One of the key factors in the by-now famous longevity of its people is Ikaria’s pure and abundant natural bounty, and the fact that around 80 percent of the island’s households sustain themselves at least in part from the delicious organic produce that they grow in their own back yards. A spirit of self-sufficiency reigns supreme across the island, with locals preferring to buy homemade products such as olive oil, honey, dairy and herbs from friends and neighbors, or to trade for them using their own goods in barter. Here we showcase some of the best products and how to find them.
BEST OF IKARIA’S FOOD PRODUCTS
Called the “Panacea of Ikaria”, the island’s honey makes for a pricelessly healthy and delectable purchase. There is honey produced from arbutus (or “strawberry”) trees, from thyme flowers or from white heather (reiki, considered the most beneficial, as well as pine tree honey, which is made from the honeydew secretions of the giant pine scale. One must-buy is the organic honey from Yannis Kochylas under the label Meli Ikarias; his are multi-award-winning honeys (with numerous top prizes in international competitions) noted for their exceptional flavor and for his dedication – several times a year, Kochylas, the “Odysseus of Honey,” travels for six and a half hours on his little kaiki, often in tempestuous winds, to a tiny island near Patmos to harvest his luscious honey – his toffee-like Anama is especially dreamy.
The local Kathoura cheese, a spongy, fresh goat-milk cheese very reminiscent of mozzarella in its texture and subtle taste, accompanies almost every local meal, and can also be used for stuffing vegetables or for putting on toast drizzled with honey. Goat herder Antonis (affectionately called ‘Antoine’ by locals) is a gentle giant who makes excellent fresh Kathoura in his tiny kitchen; it can be ordered from his German wife Silke, who is a member of the Raches Women’s Cooperative.
Abundant local herbs, including pennyroyal (fliskouni), oregano, sage, savory (throumba), thyme, St. John’s Wort (valsamo) and mint, grow wild on the island under purely organic conditions, with the help of nothing more than bold sunshine, rare rain and oxygen-rich air. It is recommended that you keep your Ikarian spirit up even after leaving the island by taking home several of these medicinal goodies for seasoning or brewing. Local herbs can be bought across the island at various grocery stores like Melia Handmade Products, supermarkets, as well as online via the Ikaria Mag website.
The island has some 1,100 indigenous species of plants, something you can learn about from local guide Lefteris Trikiriotis, who left Athens behind to return to his native island and enjoy a major “quality of life” improvement. Here, he combines his love for the island, its people and its abundant nature with an environmentally friendly lifestyle, helping to maintain the ancient paths with the local mountaineering club and offering his services as a self-taught treasure-trove of information. He leads a variety of botanical and foraging walks along natural trails and also does good business gathering wild rock samphire, known locally as kritamo Ikarias. Recently, he created the travel agency Discover Ikaria, which offers adventure holiday experiences to visitors.
COOPERATIVE OF RACHES
(also for Antonis’ Kathoura cheese)
Tel. (+30) 22750.41.076
YANNIS KOCHYLAS’ HONEY
Tel. (+30) 6973.422.888
Online at Ikariastore
In Athens at Katalochou store, Tel. (+30) 210.361.3851
Tel. (+30) 22750.31.151 and (+30) 6944.920.934
Tel. (+30) 22750.40.008 / 41556.
Tel. (+30) 22750.22.710 and (+30) 210.988.6170
The seven members of the self-funded Women’s Cooperative of Raches work hard on their fantastic products throughout the year, and have set up an old-fashioned boutique-style store selling traditional classics such as preserves (from walnuts in honey to Indian fig jam) and original concoctions such as a delightful fennel pesto, pumpkin chutney and a 7-Herbs liqueur – one of their 20 or so fruit, spice and herb liqueurs. Boasting a charming cafe with comfortable seating and soothing shade, the co-op makes for a lovely and reviving stop where you can enjoy a glass of iced herb tea, espresso and truly mouthwatering homemade cakes or pies – the fluffy, rich chocolate brownie with cream cheese will reign supreme in your memory.
Wine, with all its Dionysian connotations, plays an integral part in Ikarian life. It is chiefly available in the form of a strongly-flavored, dark red, 15% alcohol hima (that is, unbottled) wine that can be sipped for endless hours in greenery-enshrouded courtyards, in busy village squares or at loud local fairs under the stars. All Ikarian wine is guaranteed to provide enormous pleasure (mysteriously, often without a trace of a hangover the following day), but for the best possible experience, opt for a quality label from one of the island’s three wineries.
Replete with its own wine museum, in which you can learn about the ancient winemaking methods, the Karimanlis Winery on a hilltop in Pygi is wonderful to visit: its vineyards roll down towards a gorgeous vista of the sea; there’s a guesthouse where you can stay, and a fabulous kitchen run (by the contagiously passionate Eleni Karimalis) that serves food from its own garden and where cooking classes are held. The winery produces a bold, rich red called Pramnian Odyssey that’s made from archaic indigenous vines and a sparkly white wine called Euphoria.
With a white wine called Begleri – from the grape that produces it – that got a 86/100 rating from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and 89/100 from Wine Spectator (with a review that concluded by saying: “drink now”), as well as several other noteworthy labels, including Icarus and Tama, the Afianes Winery in Profitis Ilias in Raches regularly welcomes guests who come to explore its winemaking facilities, view its small but interesting folklore museum themed on the island’s winemaking tradition and take advantage of a scenic area set aside for tasting the winery’s various products.
Also making the best out of the local Fokiano, Begleri and Mandilaria grapes is the highly respected Tsantiris Winery, right on the edge of the Chararis Gorge in the village of Ano Proespera in northwestern Ikaria. Their certified, all-organic wines include a Begleri white, a rosé and two red wines, as well as the distinctive Melisandy dessert wine which has hints of dried fig, raisins and nuts.
NATURAL COSMETIC PRODUCTS MADE WITH ORGANIC IKARIAN INGREDIENTS
MELIA HANDMADE PRODUCTS
Tel. (+30) 22750.41.350 and (+30) 6985.565.080