Folegandros & Santorini travelogue

26 June 2017

About a month ago, I made a one-week trip to the Cyclades with two islands on the program: Folegandros and Santorini. I did not know these islands at all, and in the case of Folegandros I had never even heard the name. In fact, I went there to attend the wedding of two friends, and I took advantage of this trip to have a holiday. The Santorini part of the trip was simply because it was on this island that I landed before going to Folegandros.

You probebly don’tt need me telling you this, greek food is awesome. I ate so much good stuff during my trip. I tasted better versions of dishes that I already knew, but I also made a lot of culinary discoveries. In this article, I will tell you about all these finds.

For those who would like to make a similar trip, I also made a kind of an itinerary, based on my personal experiences to give you an idea of ​​things to do and dining options. But before that, I want to thank my friends who invited me to their wedding in Folegandros, without whom I would not have discovered this well hidden treasure of the Cyclades.

Folegandros

As Folegandros does not have an airport, the only way to reach the island is by boat. You can either go to Santorini by plane and take a ferry (about 1 hour with fast boats) or take a boat from the port of Athens, Piraeus.

These extra trips will obviously make you lose a little time, but it is well worth it, because it is also the reason why Folegandros is more tranquil and spared by tourism than some other Greek islands.

Approaching the port of Folegandros, you will be fascinated by its virgin beauty. This island is the perfect destination for relaxation and escape from big city troubles. There is not much to do but chilling under the sun and going on hikes.

Accommodation tips: The best choice for a comfortable accommodation is to stay in the main village of the island, Chora. Located at the top of a cliff, many accommodations offer spectacular views of the Aegean Sea. And since the island is not the most touristy of the Cyclades, the prices of accommodation remain very reasonable. By the way, forget about Airbnb.

Day 1: Discovering Chora

Upon arriving at the port of Karavostasis, one has the impression that apart from this small port there is nothing else on this island. But do not worry, there is much more. From what I heard the main village of the island, Chora, was intentionally built out of sight to avoid pirate raids – a strategic position that helped ensure its unfailing conservation up to this day.

To get to Chora you have to take the city bus (Chora is the only bus destination from the port) and you can discover this wonderful village after 6 minutes. The bus leaves everyone at the entrance of the village because access is prohibited to motor vehicles.

Chora is a whitewashed and very picturesque cycladic village, full of narrow stairs and paths. It is perched 200 meters high, overlooking the Aegean Sea.

The island of Folegandros, like the other Greek islands, has a variety of local specialties that you should try. In Chora, Ano Meria and the picturesque village of Agali you can find many traditional taverns serving Greek and Cycladic specialties. The “Kalasouna” for example which is a typical cheese tart made with sorouto and onions. For dessert, you can try the “Karpouzenia”, a traditional sweet tart made of watermelon, honey and sesame.

For my first day on the island, I did not searh much and I stopped on one of the most beautiful squras of the village, the Dounavi square, to eat Araxe restaurant. I could not decide on a dish, so I decided to take two starters: grilled summer vegetables and stuffed vine leaves, served with Tzatziki. It was really delicious and at the same time very simple and light.

After lunch, I tried to get lost in the alleyways. The best part of Chora that I could see was the Kastro, a set of alleyways right next to Dounavi Square. Kastro is the oldest part of Chora and has been inhabited permanently since its creation. Some of the houses are over 1000 years old and are surprisingly maintained in very good condition.

Like most cities and villages throughout the Cyclades, the houses are whitewashed, and the doorframes are blue. The particular aspect of castro is that it is is built on a more flat terrain, with houses on two levels, and a access to the upper floor by a Exterior staircase.

The three main squares of Chora start to get crowded as the sun goas down. The terraces get fill with the tourists and locals who come to enjoy a meal or a drink under ceilings of bougainvillea and hibiscus.

On this first night I dined on one of the squares at “Chic” Restaurant. I would have liked to tatry their vegetable gratin which seemed delicious, but it was a dish victim of its success and out of stock. So I ordered a dish with different vegetarian stuffed vegetables. It was really good. I also had a bowl of tzatziki while waiting for my meal which was really good too. The special feature of this restaurant was that they had quite a few vegetarian and vegan dishes. In addition, everything was homemade.

