Cats of Ikaria

Cat On Amphora

There are very few indoor cats in Magganitis. People throw food to feral cats for part of the year, but when many of the Ikarians leave the village for the winter, the cats must fend for themselves.

Black Cat

Cat In Dumpster
The dumpsters of the village are not packed with restaurant food like city dumpsters, but they sustain the cats from week to week.
Unhealthy Cats
Feral cats struggle with infections, scratches and other health issues.
Cat Sisters

We met these two sisters when they were tiny kittens, only about a month old. They were malnourished, as was their mother. All are infected with parasites, get ticks regularly, and have bouts of diarrhea frequently. We have been feeding these cats for about two months, and they are well on their way to adolescence.

Sister #3, who hangs out up the hill at Lambros’s house.

This kitten, who is a little smaller than her two sisters, was the first to contract cat flu as a baby, and may have had her growth stunted. Cat flu is rampant in feral cat populations, and can be serious in kittens.

Cats Alekos Studios
The whole family.

Cat of Nas

This cat is about to sneak into the kitchen of this taverna to look for food. When it gets kicked out, it comes begging to us. When that doesn’t work, it contents itself with eating a fly.

Cat Puddle
Cat puddle
Mustafa Roaring
Mustafa, “roaring”

This enormous cat, named Mustafa, hangs out at BouBoukakia. He can look big and sometimes intimidating, and clearly gets into a fair number of brawls, but he’s perfectly friendly toward humans.

BouBou and Mustafa
BouBou and Mustafa
Mustafa with Olives
Mustafa guards some freshly picked olives.
Lounging Cat
Mustafa’s rival

This cat, though also sizable himself, is smaller than Mustafa and is considered lower on the dominance chain. He spends most of his time hanging about BouBoukakia meowing for attention and provoking Mustafa.

Cat Drinking
The local watering hole
Cat Asleep
In Greece, naptime is sacred
Cat Washing
Making a hairball
Washed and ready for action!

Cat In Tree

Roof Cat
Yet another cat, similarly colored, which tends to prowl along the roof of BouBoukakia waiting for food.

Roof Cat

Roof Cat

BouBou with friendly cat
BouBou may love cats more than anyone else in the village.

BouBou is the only person we know of here who not only feeds the feral cats, but also gives them worm medicine every few months and removes their ticks.

BouBou pointing out cat worms
FriFriko, BouBou’s one indoor/outdoor cat

BouBou claims to have once owned 44 cats. Though she now feeds several feral cats, the only cat she allows inside is this large orange cat named FriFriko.

FriFriko’s favorite chair
Cafe Cat
The cat at Cafe Pantepoleion

Every cat has its spot in the village. This cat hangs out at Cafe Pantepoleion and is affectionate with absolutely everything, whether it is alive or not.

Cat and Latria
The cat’s newest friend – a dog named Latria
Cat and Latria
The cat wants to play all day long

Cat And Latria

Cat watching
One of the many orange cats in town

Cat Sniffing Hand

Cat on Roof

Orange Cat Leaning

Cat Christinas

Orange Pallet Cat

Cat With Short Ears
The only cat in town with short ears
Pirate Cat
Pirate Cat
On the Prowl
On the prowl
On the Prowl
Don't take my picture!
Don’t take my picture!

Mad Cat
I mean it!
Black Cat
Staring contest

Black Cat

Street Cats
Here, there is a particular sound that people make -like loud whispering- to call cats when they have food for them. If you make this sound in the middle of the street, all the cats from the whole area will come running toward you.
Cat gang
If you have no food for them, they will still hang around and sometimes follow you for several blocks, hoping for a morsel.
Cat in Tree
In the winter, it becomes easy to see all the cats in the trees.

Cat in Tree

Tree Cats

Little White Kitty
Our favorite cat of all

We call this kitten “Little White Kitty.” He is an exceptionally tiny cat and does not appear to be growing much at all. He is the most affectionate cat we’ve met here, and purrs non-stop. When we feed him, he is more interested in being petted than eating food. Sometimes we have to stand out of sight while he eats so he doesn’t see us and lose interest in the kibble. When we leave home, he frequently trots after us happily, following us to wherever we are going and waiting outside the door until we’re done – not because he’s hungry, but because he likes our company. This has gotten him into trouble with some of the bigger cats who “own” the territory he wanders into when he follows us. He doesn’t seem cut out to be a feral cat, and we hope he survives after we leave next month. We love you, Little White Kitty!

The Old Forest / Part II

Slow Truck
On our way home one day, we get stuck behind a very slow truck.
Ranti Sign
We are going so slowly that we notice a sign on the side of the road that we’ve never seen before.

It’s another entrance into the Old Forest, or “Ranti Forest!”

Agios Dmitrios
The trailhead starts across the road from the sign for the small church “Agios Dmitrios” at the highest point on the road between Evdilos and the south part of the island.
The first red arrow
This is the first red arrow leading up a rocky slope. Agios Dmitrios is visible in the background across the road on the left.

The first part of the trail follows the plateau along the top of the Atheras ridge.


