Folegandros: Come for the cliffs, stay for the goats

Island number two has been a regular nominee on a variety of different “best of” lists: Nicest villages in Europe, Hidden gems of the Greek Islands, Places that don’t skimp on the white paint under any circumstances so, yes, tiny Folegandros certainly came highly recommended. I mean, what is more exclusive than a list on the internet, right? Either way, we were pretty excited to see it, having seen a few photos of its crazy cliffs and spectacular white hilltop Church of Panagia which, granted, is another item not exactly rare in the Greek Islands, although some, like this one, are a little larger, a little more popular, and have a bit more impressive locations. Others may have a slightly whiter cross or a more durable goat fence, but we were saving those highlights for other islands, so incredible views would have to do for now.

View from the Top

The hotel we booked didn’t hurt our anticipation level any either, located a few minutes’ walk up the hill from town and with great views in its own right, as well as boasting a pretty kick-ass infinity pool just outside our door, and an equally kick-ass herd of goats just outside our bedroom window. Frankly, constantly having to choose between the two haunted our days. Our terrace (and pool, and loungers) overlooked the distant but still noticeable big church and the diligently painted switch-backing trail to reach it, as well as the small main town of Chora. The main town on almost every island is known as Chora, along with one or two other names, either because of some ancient dispute based on a long, complex history of violence and sexual frustration, or maybe just because they have trouble deciding and are patiently waiting for one of the names to really catch on. Either way, if you ever forget the name of the place you are trying to find, “Chora” wouldn’t be the worst guess.

Ampelos Resort

The town itself is a simply adorable, a description I attempt to use in the straightest way possible, full of little white buildings with colourful shutters and bright bougainvillea, narrow alleys leading to more little alleys, or “the” bakery, or in some cases to nowhere at all, interspersed with several tiny, docile squares shaded by trees and decked out with tables, chairs and every kind of pork souvlaki imaginable. Well, really just the one kind, if we’re being honest. Walking around in town, generally mesmerized by the overall tranquility and bevy of lazy cats, you wouldn’t even realize that the whole place is actually built on the edge of steep cliffs dropping precipitously to the sea several hundred metres below. It is only once you embark on the half-hour climb to the church or tackle one of the island’s many scenic hiking trails that you get the necessary angles to realize that one edge of town is completely comprised of the kind of empty space that could only possibly hope to levitate a coyote for, say, 2 to 3 seconds, tops.

Square number one

The rest of the island is equally impressive despite its small size. To put it in perspective, consider that one day we took the bus as far as it would take us to the other side of the island, getting out only once the driver stopped, shut off the engine, then gave us a long, baleful look, much like that of a disdainful waitress being asked “what’s good here?”, then walked all the way back to Chora, winding back and forth from one side of the island to the other in order to garner the best of all possible views, and still the whole journey only took us about 2 hours. Plenty of wide open spaces, dry rolling hills covered in scrub brush and ineffectively low stone walls, all with the deep blue sea always in sight. We were joined on this little adventure, as well as the hike to -, lazing at -, and subsequent swim off – Angali Beach the following day, by Katie, a friend from Guatemala who just happened to find herself one island over in Paros and decided the coincidence, and our riveting company, was simply too good to pass up.  Plus that time we spent a couple hours drinking beer next to the pool, and a lot of meals, and the ferry to Milos, etc. It is always fun meeting up with friends on the road, and even more when it feels like such an unlikely place to cross paths.

Starting our descent to Angali

Altogether, Folegandros was quite the find. Stunningly gorgeous, far quieter than Naxos, infinitely quieter than Athens, even marginally quieter than Tampa Bay Rays game, and with just the right amount of restaurants, fruit shops and picturesque alleys. Of course, being there at the tail end of the season meant that the already limited selection of businesses was rapidly thinning out further as many places started to shut down for the year, plus almost everything also shut down for siesta in the afternoon, or for whatever it is the Greek’s call a siesta, and this was seemingly the one thing the low-key folks of Folegandros really take seriously. Enough so that “quiet time” at our hotel was, rather than the more traditional 10 or 11 pm, very strictly in place between 2:30 pm and 5:30 pm. A nappers paradise, that.

The Kastro

Of course, it wasn’t all utopia and mediocre beer and cheap goat meat. Just when I thought I had everything under control, I was in the bathroom attempting to poke my head out the window to, you know, check the wind, with the bathroom window being the obvious best choice for this sort of thing, and carefully ducking around a wet shirt hanging to dry from the shower rod, or maybe not so carefully in hindsight, when I went right ahead and stepped directly into the towel rack, eye socket first. I ended up nursing a tiny, eminently embarrassing black eye for the next several days, but one which probably would have been worse had I not had a somewhat cool Snickers bar sitting in the fridge seemingly waiting for just such an opportunity. I’d like to believe it took down the swelling a little bit and, in any case, it tasted simply fabulous after I was done. Not to mention, one day the wind blew my sock off the chair into the pool. But, really, that can’t entirely be blamed on Folegandros, and in the end the impressive scenery and tranquil atmosphere still made it our favourite stop along this trip so far. How long will that title hold up? Time, and at least three more Greek islands, will tell.

The big picture

Next up, the legendary isle of Milos, former home of the Venus de Milo, still lobbying the rigid authorities at the Louvre to return to the rustic subsistence farms of her childhood, if only for a short visit. So far, no go.

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