Folegandros is a fine island, firmly in my top five and far enough away from the main holiday islands to have an air of exclusivity and it is definitely on my list to return to.
We were staying at the Hotel Vrahos again, the hotel mini-bus was there to greet us and at the reception Anna, the owner’s daughter was there to welcome us back. It’s a good job that Anna works in the family business because she is the only one who can speak English. Her father is a friendly man but only has two phrases to rely upon: “Anna will explain”, and “Anna will be back soon”. We had chosen to stay there again because we especially liked one of the rooms and we were relieved when Anna confirmed that as we had requested it had been reserved for us again this year.
The hotel is in the little port of Karavostassis, which is not an especially attractive place surrounded by salt and pepper grey hills, a small stony beach, a harbour and a crescent of white cube houses and holiday lets. Not the most picturesque place in the Aegean it has to be said but I like it just the same and it is cheaper than staying in the boutique hotels in the Chora. In the harbour the European Union funded work that had been in progress last year had been completed but hadn’t seemed to make that much of an improvement and had the sort of finish that I would call the contractors back to put right if it was my own driveway at home.
The main settlement on Folegandros is Chora, which is a few kilometres into the hills of the interior and this evening we took a bus ride there to see if it lived up to its guidebook rating as one of the best places in the Cyclades. The engine groaned and the gear box complained as it was compelled to make the steep ascent to the top and I am certain that I heard it sigh with relief when it pulled into a small square and after we had all got off it was allowed to rest for a while before making the return journey.
What a fabulous place this turned out to be, the village squares were colourful, vibrant and bursting with an ethnic energy that spilled into the streets from the balconies and terraces of the bars and restaurants. It was an enchanting place with picturesque settings plucked straight from a travel brochure, pretty squares with restaurants under trees where visitors were struggling to make menu selections next to local people just sitting and talking and passing the evening away. The streets were alive with friendly people and there was an unspoilt ambience that drew us down twisting side streets and narrow alleys that led always to even more collections of inviting tavernas that made choosing a dining venue very difficult indeed.
After dinner we took the bus back to the port where a full moon was decorating the inky water with silver glitter that shifted constantly and broke and reassembled like a kaleidoscope image on the surface of the water that undulated with a gentle ebb and flow and that reassuring sound of tiny waves lapping the shore and percolating through the sandy gravel. From the hotel balcony there was a good view of the night time harbour that was peaceful and serene with the lights of the buildings reflecting off the surface of the water and providing an idyllic image of the Cyclades.
We woke early to the most stunning sunrise leaking like liquid amber through the open shutters and into the room. The sun was only a few minutes old and was a ball of white light with a yellow halo rising through a fiery sky that was sizzling with anticipation for the new day. A bright yellow slash of solar reflection sliced through the surface of water and the whole bay was so intensely bronze that it was as though the sky had ignited and poured its flames into the sea. Slowly the orange sky retreated and was replaced by a reassuring blue and the sea turned from umber through purple to its more natural marine blue and everything was prepared and ready for another perfect day.
After breakfast in the harbour we waited for a bus at the terminus at the harbour and when it arrived it turned round and struggled back up the hill to the Chora at the top. In the daylight there was a good view over most of the island and it was revealed as dusty, barren and devoid of vegetation with a desolate landscape that had been beaten relentlessly into total submission by the scorching summer sun.
At the top there was a long walk to the Kastro, a white church standing at the pinnacle of the hill and approached by a hair pin concrete path that seemed to go on forever and which was enough to make Kim complain all of the way to the summit. At the top the building turned out to be a bit of a disappointment but the stunning views of dramatic cliffs rising out of the blue sea were adequate compensation. Built on the top of a craggy rock like an eagle’s nest, the islanders of Folegandros claim that the Chora is the prettiest village in the Cyclades and after Oia on Santorini they may well be right.
We returned to the village and passed by a charming collection of houses, some old, some new and most with dazzling blue doors. Some of the older houses had precarious balconies that I wouldn’t trust and it seemed to be sensible to pass by quickly lest they fall at that very moment. The crooked alleys took us around in circles past kittens playing in a garden and stone walls that looked as though they had been rather carelessly assembled and everywhere vivid red geraniums growing in ad hoc containers of various sizes and descriptions. As we were getting accustomed to this pace of life we drank beer and ordered baklava and stayed a while until it was time to go back.
It was very hot again with no breeze at all and the day meandered slowly through the afternoon and we did exactly the same things as the day before. Walked to the beach, swam and snorkeled in the warm sea, had a drink at a beach bar and finished off on the balcony with a beer and a good book. Later with only limited dining opportunities at the port we returned again to the Chora and investigated the streets that we had missed earlier.
It was a warm evening and after we had taken the bus back to the port there was a pleasant stroll along the sea shore, a long climb up the steps back to the room and a glass of wine or two watching the sleepy harbour resting below.
Oh that sunrise! Take me with you when you go again, will you? (sure the wife won’t mind)
That was probably the best sunrise I have ever seen!
The first year, we lived at Karavostasis (not on the Vrachos end but on the other end, right as the road curves around the bay and starts to head off toward Livadi). It was wonderful to be so close to the sea, but we were so lonely! In the winter, I think there were 5 of us in the entire village – us two, two other teachers, and one old lady.
You might like Folegandros in December — it looks so different from the dry brown island you saw that you would think you were on a different island. The whole island turns a brilliant emerald green, which eventually changes to a total riot of color in spring; the ‘sunburned look’ doesn’t happen until late May. Here is a photo of the my ’emerald isle’ from December: https://fbcdn-sphotos-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash2/165076_655485819011_1008622_36353302_279723_n.jpg — what do you think?
Thanks for the picture, I am amazed how different it looks. I would like to visit the islands out of season but it must surely be difficult to find accommodation?
A lovely quiet spot away from the tourists, sounds like heaven to me. With all the walking up and down hills, you must of got well and truly fit. 😀
I love your photos.
Any finess benefits were wiped out by the mythos and the baklava!
The sunrise is heavenly. I enjoy these jaunts but I don’t have to do all that walking (oh my feet aren’t killing ME).
The walking is hard work in the hot sun!
Today’s piece on the Chora was interesting reading. It contained fine descriptive writing. You were at the top of your game, Andrew.
But, one innocent query: how can sunlight leak in through OPEN window shutters?
Answers please, on a virtual postcard.
Kindest, as ever,
Good point Dai, I’ll have to reconsider that description in the future!