 

Folegandros is ideal for hiking. The paths are deserted with sea and mountain views at once. Donkeys and goats come at times to keep you company. To finish this first day, I took a short walk (15 minutes) to the church of Panagia at the top of the hill that overlooks the village. It was the perfect place to watch the sunset.

Day 2: Reaching the end of the island

Going towards the west of the island, there are many small roads and trails to walk around. The landscape is arid and without trees, but still beautiful and welcoming. Many of the old donkey paths are preserved, the distances are short and it is almost impossible to get lost. Many hiking trails end with a beach or a small cove. To the west of the island, is also Ano Meria one of the bigger villages of Folegandros. There is, I think, no tourist accommodation in Ano Meria (or very little) so it is not bad to go and see the life of the real folegandrosians there and why not eat in a restaurant for the locals .

In Folegandros, you will have to try the Matsata, traditional pasta. It’s like noodles, but cooked immediately after preparation. They are not sold in stores, but you can find them in restaurants where they are served with either a typical red sauce or with braised meat, rooster or rabbit.

I tasted the Matsata in a restaurant in Ano Meria called Iliovasilema. It was a restaurant on the main road that seemed to be run by a family, ranging from grandchildren to grandparents. There was no map. All the choices of dishes available were written on a board at the entrance: rabbit, chicken or pigeon served either with matsatas or fries. When you sit on the terrace you can see a dovecote and a henhouse behind the restaurant. This suggests, of course, that the meat comes directly from this place.

 

Returning to Chora by the main road, there is a sign indicating the way to a bakery. Curious, I followed this path to find the bakery and buy me a small dessert. The bakery Panifias was very small and was actually part of a house. At first glance it looks like it’s closed, but actualy you just have to wait for one of the family members who run the bakery to open. In this bakery, you’ll finds mainly dry cakes, brioches, biscuits and greek pastelis.

My second day in Folegandros ended with the discovery of a very good restaurant, Eva’s Garden. It is a restaurant of Chora, a little away from the main squares, with a small terrace, which nevertheless has a very special atmosphere, thanks to its jasmines and its numerous cats. The decor is simple but very tasteful. All dishes were interesting, Greek specialties with a modern twist. I ordered their sea bass (very fresh) with bergamot sauce and I was delighted.

 

Day 3 : Hiking to Angali beach

For this third day I decided to go and discover the beaches of Folegandros. Some beaches are not far from Chora and can be reached on foot, if you like hiking. The beach of Angali for example which is an hour from Chora on foot. There are also buses departing from Chora which go there twice a day.

Angali is a tiny village with a small beach and 2-3 restaurants. As often for beach restaurants, these are not great, but if you are really hungry after your hike, you will find something to feed on. Or else, to refresh yourself, you can opt for a Greek coffee, also called frappe. These cold coffees can be can be found in all the cafes and bars on the island.

As my stay in Folegandros gradually came to an end, I tried to condense all I had on my to do list in the last evening: eating a good gyros and drinking a Rakomelo.

For the gyros I went to Mama’s Pitas. A “Souvlaki House” with a very small terrace that friends had recommended. It was the best Gyros I’ve ever eaten. In addition, the price was really very low. If you are having fries in this restaurant, order them with mint sauce, it’s really good. Also, if you’re hungry, try the Greek sausages.

 

To finish the evening off, I’m went to drink a “Rakomelo” in a bar which I have not managed to find out the name, because everything was written in Greek alphabet. I just remember that it was not far from Kastro. The inhabitants of the village watched a sort of an incomprehensible game on TV everyday.

So going back to the Rakomelo. It is a drink that looks a bit like our Grog with we drink here in France. It is hot Raki with honey, and it gis much easier to drink than plain Raki (quiet strong). I also tasted ouzo. But I liked it a little less. To be honest, for me, it tasted like Pastis. But you should never tell this to the greek 😛

On the fourth day we had to take the ferry to Santorini. Folegandros will definitely return to my top 10 favorite destinations and I recommend it to everyone, especially in late spring when the weather is just perfect and there are not too many people.

Have you been to Folegandros? What did you think about it?

Santorini

Santorini is an island that attracts a lot of tourists, and it is for good reasons! Santorini is perched on the edge of a submerged volcano, overlooking a magnificent caldera. It’s stunning.