Ridge top view

Dung Beetle
Dung beetles scamper around on the plateau.

Decaying olive pits look almost exactly like goat dung. Apparently these beetles are sometimes duped too, because we noticed one rolling an olive pit up a slope for a few seconds before realizing its mistake.

Stunted Sage
All leaves, plants, and trees at the top of the Atheras ridge have a stunted appearance, including this wild sage, which is only a few inches tall with tiny curled leaves.

Trees on the Ridge


Cracks in Rocks

Top of Ridge

Many of the trail markers consist of stacked rocks.

Rock Stack

Sharp Marker
Some of the trail markers look dangerous.

Ridge Markers

Ridgetop Trail

Hollow Log


View of Hill near Petropouli
From afar, looking north, we can see the hill that we reached when we hiked into the Old Forest several weeks ago. Today we are starting from the south – the opposite side of the forest. Most of the oldest trees lie in the valley below us.

Old Forest Border

Old Forest Fork
The trail forks, and we take the path to the right, which will descend into the forest and eventually lead up to Petropouli on the other side.

Old Forest Path

Matthew in the Old Forest

Holly Oak LeavesHolm Oak is also known as ‘Holly Oak’ (Holm is an ancient word for ‘holly’). Indeed, younger leaves or leaves on younger oak trees have holly-like leaves, with spines around the edge.

If you look closely, you can see the whitish down that coats the surfaces of the young leaves. As the leaves age, they will acquire a glossier texture, visible below.

Holly Oak leavesOlder leaves or leaves on an older tree are smoother without toothed edges.

In ancient Greece, acorns were a fertility symbol, and the acorn motif was popular on jewelry and other adornments.

Acorns from Holm Oak are sweeter than the acorns from most other species, and, once leached of their tannins, can be toasted or used as flour. In fact, many older generations of Ikarians remember their parents making acorn flour during the scarce times after the war.

Still alive
This tree, connected to the earth by just a wisp of trunk, is still very much alive.

This old oak, seemingly uprooted, also refuses to quit.

Old Tree

Old Forest

Holm Oaks, native to the Mediterranean,  are one of the most popular trees chosen for the cultivation of truffle orchards, due to the fact that their roots develop a symbiotic relationship with the fungus, attracting them to the bases of trees.

Old FOrest

Old Forest

Old Forest

Old Tree

The oldest Holm Oaks in Europe are between 500 and 1000 years old.

Old Forest

Hannah in Tree

Holm Oaks are slow growers, but can eventually reach an average height of 82 feet, with a spread of 68 feet.

Old Forest


Old Forest

Old Tree

Oaks were held in high regard in ancient Greece. It is believed that the Holm Oak was the oak species that was used early on in the oracle at Dodona, where Zeus foretold the future by speaking through the rustling leaves.

The shrine at Dodona is the oldest Greek oracle, dating back to the second millenium B.C.

After Dodona stopped functioning as a pagan site, the sacred oak at Dodona was eventually cut down. Following the invasion by the Slavs in the 6th century, the site was completely abandoned, and later replaced by the famous oracle at Delphi.

Old Forest

Shelf Fungus

Old Tree

Old Forest

Old Forest

Old Forest Trees

Old Forest

Matthew on the trail

Old Trees

Old Tree

Tree Silhouette

Lone Tree

– In honor of old trees everywhere –

The South Coast

A road winds along Ikaria’s steep southern coast.
South Coast
The coastline is dotted with tiny villages. The smallest village has only one family left living in it.
Olive press Chrissostomo
We pass the olive press in Chrissostomo.
White horse
When driving through Ikaria, you are likely to come across more livestock than people.
North Shore Goat
Caught in the act!
Admiring the view.
The village of Plagia, which means ‘slope’ in Greek.
Xylosirtis, known as “The Village of Apricots.”

Just outside the village, there is a renowned freshwater spring called “Athanatou Nero” or “Water of Immortality,” which flows out from amongst granite rocks. The water is drinkable and said to have therapeutic properties.

In the 19th century, the area around Xylosirtis was filled with cypress trees. They were eventually felled in order to build masts for sailboats.

Near Lefkada
Coastline near Lefkada.
Lefkada, which is just west of Agios Kirykos, has some natural hot springs on the shore of the sea.
Lefkada Springs
The single sign, in English, pointing down to the beach.
Lefkada Beach Trail
A rough but short trail down to the shoreline, which is composed solely of large rocks.
Matthew at Lefkada
Matthew staring off into the distance, at the island of Fournoi.

When you’re on a remote island for several months, a clear view of neighboring islands makes for an exciting day.

Lefkada Hot Springs

There is no charge to visit these hot springs. In true Greek fashion, there are also no safety signs. If you want to go scald all the skin off your body, you are free to do so without any interference from anyone at all. If you do go for a soak, the trick is to find a spot that is a good mix of cooler sea water and heated water from the springs.

