Folegandros the Free, The Island to Fall in Love With
Greek-American Fitness Trainer Melissa Diamond cherishes Friendly Folegandros for many reasons – its tranquility, its hospitality, but most of all, for the precious gift of freedom that this timeless Cycladic treasure bestows on her two young children.
My love affair with Folegandros began …
When I first travelled there six years ago to visit friends and experience the unique way that Greek Easter is celebrated. I immediately felt as though I’d stepped back in time to a Greece reminiscent of the 70s. Greek Easter Folegandros-style was unusual in that it lasts for three days after Sunday and transpires into a procession and tour of the whole island. The icon visits those who choose to open their doors and welcome not only the blessing of the priest, but all of the people following behind! We’ve never missed an Easter on hospitable Folegandros – or a summer holiday for that matter – ever since.
Has it changed much over the years?
The beauty of Folegandros is that not much changes. There has been a quiet expansion of the main town (Chora) with some new shops, but the island itself and its residents have maintained a magical balance of offering visitors much to see and do without interfering with the inherent raw beauty. Even in summer, beaches are not consumed by sunbeds and umbrellas.
How is Folegandros different from other islands?
Having travelled to many Greek islands large and small, Folegandros differs in that the pace leaves you feeling calm. Stress and anxiety falls away as the island provides so many majestic views and timeless ways to fill your day, like meandering paths which lead to crystal blue waters, walks through Chora and its stunning Kastro. You can’t help but breathe deeply and say “WOW”. Thanks to its size and contours, Folegandros is an island that’s made to be explored by foot.
What’s the best way to get there?
High Speed Ferries (5 hours) and the Slower Car Ferry (9 hours) leave from Piraeus regularly during summer. Many choose flights to neighboring Santorini or Naxos and then use local ferry services to connect to Folegandros. Of course there is always the heliport!
In a word, how would you describe the vibe or mood of your island?
Your favourite time of year to go there?
If you are a fan of nature and hiking, then visit late April and May for the wild flower explosion of color. Beach fans will be happy all summer. The season extends through October and most visitors enjoy this laidback period.
Describe your perfect day there?
Start the day by lingering over breakfast in Chora before venturing up to the Church of Panagia for views to the whole island and its neighbors. The direction of the wind will determine which beach to go to for snorkeling around the coves. Make a stop at the bakery and stock up on local specials such as “karpouzenia” and “kalasouna”. By evening, it’s time to head back to Chora and walk through the Kastro and catch the always amazing sunset at Bar Rakentia. The perfect end to the day is a spot of night shopping and a true Italian Gelato at O Theios (The Uncle), the only of its kind on the island.
Your favourite beach or swimming spot?
Ambeli is exactly what a small island beach should be and also home to the only source of local vegetation on this rocky outcrop. It’s more of a swimming spot as opposed to our family favorite beach Agali where we love taking the caique over to Agios Nikolas beach.
Where should we go for an always fabulous dining experience?
Although Chora is where most eating options are, not to be missed is Irene’s in Ano Meria (the only other village). Open all year round for the locals as a Kafenion, Irene and her grandaughter will feed you the real Matsata: which is the Folegrandros home-made pasta, along with other daily home-made dishes. The view from Papagali Seafood restaurant in Agios Nikolas beach is also not to be missed …chilled wine and tuna carpaccio makes it bliss.
Where should we stay?
Accomodation on Folegandros ranges from an upstanding and popular camp ground (Camping Livadi) to mid-range rooms like Aria and extends to some fantastic higher end hotels such as the Anemi. Booking for mid-July through to end of August is very difficult. People often book 6 months in advance. Recently many villa owners have opened their doors in August and can be found on air bnb.
Do you have a favourite special memory on Folegandros
Three years ago, when my husband and I opened our shop, Folegandros T-Shirts, our children (then 7 and 9 years old) were on the loose and spent most nights running through the town with local children and foreigners alike, playing hide-and-go-seek or catch. One customer remarked how there was nowhere else nowadays where children could roam as safely and freely as they seemed to do here in Folegandros. I told her that I had been uneasy myself at first, until I was reassured by “the Yiayia mafia”. Behind each door rests an elder who is keenly watching the goings on around town and notes all the whos, wheres and whats. Folegandros is giving my children the chance to experience the same safe freedom that I had while spending my summers in Greece in the 70s.