Travels with V


Ikaria – where history is alive

In the summer of 1912 the last ottoman soldiers were driven out of their post at Ikaria, and 400 years of occupation came to an end. But at that moment the Greek state hadn’t yet been formed, so for five months Ikaria was a sovereign state, with its own flag (pictured below), its own money, and even its own national anthem! 

In 1946 civil war broke out in Greece and anyone with suspected leftist views could be arrested and deported, and many were shipped to Ikaria.  It is far away from Athens and the general view was that the Ikarians were for the most part sympathetic to left wing ideas. Which was probably true, because the deported, among them the famous composer Mikis Theodorakis, were received with open arms in Ikaria.

And 28 years later history repeated itself  when the Greek military seized power in a coup. But still today the Ikarians are being punished and ignored by Athens. They get no or very little fundings. Ikarians have had to take care of their own matters and they have become a proud, ingenious and independent people.  

We stay in Maganitis, a tiny village on the south-west coast were people once relied on fishing for their survival. These days most fishing vessels stay on land and most village houses are populated by exiled Ikarians  from Athens and overseas. Those who have had to leave the island to find jobs elsewhere now return with new wealth to inhabit the old family homes. 


So what are the beaches like? Usually tourists who enjoy sand avoid the greek islands in general because most often the beaches are stone and rubble. But on Ikaria you get to choose, sand, pebbles or both! And there are lots of beaches, more than enough for the island’s few tourists.

Not far from Maganitis we find one of the most popular and highly rated beaches, deceptively called   ”Seyschelles beach”. This is a pebble beach with quite large white stones creating a special light effect in the clear waters. People come here in great numbers at all times of day, and among the first to arrive in the morning are some locals who sell cold drinks and sandwiches on the beach.


We do have a decent beach in Maganitis also, mostly only visted by a few locals. Often a bunch of elderly ladies lie her floating and chatting for hours.  It’s so relaxed!

But the best beaches are found on the north side, an hour’s drive from Maganitis. Livadi and Mesachti between Gialiskari and Armenistis become our favourites. They have deck chairs, sunroofs, tavernas and toilets. But sometimes it’s a bit too windy here, big waves makes swimming dangerous. That, however is perfect for the surfers that have chosen Livadi as their paradise. There’s even a surf school here. 

Some days the sea is perfectly calm and the swimming here is absolutely magic. 

We’re staying in Maganitis for three weeks and initially we are a wee bit nervous about being too restless. But it turns out there’s a whole bunch of things to do and explore on Ikaria. One evening we take a taxi to an organic farm and winery up in the mountains. Traditional and modern, tasty, marvellous food, and to that we drink some of Karimalis wine. The owner, George Karimalis and his wife Elena are inventive entrepreneurs and one of the island’s big three wine makers. And they also have a Farm Stay where visitors can rent rooms for short or long stays. Add to that cooking classes and dinners where also non-residents like us can participate.  And if that isn’t enough, George travels around the world to educate restaurateurs about organic food and cooking. An exciting man!

George is a charismatic person who often and enthusiastically talks about what’s beneficial to us. We return to his farm a few days later for a formal interview, and of course we are curious to find out about  why Ikaria is a Blue Zone.

–The food, social interaction and physical activity, he says. Organic locally grown food and the industrious life that a small farmer leads on these steep slopes, plus lots of close social connections make people here live the life span that we’re programmed for, which is at least one hundred years, he says. His mother and his wife’s mother are both over a hundred years old. 

Later we visit another major wine maker on the island, tasting some of their wines. But we don’t think they match  Karimalis’ wine, the crisp white Euphoria and the mature red Pramnean Odyssey that has a distinct relationship to a Barolo. And all wine from Ikaria is organic wine.

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