This hot spring at Lefkada belongs to a cluster of radon-rich sodium-chloride hot springs on Ikaria’s southeast coast. Ikaria’s geothermal springs rank amongst the most radioactive in the world. At Therma, just east of Agios Kirykos, there are organized spa facilities utilizing five of the known springs. These hot springs have been treasured for therapeutic purposes since the 4th century B.C. Remnants of the ancient spas such as marble bathtubs and aqueducts still exist, though most of ancient Thermae was probably destroyed by an earthquake in 205 B.C.

A hawk soars above the rocky cliffs of Ikaria.

Not only is much of Ikaria protected under the EU Natura 2000 program, it is also classified as an Important Bird Area. The island’s habitat is ideal for several kinds of raptor and also serves as a critical migratory passage and breeding area for many other types of birds, including rare and endangered species.

Faros Village
The village of Faros – also called Fanari (meaning “lantern” in Greek) – at the far eastern end of the island.

We are in the village of Faros looking for the road to Drakano Tower. The island becomes so narrow at its eastern tip, that from a hill here in Faros looking north, we can easily see Ikaria’s small airport.

Faros Beach
The beach in the village of Faros.
Sea Turtle Sign
A sign on the beach at Faros, notifying visitors that the coastline is a protected area for Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta Caretta), which have a low reproductive rate, laying only a few eggs every few years.
Sign to Drakano
Finally we locate the sign to Drakano Tower.
Drakano Road
This rough road curves along the very eastern tip of Ikaria.
East Tip Ikaria
There are no signs of any other people, aside from a small boat stationed off the coast down below.
Drakano Tower
This round tower is all that is left of the ancient settlement of Drakano.

Drakano Tower, constructed in 330 B.C. during the reign of Alexander the Great, was an important military outpost due to its location at the eastern tip of Ikaria and its proximity to the island of Samos (seen in the photograph above). Ships sailing between Ikaria and Samos could be easily monitored from this vantage point, which affords a view of the Aegean Sea in almost every direction.

Drakano Tower
When the road gets too rough, we park the rental car and walk the rest of the way.
A small church, Agios Giorgios, lies a short distance down the hill from Drakano Tower.

According to legend, the area around Drakano was the birthplace of Dionysos – god of wine, madness, and ecstasy. It is believed that a cave at the nearby beach of Iero was used by ancients as a temple of worship for the god. But watch out for the Satyrs and Mainades who still roam these areas looking for unsuspecting tourists to lure into a drunken orgy.

Drakano Tower
The tower is gated off when we arrive, but there are supposedly specific hours (not accurate on the website!) during which the tower is opened for public access.

In 1827, Drakano Tower was damaged when the Greek navy used it for target practice. The tower has since been restored, and is currently one of the best-preserved watchtowers of the Hellenistic Age.

Magganitis Village / Part IV

Ikarian Boulders
Ikaria is full of enormous granite boulders, especially prevalent in the area around Magganitis.
Boulder House
This house wedged under a giant rock proves that there is no space unfit for a dwelling.
Boulder Homes
Each of these houses is built on top of a large boulder.
Giant Boulder
This boulder, suspended by a seemingly small amount of earth, sits in the middle of Magganitis. And naturally, a relaxing bench has been added directly underneath it.
Boulder Garden
On closer inspection, the boulder’s many pits and crevices are home to various plants and animals.
Boulder insect
A grasshopper shares space with an insect pupa inside a depression on the granite.
Amegilla Bee
This bee, in the “Amergilla” genus (a solitary bee) is asleep on a tufted grass stalk under the boulder.
Amergilla Duo
A latecomer decides to join the bee that is already sleeping.

Female Amergilla bees build nests, which they also sleep in. But male Amergilla bees, which are nest-less, often settle down overnight on a choice grass blade in a sheltered spot. During dusk, a group of male bees may be seen buzzing about the area as they congregate to choose a grass stalk for the night, groom themselves, and eventually quiet down for some rest. One grass blade often hosts multiple bees.

Due to the mild climate, many plants bloom through the winter.


Other plants, like this “Monk’s Pepper,” or “Chaste Tree Berry,” are in their seed stage, and ready for harvesting.

Chaste Tree berry has a peppery perfumy flavor that is reminiscent of coriander and clove, and is used throughout the Middle East in culinary spice blends.

Harvesting Vitex
Chaste Tree is native to the Eastern Mediterranean region. It has vibrant purple flowers that give way to bundles of small seeds during fall and winter.

The medicinal use of chaste tree dates back several thousand years, and it is still one of the most popular herbs in America and Western Europe for treating gynecological conditions. The origin of the name lies in the old belief that the herb would help reduce “urges of the flesh.” Monks often chewed both the leaves and berries, and chaste tree berry syrup was given to nuns to repress sexual desire.

Carob Plant
This is a carob plant, also native to the eastern Mediterranean. It has been cultivated for at least four millenia.

Carob is an evergreen plant, suited well for unimproved soil and able to produce a reliable and versatile food source even during poor conditions. Its tap root can extend over 100 feet down, enabling it to survive long droughts.

Carob Beans
Carob is a member of the legume (pea) family, with long thick leathery pods- which, when snapped open raw, look like hard toffee inside and smell like slightly rancid sweet cheese.

