Here lies harmony, here lies human scale.
Say ‘Greek island’, and most people picture one of the Cyclades (the ‘circling’ islands, surrounding sacred Délos): barren rocks rising from the bluest of seas, where crags spill over with villages of asymmetrical white houses, with a pocket-sized church squeezed in at every corner. Few places are so irresistibly stark and clear, so visually pure and honest, so sharply defined in light and shadow. The Cyclades are relatively small and numerous, and as you sail or look out to sea you can always see several floating on the horizon, beckoning, framing a sunset or a rosy-fingered dawn.
The light is so pure because the Aegean is fairly arid place, knocked about by winds. Winter, when many islanders take refuge in Athens, is plagued by the northerly voreas that turns ship schedules into a fictional romance. After March the sirocco warms islands still green from the winter rains. From July to September, when many of the Cyclades look parched, the meltémi from the Russian steppes huffs and puffs, providing essential natural air conditioning.
At the end of the Second World War, the population of the islands dropped to an all time low; it was simply too hard to make a living from the dry, rocky soil. Tourism of course waved its golden over the Aegean and changed all that. Mykonos is now the reigning queen of hip and cosmopolitan in Greece. Spectacular Santoríni on its volcanic caldera lures cruise ships and romantics: Párosand Náxos are great all-rounders with lovely beaches. There are unique islands such as Délos, now a fabulous outdoor archaeological museum, Syros with its stunning Neoclassical city of Ermoúpolis and Tínos with its dovecots and pilgrims. The Cyclades closest to Athens: Kéa, Kythnos and Ándros, have no airports, and are a bit hard to reach, and so have remained very Greek and authentic. Then a few islands come under the heading of ‘almost away from it all’: Folégandros, Mílos, Amorgós, Sérifos, Sífnos and the tiny, but fashionable ‘Back’ islands near Náxos: Koufoníssi, Schinoússa and Heráklia.
© Dana Facaros