THE PERFECT UNDER-THE-RADAR GREEK ISLAND.

[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. It 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.

It that doesn’t sound like heaven, I don’t know what does.

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.

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.

Folegandros Chora view

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. Wanting a honeymoon with fireworks coming out of champagne bottles and flower petals in your bathtub? Want to fight hordes of Instagrammers fighting to get a sunset shot? Go to 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. There are only a few dozen places to stay, most modest, inexpensive and clean.

Folegandros Chora cliff edge
Chora is dramatically perched on the edge of a steep cliff, high above the crashing waves. It’s the exact same views as Santorini, but with a fraction of the people in your way.

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. Pretty. Perfect. A small little village clinging to a steep cliff on a quiet Greek island. No cruise ships. No bus tours. No airport or cheap charter flights to flood the island.

Ten years ago, not a single gas station, now one or two. Still only a handful of cars, mostly scooters. The town has a dozen great open air restaurants, all sharing the tree-shaded piazza in the middle.

Folegandros Chora restaurant night
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.

It’s mostly Greeks here. Many old. A gaggle of leathery Scandinavians. Some Italians bundled like winter to protect from the evils of a cool breeze, the rest of us still in shorts. A few discreet whispering French. A smattering of English. Mostly cats.

A full dinner of lamb (!) in papillote, grilled vegetables and a half litre of dark Greek rose, all of it for only 18E — and I thought the waiter said 80 at first and was happy to pony up! Only saw one shop selling t-shirts. A white church high on the hill, to die for. And views. Nothing but views. This is my type of place.

This is the place in Greece I’ve always been looking for.

Sailboats Folegandros
Donkey Folegandros port

The island still has a lot of its traditional character. View few tourists, very low-key

Folegandros port sunset

Exploring Chora Town on Folegandros

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 view Folegandros
Folegandros Chora restaurant

The main village of Chora is blissfully mellow, no wooos and screaming boisterousity; a meandering path among one quiet outdoor restaurant after another. Wandering about until you decide where to roost for the night. No school boys or Hen Dos. Just people enjoying the cool of the evening

Folegandros Chora Eva's Garden restaurant
This was my favorite meal. Eva’s Garden. Great people. Good music. Awesome food.
Folegandros Chora Agase restaurant
This was my second favorite meal, Agase in the main square.

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 Boutique Hotels, it’s perfect) it’s easy to scoot down to the harbor and other beaches — the island is only 20km long!

Folegandros Chora at night
Chora Folegandros shadows

The Big Church On The Hill

The Church of the Panagia is the star of the show on this amazing island. Like a white apparition sitting high up on the hill, with a picturesque zizzag walkway that’s been here since it was all old ladies dress in black, taking a breather as they pilgrimaged up the hill.

Go there several times to see how beautiful it and island changes throughout the day. From the hint of pink sun at dawn to the light-on-fire sunset off into the distance. It’s breathtaking.

Panagia Church Folegandros
Panagia Church Folegandros door
Panagia Church Folegandros sunset view
Panagia Church Folegandros
view from Panagia Church Folegandros
Panagia Church Folegandros beauty

The Beaches of Folegandros

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.  So 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.

Agkali Beach

Agkali Beach best beach on Folegandros

Agkali beach is everyone’s favorite, with a handful of restaurants and you can hike to others, reachable only by foot or boat. There’s a trail that leads up over the hill to several other beaches along the way. You can also stay in Agkali beach, there are some cool looking places, but it’s pretty small.

Papalagi Restaurant — Definitely Go Here

Papalagi lunch view
Good lord this was good. Grilled octopus salad with peppers, potatoes, onyuns and some tsatzik from the gods’ goats. You can only get there (and the beach) by hiking over the mountain ridge from Agali Beach or by boat.
Agios Nikolaos beach
Agios Nikolaos beach is right down from Papalagi. Gorgeous little beach.

