Ikaria, named after Icarus of Greek mythology, located ten miles southwest of Samos in the Aegean Sea, is one of those unique, purely natural, unspoiled and unforgettable parts of the world. This pristine enclave of nature, culture and history is included in the world’s Blue Zone – identfied as an area where people live longer, healthier lives. One trip to the island and you will understand why it is a mecca for naturalists.
The topography of the island is a contrast between verdant slopes and barren, steep rocks. The island is predominantly mountainous, with lush green villages nestled on the plains along the coast. The beaches of Ikaria are varied, from remote sandy beaches where only pure nature is to be found, to cosmopolitan resort beaches in the few larger towns. The clarity and brilliance of the water is unparalleled, with the Ikarian Sea being one of the cleanest in the world. The most popular, sandy beaches are found on the north side of the island. Those on the south side tend to be less crowded, but consist of sand, rocks and pebbles along the shoreline.
The Castle of Koskina sits atop a mountain peak overlooking the village of Koskina. Built in the 10th century A.D.,this Byzantine Castle fortress is an idyllic representation of the deep historical ties that Ikaria has to the region. Built to protect against pirates and enemies, the castle is strategically positioned at the top of a steep mountain.
Drakano Fortress is another representation of the importance of the island. It is an Athenian watch tower built during the Hellenic period, dating back to the 4th Century during the reign of Alexander the Great. The forty-four foot high limestone tower served as an observation point, overlooking the traffic in the Aegean Sea between the island of Ikaria and Samos. It was part of a garrison and city that was known for its particularly strong wine.
Activities in Ikaria
Hiking is a big part of island life on Ikaria, and the many trails that crisscross the island are of special interest to nature lovers and hikers alike. The paths, known locally as monopatia, harken back to older times, making up a transportation web that connected the far flung villages, farm land and commercial centers of the island. Still in use today, these passageways connect the island’s commercial activity in the mountains to the ports along the sea coast.
The ‘Round of the Rahes On Foot’ embodies the importance of the monopatia. This self-guided tour starts in the village region of Christos-Raches. Forming a circle, the trail is 25 kilometers long, crossing all types of terrain, beginning at sea level to rise to an elevation of 500 feet. Hiking the trail will take you through brush, forest, farmland, stone paved mule tracks and dirt rounds. Every conceivable terrain is experienced, with breath taking vistas to be seen around each corner.
The Radio-energy Hot Springs of Ikaria are known to possess the world’s best healing qualities. Since the 1st century B.C. the hot springs at Therma have been the center for hydro-therapy, often mentioned in historical texts. Evidence of the springs are found among archeological ruins such as the Roman baths at Therma. Even today Therma remains the center for hydro-therapy on the island, with numerous guest houses catering to the practice. Outdoor, natural hydro-therapy is also popular. Along the coast there are several spots where the hot mineral springs flow into the sea, making it possible bath and enjoy the medicinal benefits of the springs.
There are several activities available to those looking for a little adventure while on the island. Winery tours are available for those who want to sample the excellent, strong local wine. Mountain biking and Jeep Safari tours are a great way to explore the mountainous terrain. Several water activities are also available, ranging snorkeling, surfing, windsurfing in Faros area and scuba diving on through to kayaking a sailing. Sailing the Aegean is a good way to explore the several bays and beaches unreachable by any other means, while viewing the indigenous sea mammals on the way.
It is a quick sea voyage to visit the islands of Samos and Fournoi. The islands of Patmos, and Lipsi are found just south of Ikaria, and are in the most beautiful part of the Aegean Sea.
It is not hard to see why Ikaria was voted the best Greek Island for nature hikers. There is so much to experience, and something for everyone on this 225 square kilometer island that it will have you coming back over and over again.