Words by Konstantina Papaioannou
“Happy is the man, I thought, who, before dying, has the good fortune to sail the Aegean sea.”
Nikos Kazantzakis – Zorba the Greek
Legend has it that you cannot experience the Greek summer to the fullest unless you take a ferry to the Cyclades islands, the most popular island complex in the Aegean sea and arguably one of the most photographed around the world. Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos or Ios, the heavy-hitters and the so-called “divas” of the Cyclades always manage to steal the limelight. But what about the hidden gems? Those low-profile island beauties exclusively share their little-known secrets with real travelers, rather than tourists, who have got the know-how to enjoy every bit of life in its essence. If you are one of those lucky creatures who can dig the beauty of life out of an ovate pedal of a bougainvillea-just like Walt Whitman saw it in a humble leaf of grass- then ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board! Let’s take a “trip” to two lesser known, yet magnificent and glorious in their blue-and-white simplicity, Cycladic islands floating in the Aegean Sea.
A rooster wake up call in the morning. Playful sun beams slanting through the blue shutters. Half awake, out of bed, indolently flip-flopping down the whitewashed path towards the port. Past the enticing, dazzlingly fuchsia bougainvilleas, you are now on Agios Georgios sandy beach, facing that blue… the archetypal one, the Aegean, the one that cannot be defined in words or resemble another blue on earth. The divine blue, defined by Nobel prize laureate Odysseas Elytis as the one that God extravagantly spends so that we cannot see him. Eyes wide open, the summer breeze on your cheeks, all senses are heightened now. Deep breath. Dive… There you are. Have you ever found yourself so close to bliss before?
Having described a daily wake up routine on the island of Iraklia, this slow-footed, slow-moving mode is on until the sun sets. Everything is a stone’s throw away and the island is ideal for enjoying long walks to splendid, secluded and unorganized beaches, which can also be reached if you take boat tours with locals. In the evening, head to Panagia, the main village, to see one of the smallest, unspoiled Cycladic choras and taste incredible delicacies under fig trees, all prepared with local products, love and meraki*. When the night comes, finish your day as it started: barefoot, on Agios Georgios beach, now holding a shot of raki or Arbaroriza liqueur. Lie down: your feet in the wet sand, the swishing sound of the waves, a thousand stars above you. Aren’t you grateful you are alive?
*meraki (noun/untranslatable): to do something with passion, with absolute devotion, with undivided attention.
Chances are that you will arrive in Anafi sleepless due to late night ferry schedules either from Santorini or from Piraeus. No jot of sleepiness, though, could disturb your soul’s thirst to explore and discover what lies beneath this minor piece of land, relaxingly floating and utterly indifferent to the hustle and bustle of neighboring Santorini. Once you set foot on the dock of the tiny port, there is something in the air that mystifies you ab initio. After all, the island’s divine energy is easily discernible from the very first hearing of the island’s name: “Anafi” (deriving from the Greek word “anefani”, meaning “appeared”) is said to have emerged from the bottom of the Aegean Sea after the Argonauts prayed to Apollo, the god of light, to give them shelter.
Hop on the local bus chugging up the winding road towards the most genuinely preserved Greek chora. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” a saying goes, but when you see daunting Kalamos, the second biggest monolith in Europe after Gibraltar, you so lose your breath that you remain speechless for a few minutes. In Chora everything circulates around one central notion: simplicity, Da Vinci’s ultimate sophistication. It seems as if everyone speaks in hushed tones so as not to disturb the morning quietness. Do yourself the favor and carefully climb on a white dome. It’s just you, the Aegean, the incredible light reflections, the bluest sky possible and maybe Apollo somewhere near-a life experience per se.
After having a Greek coffee and the best spinach pie ever at the one and only bakery of the village, it’s time for a swim in unbelievable waters in Roukounas, Agioi Anargiroi, Klissidi beach or in whichever secluded bay your intuition guides you. For trekking lovers and star-gazers, a visit to the Monastery of Zoodochos Pigi, also known as Panagia Kalamiotissa, is a must. Take your sleeping bag, spend the starry night there, catch the stunning sunrise and repeat after me: “Magic. Does. Happen ”.
Conclusion: what your eyes see and your lips taste in the air in the lesser-known Cyclades is the triptych “rock-salt-sea” in their very substance, as if the world owes its creation to the inextricable interweaving of these three elements.
The rock. The salt. The sea. As simple and authentic as that, best evoking the quintessence of Greece. Enjoy in awe.