Midlife Guide To Greek Island Hopping 2 – Ios
As promised, here’s the next instalment of our Greek Island hopping adventure, moving on to a very different spot, Ios. I have a mixed up week ahead because I have to go down to London for longer than originally planned so I won’t have time to write a post on Friday. I thought I’d let you know now because lots of you tell me that you read my Friday night post as a prelude to the weekend so you may want to save this if that’s how you work. Anyway, whenever you’re reading, let me whisk you away to a very special place with my Midlife guide to Greek Island hopping 2 – Ios.
When we briefed our trip to the travel specialist (and I do have an offer for you now so I’ll give you all the details in the last of these posts), I explained that we wanted to start by keeping busy with a bit of culture, then move on to somewhere small and unspoilt where we could relax, ending with a few days on an island where we’d be able to go out and have fun. So this chapter is all about the restful part of our break where we wound down and went at our own pace.
Island hopping by ferry
We were booked on the first ferry out of Crete which meant we had a 5 a.m. transfer to the port. There was something about being at the harbour in the dark when it was all still quiet that really felt like travelling and even though we were bleary eyed it was one of the most exciting points of the holiday for me (and I’m sure you can guess whose case was whose!).
We were, of course, travelling as foot passengers and so as you board the ferry you leave your suitcases in the bowels of the ferry in luggage racks on the left (where you can see someone standing in this photo). There’s no way of locking them down so it’s a bit unnerving and you just have to trust that they’ll still be there when you reach your stop so if you’re planning to do this, it’s best to keep any valuables with you in your hand luggage.
This was the moment when I was transported straight back to my interrailing days. The ferry headed out just after sunrise and I was on an absolute high. It would have been hard work doing something like this with the boys – getting them all to pack their bags and be up early to get to the port… keeping them all cheerful when none of the cafes were open to raise their blood sugar… and then waiting around while all the cars and bikes boarded first. With just the two of us it was so very, very easy and it struck me how wide open the world is to us now. I didn’t stand like this to sum it all up – but it does!
We both agreed that we felt more free than we had for years (and I love Mr MC’s hair in this picture – he looks like Max Headroom!).
If you watched my Stories you’ll know that the ferry pulled into Santorini but we didn’t get off. Our original itinerary included a stop there for a few nights but I know quite a few people who’ve been over the last few years and every single one of them has been disappointed by the commercialism and the Influencer on every corner so we decided to give it a miss.
I spent the journey writing notes for these posts and so the two hours went quickly. Before we knew it we our port was being announced and we had to go down into the ship ready to disembark. It meant that we didn’t even catch a glimpse of Ios through the windows and so this moment, as we waited for the gangplank to go down, felt like a huge adventure.
As soon as I set foot in the harbour I knew it was just what we’d hoped for; there was just the right amount of bustle for a tiny island that is only 18km at its widest point and I instantly loved the vibe. It has a population of about 2,000 people and the local community is very strong. They work together to make sure that Ios doesn’t suffer from the over development that they’ve seen on neighbouring islands. Tourism is low key with a huge restriction on new builds, instead old buildings are restored by local craftspeople using traditional materials.
A word of warning though, during the European school holiday period (mid-July to the end of August) it’s know as a party island for the under 25s who go there for an Ibiza style break on a Benidorm budget and so those weeks probably wouldn’t be the best time to go as a couple. It might be a great place for a family holiday with older teens though as long as you’re happy for them to go out and make friends.
Our Ios hotel
Our hotel was just a five minute walk from the port and I loved the independence of finding it by ourselves. It was so perfect that I have to tell you about it. Run by the Fronista family (mum, dad, grown up daughter, son and his girlfriend), it’s been a wonderful restoration project. The main building was originally a cheese factory and then, after WW2, a sunglasses factory, employing most of the people on the island. It closed in the early 1960s and fell into disrepair until the Fronista family decided to return home to Ios from the US and renovate it.
They’ve done a beautiful job and you can see how much thought has gone into every detail, keeping things simple but authentic. I should mention that I’d stipulated in my travel brief that we didn’t want to stay in any kind of 5 star hotel, it just isn’t our thing. Instead we wanted simple, stylish Greek accommodation and this was exactly what we’d hoped for. We’d booked a studio which had a sweet living area…
… with kitchen…
…and a simple but supremely comfortable sleeping area on a mezzanine level.