Every part of the fruit (produced only by female carob trees in the wild) is edible. The pod is roasted and then ground up to be used as a ‘chocolate substitute.’ The seeds are used to make locust bean gum – an emulsifier and thickener that is used in food applications such as confection, but also in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Carob seeds, which tend to be very consistently sized, are thought to have been the original measurement for the ‘carat,’ used by jewelers.

Mastic Gum Shrub
Mastic shrub, “Pistacia Lentiscus.”

Mastic is an evergreen plant in the pistachio family. Ikaria has mastic trees like the one pictured above, which are utilized by Ikarians as medicine. However, the most well-known kind of mastic is the variety that grows in Chios, Greece, which weeps resin when cut. These “tears of Chios” or ‘mastic gum’ are harvested in summer by locals in the traditional way, then dried and marketed throughout the world. The name of the plant may originate from the Greek word “masso,” ‘to chew,’ or may also come from the ancient Greek verb “mastix,” ‘to whip,’ due to the old practice of whipping (instead of the modern practice of cutting) the mastic bark in order to produce the resin.

Mastic Gum Berries
Mastic berries are ripe when black.
Mastic Products
Greeks make various products out of mastic such as chewing gum, oil and rosin. Mastic is also used throughout Mediterranean cuisine and is used as a flavor for bread products, as well as in the production of Greek liquors such as ouzo and mastika.

Mastic gum has a strong resinous flavor. It has been used since ancient times for gastrointestinal issues, and it is still marketed today as a natural treatment for conditions such as ulcers.

Last Days in Agios Kirykos

Though this may look like the beginning of a commercial for a four-wheel-drive vehicle, it is actually a picture of the Hyundai Matrix that we’ve been driving around Ikaria for almost a month. Due to the expense of gas and the dangerousness of the local roads, we’ll be returning it to the rental car company in less than a week.
Agios Kirykos Port
We drive to Agios Kirykos several days in a row, since soon we will no longer have access to things like grocery stores and banks.

Agios Kirykos Streets

Agios Kirykos Streets

Agios Kirykos Christmas ornaments
Christmas decorations are starting to go up.

Christmas Santa

Agios Kirykos ChristmasTree
In the main square in Agios Kirykos, children play around the Christmas tree, which has been created with a synthetic fabric of some kind.
Christmas Shopping
Christmas shopping with baby, outside the Agios Kirykos floral and plant shop.
Painted Succulents
These succulents have been coated with paint for the holidays.
Chocolate Santas
The sweet shops sell chocolate Santas. However, we have learned that, although the Greeks make some delicious products, chocolate is definitely not their forte.
Christmas display
Christmas displays line the shop windows.
Mistletoe doves
Even the doves are getting into the holiday spirit under the “mistletoe.”
Collared doves
There are no domestic pigeons in Ikaria. These collared doves seem to fill the same niche, pecking for crumbs in areas with a lot of human activity, such as the larger towns of the island.
Fish market in Agios Kirykos
Fresh fish have arrived at the Agios Kirykos fish and meat market.
The fish at the back of this bin are called “Balades” in Greek and are a form of sea bream. They are a deep-sea fish, which is why their eyes are so large.
Oregano Chips
The Greeks love oregano so much that in some shops, the only potato chips available are “Rigani” flavored.
Oregano chips
I only purchased these chips once, out of curiosity. They did not taste like oregano to me -more like celery salt or poultry seasoning.

We eventually locate some plain potato-chips, which are labeled as “Salt-flavored.”

Feta Container
The smallest size of feta available in most stores is a 2-kilo container, which equals about 4 and a half pounds of cheese.

Given the amount of feta most Greeks eat in one sitting, this container will likely yield only four or five servings!

Stormy Day
On our second day in Agios Kirykos, there is a windstorm starting, and a flight from the island’s one airport has been cancelled.

The area next to the port, which is visible in the photograph above, is usually full of vehicles. Due to the high winds and water, they have almost all been moved away in order to prevent damage.

Agios Kirykos back alleys
The back alleys of Agios Kirykos.


Ikaria’s communist organization has a large sign hanging near the main square.
Christmas Cats
The many cats of Agios Kirykos have claimed every possible surface as nap space. These two are resting on an olive harvesting net, which is for sale at the nursery in town.

Motorcycle Cat

Cat in dumpster

Many of the feral cats in Greece are Aegean cats, a breed that has developed naturally, without selective breeding by humans, and is therefore resistant to many usual genetic diseases. Aegean cats originate from the Cyclades – a group of islands that lies directly to the southwest of Ikaria. The cats are usually bi-colored or tri-colored, with white being the most dominant color.

Agios Kirykos
Later in the day, a single boat decides to brave the rough waters in the port.

Late afternoon sun

Agios Kirykos boat

Agios Kirykos Jetty
We decide to walk out to the end of the jetty in order to see a tall metal statue honoring Icarus, for whom Ikaria is named.

The large letters on the side of the wall spell out “Welcome to the island of Ikaria” in Greek.

