Folegandros Travel Guide
Folegandros is an "untouched piece of true Greece" with a relaxing atmosphere, hospitality and nice beaches, close to Santorini and Milos. The Island is small, but large enough to make one feel in peace with the human dimension with all at hand. It has a landscape of dry hills with kilometers of dry stone walls over a deep blue sea. "On Folegandros, you realize you don't need a lot to be happy", as it is written in an article of Conde Nast Traveler, and it is probably this scent of life coming back to you that has transformed the island into a very fashionable destination these days.
GEOGRAPHY - CLIMATE
Folegandros is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea that, together with Sikinos, Ios, Anafi and Santorini, forms the southern part of the Cyclades islands. Its located between Sikinos and Milos, and 22 NW from Santorini and belongs to the Thira regional unit. Its surface area is 32.216 square kilometres and it has 765 inhabitants. Its shores are steep and form many capes such as Kastelli, Kyparissos, Aspounda, Vitsentzos, Grota, Livadi, Livadaki and others.
The island, which is also called Polyandros or Polykandros, has two large settlements. The capital is Chora with 316 inhabitants, built on the eastern side, at a height of 200m. The other settlement, Ano Meria, is located northern with a population of 291 inhabitants and is the most traditional part of the island. It is the rural settlement with the houses to be at a distance and create the so-called "Themones" (which means haystack). Smaller settlements are Petoussi and the port of Karavostasis, at the southeast end of the island, which is 102 miles from Piraeus and 32 miles from Naxos. The inhabitants of the island are called Folegandrites or Folegandrini and especially the ones from Chora, Choraites (male) and Choraitisses (female).
The climate of Folegandros is dry, with extremely few rains (for a Mediterranean climate). The island is extremely exposed throughout the year in strong northerly wind. A characteristic feature of its intensity is the slope that the island's trees have taken to the south. Especially in winter, the wind reach an intensity that even obstructs the approach by ships. This has a negative impact on the prospects of building various facilities - especially port and agricultural. In order to protect the crops, terraces have been built, while the protection of the fruit-bearing is made by 2 meter high circular walls per tree. The southern wind is scarce on the island and it's happening mostly in spring. When this happens, it is usually accompanied by fog which is more intense on land than in the sea.
The history of Folegandros begins in very old times and usually follows the common history of the Cyclades. The first mention of the island is made in Greek mythology, where it is reported that it was first inhabited by shepherds of Western Greece who were looking for pasture. And of course, because these shepherds were men, the island was named Polyandros ("poly" means many in Greek and "andres" which means men). An echo of this ancient name is the name of the island as Polycandro, as the sailors used to call it.
Afterwards, according to Greek mythology, the Minoans of Crete came to the island, led by the son of King Minos, Folegandros of Crete, whose name was given to the island in later times until today. According to historical texts, the island was a shelter of the persecuted Cretans.
Another explanation about Folegandros' name is that it owes its name to the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians, renowned merchants in the early years of the 1st millennium BC, used Folegandros as a stop in their commercial trips throughout the Mediterranean and called it "phelekgundari", which means "stony earth" in their language, a term that accurately assigns the morphology of the island. Besides, "iron land", due to the roughness of its terrain, is also called by the ancient writer Aratos.
From inscriptions found on the island, the inhabitants during the historical period must have been Dorians of the Aegidae Clan from Santorini. In 425 BC it is alleged that it was already occupied and subjected by the Athenians, paying an annual tax of 2,000 drachmas, according to an inscription found on the Acropolis of Athens. A second historical reference comes from an inscription found in Delphi despite the Siphnian treasure of the 4th-3rd century BC. that Folegandros allegedly contributed financially to the repair of the Temple of Apollo or to be a colony founded by the Order of the Oracle of Delphi.
The Romans used the island as a place of exile. On Frankish rule, Folegandros belonged to the Duchy of the Aegean. The Founder of the Duchy Markos Sanoudos conquered it in 1212 and built a large fortress at the highest point of Chora, where the ancient city is. The island remained under the Venetian rule until 1566 leaving a nearly deserted island to Turkish pirates. In 1617 the Turks conquered the island and ruled until 1821, when the Greek Revolution started. In 1715 Folegandros suffered pillage and devastation by Pasha Tzanum Hotza, who suppressed its inhabitants.
During the period of the displacement of political prisoners, i.e. between 1928 and 1971, 29 of the Aegean islands were used as places of exile and prison, one of which was Folegandros. In fact, in 1937, the dictatorial regime of 4 August (known also as the regime of Metaxa) set the islands of Agios Efstratios, Anafi, Sifnos and Folegandros as places of exile "for communists of the minor degree of threat", leaving important intellectuals as political prisoners on Folegandros during that period, such as the famous writer and critic Fulha Chatzidakis, the lawyer and deputy Miltiadis Porfirogenis etc.
