A Hidden Gem of the Greek Isles
Imagine a Greek island, and it's likely you'll invoke images of whitewashed buildings clustered into villages, tumbling down sheer cliff drops to the azure waters below. Such is Folegandros, a mostly untouched gem in the midst of the Cycladic islands, not yet sought out by the throngs of tourists that overpopulate the more accessible island destinations like Santorini and Mykonos.
When travelers do take the measures to head to this remote island, they are rewarded with an unspoiled and rugged terrain dotted with the occasional village and terraced farm fields. The real treasure of Folegandros is discovering the sprawling, pebbled and pristine beaches. Rarely will more than a handful of people be soaking in the sun or splashing in the clear waters at any given time.
Be warned: Folegandros isn't a destination for vacationers looking to do anything more than sprawl on the beach or hike through remote, pebbly trails. There is little in the way of sightseeing or historic interest, nor of fine dining or well-heeled accommodations. But the island's austere beauty, traditional and simple meals, and the kindness of the locals make the trek here well worth it.
Folegandros can be reached by ferry; three ferries stop each week on the Santorini-Folegandros-Sikinos-Ios-Naxos-Paros-Piraeus route, and it takes about 10 hours to reach Folegandros from Piraeus, on the outskirts of Athens. For schedule information, contact the Piraeus Port Authority. Keep in mind that ferry schedules are subject to change based on the weather, and could keep you stuck on the island longer than anticipated.
Ferries dock at the island's port, Karavostasis, though there's not much there other than a handful of unremarkable restaurants, shops and a hotel. Once you've arrived, you'll want to head directly for the main town of Hora, 2.5 miles away. A bus to Hora meets all ferries that arrive.
Try to avoid the Greek islands during the hectic, tourist-filled months of July and August, when everything is crowded, reservations are a must and daytime temperatures are too hot for anything other than sitting still. April to mid-June are the nicest months to visit, with temperatures hovering between 70 F and 85 F. If you travel during the off-season (November through March), be prepared for harsh weather, rains and wind, which can offset ferry schedules to and from the island.
Your best bet for comfortable lodging is to stay in the main town of Hora. Situated on top of a cliff, many of the accommodations offer spectacular views of the precipitous drop to the sapphire waters below. Because it lacks the onslaught of tourists that more popular islands like Santorini or Mykonos experience, Folegandros remains reasonably priced. Make no mistake though: reservations are a must during the peak summer season. If you insist on staying near the beaches, you will find some rooms to let at Angali, the largest and most crowded of the beaches. Wandering in the area, you will encounter signs offering rooms to let. For a variety of listings, click here.
You won't find any pretentious, Michelin-star-rated restaurants on Folegandros, but you will find scores of simple tavernas with outdoor tables filling up Hora's squares and dishing up divinely simple Greek classics like tzatziki, moussaka, souvlaki and a Greek salad that is somehow, in some way, world's better than that found here in the States. The island's specialty is a dish called matsata, which is made with pasta and either rabbit or chicken. It's best made at Mimi's and Maria's, both in Ano Meria.
Money: Be sure to have plenty of cash on hand, as Folegandros doesn't have either a bank or an ATM. A few travel agents will exchange money, but a lack of a local bank means that you're getting a wretched exchange rate. It's best to have the money already on hand.
Getting Around: The easiest way to travel around the island is by bus, which makes eight or nine trips each day between Hora and Ano Meria. During the peak summer months, it's possible to hire a boat taxi to reach the beaches on the island's southernmost points (6E to 8E, roundtrip). There is one regular taxi on the island, but it's not really necessary to use when the bus runs so conveniently.
While You Are Here
After you've settled in, trek by boat or bus and foot to the island's glorious beaches. Angali is the most popular and most crowded, but beyond that you'll also encounter the clothing-optional Ayios Nikolaos, and then Livadaki Beach, which is reached via a bus ride and a 40-minute hike. The beach lies in a sheltered cove of rocks. Finally, head to Katergo, a pebble beach that is likely the nicest on the island. It sits at the bottom of a cliff, sheltered from winds and rough waters.
Hora remains one of the most picturesque Greek island towns, with traditionally slate-paved streets, quaint squares filled with locals, charming shops and restaurants, and white-washed buildings decorated with colorful flowerpots. The town has been built partially into the Kastro, or medieval castle, and there is one church, Parayia, that towers over the town with a commanding presence. The island does house one museum, the Folk Museum, in Ano Meria, which offers displays of traditional tools and everyday items that give a sense of the island's way of life.
To Fake You've Been Here
Point out some callouses and blisters on your feet, then moan about how you really wore yourself out with all those 20- and 40-minute hikes past terraced slopes and down rocky cliffs trying to reach all of Folegandros's secluded beaches.