Icarus Statue

According to Greek mythology, Icarus – son of Daedalus – carelessly flew too close to the sun, melted his wax wings, and plunged into the sea just off the southern coast of Ikaria.

Sunlit spray on the jetty
Looking back toward town, the late afternoon sun illuminates the sea spray coming over the edge of the jetty.
Agios Kirykos
The sun shines on the hillside, lighting up Agios Kirykos church.
Icarus Rock
On our way home, we can see Icarus rock from the road. This is where Icarus is said to have fallen when he lost his wings.

This rock can be reached by boat from our village, but most people have taken their boats out of the dock for the winter, so we are unlikely to go on any excursions.

Kitty Diner
Back at our room in Magganitis, the kitty diner is open for business.
Lambros Cats
Up the street, Lambros has the same situation.

Lambros’s sister, Athina, will be staying in Athens until next year. He doesn’t miss her nagging him to put on extra sweaters all the time, but he does miss her cooking. He’s finally solved the food issue by paying one of the women in the village to cook him a daily meal for 150 Euros a month, which equals about $180. He spends the rest of his time feeding stray cats, watching television, taking walks, watering plants, and enjoying general peace and quiet.

Lambros gives us some “kathoura” cheese to try. It is homemade by one of his relatives. Kathoura is a special local cheese that isn’t sold in stores at all, but instead is found in homes and restaurants all over the island. It has a flavor much like fresh mozzarella, and can either be salted or unsalted.
Alekos, who is Lambros’s cousin and also the owner of the rooms where we’re staying, has come back to Ikaria for several days.
He’s bought some sea bream from Agios Kirykos!
De-scaling balades
He de-scales the fish in his garage while one of the neighborhood cats waits patiently at the window for a scrap.
Balades final rinse
Time to give the sea bream a final rinse.
Flouring Balades
Within several minutes, they are floured and ready to go in the frying pan.

Frying Balades

Balades Dinner
Complete with a Greek salad, bread and wine.
Lambros joins us for dinner as well.
Aleko's ship
Alekos comes from a line of seamen, and has worked as a ship engineer his entire life. This is a photo of his ship from years ago.
Aleko's father's ship
This picture, from 1933, shows Aleko’s father’s ship.
Ship Compass
Old ship compass
Oil Lamp
Anyone born here before the 1980s remembers growing up in Magganitis without electricity. This is an old oil lamp that was used during that time.
There are advantages to being on a mountainous island with very few lights. After nightfall, we are able to see the spectacular Geminid meteor showers from the hill above our room.

Visibility Check

Visibility Check
If the mountaintops are obscured by clouds, it is not wise to travel.

The winding narrow road that goes from the southern coast near Magganitis over the top of the Atheras ridge becomes dangerous in weather like this. We have gotten used to checking visibility daily.

Mountain Clouds
This is the only morning we forgot to look up.

This photo represents our drive over the top of the mountain. Shortly after the photo was taken, we almost collided with a car that was driving down the middle of the road with no headlights on. I wish I could say this is unusual – but in Greece, most drivers seem to have a death wish.

Mountain Clouds

Mountain Clouds
Trees start to appear in the clouds.

Mountain Clouds

Steep Hill Sign
We’ve cleared the tallest part of the ridge, and can now see the usual road signs once again.
Two Vehicles Stopped
And the usual traffic jams.

These two vehicles are stopped in the middle of the road while the drivers have a nice leisurely conversation. This is an extremely common sight in Ikaria, where no one is ever worried about time.

Pickup with goatskin and wine
Ikaria’s population is not many more than 8000 people – and in the wintertime, even fewer. This means it is usual to see the same vehicle on the road multiple days in a row.

We see this blue pickup almost every day we take our car out. This particular day, it is transporting a fresh goat skin and a barrel of wine.

Three-wheeled truck
A three-wheeled truck transporting olives.
Exclamation Sign
These exclamation signs are all over the island. They are a warning for danger ahead.
Faded Stop Sign
This long-ignored stop sign finally gave up.
A supermarket on the North shore, built in the middle of nowhere on the edge of the sea. Also, the only location of cheddar cheese on the entire island.
Megalo Fragma
Megalo Fragma, a lake created by Pezi Dam.

This reservoir is located at an altitude of 1600 feet in a natural depression created by the mountaintops surrounding Raches. Because the location was naturally efficient for the collection of rainwater flowing off the mountain peaks, Ikarians constructed a small dam here, on the river Myrsonas, that captures the water that would otherwise go to waste.

In times of heavy rainfall, the excess water flows into the sea as it would naturally. No project to harness this excess water has yet been finalized, though over the years, there have been murmurings of a project for a hydroelectric plant.

Megalo Fragma
The wetlands area around Fragma are an important habitat for many species of birds and amphibians.
Mounte Monastery
The sign for Evaggelismos “Mounte” Monastery, located above Megalo Fragma.
Mounte Monastery
The monastery was first built here in 1460 A.D., after the Virgin Mary appeared to a local resident in a dream, disclosing this exact location as the site for unearthing an exquisite icon of the Immaculate Conception. This icon remains on display at the monastery today.
Mountes Monastery
At a later date, the original monastery was widened and two additional chapels constructed, resulting in a three-domed basilica.

