Nestled in the heart of the Cyclades, lying halfway between Naxos and Santorini, is the picturesque island of Ios. Boasting pristine beaches and a wild, hilly interior, Ios is one of those island gems that visitors from abroad often overlook in favor of its more hedonistic neighbors, Santorini and Mykonos. But with its charming, whitewashed buildings and rugged coastline, Ios offers the quintessential Greek island experience.
In a recent article by the popular UK newspaper “The Sun,” Ios is praised for its “stunning secluded beaches,” sumptuous local cuisine, and budget-friendly accommodation, perfect for “party hopping tourists” and discerning travelers looking for a more laidback island vacation without the crowds.
“Behind the beach, hills with timeless farm terraces, twisty goat paths and just a smattering of hotels glinting in the sun whisper: ‘Unspoilt Greece,’” the article starts.
For those in the know, the Cycladic island boasts some of Greece’s most spectacular beaches, including the “white crescent sands of Mylopotas,” “heart-stopping” Tripiti and Manganari, where French director Luc Besson shot the award-winning 1988 film, “Le Grand Bleu.” The island is also home to a network of well-maintained hiking paths that meander across its picturesque interior. Visitors can explore historic churches (according to tradition, there are 365 churches on the island) and hilltop villages like Hora, with its narrow cobblestone streets lined with boutiques, cafés, and traditional tavernas serving mouthwatering Greek cuisine.
The island is also home to a plethora of trendy nightclubs and music bars that change gear from season to season, including the famous FarOut Club “of hippie legend” at Mylopotas Beach, “while hipster restaurants done out in wood and natural fabrics serve seafood straight from the boat,” the article adds.
More than just a “party island”
Ios first became a popular travel destination for young hippies in the 1970s, searching for an alternative to Crete. Initially drawn to its chilled-out vibe, the island remained relatively low-key until the 1990s, when it started catering for a new demographic of young partygoers. Nightclubs soon popped up along the main drag in Hora, and visitors would hop over on the ferry from nearby Santorini and Mykonos.
While Ios still has a reputation for being a “party island,” especially in the high season of July and early August, the island takes on a whole new dynamic in the so-called shoulder seasons of May-June and September-October, when daily temperatures drop down to the mid-20s, offering visitors the chance to explore its lesser-known treasures.
“The island scrubs up a treat, like a naughty teen who tidied the house before Mum and Dad got home,” the article notes. “Not a beer can or cigarette butt in sight.”
To cater for this steady flow of off-season visitors, including “young couples, parents with pre-schoolers, empty-nesters and those of more advancing years,” the islanders are opening an increasing number of boutique hotels.
One such place is the family-run Galaxy Hotel, “five minutes by flip-flops from Mylopotas.” The owner, Antonis Mettos, is also the current president of Ios’ tourism committee is seeking to extend Ios’ holiday season beyond just the “party months.”
“Yes, we are a party island, but we want to be for everyone,” he told The Sun.
“We’re building small, traditional, family-run hotels so you see the face of the local people,” he continued. “Old men and women are working in the same hotels as their children — and you hear their stories.”
Watersports, hiking, and ancient ruins
Ios offers something for every traveler and caters to all budgets. Fans of watersports will not be disappointed. According to the article, Mylopotas Watersports offers a range of boat rentals and private speedboat tours, as well as “scuba, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, kayaking, windsurfing and tube and banana rides.”
The island is also great for hiking, inviting visitors to explore ancient ruins, mountain chapels, and deserted beaches. Local guide George Dimitropoulos, a former Greek special forces soldier, has set up a charity “Ios Paths” to organize volunteers to clear and maintain the islands’ ancient footpaths, which are digitally archived. His book, “Discovering Ios By Its Footpaths,” published in 2021, describes not only the island’s hiking network, but also its history, local customs, and traditions.
Two points of interest for history buffs are the ruins of the Bronze Age settlement at Skartos and a hilltop tomb that, according to legend, is the final resting of the ancient Greek poet, Homer.
Last but not least, the food. The Sun article recommends a number of tavernas and eateries, offering well-priced feasts – “Ios meal portions are, well, big, fat and Greek.”