slabs set upright. Nothing specific is known about them, except that they are very old. Theories include their being used as a site of worship, or of burial. The atmosphere here is a bit eerie, similar places like Stonehenge or Easter Island.

The Roman Baths at ancient Therma have been mentioned. The walls are about all that are left of the once thriving spa city from the time of Roman occupation of Ikaria. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 205 BC. Reportedly there are ruins visible to enterprising snorkelers just offshore.

The Rock of Ikaros is just offshore near the village of Vaoni, at about the center of the south coast of the island. It is supposed to be the place where Ikaros fell into the sea after his wings melted. The area is quite interesting geologically, with its marble carved into interesting forms from the action of the sea and elements.

Nas is near Kato Raches, on the north coast of Ikaria. In the 6th century, BC a Temple to Artemis Tauropolion (goddess of the bull) was built there, on the banks of the Chalaris River, near to where it empties into the Aegean. It is located at the end of the Raches-Nas Nature Trail. “Nas” is probably a corruption of the word “Naos” (Temple). Artemis was the patroness of sailors, hunters and animals. The waters around Ikaria are tricky, which explains the existence of this temple to Artemis Tauropolion here and in ancient Enoe. The Nas temple is very early, probably dating from Minoan times. The Minoans considered the bull a sacred animal. This was one of the earliest settled areas on Ikaria, with its inlet providing safe anchorage. Not much besides the platform of the temple was on survives.

The site was excavated in 1939 by Greek archeologist Leon Poltis. When the Germans occupied the island during the Second World War, much Poltis’s work- excavated artifacts- disappeared. Locals claim that a number of ancient artifacts are still buried in the sands under the shallows near the coast in areas that were once above water. Much of the temple was dismantled, and its limestone burned in kilns to create lime to use in the building of a local church or churches in nearby Raches. The remains of a 19th century lime kiln have been found on the site.

Monasteries

Mavrianou Monastery is near the eastern end of the island’s north coast, not far from the village of Vrakades (which has an interesting folklore museum, by the way). This monastery was built in the later 18th century. It’s dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. It has been empty since 1960, and is in good repair. It is built over the ruins of an ancient temple, as evidenced by marble and clay fragments found on site. People gather at the monastery every May Day for a Panygyri with roasted meat, music, and dancing.

The Monte Evaggelismos Monastery, not far from Raches, is also dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. It dates from 1460.  There is a dam and a wetlands area nearby. The “Monte” part of its name comes from an Italian family from Chios who helped pay for the monastery’s restoration. It saw service as a hospital during the Greek Civil war fought in the late 1940’s. It was also a tuberculosis sanatorium during that time. There is only one monk caretaking the monastery.

The Theoktistis Monastery is in the small village of Pygi (Wellspring), not far from Kampos on the north side of Ikaria. It, too, is deserted. It’s age is unknown, but it was active during the 1600’s. Its architecture is more Catholic than Byzantine, indicating that it was probably built during Genoese rule of Ikaria (1300’s-1500’s).

Beaches

Ikaria is not known for its beaches, but nevertheless has some nice ones. There’s the beach at Agios Kirikos, the capital, which is quite nice, and near all the amenities you could want. Kerame, 10km northeast of Ag. Kirikos, has some trees for shade, and is popular during the summer due to its closeness to the capital. Sychelles is 20km southwest of Ag. Kirikos. It’s a quiet, pebbled beach bordered by rocky outcrops. Nas, on the northwest coast, is Ikaria’s prettiest beach, located next to the ancient temple of Artemis Tauropolion. It offers brilliant sunsets. Behind the beach are forests and streams running down towards the sea. Above the beach you can find some tavernas. Mesakti and Armenistis are twin beaches on the north coast of white, soft sand. These are probably the two nicest beaches on Ikaria from the standpoint of sand. There are hotels and amenities nearby.

Schedule of Panygyria (religious festivals)

As has been mentioned, Ikarians love to party, with frequent Panygyria throughout the summer. Here’s a more or less complete list.

July 1: the feast of Agion Anargyron, in Loutropoli (the spa/health resort) of Thermes

July 7: the feast of Agia Kyriaki, in Armyrida, Faros ­

July 15: the feast of Agios Kirikos, in Agios Kirikos

July 17: the feast of Agia Marina, anniversary of the 1912 Ikarian Revolution, in Agios Kirikos

July 20: the feast of Profitis Ilias, in the village of Glaredo

July 26: the feast of Agia Paraskevi, in the villages of Xilosirtis and Perdiki.