French doors led to a lovely balcony overlooking the pool…
… where there was a great bar that served breakfast and lunch.
As I’ve mentioned we’re not big fans of hotels, we prefer to self cater but this was a wonderful place to stay. It was the last week of the season so there weren’t many other guests but they were mostly French, Italian and Portuguese 30-somethings so there was a great European mood. I absolutely recommend a stay here to anyone – you can find more details about prices etc here.
And so began our days of rest and recuperation from the last few chaotic months. The hotel was so comfortable and friendly that we spent the first couple of days not moving any further than the pool – it’s always the sign that a holiday’s going well when your book ends up looking like this…
We’d arrived at the same time as the meltemi wind which was a bit of a shock, it meant that it felt a bit chilly in the mornings as we enjoyed the sumptuous breakfasts they offered so I was glad I’d packed a few long sleeves…
Hush cotton jumper (SS18); Hush jeans (SS21); Stories sandals (SS19)
They also offered simple but delicious lunches. Here’s Mr MC looking a bit guilty about taking a break from Greek food and tucking into one of their burgers.
In the evenings we went out and either ate at the restaurants on the harbour or walked up into the small town of Chora depending on how energetic we felt. Although it isn’t necessarily dressy, yachts pull up in the harbour for the evenings and so I used the high level crowd as an excuse to up the ante a bit from Crete.
Boden jumpsuit (gifted SS21); Stories sandals (SS19)
T-shirt (now in the sale); Boden skirt (SS19); Stories sandals (SS19)
Just a note on the cardigan that I’m carrying in this photo by the way, I don’t know if you’ve tried the soufflé knits but I picked it up when I was doing my Inès try-on and it’s been invaluable so far this season. It’s just so warm and it never seems to get dirty – unbelievably good value when you look at a lot of the other knitwear that’s around.
Midlife Guide To Greek Island Hopping 2 – Ios Highlights
Our hotel was next to the quiet sandy Yialos beach and it was a 15 minute walk up a long series of steps to reach the main town of Chora. It’s a pretty little place with narrow ginnels lined with whitewashed houses.
The architecture is very like Santorini’s with domed buildings built to withstand earthquakes and winding streets that protect the inhabitants from the meltemi wind that, when it arrives (as it did while we were there), blows for 3 – 6 days.
With its narrow lanes and windmills it’s a lovely place to wander around. By the way did you know that the houses in the Cyclades islands were only painted white in 1938 when there was a cholera outbreak? Metaxas the ruling dictator ordered all buildings to be washed with lime as a hygiene measure to try to stop it spreading and apparently the locals hated it but then when tourists started to arrive in the 60s and raved about it they decided it was working in their favour and kept it as a feature. It’s no longer law so some buildings are starting to appear in other colours now and in Crete the ruling didn’t apply so they’re still mostly the original stone.
Anyway, back to Chora, a lot of the bars and restaurants had closed for the season but the ones that were still open were outstanding. In fact we had our best meals in Ios and as far as the main town is concerned I’d particularly recommend Katogi where they do Greek tapas, Passaggio for simple pizza and Thai Smiles where we had one of the best Thai meals we’ve ever eaten (strange but true).
By far our favourite day out was Mr MC’s birthday. As it approached I felt quite panicky about it; he’d insisted that he didn’t want a present, that being on holiday was enough but even so I wanted to make it feel special. When we woke up and looked outside it was cold and grey so the day that he’d said he wanted by the pool reading a book wasn’t on the cards. Instead I suggested we hire a quad-bike; again it’s something we’ve never been able to do with the boys and there were plenty of them at the harbour so off we went and by 10am we were on the road.
We left Chora and followed the winding roads up the mountain and into the middle of the island. I’d read that Homer is buried on Ios; legend has it that when he visited the oracle of Delphi to find out more about his parents he was told that his mother came from Ios but that it was also where he would die. You can read the full tale here but when he was in Ios it’s said that he slipped and hit his head, dying instantly and so he was buried there.