Three-domed basilica

Mounte Monastery
Mounte Monastery was originally founded as a “nunnery” for monastic sisters, and remained such until 2013.
Mounte Monastery
The monastery houses many murals and icons, including some creations by the famous painter Zosima.

Unfortunately, due to our off-season visit, not a single building was open.

Mountes Monastery
During the years of the Greek Civil War, at the end of the 1940s, the monastery served as a sanatorium for 120 political refugees suffering from tuberculosis, some of whom are still buried here in the courtyard.

Mounte Courtyard

Mounte Monastery
The origin of the monastery’s name is contested. One theory states that a family from Chios, who financed the renovation of the monastery in 1893, gave their name to it. Another theory states that “Mounte” came from the Italian word for mountain,”Il monte,” and was given during the Italian occupation of the 1940s due to the monastery’s location amongst the mountains.

Mounte Monastery

There is one monk who tends to the monastery today. He gives tours and holds occasional services.

Lower Chalaris Canyon – Nas to Raches

Nas Street
The streets of Nas, a tiny village of fifty permanent inhabitants, on the northwest coast of Ikaria.

Nas is as far west as we can come on the main road from Evdilos. If we continue down the west part of the island on the dirt road toward Karkinagri, we will no longer be covered under our rental car agreement.

Nas child
Outside the one taverna that is currently open, a child plays in the sunlight.
Nas Taverna
Inside, her mother makes us some delicious food – souvlaki, boiled greens, beets, and fava dip with lemon.
Nas Beach
The village of Nas overlooks a picturesque beach, as well as the ruins of a temple for Artemis.

Nas, beloved by Ikarians, is believed to be the very first settlement on the island, and was an important port for ships seeking harbor on the way to Asia Minor.

Temple from afar
Temple ruins from afar.

The word “Nas” is thought to be derived from the Greek work for temple, “Naos,” or a modification of the ancient name”Ma,” used for the goddess Artemis throughout Asia Minor.

Trail down to Nas Beach
The trail down to the beach in Nas, which is considered to be one of Ikaria’s most beautiful. It is also one of a handful of nude beaches on the island.

Nas Beach

Nas Beach steps
Looking back up toward the top, with most of the village of Nas visible on the hill above.
Chalaris Mouth
The mouth of the Chalaris River, which ends at the beach in Nas. The Chalaris River is the biggest river in Ikaria.
Nas Beach
From the ruins of a 15th century harbor quay looking out toward Nas Beach.

Nas Beach

Temple Ruins
In the 6th century, a temple was built in this spot for the mother goddess Artemis, protector of seafarers, hunters, and wild animals.
Temple Ruins
The temple was in fair condition until 1830, when most of the stone blocks were dismantled by villagers for the single purpose of constructing a church.

According to historical records, the temple’s statue of Artemis, which was originally housed in the temple, was hidden in the nearby river. The giant columns of the temple are visible underwater if snorkeling off the coast.

Nas Trailhead
A hike through the lower Chalaris Canyon starts at this point near the mouth of the Chalaris River.

In order to access the trailhead, which is difficult to find and obscured on the side of the road, we start from the main road through Nas and continue toward Karkinagri. Just past Nas, the road curves and there is a small overpass that crosses over the canyon. We park at this point, next to the small pool pictured above, and locate a red marker for the trail on the east side of the overpass, climbing along the side of the hill.

Chalaris Trail
The trail starts in a boulder field.
Chalaris Trail
This hike is listed as challenging, and lives up to its reputation.

The trail, which climbs along the steep slope of the Chalaris Canyon, promises to shred shoes and weaken knees, and is not recommended for those who are scared of heights.

Chalaris Trail
Pools are nestled in amongst the rocky landscape.

Chalaris Trail

Chalaris Trail

Chalaris Hike

Chalaris Trail
From the pools near the mouth of the river, a steep ascent begins.

Chalaris Trail

Chalaris Tree

Chalaris Cliff

Chalaris hike
A dense network of black tubing has been painstakingly placed through the most remote areas of Ikaria, and brings water from high mountain springs to villages all over the island.
Chalaris Trail
The view looking back toward Nas

Chalaris Trail

Chalaris trees
Climbing toward the Raches region, pine tree forests appear. The needles cover uneven ground, which makes for an unpredictable hiking situation.

Chalaris Forest

Chalaris Forest

Chalaris View

Chalaris View

In 2005, a native Ikarian advocated for the development of hiking paths throughout this area, in an effort not only to bring awareness to the natural beauty of the gorge, but also to promote future protection of Chalaris Canyon in the face of environmental concerns such as overgrazing.

A network of trails was subsequently etched into the landscape here – a labor of love on the part of local volunteers from groups such as SCI Hellas volunteers and the Citizens’ Movement of Raches.

Chalaris Canyon
The view looking down Chalaris Canyon toward Ikaria’s interior.