Day 1: Fira and the old port

The Santorini bus network is like a squid, departing from Fira to all the coasts. Thus, all the journeys that we make by bus within the island pass through Fira. Fira is the first city that tourists visit in Santorini. It is a port city for cruise ships, so there are many shops and restaurants. It is a crowded city but extremely beautiful and with even more beautiful view on the sea.

Under the fading sun of Fira, it is always a good idea to stop for an ice cream break. You will find a multitude of sellers, but I think the most original ice creams are found at Zotos. It has very unusual but mouthwatering tastes.

To burn the calories gained with the ice cream from Zotos nothing better than to descend the 600 steps that separate Fira from the old port of Santorini. There is also the cable car option or the donkeys, but I would advise you to opt for these means of transport for the ascent.

Day 2: Hiking to Oia

Oia

Oia is probably the most beautiful city of Santorini. Located in the north of the island, it is a concentration of your greek fantasies: whitewashed houses, blue roofs and windmills. It is beautiful and picturesque.

The best way to get to Oia is to walk from Fira. We’re talking about 3-4 hours of hiking. A bit tiring, but the beautiful scenery you’ll face is well worth it. As you can see in the photo below, the path is at the edge of the cliff, with here and there small churches. The best is to leave in the morning, so you will have the sun behind your back.

If you do not have the courage, there are also city buses that make a round trip between Fira and Oia. As for myself I reached my physical limits halfway, which was not very convenient, as the bus does not stop halfway. Fortunately I was able to hitchhike to Oia with very friendly Athenian students who had just came to Santorini for seasonal work.

If you are hiking, you will see on your way, cairns with volcanic stones. Dont’ be shy, make your contribution!

Another advice for hikers, do not forget to leave with some snacks, pastelis for example. These are typical greek sesame and honey bars. It would be a shame that upon your arrival in Oia, your hunger push you to choose the first restaurant you see.

 

Restaurants, there are many in Oia, and for many of them, you pay mostly for the sea view than for the quality of the food. On the menus of these restaurants for example we find up to 40 different dishes, which is never a good sign.

Unfortunately I do not have friendly restaurants, with a nice terrace to advise you in Oia, as the restaurants that seemed good to me were outside of my budget. For my lunch, I opted for fast food: chicken pita and tzatziki at Pitogyros. Not very chic but very good and fresh.Totaly recommend.

Oia sunsets are very famous. At the end of the island, opposite the mills are the ruins of an old Byzantine castle and it’s here that hundreds of people come to gaze at the sunset. The other option is to dine on one of the many restaurant with a terrace that overlooks the sea.

Ammoudi porte

Just down from Oia is the small port of Ammoudi. The beauty of Ammoudi port is mainly because of its colors. The contrast between the very red rocks and the very turquoise blue of the sea create a somewhat surrealist atmosphere. It is a small hike to make a round trip from Oia, but on arriving at the bottom you can reward yourself with delicious fish and fresh octopus. For the return you can also make have a donkey ride if you have lost your strength.

Day 3: The south west of the island
The tomato industrial museum

One of the first things I saw when I arrived in Santorini was a sign pointing towards the tomato museum, and of course I put it in my to-do list. It was during the third day that I got the chance to visit this museum. The Tomato Industrial Museum is part of Santorini’s “Art Facrory”, a multi-purpose gallery and cultural venue in Vlichada on the south side of the island. The museum occupies the former D.Nomikos tomato factory. The factory was inaugurated in 1945 by George Nomikos, son of Dimitrios Nomikos, who was the first of the island to produce tomato paste with industrial means.
Visitors at the museum can see tomato processing machines dating back to 1890, old labels used on tin cans, tomato washing tools and even handwritten accounting books. Sais like this it may seem not fascinating at all, but actually, even for non-tomato-enthusiasts, the museum can be interesting because it teaches a lot about the life of santorinians before the touristic boom.

As for the tomatoe itself, we learn about its qualities. For example, about how the volcanic soil makes this tomato so peculiar. The Santorini tomato is the size of a cherry tomato but with the shape of a Beefsteak tomato. It has very little water and it is very sweet. It is even said that sometimes when opening a tomato from Santorini one can see sugar crystals inside.

Since Santorini tomato production is now close to zero, I have not been able to find it in markets or grocery stores to confirm all this information, but I have tasted it in a dish at a restaurant. It was a fatally a delicious dish. I do not know if it was because of the tomatoes or not. Anyway I would tell you about this restaurant below.