Unlike Crete, Ios doesn’t make a big song and dance of its sights and so it took us most of the morning to find it hidden deep in the mountains. Here it is and for one of the world’s most important poets it’s very unassuming. I have far more appreciation for Homer now than I ever did when I was studying Classics at school so I was pleased to pay homage to him. And there’s nothing Mr MC likes more than pitching his practical Comprehensive education against my bookish grammar school one so he had a whole morning of birthday pleasure coming up with endless Simpsons jokes as we completed our Odyssey to find the tomb (that one, of course, was lost on him!).
And so we continued exploring the island. Rather randomly in the middle of nowhere we came across a small cheese museum where a local family have preserved part of their ancestors’ farm to show how they made cheese for the island right up to the point when electricity arrived in the 1980s.
It was a fascinating place, this was the old house where the family lived and they served up a spread of the cheeses, honey and wine that they still make for us to taste. Mr MC is a big cheese fan so we couldn’t have found anything better…
… the old cheese-making tools sparked a Barney Rubble moment…
… and these were the overshoes that the grandfather of the family still wore for crossing the mountain until he died last year – made from old tyres for good grip.
From there we headed down towards the coast and found Maganari beach where we had two tavernas and the entire stretch of golden sand all to ourselves. So we had a simple fish lunch, FaceTiming the boys while we ate and then we relaxed on the beach which was sheltered from the meltemi wind so we had a few dips in the sea…
Boden bikini SS17
… even if I’d tried I couldn’t have planned a more perfect day for him, it was exactly the way I’d hoped we’d celebrate his 50th last year – but 365 days later.
And so we set off back up the mountain having a slightly hair-raising journey as we spotted the fuel gauge that was showing half full when we’d stopped suddenly went down two notches at once but we made it back to our hotel without running out.
White Company jacket (circa 1997), Johnny B breton (circa 2008); Boden bistro shorts (circa 2006)
I’d left it to the Fronista family to try and book us a table somewhere for dinner and they’d managed to get us into Katogi so it was a quick shower and straight out…
Dress; Massimo Dutti sandals (SS21)
… as I’ve already said, the Greek tapas there are outstanding but the birthday boy was slightly perplexed by the size of the beer glasses – he somehow managed though…
Exploring the island’s south coast
We had such a good time on the quad-bike that we decided to keep it for an extra day and explore the part of the south coast that we’d missed. Because it was out of season most places were closed but the scenery was still spectacular…
… and yet again we had the beaches all to ourselves.
We spent most of the afternoon on Mylopotas beach which is another sheltered spot to head to if the meltemi is blowing. We had a spectacular lunch at a very boujie restaurant called Salt – add it to your list if you go to Ios.
And before we knew it there was just time for one more wander round Chora…
… to pick up a few specialities to take home – and I wasn’t grumpy here it was just so windy by this point that this was the only picture where my hair wasn’t standing on end.
We had one last dinner out and then it was time to pack up again, ready to move on and switch up the pace.
I’d happily return to Ios but whether we’ll have time remains to be seen. However if we do go back we’ll stay in the same place but perhaps slightly earlier in September because there were so many interesting looking places that had just closed.
Boden halter top (circa 2004); Kate Barton trousers (gifted SS21)
So do I recommend a stop-off in Ios? Absolutely. So many people got in touch on Instagram to say that they’ve always skipped it in favour of the bigger islands of Naxos or Paros; I can’t comment on those but Ios has a very special charm all of its own, probably because it’s so tiny. It’s authentic, quiet and easily scalable.
We spent six nights there, if you’re island hopping I’d probably move on after four or five days but if you’re looking for a place to rest it’s perfect for longer. Bear in mind that the season pretty much closes after the first week of October though. By the end of our six days we were almost the last tourists left on the island and when we went into town it was just us and the locals however they embraced us and were so friendly that we felt like we belonged.
Now I must stop poring over the photos of happy times and get on with some work – as I said at the beginning I have to go down to London so I’m afraid I won’t have time to write a post on Friday. I’ll be back next Tuesday with more autumn looks and then again next Friday with the final Greek instalment and a small offer from the people who helped to organise our fantastic Greek Island hopping trip. Have a wonderful week.
Disclosure: ‘Midlife Guide To Greek Island Hopping 2 – Ios’ is not a sponsored post
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