Tragically, in the fall of 2010, torrential rainstorms caused a massive landslide on the overgrazed, fragile slopes of Lower Chalaris Canyon, which leveled the earth and destroyed most of the trees, waterfalls, caves and pools along the river. A huge amount of debris was strewn throughout the canyon – mostly broken plastic irrigation tubing  – and required a massive clean-up during the following spring.

The Upper Chalaris Canyon is preserved in its previous state, and is considered to be an even more challenging hike that allows access to a waterfall and pool network within the Raches area. However, the only entrance to the trail that we could locate, near Profitas Elias just past Christos Raches, does not appear to be upkept, and is inaccessible from the road.

Raches Door
After several hours of hiking, the Lower Chalaris Trail leads up to the village of Christos Raches.
Round of Raches
Christos Raches is a base for a network of hiking trails called “The Round of Raches.”

The inner western section of Ikaria was historically very isolated. Up until several decades ago, the trails that were created by locals over hundreds of years served mainly Ikarians themselves. They were intended for pedestrians and animals who were transporting various goods from one village to another.

Since 1995, an eco-tourism effort has been underway, with the support of local organizations, to maintain and extend this network of trails so that all visitors may enjoy the rugged beauty of the island’s interior.

Round of Raches

The trail markers for the Round of Raches are clearly marked, with various colors and shapes denoting which trails to follow. This happens to be the trail that is marked with a yellow-bordered red dot, which means that at some point, this trail will split into a red-marked trail and a separate yellow-marked trail.

Round of Raches
The “Round of Raches” offers multiple options for hikes in the area.

Round of Raches

Round of Raches

Round of Raches
A view of Christos Raches, as we follow the “monopatia” or footpaths, away from the village.

Round of Raches

Round of Raches

The hike from Nas to Raches and back takes about five-six hours.

Traveling back along the north shore, our last stop for the day is in Armenistis.

In summer, Armenistis is the most popular village in Ikaria, due to its proximity to the more desirable sandy beaches as well as the hiking trails of Raches. In winter, it is a ghost town.



Leonidas and Ioanna
We find only one place open in the whole town – a sweet shop called “Grand Mam’s Recipes,” run by a husband and wife named Leonidas and Ioanna.
Armenistis Loukoumades
The sweet shop sells loukoumades and homemade goat milk ice cream. Also available are cookies, Ikarian herbal teas, various savory pies and jars of jam and spoon sweets.



“Philoxenia,” or friendship to strangers, is an ancient concept that developed when Greeks believed that gods, disguised as strangers, walked amongst them. The ritual of this reciprocal hospitality seems to persist today, and is a point of pride for many Ikarians.

It is impossible to get lonely in Magganitis.

Grocery shopping for two items may last for several hours because the shopkeeper wants to pour us wine, feed us homemade food, and socialize. 

We’ve lost count of how many times we’ve gone to pay for our drinks at the end of a night in the village cafe, only to find out that one of our Greek friends has already covered the tab.

We also get frequent invitations to people’s houses. Because it is a small village, there are no addresses here. People give directions using landmarks instead. 

Today we are going to visit Mikalis, an acquaintance who lives outside Magganitis. Our only instructions are to walk west a few miles out of town and look for his house near a small church called Agios Nektarios.

Skull On Rock

Mikalis lives in an area that was once a fertile and desirable place for villagers to have their gardens. Now it is mostly barren – with rocks, small trees, and the occasional goat.

Yellowjacket Nest
A yellowjacket nest stretches across the path.
A stream near Mikalis's house
The small stream just outside Mikalis’s house.

Mikalis Exterior

Luckily, his house is easy to find because it is incongruous with traditional Ikarian architecture: he has built a North American-style cabin using large cedar logs that his son transported from Chillawack, British Columbia. 

Mikalis Solar
Mikalis has installed six 250-watt Japanese-made (Kyocera) solar panels outside his home.
Mikalis House
The cedar log theme continues inside the house.

Mikalis House

Mikalis House
This is the closest design to an American-style bathroom that we have seen on the island so far.

Not all bathrooms in Greece have shower stalls, and even fewer have bathtubs. For instance, after we take showers in our apartment bathroom (the whole room is the shower stall), we squeegee the water down the drain with a dustpan and wipe down the floor with a towel.

Almost no toilet in Greece can accommodate toilet paper. There are small bins in all bathrooms where waste paper must be disposed of.

Mikalis Smoking
Mikalis is very proud of his “American-style” house and loves to have visitors.

The wine pictured in the carafe is homemade, like much of the wine encountered in Ikaria. It is all within a year old – and at the rate Ikarians drink it, does not last into the second year anyway. The flavor of each family’s wine is unique, and most do not resemble the commercially distributed wine we are familiar with – but instead have varying degrees of dry earthiness, sweetness,  or band-aid like aroma (high Brettanomyces yeast concentration) that take some time to get used to. Nonetheless, the local wine tastes clean on the palate and pairs well with most of the simple food here.

