[FOLEGANDROS, GREECE] — On the quiet island of Folegandros, there are no cruise ships. There’s no airport. No big hotels. No hoards of tourists. They only got electricity a about 30 years ago. At wasn’t until the last 20 years that the island’s one road was paved — all 18 kilometers of it — and the first gas station arrived. There’s only one bus driver. Only a single taxi driver. And only 785 people live on the island.
You can only get here by ferry, either from other islands, or Athen’s Piraeus port, or you can fly into over-popular Santorini and get the hell out, taking a quick 45 minute ferry.
That’s probably what saved Folegandros. No major developments like the other big Greek islands in the 60s and 70s and 80s. Now, recently “discovered”, this under-the-radar island has chosen a path of smart growth, with very restrictive zoning to prevent the over-run that other Greek islands suffer. You can’t build big, heights are restricted and you can only build in the traditional style, with local materials. That’s what’s preserved Folegandros so far. Even the size of windows is highly controlled. It works. You can’t tell new buildings from the old.
I first read about Folegandros years ago in this article in the NYTimes called “The Most Charmingly Greek of All Greek Islands”. I clipped it out, filed it and remembered it when I was trying to book a last minute trip, away from the crowds. It was everything in the article and 10x better.
The town of Chora sits high on a steep cliff and it practically unspoilt by tourism. The church dominates the entire island. This place is old, going back to Pre-Egyptian times, then Egyptian, then Greeks, then Romans, the Turks, etc. They say that where the church is was an ancient observatory of the stars, going back to Egyptian times, later turned into a church.
If you’re young and after the crazy of Mykonos or Hydra or Ios, this is not your place. Honeymoon with cheesy champaign toasts and flower petals in your bathtub? Try Santorini. Folegandros is something altogether different. It’s where you go when you want to hang out on a truly Greek island. Not some island adapted to you. With only a few dozen places to stay, most modest, inexpensive and clean.
This is a quiet, sleepy island, loaded up in the center with steep cliffs and ringed by stunningly clear and deserted beaches, most reachable only by footpath or boat. It is just stunning.
This is the place I’ve always been looking for.
To get to Folegandros, you can take a ferry from Piraeus or fly to Santorini and take a quick 45 minute ferry. I flew to Santorini, took a cab from the airport to the port, then waited an hour or two to catch the ferry to Folegandros.
You arrive in the island’s port, which has a few inexpensive hotels and rooms-to-let and one new boutique hotel, but most of the accommodations are in the hilltop main town of Chora and other small villages spread out across the island. I’ve put some links to hotels I’d suggest, I stayed in two (in other posts) and checked out others that looked pretty cool.
The island still has a lot of its traditional character. View few tourists, very low-key
You can rent a car if you want. But that’s a bit overkill. I rented a great little mini-ATV (they’re all over the island) or you can rent scooters. But be warned, as I found out, unless you’re an EU resident, you’ll need an International Driver’s License to rent cars and even scooters. But you can rent an ATV with your regular US state Driver’s License. Your hotel can book them; everyone knows Spyros, or the other Spyros at RAC.
There is a single bus line that runs up and down the island about once an hour. And only one taxi, which takes some time to get to you, so highly recommend you get your own ATV so you can scoot down to the port or reach many of the remote beaches. There are water taxis that take you from the main port to many beaches and I hear there’s a great all-day boat tour out of the port that runs every other day, which takes you to all the beaches around the island, but it was cancelled on the days I was there due to high winds and waves. I also charted my own boat with the great skipper Dimitris for a 250 euros, which was worth every single penny and was the highlight of the trip.
I think this island is going to be on regular rotation for me.
The main town of Chora at the top of island is the core of Folegandros. Most of the island’s restaurants (most all excellent) are located there, as are most of the hotels and a handful of nice shops — I only saw one shop selling t-shirts and tourist tat.
Chora is dramatically perched on the edge of a steep cliff, high above the crashing waves.
It just doesn’t get any more Greek, or any better, than this scene. The lovely town is filled with beautiful little outdoor restaurants, few overtly touristy hawkers like you see in more popular parts of Greece.
The town is considered one of the best, most picturesque in all of Europe. It’s just fantastic and a just perfect to hangout for a long lunch or dinner. Even if you stay in town, which I highly recommend (Anemomilos Apartments, awesome) it’s easy to scoot down to the harbor and other beaches — the island is only 20km long!
Each beach has it’s own characteristics. Some sands. Some rocky. Some bouldery. All crystal clear and lightly populated. Some you can drive to. Some you have to hike to. Some you can only reach by boat. The wind can be intense on the island, depending on the time year, or even day. Some ask around and people will suggest which beach would be best for the winds that day. Definitely make the hike from Agkali beach to Agios Nicholaos beach and have the perfect lunch at the stunning Papalagi restaurant overlooking the church and beach. Katergo Beach is definitely worth the hike down to it. Clothing optional. Highly recommend you charter a boat at least once. The guides can take you to secret spots that are only accessible by boat, or known by locals.
The weather is great, even until late September. A lot of places start closed up in the first week of October. I asked Spyros, the local scooter renter when is the best time to come and he said May, June to July 20th is the time to come for the best weather and fewest crowds. August, like everywhere, is very busy. Be prepared for the wind. The Meltemi. An consistent wind from the north that is ever-present, especially on top of the island. At times it can be a pleasing, like the cool breezes that blow through your room all night long. Other times, it can dictate your day, when it gets intense and stirs up waves and stops ferries and boat tours. Everyday people talk about the wind, where it is coming from and which side of the island to find calm beaches. I loved it.
Here are the hotels I would suggest:
Without question, try here first. Lovely place, the most amazing views. Reasonable and a lovely family-run, spotless place. http://anemomilosapartments.com/hotel/
More expensive is this, the Anemi Hotel. Down by the port. Modern design hotel, priced more like the mainland, but still nice. Sometimes lacking a little soul, but still great and a good location to catch all the boat excursions by the port.
I almost stayed at the Blue Sand, but it just couldn’t get worked out, wasn’t sure of the small beach village location, but I checked it out in person and it looks really cool, great design. Packed restaurant and, although sleepy and small, the village is right on the water and with the best beaches you can walk to.
Last visited September 2016
Here are some great reference reading and helpful links:
This is the article that brought me here, in the NYTimes. Folegandros — the Most Charming Greek Island
A great article in Conde Nast Traveler Exploring an Under-the-radar Greek Island.
The Folegandros official website.
A great overview of Folegandros in Lonely Planet.
Trip Advisor’s page on Folegandros.
A guide in the UK version of Conde Nast Traveller. and another article on how to get there from London.
An overview of Folegandros from The Travel Channel.
The Anemomilos Apartments website.
A blurb on Folegandros in the July 2016 Travel & Leisure and a blurb on CNN.com about Europe’s Most Scenic Villages.
A slew of articles on the hotel on their website, covering just about every major travel publication.
Here’s how to find ferry schedules to Folegandros.
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