July 27: the feast of Agios Panteleimonas, in the village of Agios Panteleimonas

August 6: festivals in the villages of Christos and Oxe

August 15: the feast of the Koimisis of Theotokos, in the villages of Chrysostomos, Panagia, Perdiki and Monokambi

August 27: the feast of Agios Fanourios, in the village of Agios Panteleimonas

August 29: the feast of Agios Ioannis, in the village of Mavrato

September 8: the feast of the Genesis of Theotokos, in the village of Plagia and the beach of Kerame

September 17: the feast of Agia Sofia, in the village of Monokambi

October 20: the feast of Agia Matrona, in the village Oxe ­

October 26: the feast of Agios Dimitrios, in the village Katafigi

Nature

The location of Ikaria, the alternations in its landscape geomorphology and the great variety of habitats (marine, rocky, forest) favors biodiversity. The Aetheras mountain range and the south west side of Ikaria – areas designated as Special Protection Areas by the NATURA 2000 Network – host numerous endemic and rare plants, such as the Turkish pine, the scorpion senna, the Iberis runemarkii and the peony (Paeonia mascula cariensis). Birds include sparrow hawks, white-tailed eagles, yelkouan shearwaters, Audouin’s gulls, Bonelli’s eagles, peregrine falcons. Bats, such as the protected species of the horseshoe bat, the lesser mouse-eared myotis and Geoffroy’s bat, and reptiles – snakes and lizards – choose rocky areas as their habitat.

The Chalaris Canyon

The canyon of Chalaris, the largest river in Ikaria, is surrounded by clusters of plane trees and ends at the archaeological site of Nas. It has been designated as a NATURA 2000 site and is an ideal habitat for numerous protected and endemic species. The canyon is crossed by the Nas-Raches Nature Trail, which has been marked by SCI Hellas volunteers and the Citizens’ Movement of Raches, Ikaria. The stone bridge and the 45-meter high Ratsos waterfall that feeds a gorgeous natural pond stand out along the trail.

Endemic species: Ikarian snowdrop, benthic fish of the genus Salaria.

Mammals living in the habitat: hedgehogs, otters.

Amphibians and reptiles: Turkish stellion lizards, freshwater crabs.

Birds: migratory birds, such as the Eleonora’s falcon, the Little Egret and the Little Bittern.

The Ranti forest

The “Ranti Forest” is located in central mountainous Ikaria, covers an area of ​​16 sq. km. and is one of the last oak forests in the Aegean and one of the oldest in Europe. The oak forest is mainly dominated by holm oaks (over 300 years old), and we can also find strawberry trees, Greek strawberry trees and heather. It has recently been designated as a “Protected Natural Monument”.

Mammals living in the habitat: protected beech martens or “Atsida” (Greek for smart), hedgehogs, several species of rodents.

Ikarian Cuisine

A key reason for the long lives of Ikarians is the island’s cuisine.

One of Ikaria’s famous dishes is the “soufiko“, a summer vegetable stew, suitable for vegetarians. It is a mixture of various vegetables (tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, onions), cooked in a pan with olive oil and a little tomato purée.  Zucchini patties and chickpea patties are also very famous delicacies, accompanied by the famous Ikarian red wine, the “Pramneios Oinos”.  Other delicious dishes are cheese pies with “kathoura”, the local goat cheese, and various pies with herbs, aromatic plants and many spices. The island’s traditional dish is “gamopilafo”, rice served at weddings with local goat meat, boiled or grilled. Another traditional dish is goat stuffed with rice and various herbs. One of the most special dishes of Ikarian cuisine is “kakavia” a fish soup made with parrotfish or blackspot seabreams, a type of delicious flathead mullet. Another widespread Ikarian dish is “kolokasi“, the Ikarian sweet potato. A rare plant that in Greece is only found in Ikaria. The locals cook its root with beans or as a soup, grilled or boiled with meat, in the same way as potatoes. However, they mostly serve it as a salad, accompanied by a garlic dip and wine. Homemade spoon sweets hold a special place in the local cuisine. Each house makes its own desserts from fresh fruit, such as oranges, bergamot, cherries, figs, grapes and “kaisia” (type of apricot). The rose spoon sweet is famous for its fragrance.

Conclusion

Ikaria is a very different kind of place. It’s not the place to party in the Euro-techno, Mykonos sense. You can party there, but parties are very traditional, and very enjoyable, with none of the public drunkenness and debauchery you might find in more cosmopolitan islands.  Ikaria is not a beachgoer’s island, either, although it has some pretty good beaches. It’s just a very…different, and….interesting place. Its history is in some key ways unique to any other Aegean island, and that has affected the local population, making them slightly different culturally and even linguistically from other Greeks and Greek Islanders.

Important Info, Phone Numbers,

MUNICIPALITY OF IKARIA

Phone: +30 2275350401, -420, FAX: +30 2275022215

E-mail: dak2@otenet.gr

Public Transport Ikaria

To move around Ikaria, you can either rent a car or a motorbike. Car rental agencies can be found in Agios Kirikos and Evdilos. In Ikaria, there is a bus line Agios Kirikos - Therma, with frequent schedules, which serves the turnout of visitors to the Spas and the village. Also, there are five other bus lines throughout the year, connecting South and North Ikaria and the intermediate villages.