9 Reasons to Visit the Unknown Cyclades
Milos, Folegandros, Sifnos & Andros
If you like beaches (odds are that you probably do), you will LOVE the lesser known Cycladic island set up. Milos in particular offers some of the most diverse and spectacular beaches in Greece. The iconic Sarakiniko in Milos is a volcanic moonscape with white molten rock etched by wind and sea in a meandering cove with turquoise green waters. Kleftiko is a secluded pirate bay accessible only by boat. The volcanic elements in the island are visible everywhere, and in some cases the sulphuric gases can be observed emanating from crevices. Andros, 2 hours from Athens is often overlooked, but you shouldn’t. Visit Achla and Zorkos beaches for some truly impressive photo ops. Secluded by tall imposing cliffs closing in on the bay, the scenery couldn’t be more dramatic as you descend down the mountain slopes and onto the tranquil beach.
Greece is a land of plenty. We know that. The Greek diet is considered to be the most nutritious, healthy and downright tasty. As such, a trip to Greece will probably leave you a few kilos heavier. And that’s fine. You should wear that as a badge of honour. And honour you will. Sifnos is an ideal setting to begin your culinary tour, in no small part due to Nikolaos Tselementes; Greece’s version of Delia, if you will. Born in the village of Exabela, he is widely credited with starting the Greek food revolution and so a tributary visit to his home village seems only fitting. Sifnos has a robust chickpea situation going on, with some original takes on dishes. Milos offers some excellent cheese pies, as well as the signature watermelon pie, while sleepy Folegandros very own matsata rooster in the oven is sure to leave you salivating. Greek food is out of this world; we could harp on about the quality of the vegetables, the traditional cheeses and the flavourlicious sweets, but it would be doing a disservice to the visceral joy of eating.
People have romanticized Greece and about Greece for eons it seems. And it seems only natural. Greece is the beginning of everything. Philosophy, mathematics, theater… It’s an endless list. The ruins scattered all around Greece point to a glorious past that is still being discovered as we speak. And it’s not just classical and Greek. In the islands there is a much more visible manifestation of other cultures that have made the islands their home. Ottomans, Byzantines, Venetians and even Romans have left their mark in the form of castles, fortresses, monasteries, churches, palaces and all kinds of physical landmarks. In Milos, you can see some lesser known sites such as the ancient Roman amphitheater, built on a slope overlooking the Aegean, as well as the mesmerizing early Christian catacombs dating back to the 2nd Century AD. In Sifnos, history buffs will go bananas. Sifnos is home to the second oldest silver mine in the world, and the excavations have yielded an improbable number of finds that date back to the 3rd millennium BC. The acropolis of Agios Andreas, and several temples and fortresses around the island are also worth checking out.
Sitting on a tectonic arch, Greece is no stranger to plate shifts. Earthquakes happen. And volcanoes erupt. But with all that activity also comes an unusual surprise. Natural gases and thermal springs abound. Milos, just like Santorini, is a volcanic island with extreme geothermal activity. Heck, the western part of the island is an absolute no-go for anyone, having been deemed a nature protected habitat for several species. It is wild, wild, west territory with no roads or amenities. There are several spots that gather the activity, but the baths at Adamas village organized and run by the municipality are your biggest bet. Hippocrates once used those waters to heal skin diseases back in the day. Nowadays the sodium chloride spring is used to treat neuro arthritis, osteoarthritis, muscle pain and neuralgia amongst others.
Greece is endowed with a spectacular landscape. The land of the Gods does not disappoint. And in the unknown Cyclades the advantage is yours. Milos is home to a surprising amount of fauna and flora, ideal for the naturalist and animal enthusiast. Eleonora’s Falcon, one of the rarest birds of prey sets up shop here, as do Bonelli’s eagle, the buzzard, kestrel, little owl, barn owl, chucar, rock dove, raven and even wren. In addition, one can spot eagles, flamingoes, thrushes, short toed eagles, herons and woodcocks amongst many other. Folegandros takes it one step further and has in fact demarcated the nearby islands of Agios Ioannis and Adelfia as a Region of Particular Natural Beauty in conjunction with Natura 2000.
Hiking & Trekking
In the great outdoors that is Greece, one is reminded of the old adage: Fit body, fit mind. So, when in Greece, do as the Greeks would; exercise, eat, drink and have fun in measure. With so many mountains, gorges and trails its little wonder the Greek sculptors of yesteryear had no trouble finding suitably abled young men to act as models. The Cycladic islands have notoriously mountainous terrains and predictably deep gorges (Samaria gorge in Crete is in actuality the deepest in the world per Guiness) that release dopamine faster than a junkie going cold turkey. The wonderfully bright Greek light photosynthesizes your soul in no time to make the trekking trails doable. And in Sifnos, the newly minted 100 km trail will surely test your endurance. Andros isn’t too far behind either with a wonderfully plush, green landscape that’s benefitted from several fresh water springs and favourbale weather patterns.
Since you’re in Greece, a country with the largest coastline in Europe and one of the largest in the world, you’ll probably want to explore as much as you possibly can. What with the coves, caves, rock formations and secluded beaches, Greece has many tricks up its sleeve, but its up to you to discover them. Rent a sailboat and do just that. Milos offers some spectacular scenic adventures on boat, most notably the Kleftiko pirate complex of caves and bays. Andros and Sifnos are superb in that respect, too.
The Greeks! They’re a fun bunch to be around. Friendly, accommodating and straight-up funny, there’s never a dull moment (looking at you, Zorba). And that’s in the mainland! Go to the islands and Greeks shed their winter skin to reveal their true colors; uninhibited and ready for anything. Once you go Greek, you’ll tweet for a week!
The Dionysian energy that radiates from the Greek islands is nothing short of a phenomenon. It seems that love is everywhere you turn. The combination of pure hedonistic freedom, coupled with the intangible qualities of Greek life bring out the best in everyone. But you probably don’t need ‘Mamma Mia’ to tell you that. Everyone has their own Shirley Valentine story of finding love in a Greek island. It’s a cliché, and it might sound banal, but don’t underestimate the love energy of the Greek islands. Eros is never too far away, in this part of the world.