Mikalis Feta
We are served a small meal. It consists of feta cheese.
Kefalo Gravieri
More cheese. This is a harder cheese called KefaloGravieri. It tastes like a combination of gouda and parmesan, with a hint of goat.
Mikalis Cheese
Yet more cheese. This is a soft cheese with herbs added. The herb added is a wild savory called “Throumbi,” which tastes like a mixture of oregano and thyme.
Mikalis Throumbi
Mikalis is grinding throumbi that he gathered himself. The wild savory grows on the mountain only above 1500 feet.

Visiting Ikarians is an open-ended endeavor that could potentially last all day. People are profoundly generous and are often inexhaustible hosts.

And of course, all Greek households have an infinite supply of bread, feta, wine, and stories, thereby giving guests no excuse at all to ever leave.


Nameday Celebration

Agios Nikolaos
Today is a nameday celebration in honor of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas). A number of Greek people in town, as well as the main church in Magganitis, are named after the patron saint.

Both men and women may be named after patron Saint Nikolaos. For instance, we know multiple men named “Nikos,” and several women called “Nikki.”

Inside Agios Nikolaos
Anyone named after the patron Saint Nikolaos, or anyone who has anyone in their family named after the patron saint, attends the celebration at Agios Nikolaos this morning.

Like the majority of churches in Ikaria, Agios Nikolaos follows the Greek Orthodox tradition. The Greek Orthodox Church has been an integral part of maintaining identity and culture in Greece, especially while Greeks lived under Ottoman control for hundreds of years. Most important holidays are connected with the Church.

Nikolaos Icons
Icons depicting Saint Nikolaos.

During the two hour church service, people filter in when they are able. The ritual of entering the church involves crossing oneself, and kissing one or more of these icons.

It is also customary to take beeswax candles to light, as a prayer either for oneself or a loved one in need. Candles are an important symbol of faith in the Church, and are displayed prominently.

The first time I attended a church service here, I did not realize that there was a “men’s” side, and a “women’s” side, and I went to stand in the first spot I saw, which happened to be on the “men’s” side. Immediately, a lady from across the aisle smiled and motioned to me to come sit down next to her. I thought she was just happy to see me! It was only later that I realized I was just getting put in the “proper spot.”

Artos Bread
Church-goers bring many large round bread loaves called “Artos,” or sacramental bread, which are cut up into large chunks after the ceremony and distributed amongst the townsfolk.

The bread loaves are all slightly different, but they are all made with wheat and are slightly sweet, often containing seeds such as fennel or sesame.

Cutting Artos bread
Cutting the sacramental bread.
Leaving Agios Nikolaos
Outside the church after the ceremony, people stop to wish each other “Chronia Pola,” or ‘Many Years!”

There would normally be live music performed for a nameday celebration like this. However, due to the recent death of a musician from Magganitis, a period of respect is observed in which other musicians refrain from playing during events.

Cafe Crowd
Everyone, including the priest, packs into the cafe across the street.

Going to the cafe to drink, eat and talk after church service helps bind everyone in the village together socially.

Panagiotis fries up some “loukoumades” for everyone. “Loukoumades” are the Greek version of doughnuts, made by frying little balls of dough, drenching them in honey, and sprinkling cinnamon on top.


After the nameday celebration at Agios Nikolaos, people continue celebrating for the rest of the day in their homes. Little parties happen all over Magganitis, and people may go from one house to another – to drink, eat, and enjoy good company for hours on end.

Magganitis at dusk

Magganitis Village / Part III

I had no idea that the starving cat I’ve been feeding was a mother. She brings her three kittens with her one morning to get breakfast.
Kittens eating
Cat food goes on the grocery list sooner than expected.
Roula Patio
Time to visit Roula, or “Bou-Bou,” as she’s called by townspeople.
Close to our room, Bou-Bou has a little store called “BouBoukakia.”

BouBoukakia is an eclectic and colorful space: groceries are shelved amongst knick-knacks of all sorts – beach stones in bottles, shells, ceramic figurines, family photos, and plants. Bou-Bou also serves food here, but the grocery/cafe keeps informal hours in the winter, so it’s best to call ahead.

Roula Pation
On Bou-Bou’s patio, plants and beach rocks fill every nook and cranny.

Roula patio

Bou Bou Rocks
Painted stones are a signature element of Bou-Bou’s space.
Seychelles Swim
The sunny warm days are dwindling, so we seize the opportunity to go for a swim.
Matthew swimming in the Aegean Sea.
Magganitis Coastline
Seychelles is not the only beach near Magganitis. Within town, there is rumored to be another beach called Firodi.
Magganitis Coastline
We set off in search of Firodi Beach.
Magganitis Coastline
This turns out to be the wrong road.
Magganitis Coastline
What this photo does not show is us getting lost in an olive grove and injured by an olive tree.

We are told by a local that during this time of year, olive tree injuries in Greek hospitals increase exponentially.

Magganitis Coastline
This looks like a beach entrance.
Ferodi Beach
We have the beach to ourselves.

Ferodi Boulder

Ferodi Cave
A narrow cave.
Ferodi Beach
Matthew watches small sea creatures by the shore.
Ferodi Beach
We find shells, broken rosary beads, and the ubiquitous plastic debris that now adorns the world’s beaches and oceans.

Rusty door