LITTLE ELEPHANTS: The very last wild elephants in Europe lived right here, on tiny Tilos. They were a species of dwarf elephants that appeared on the island 50,000 years ago and disappeared approximately 4,000 years ago, according to Nikolaos Symeonidis, the professor of paleontology and geology who discovered the first fossilized bones in the Harkadio Cave in 1971.
The elephants are thought to have swum to the island and, from the thousands of bones that have been unearthed, scientists believe the animals were between 1.2 and 1.4 meters tall. The cave isn’t accessible to tourists yet (excavations were only recently completed), but you can view some of the finds, including the bones of a baby elephant, at a small museum in the town hall of Megalo Chorio (open 9:00-13:00, with longer hours during peak season or by appointment.) A new, larger museum is under construction near the cave.
- Area: 61 sq. km.
- Population: 780 (2011 census)
- Distance: 222 (sea miles from Piraeus)
- Highest Peak: 620m (Profitis Ilias)
VILLAGE STROLL: Megalo Chorio, with its traditional Aegean architecture, was built in the 19th century. Before then, people had lived inside the Castle constructed by the Knights of St. John at the top of the hill. Walk through the narrow alleyways and observe the houses, white cubes with shutters painted varying shades of blue, with splashes of color added by the abundant bougainvilleas and pots of geraniums: the unrivaled sense of simplicity that characterizes the Aegean, in all its splendor. Here you’ll find two tavernas, two cafés, and the beautiful church of Taxiarchis, which has graced the village center since 1827.
THE CASTLE: A lovely uphill walk of about 30 minutes takes you to the Castle of the Knights, above Megalo Chorio, where you’ll also see the ruins of an ancient settlement. The best time is in the afternoon, when the path is shaded by the hillside. The view from the walls is dazzling.
THE MONASTERY: Heading northwest across barren slopes, you’ll reach the 14th-c. Monastery of St. Panteleimon. It boasts fortifications, and beautiful pebble mosaics in its interior courtyards. Keep an eye out for the decorative details and the wall paintings in the chapel. The monastery is open to visitors, but it’s better to call in advance (Tel. (+30) 22420.316.76).
DAY AND NIGHT: On Tilos everything is so close by… and the living is easy! In Livadia, you can take a swim at the beach by the port, where you’ll also find rooms to rent right next to the sea. Here, there are tavernas and a few bars, such as Ino, with rock music from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and good drinks, and Mikro Café, with tables in a lovely waterfront garden and on its small terrace. You can grab a coffee or some delicious food, including breakfast, under the shade of a large fig tree at Omonia, a traditional café-taverna.
THE SMALL VILLAGE: Mikro Chorio, another inland settlement, was abandoned after World War II and the wave of mass emigration that followed. By 1955, it was completely deserted and has remained so up to the present day. It comes to life again only in the evenings, thanks to the bar there. Its owners even illuminate the interiors of old, ruined houses, creating a unique atmosphere. The bar stays open until morning, giving patrons an incredible opportunity to enjoy the sunrise. The establishment has no name and is simply known as the Bar in Mikro Chorio.
GREAT SWIMS: Tilos boasts many pristine beaches that can only be accessed on foot. Wear a hat and comfortable shoes, and bring water, too, as you explore swimming spots like Lethra, Limenari and Aghios Petros – all pebble beaches.
Of the other beaches on the island, the best known are Eristos, which attracts campers, and Plaka to the north, with its exquisite blue water and smattering of palm trees. Behind the beach is a fenced park where peacocks roam. If you want to get close to the plumed birds, simply open the large wire gate and make your way among them – though they’re often also found wandering on the beach itself.
HIKING AROUND: The network of footpaths on Tilos covers 54 kilometers and attracts hikers from all over the world. Not all paths are marked, but most are in good condition. Try the one that begins at the chapel of Ai-Yiannis, east of Livadia, and traces a ridge parallel to the sea toward Akrotiri Koutsoumbas. Keep in mind that Tilos is full of goats that wander across the slopes on the island, creating delightful scenes but also causing minor rockfalls. You’re in no real danger, but do take care!
LOCAL SPECIALTIES: Goat stuffed with rice and liver: that’s the traditional dish of Tilos, prepared on all feast days. It may take as long as 24 hours to prepare, since it needs time to marinate and to slowly cook in a clay pot, preferably in a wood-fired oven. Your best bet to taste this exquisite dish is at Kastro Taverna in Megalo Chorio, which offers sweeping views of Eristos Beach. You’ll also find other delicious regional dishes there, as well as grilled meats and salads made with vegetables from their own garden.
At Kritikos Restaurant, on the waterfront in Livadia, you can savor fried Tilian cheese with honey and sesame seeds for even more flavor. You’ll also find a refreshing salad with zucchini and pear, and traditional dishes prepared with care. For fish in a seaside setting, try one of the charming tavernas beneath the tamarisk trees at Aghios Antonios, which also serve up beautiful sunset views.