You really have to want to visit Ikaria, the Greek Island where the mythical Icarus is buried, for getting there is rather challenging. One plane a day lands and takes off on the one runway beside a luggage belt in a barn. It takes so long for luggage to arrive, you may as well take it off the plane yourself. A bus may stop or a taxi may idle outside. The information desk is manned for a short time after landings, and the attendant can advise when the next bus might stop or call a taxi; which is more certain to arrive. You can also pre-book a rental car but read on before you settle on that transportation option.
It is easier to take the ferry, which leaves from Athens. Ferries have nine sailings a week. Book ahead for the six-hour sail. You may end up ticketed, but confined to the deck that has some uncomfortable seats that are under a canopy and access to a greasy, little bar. With a reserved seat, you will be in the belly of the boat in seats similar to airline seats back in the day when flying was glamorous. They are roomy and comfortable with tray tables. The floor is carpeted, and drinks and meals are served in a gracious lounge area. Or, you can book a room and enjoy hotel amenities including privacy, room service, and a comfortable bed.
You will sail by islands where the Beautiful People booze and bathe, but you are headed for a more dramatic beach and an adventure. To fund your adventure, bring euros. Credit cards are not widely accepted, and ATMs are as chancy as slot machines. In one of the larger villages, where ferries dock, one ATM was broken and the other was out of cash. Banks will change money, but make note of the bank holidays before you sail or fly to Ikaria.
The Ride is Worth It
The little village of Armenistis on the Aegean Sea is a good resting place for beach lovers. It has many inns and small hotels, some located on cliffs above the beach. But the adventure begins as soon as you leave the dock or airport. The landscape with barren hills and sheep is Biblical; the roads are hell. After a hundred or so hairpin turns on gravel, mountain roads, you may realize why every hamlet with five or more houses has a tire repair shop along the main road. If you have braved a driving a rental car, you may feel assured that if you have a flat, help is just an uphill hike away.
The inn I booked is Livadi Beach Hotel in Armenistis. My room was clean, simple, and forty feet above crashing waves. The hotel’s terrace restaurant has a similar ocean view. John (pronounced I-o-an-nis) grew up on the island and cooks from dawn until midnight. His moussaka is splendid. White beans with a spicy tomato sauce is another delicious choice. Pay 2 euros for a generous cup of tzatziki, which is cucumber sauce used on gyros, to slather on bread. The restaurant serves dishes made from generations’ old recipes. As the island has had to be self-sufficient for eons, the dishes use local products: produce from the inn’s farm, locally made cheese, locally baked bread, and locally bred and slaughtered goat. John does not serve dessert. He offers melon and calls it a “finish.”
The beach is forty stone steps (no railing) down from the inn and has concessions including beach chairs and thatched umbrellas, snacks and cold drinks. Eating, drinking, reading, sunbathing, and yawning are popular pastimes. As for the water, the surf is deadly. Wading to the knees feels like flirting with danger. The waves are so mythic, Homer could have written the Iliad here. For the souls who brave the surf, a catch rope is strung from the beach to some off-shore rocks for swimmers to grab to avoid being smashed to bits on the jagged cliff.
Meals do not have to be restaurant meals, particularly if your room has a little refrigerator. One day you can hike ten minutes to a mini-mart (make that micro-mini) for crackers, local cheese, local olives, local yogurt, Nutella, and local peaches. Yogurt and Nutella and make a great breakfast. It is delightfully Grecian to lunch on cheese, olives, and peaches on the beach. You can stroll twenty minutes in the opposite direction to the picturesque village of Armenistis for provisions and postcards.
Ikaria is, in a word, relaxing. This laid-back lifestyle may account for the unusually long life-span of Ikarians. The island is one of the few “blue zones” according to best selling author Dan Buettner. Nearly one out of three Ikarians celebrate their 90th birthdays. In fact, Ikaria has the highest percentage of 90 plus-year-old people in the world.
If You Tire of the Sea
The hotel owns a small cottage so remote, it is a two-hour hike and requires a guide. The guide will pack in provisions for a night or two of rustic living and return to see you safely back to the hotel.
Ikaria’s other attractions include radioactive mineral springs in the village of Therma. Since the 1st century B.C. this has been a known center for hydrotherapy as evidenced by numerous references in historical texts and by archeological discoveries. Situated on a hill which was the ancient citadel of Oinoe, the first capital of Ikaria, the Kampos Archeological Museum displays more than 250 local relics including Neolithic tools, pottery and clay statuettes, columns, and carved headstones. The courtyard contains the island’s oldest church, The Church of St. Irene from the 12th Century which is built over a 4th Century church which was built over an ancient temple to Dionysus.
The ferry back to Athens docks around midnight, but taxis are abundant. Even so, try to get off the boat with the first passengers departing so you will not have to wait. Pre-book a hotel in Athens, preferably in the Plaka. There you will awake in the midst of Ancient Greece, ready to mount the Acropolis before it gets too hot.