What is really interesting, however, about Folegandros is that it managed to be transformed from an island of political exiles to a "must-see" holiday destination within two decades. Or, as perfectly described by Conde Naste Traveller, " Folegandros offers the ideal Greek hideaway"...
ACTIVITIES - LEISURE
Folegandros is the ideal island to enjoy a peaceful vacation as traffic is not allowed in the three villages, giving a sense of peace and even though there are several beaches, the most beautiful ones must be reached by sea, with one of the several bus boats taking you there past beautiful rock formations and through crystal clear waters. There are three main villages on the island, Chora (the commercial center of the island), Karavostassi (the island's harbor) and Ano Meria (the traditional part of the island).
Chora is one of the oldest traditional medieval towns in the Cyclades. It is the capital town of the island and it's been built partially in a Venetian fortress (called "Kastro"), which can be seen by all travelers, since it is on the top of the hill at 200m above sea level. The buildings stand close to one another creating the external wall of the fortress.
Closed to car and motorcycle traffic, Chora has a unique centre of three squares in a row (Pounda square, Ntounavides square and Piazza square), something we do not find elsewhere in the Cyclades. Walk along the cobblestone narrow streets, past white houses with multi-colored doors and windows, timeless creations of the traditional Cycladic architecture. If you need to take a rest, plane trees will offer you their cool, welcome shade. Wait until the sun sets into the eternal blue of the Aegean and join the locals in the village’s squares. Chora is described as one of the most aesthetically picturesque, traditional and romantic villages of its kind and the view from there is supposed to be second only to that of Santorini. Bougainvilleas leaning over the balconies, sugar-cube whitewashed houses, and sheer cliff drops convey the island’s ethereal, yet wild, beauty.
Starting from Poúnda square, one could pass through the Castle, which is basically the oldest part of Chora, and then find the path that leads all the way to The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary (the walking distance is approximately 15 minutes).
The Kastro is a medieval fortress at the top of the town which dates from the 13th Century. It is basically the oldest part of the Chora. It was built to protect the island’s inhabitants from enemy invasions and has been inhabited continuously since its establishment. Its northern side is built at the edge of a cliff. The houses, some of which are over one thousand years old, are inhabited and maintained in good condition.
The Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is the largest church on Folegandros and it is built on a rock above Chora, probably on the site of an ancient temple, building materials from which were used for its construction. One can see ancient inscriptions, sculptures and statue bases in the courtyard and the interior of the church. The temple used to belong to a nunnery. There is a marble epigraph dating from 1687 that refers to the renovation of the temple. The church took on its current form during the restructuring that began in 1816 and was completed in 1821. The icon of the Virgin Mary that can be seen in the church is linked to pirate stories and legends of Folegandros. Therefore, following the island's legends and tradition, at Easter the icon is carried to all the homes of the island. From the courtyard of the church one can enjoy an amazing, panoramic view of the whole island, its steep cliffs and, of course, the sunset, having this unique feeling of being "the king of the world"...
The second largest settlement in Folegandros is built on the north-western edge of the island, covering an area 3 kilometres long. It is an authentic island village, where the style of life is still mainly agricultural. The houses in Ano Meria, called themonies, are not simply homes; they are small autonomous agricultural and animal-breeding units, suitable for the needs of the closed farming economy that dominated life in the village up to a few years ago. In this windswept and arid landscape, under very difficult weather conditions, most of the households are still largely autonomous with respect to their agricultural and animal produce. The architectural peculiarity of the village, the preservation of ancient traditions by its inhabitants and the simplicity of their lifestyles, make Ano Meria one of the most authentic villages in the Cyclades. It is 6 kilometres away from Hora, and there is a regular bus service there and back. One shouldn't forget to visit the Ecological and Folklore Museum and find the traditional pasteli workshop.
Hiking - Trekking
The best way to explore Folegandros is on foot. One feature of the island is the pleasant atmosphere that invites you to walk. The island’s small size in combination with the well-preserved network of old paved streets and footpaths is an attraction for hikers, allowing them to experience the riches of Folegandros’s historical character. The network of selected footpaths, with a total length of 20 kilometres, crosses a large part of the island's countryside and constitutes the Footpaths of Historical and Cultural Interest, which lead to destinations with a particular historical-cultural or environmental importance. The consequence of that is that everybody walks and hikes even along the paved roads, rather than using cars, scooters or buses. One may trek from as little as 15 min. to 4 hours. There are many stops available on the way for someone to bathe, and choose to return via a different route. All routes are self-guided. For more info about the most attractive trekking routes and footpaths: https://www.folegandros.gr/en/the-island/paths-trails/ and https://www.folegandros.com/trekking/
Scuba Diving / Free Diving / Snorkelling
The underwater world of Folegandros hides enchanting images. Caves, reefs, walls and the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean Sea compose a magnificent diving destination. There are numerous diving spots around the island, each one distinguished by a unique feature. Daily diving trips are arranged with the inflatable diving boat for certified scuba divers and free divers. For more info: https://sea-u.com/
Chrysospilia is a natural monument of great interest, and not just to archaeologists and speleologists. Situated below the monastery of the Virgin Mary on a rocky beach at 30m above sea level with impressive stalactites and stalagmites, the cave is globally unique for the ancient male Greek names written on its walls and roof, dated back to the 4th century BC. Nicagoras, Themistocles, Cleon, Callimachus, Pythagoras, and Lysicrates are some of the names carved on the cave walls. According to some theories, the cave was used as a worship site where ceremonies for young men coming of age used to take place. Unfortunately, the cave is accessible only by the sea and has been temporarily unavailable for visitors due to archaeological research in progress, so try asking if it has opened for visitors.
