Ios, Greece: It doesn't get any better than this
Updated: Jan 17
We took the ferry from Santorini to Ios, a hilly island halfway between Naxos (our next stop) and our first stop, Santorini. We'd heard that this Cycladic island is considered to be quite the party place with crazy night life during the summer, but we were arriving in September so we weren't sure what to expect.
After a short ride up the hill from the port to our hotel, Liostasi, we were immediately in love. The island is really hilly, and Chora, or the main town, was a short walk further up from where we were staying. When we craned our necks, we could see the white-washed buildings crowded together with small stone alleyways and stairways winding their way through. We couldn't wait to explore, but first we wanted to settle in and relax.
The view from the hotel pool and terrace was insane, just sheer ocean with small bumps of island dotting the horizon as far as we could see. We staked out a spot and ordered cold cocktails until the sun finally gave up and started to descend behind the islands in the distance.
The next day we planned to celebrate our anniversary with a walk to explore some ruins and then to climb to the town towering above us on the side of the hill. Our concierge had recommended a special restaurant along the water and we'd booked a table for an anniversary dinner the following night. But that first night we decided to stay by the pool until the sun was completely gone and the only light that remained around us was provided by a blue glow from the pool. In the dark, we noticed lighted words following the outline of the pool and went up close to read them. They were the Prologue of Homer’ s Odyssey written in Ancient Greek and English. Pretty cool!! Check out the pool below, can you see the glowing words surrounding the water? Unlike the crazy party scene we'd read about, we started our time on Ios by reading one of the most well-known ancient Greek poems in our quiet spot by the water, a perfect way to be introduced to this amazing little island.
The next morning we were ready to go! We walked down the hill to the archeological site of Skarkos, an early Bronze Age settlement that was excavated from 1984-1997. The ancient structures and terraces were a reminder of the history the Greek islands hold, and made us feel lucky for modern conveniences. Archeologists had found stone vessels, tools, animal bones and other small artifacts during the dig. Know what we found? Not water!! And we needed some.
It was hot and we were thirsty after our archeological walk so we headed back up the hill to explore the town. When we finally reached the entry we followed stone walkways past little cafes and wound our way up stairways to small restaurants serving cool refreshments.
It was so much cooler under the vines crawling through trellises and protected from the sun. A great place to stop and enjoy some hydration while we listened to the conversations in Greek taking place around us.
Then we kept climbing. And climbing, until we reached a beautiful little chapel and an amazing view of the island and surrounding water.
The blue domes were practically the same color as the sky and set off against the white buildings and pink bougainvillea. From that high up we could look down on the town while listening to a Greek flag flapping in the breeze like it was waving hello to us.
After our first full day we were looking forward to dinner. The restaurant that the hotel had recommended was further than we could walk, so we took a cab and bumped our way toward Koubara, an entirely open air place where we sat under a thatched roof and listened to the water drift in and out over the rocks.
We had fresh fish and Greek salad and the most welcoming hospitality. This spot is a must if you find yourself on Ios. It's an anniversary meal we will never forget!
The next day we bopped around the town and walked for miles around the island, going down dirt roads and venturing to places where we weren't sure we'd find our way home from. There were lots of goats, and a friendly dog even decided to join us on our travels, so he provided good company as we explored (and some help if we needed rescuing). The views were spectacular up top and the water just as blue when we ventured down to the shore.
Apparently we'd missed the summer surge of visitors, so we were all alone, and the town was just peppered with a few people. That said, when it came time for dinner we were thankful our hotel made reservations for us at a small family-run taverna nestled in a back alleyway of the Chora. At Sainis we were greeted by a little girl (no older than 10) who seated us and brought us a jug of homemade wine. Her grandfather and grandmother, mom, and dad all bustled around the small restaurant placing dishes down and bringing more jugs of wine to the tables. The place was small and packed, so we felt like we were in for a pretty amazing meal, if the crowded room was any indication of what was ahead for us.
We were seated very (very) close to the table next to us and struck up a conversation with an Australian couple. Chatting with them and hearing their story was so much fun (and we loved their accents). Our meals were a-mazing! I don't even know what I ate but it was some of the best brown-meat-in-brown-sauce that I've ever had. And the entire meal plus endless wine was less than $40! We quickly moved this to the top of our favorite meals ever list.
But there was no loitering here...when our dinners were finished and our last wine jug empty we were told (very matter-of-factly) that it was time for us to leave! There were people waiting for their turn to enjoy this gem of a place. So we said goodbye and continued on our way...popping into a bar all set up for drinking games. We proceeded to get into a heated competition to determine who would be the beer pong master of Ios.
That night, before turning in and preparing for our ferry to the island of Naxos the next day, we sat by the pool for one last cocktail in what would become our most favorite of Greek islands. Ios was a revelation, nothing like the party reputation we'd heard about, with beautiful land, people and atmosphere.
It was unique from any other island we'd experience along our Greek journey. Views like this are why the Greek gods never needed to take a vacation. For a small island, Ios delivered BIG.
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