Ios is one of the smaller Cycladic islands nestled between Paros and Santorini. The locals refer to it as “Nio” a word which etymologically sounds like the word for “youth.” Traditionally the island has always had a calling for youth and youth culture. In the 70s it was a hippie hideout and Mylopotas beach became a colony of beach bums and nature lovers who bathed in the nude, sang with guitars under the full moon, and generally seized the day (and night). Like Myknonos, Ios has the reputation of being a hard-core party island, an island of erotic encounters, dancing till dawn, and relaxing on the beach. Ios has now become a sybaritic paradise very ‘in’ with the jetsetters and high society of Athens. The waves of tourism have changed since the 1990s. Chora, the main town, had the most developed tourist and party superstructure and owing to this I remember the tight alleys packed with young people from Germany, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Norway, America, Australia. However, in the last 25 years, the island has enjoyed a boom that has stretched the hedonist horizon to include Mylopotas, the Yialos (port), and Manganari. The island has in recent years gained a reputation among young Aussies and Kiwis who have made Ios perhaps stop 1 or 2 on their gap year journey.
Once a subsistence backwater, Ios gained popularity as a summer escape boasting some of the most eclectic beaches in the Mediterranean. Private charters run day trips to secluded beach groves of Pikro Nero, Tris Ekklisies, Tou Pappa, Bathirema, and Tripiti. After a two-week stay on the island, one develops a sense of “beach coutre,” you are able to distinguish among the various gradients in texture and color of the beaches and one becomes so eclectic in the spot she will choose to take a dip that competition among seaside spots becomes the general coinage of conversation among locals and tourists alike. Blue, azure, cerulean sea waters mix in a coastal palette scouring through granite and limestone rocks crocheting coasts of unique design.
During the day, Ios brazens with sun on its beaches. The sunset signals the curtain for night, and what a curtain for the final act. The recently opened, Pathos, a cliffside sunset lounge, provides the ideal spot for catching the dying rays of the sun. Swathed in alternating veils of cinnabar, magenta, rose-gold, you can enjoy a passion-fruit spiked mojito like I did from the arms of a chic neon turquoise Art Nouveau armchair. The lounge under construction for three years, is accessible by a private road that winds through a horse stable and steep terraced plots of brown that appear as undulating waves of earth to match the rhythmic waves of the sea. Pathos is part of the Michalopoulos construction empire. The Michalopoulos, a Greek-American family from New York City, fell in love with the island while vacationing through Greece and started buying up great swathes of land. Thanks to their excavation efforts, new roads have been paved to connect their many properties scattered across the island. Agalia, their newly constructed 5-star suites and luxury villas, carry the same Art Nouveau aesthetic.
The afternoon I chose to visit Pathos was not remarkable in itself; but like the birth of a baby, the setting of the sun in the Cyclades is a daily miracle. The ambiance of Pathos, thanks to the cool and sexy mix of the DJ, along with the white-satin bed swings overlooking the bay and the wading pool, put new meaning in the phrase “seize the day.” Absolutely spectacular views and breathtaking unfolding of the many-layered sheets of the sky from one bright orange to deep crimson to purple make Pathos a not-to-miss lounge. The experience vivifies the” power of Now” that philosophy that all of Greece seeks to magnify. Pathos was remarkable in that it catered to families as well as couple. I noted on my way out a lady in a wheelchair enjoying a drink, a particularly important allowance as most places on the Greek islands are not particularly handicap accessible.
After the lounge, I enjoyed dinner at Salt, an atypical Greek restaurant also with an eclectic menu in Mylopotas Bay. It is typical of the new range of cuisine the island has sprouted. Its menu is hard to categorize as it spreads across the palate featuring signature pasta dishes with rich local ingredients as well as meats such as Greek styled hamburgers and delectablesalads. I started with a kataifi cheese puff. Individually baked in a ramekin, the cheese mix of Gouda, Greek kefalograviera from Ios, and others are wrapped in the shredded wheat made most familiar by the syrupy shredded wheat delicacy filled with dry nuts, kadaifi. Bruchetta, light and flavorful, bursting with the juice of local red ripe tomatoes, a generous dose of mozzarella and sweet basil drizzled with olive oil with pinches of the local thyme and oregano, became addictive. Pork chops glazed in a spicy Mexican bar-b-que sauce flowed nicely with a bottle of dry white wine from Boutaris. Another eclectic dish was “drunken pork,” thin slices of shredded pork marinated in red peppers and red wine. Salt, like the salt of the earth which makes food edible, should better be known as “Cheese.” Cheese features prominently in such dishes as oven chicken stuffed with a mix of cheeses, cheese platters, and many pasta favorites such as carbonara. The ice cream selection that followed the meal served on silver bowls on a silver swivel tray that aids sharing in a circle was superb.
To show that Ios is not only fun and sun, I attended a moonlight night of poetry at the atelier of Panos Arholekas, an artist and long-time resident of Ios. Konstandinos Triantafillou read excerpts from his poetry manuscript “The Island” inspired to a large measure by the landscape and living of Ios. It is common for cultural events to be scheduled during full moon nights when people can benefit from the bright light of the moon. Indeed the event took place around the traditional aloni, the stone circle where donkeys would walk round and round separating the chaff from the wheat, now converted into a theater and stage. The moon was so bright the church of Agia Theodoti seemed to glow in the dark. Panos Arholekas holds many such cultural nights showcasing his eclectic collection of artists in his private art gallery including Athanasia Giaxidou, Apostolis Zolotakis, and Jan Mulder. The atelier includes mixed media, photos, ink and charcoal sketches and even sculptural pieces. The evening was topped off by a handsome buffet of homemade canapes, chocolate pastries, and wines by his wife Eva Arholekas.
Ios, the island of youth, will forever stay young. It is the kind of place you visit for a while in a dream and then step out and back into the reality of your everyday life. For now, I am relishing and basking in the rays of youth, the beautiful youth that is Ios.