Akrotiri

After visiting the Tomato Museum, I traveled through the streets of Akrotiri, an ancient town on the coast of Santorini. Akrotiri is an archaeological site that you can visit with a guide.
Many remains of the village are still intact so you can expect to see houses, shops and many parts of society, still recognizable today.

It is possible to buy a 4-day pass to visit Akrotiri + 4 other museums and archaeological sites in Santorini: the ancient Théra, the Archaeological Museum in Fira, the Prehistoric Museum, The collection of icons and ecclesiastical artefacts in Pyrgos

Red Beach

Santorini is a volcanic island, which means that the terrain is very different from the other destinations by the sea. The beaches are fascinating and always different from one another: condensed volcanic stones, black pebbles, white pebbles etc. .. The Red Beach is probably one of the most beautiful, because of its bright red colors. The large rocks are scattered along a stretch of red sand with majestic cliffs rising above the clear, virgin waters of the Aegean Sea.

The Santorini Lighthouse

A little further away than Akrotiri and the Red Beach is the lighthouse of Santorini, at the very end of the island. The lighthouse of Akrotiri is one of the oldest in the whole country and it was built by a French trading company.

Besides the beauty of the building, the view you can get by being next to the lighthouse is breathtaking, especially during sunset. Almost like Oia but with far fewer people. This area is also ideal for small hikes and also for eating because it is full of taverns and restaurant that serve mostly seafood.

Day 4: The center of the island
Pyrgos

Pyrgos was one of my favorite villages, even though, sadly, it looks a bit abandoned, especially in its upper part. Away from the sea but with an unobstructed view, Pyrgos has an authentic character. White with a blue dome, the Orthodox church of Pyrgos Kallistis looks huge for a small village.

Exo Gonia

The small village of Exo Gonia lies in the south-east of Santorini, between Pyrgos and Kamari. It overlooks green valleys with some vineyards, and the sea.

Exo Gonia retains its traditional character as it remains undeveloped with a number of cafes and restaurants and restricted housing. It has a combination of old and new homes, manors and beautiful churches.

At the entrance of the village you will see the church of Episkopi Gonia, one of the only churches in Santorini with a tiled dome. Just behind this church is the most interesting place of the village (and of all the island of Santorini according to me):  The Metaxi-Mas restaurant

I had read very good reviews on this restaurant and wanted to see it myself. Without exaggeration, it was one of the best meals of my life. Absolutely delicious. At first I was pretty disappointed not to have a spot on the terrace, but once my meal arrived I forgot everything. If you are going to Santorini, do not forget to book a table in this restaurant at least once during your stay, as not only is it very good, the price is also more than reasonable.

Other things to do in Exo Gonia is the visit to Art space. It is an old wine cellar that has been transformed into an art gallery, but still continues its production of wine. At the end of the visit you can make a wine tasting with the winemakers himself. Antonis Argyros, will explain his manufacturing processes and the history of his family in the vineyards. Here you can taste the famous wine of Santorini, Vinsanto. It is a very sweet wine that makes port. Not bad for aperitif and to accompany a dessert.

Santorini Products

Last tips

Santorini is not a cheap destination. Because the islands popularity, the prices are higher than other greek islands. There are, of course ways to limit hight cost activities. But at the same time it would be a shame to deprive yourself of a good meal on one of the beautiful terraces of Caldera as it is the best thing to to on the island. For a low budget trip I would recommend Folegandros, specialy if food is important to you.

There are plenty of hotel options and accommodation in Santorini. Many people want to stay in Oia for its lovely views, but you can almost certainly find better prices in Fira. As for myself I had a rather cheap accommodation but not nice at all. I must confess, I did no research on Santorini before leaving and just took the cheapest accommodation I found on Airbnb. The place was on on a beach in the south of the island. You know the kind of beach that never left the 80’s, with house music playing all day long and people going vroom vroom on quads. Long story short, it was an epic fail. But I’m sure you can do better. The price is important but the setting too!

As for the duration of a stay in Santorini I would say that 4 days is quite sufficient. One week, I think it could be a bit too long if you are someone who is bored easily.

Have you been to Santorini? What did you think about it?

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