Galifos Beach

Galifos beach Folegandros
Galifos is another cool beach, around the corner from Agkali. You have to hoof it there.
Galifos beach Folegandros swimmer

Katergo Beach

Katergo Beach is definitely worth the hike down to it. Clothing optional. You have to hike down a couple of kilometers to get there. There are boats that can take you there from the harbor, but some days they don’t run, so make sure you check them out. This was my favorite. Nobody else was there for a long time and I felt like a naked Robinson Crusoe running all around down there.

Katergo Beach
Katergo Beach from above

Agios Georgics Beach and Northern Folegandros

The northern end of the island is sparse, with only a couple of small hamlets and scattered villas. It catches some of the winds coming from the east. Great cloud watching.

northern Folegandros
North end of Folegandros
Agios Georgics Folegandros swimmer
Agios Georgics Folegandros
Agios Georgics Folegandros clear water
Folegandros sailboat clouds

The Charming and Clean Port of Folegandros

Folegandros port

Normally, I’d want to not stay in a port town, but the port of Folegandros is really mellow, super clean and picture-perfect.

The naturally-formed port on Folegandros is pretty sleepy, with just a handful of restaurants serving fresh fish and smiles. There are a couple of cheap hotels, one really nice one (Anemi Hotel, which I wrote about in another post) and many rooms to let. But it’s great base to take dayboat tours around the island. Not to mention getting all busybody as you succumb to the rhythms of the arriving ferries, like a Greek cat, and saunter on down to see what mice get on and off. It’s that peaceful.

Like a Greek cat, you succumb to the rhythms of the arriving ferries and saunter on down to see what mice get on and off.

quiet port Folegandros

What makes this port mellow is the lack of a big cruise ship terminal. In fact, there aren’t any cruise ships. That’s what makes it special. It’s more of a port than a harbor, just the regular arrival of ferries and sailboats and fishermen. So staying here is nice.

Folegandros port clouds

You can find a handful of simple restaurants, a car rental place — although you really don’t need or want a car on Folegandros, it’s so small and manageable, rent an ATV instead. Lots of sailboats and fishing boats feeding the island.

Clean beach in Folegandros port

Charter a Boat on Folegandros and Get Out on the Water

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. You can find places to charter and boat with a nice captain down by the port. I 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.

Everything looks better from the water.

Folegandros boat charter
blue grotto Folegandros

Hire a Guide

The island is small, so doesn’t really require a guide. But I decided to hire one for a half day to learn more about the island than just looking at it and saying “That’s cool.” My hotel arranged for the beautiful Romanian guide Maria to show and tell me all about the cool spots. Not sure if she’s still on the island, but you might be able to find her renting cars at RAC stand in the port.

Getting Around Folegandros

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.

Here’s the official Folegandros website with all the details you need.

Foleandros geography

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.  If you want to rent a moped, you’ll need an international driver’s license. I think you can rent a car, but really don’t need that big of a deal. ATVs work the best.

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.  

Here’s a great map of Folegandros from AllTrails, complete with all the best hikes.

Last visited September 2016 —

How to Get 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.

To get to Folegandros, you can take an overnight ferry from Piraeus or fly to Santorini and take a quick 45 minute ferry.  I flew to Santorini, took a cab directly from the airport to the port, then waited an hour or two to catch the ferry to Folegandros.

 The Best Time to Go to Folegandros

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.

Where to Stay on Folegandros

Here are the hotels I would suggest:

Here’s my post on my favorite hotel, just on the edge of the cliff in Chora Town. Try staying here first. And here’s a nice design boutique hotel down by the port. Reasonable and a lovely family-run, spotless place. Here’s the Anemomilos Boutique Hotel website so you can book directly.

Here’s a post I made on the ANEMI design hotel down by the port, which I also stayed at. 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. Here’s their website.

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.

 

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Other Travel Resources for Folegandros:

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. Goop even did a page on Folegandros.

The Folegandros official website.

A great overview of Folegandros in Lonely Planet.

Trip Advisor’s page on Folegandros.

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.

blurb on Folegandros in the July 2016 Travel & Leisure and a blurb on CNN.com about Europe’s Most Scenic Villages.

Here’s how to find ferry schedules to Folegandros.

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“THE PERFECT UNDER-THE-RADAR GREEK ISLAND.”

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