BEST BEACHES ON FOLEGANDROS
Folegandros has several beaches, both sandy and rocky over a variety of blue nuances. Not all of them are easy to reach: either you need to walk a bit or rent the bus boats in Karavostassi (the port) and Angali.
Two beautiful beaches are easy to access by bus of car/moto: Karavostassi and the fantastic sandy Angali. Our first suggestion is to get a map, take a snapshot of the bus schedule from and to the Chora, and always remember to take along water and snacks.
From Karavostassi one may reach Vardia Beach, Latinaki, Vitzenzou, Pountaki and the beach of Livadi, where there is a camping. Moreover, from there, one can take the bus boat to Kátergo, the most beautiful beach on the island, with thin pebbles and crystal-clear waters. From the beautiful beach of Angali, one should take the bus boat and go to the Agios Nikolaos beach and the very beautiful Livadaki beach. And if a visitor gets thirsty or hungry after all that swim, on the right hand side when watching Angali beach, there is Blue Star hotel that also serves coffee, apart from the view being offered from there, and the fish tavern Psaromilingas.
At Karavostasi, the port, one finds a fairly long stoned beach, tree lined, and with clear light blue waters, and Vardia Beach, East of the port with brilliant waters facing SouthEast, and the way to other small sandy beaches. 10' by car from Ano Meria, there is also Agios Georgios Beach, a sandy, secluded beach. Folegandros beaches are not equipped and neither will anyone bother or be bothered by modern noisy water sports. This is the island of peace and to fall in love! And If one forgets to take a bathing suit, no problem: naturists are welcomed. For more info on how to get to each beach, one could visit the official website of the Municipality of Folegandros (https://www.folegandros.gr/en/list-category/beaches/ ).
LOCAL PRODUCTS - FOOD
One in Folegandros, one should try all traditional dishes and products. Matsata, souroto, kalassouna and karpouzenia are the most famous ones.
Matsata is the handmade Folegandros' traditional pasta. They look very much like hylopites (a specific kind of noodles), but they are cooked as soon as they are fleshed out and have a dreamy fresh taste. They are not sold in the shops, but they are found in the shops of the island where they serve them either with red sauce or with broiled meat, rooster or rabbit. The best traditional matsata is served at Irini's place, the traditional kafeneio in Ano Meria, but if you'd like to combine it with fish, you should visit Zefiros Anemos in Chora on the edge of the village, to have the famous variation of matsata with crawfish or lobster that is made there. Moreover, your best option for breakfast or clever variations of traditional Greek dishes in Chora is Pounda, with its peaceful and quiet garden and the ceramics on the table made by Takis' (the owner's) Danish wife, Lisbet.
Souroto is a creamy goat cheese with pepper flavor. It is put on salads and in all pies in Folegandros, such as the famous kalassouna, which is a pie made of souroto and onions.
After your meal, you should have a karpouzenia as a dessert, a sweet pie made with the flesh of watermelon (called "karpouzi" in Greek), honey and sesame seeds. And if you want a beer at some point during the day, you should try Katsika beer from Folegandros local microbrewery.
HOW TO GET TO FOLEGANDROS
Folegandros has no airport, so the only way to get there is by boat. If you don't choose to travel from Athens and then take one of the ferries from Piraeus (around 10 hours with the conventional ferry and 4 hours with a fast ferry), the closest airport to the island is Santorini airport, where direct and connection flights from all over the world travel, and take the ferry from there. It should also be noted that Folegandros is connected by ferry with many other islands, apart from Santorini, such as Naxos, Syros, Paros, Milos, Naxos, Amorgos etc.
Inland Transportation of Folegandros
Apart from walking, the bus is the main transportation means of Folegandros, to take you either to the port or to the various unpaved roads that lead to the beaches. In addition, to reach the various beaches several “bus” boats depart daily form the port of Karavostasis and Angali. Of course, there is taxi and car and motorbike rental on the island.
Important note: Remember, there are no banks at Folegandros. You may use the two cash machines (ATMs) and change travelers’ checks at the post office. However, due to high traffic at summer period, the ATMs can't meet the needs of visitors for cash. Because of that, in addition to the fact that credit cards are not accepted everywhere, you are strongly advised to have enough cash for your vacation.