Ikariotes – the locals of Ikaria – have always captured the imagination of the rest of the Greek population because of their ‘eccentricity’. They are famous for having their very own sense of time and space, and for their freedom-loving, convivial spirit. An independent state for several months after releasing itself from the Ottoman grip in 1912 (with its own cobalt blue flag stamped with a thick white cross – still seen in numerous homes around the island today), Ikaria was baptized ‘the red rock’ when it became home to some 13,000 communist exiles during the Greek Civil War of 1946-49. These and other factors have led the idiosyncratic Cycladic island to develop a character that differentiates it from its neighbors on either side, Samos and Mykonos – and indeed every other Greek island.
Anarchically lush, hearteningly unpretentious, and only demanding that you let go of your set expectations in order to enter its mesmeric and intrinsic flow, the island started attracting ‘alternative’ travelers in the 80s, such as bohemians and artists, who rejected the touristic paradigm emerging in Greece at the time, and who preferred to pitch tents on the beach and integrate with local life. In 2012, however, came a great shift. Dan Buettner wrote ‘The Island Where People Forget to Die’ in the New York Times, sharing his groundbreaking Blue Zones research with the world. Since then, people have been flocking to Ikaria from every corner of the earth, thirsty to drink from the island’s legendary fountain of youth.
“Yoga retreats, wellness workshops, energy-healing therapies, organic food and natural cosmetics have now become increasingly accessible island-wide.”
The locals – among whom you will find an impressive number of rosy-cheeked centenarians – haven’t got a clue what all the fuss is about, and frankly have grown a little weary of all the media and tourist attention. They are known for what visitors describe as a ‘Zen-like spirit‘; they aspire to measured, Christian Orthodox ideals that keep them living in the present, and maintain an effusive attitude (that also prizes equality between the sexes). Ikariotes are also praised for their highly self-sufficient lifestyle, vibrant social life, healthy diet, and demanding physical routine of tending to land and livestock; and they are happy to stay exactly as they are.
Due to the aforementioned factors and the island’s inherent natural beauty, what was a resilient but relatively unknown corner of Greece has over the past few years flourished into a holistic wellness destination. Yoga retreats, wellness workshops, energy-healing therapies, organic food and natural cosmetics have now become increasingly accessible island-wide. I travelled to the island to participate in a yoga retreat by teacher Fotini Bitrou, who runs the Pure Fitness studio on Aegina. She one of many holistic practitioners and teachers who have temporarily settled on the island – drawn by the island’s “amazing energy”, its laid-back feel, and its respect for the natural landscape.
Various spaces, such as the Agriolykos Pension in Therma, are also planning more such retreats and workshops to be held next year, and say that there is definitely a growing interest from outside the island. Meanwhile, Ikaria has also caught the eye of a few celebrities – such as Jamie Oliver and Marcus Pearce – who have been filming their shows on the island. Watch this space for Ikaria’s New Age!