Our group of devoted friends who make up the Travel Bloggers Greece team just enjoyed one of the most usual invitations we have ever had. But it was also one of the most difficult of assignments: what can we offer to an island that already has everything?
Kimolos is a pleasingly low-profile island in the Cyclades. Immaculate, spare, rugged- we found it in it everything we love about a Cycladic island, free of the stuff we could do without. The people were much like their island: also immaculate – of spirit – in their warmth and their lack of pretension, spare in the enviable simplicity of their lifestyle, and rugged in the fullness of their embrace of the terrain, high winds, and willful seas.
We were not wholly unprepared for the intensity of the place. The team of the Afentakeio, our kind hosts, and by the end of the trip friends from whom we loathed to part, met us in Piraeus to board the Korais. Among them was Dimitris Ventouris (recognizable at once as a Kimoliatis by his surname, which he shares with much of the island), historian and guide. Nearly his first words to us were these: “Don’t think of Kimolos so much as an island – it is, of course, also an island. But first and foremost, Kimolos is a volcano.”
This is an extraordinary piece of geology. We docked near midnight, loaded up some rental cars, and went to our lodgings. Our group was staying in Prassa, at Kimolio Gi (Kimolian Earth).
The narrow road was rough, and unlit- but Kimolos has its own natural glow. Kimilio Gi is also a substance- a chalk of the palest ivory. It by a moon two days away from fullness, it glowed. Our friends took off for Kimolos Blue, by Aliki beach- a drive equally beautiful.
We awake to brightness: the light of Greece has met its match in the earth of Kimolos. This white earth was everywhere- chalk cliffs and roads that that look fresh with virgin snow. Kimolos is so pure that even the dust is gorgeous, like a sweet coating of powdered sugar you’d hate to wash from the car.
The first Kimolian we meet – apart from Giorgos who waited for us by the roadside in darkness to show us to our cottage – was Kyria Odigitria. We would soon find that – charming as the rooms and cottages of Kimolia Gi may be, and fine and generous the traditional dishes that make up the generous homemade breakfast – it’s actually Kyria Odigitria herself who is the draw. The warmth of her greeting, the quiet pride in her island, the excellence of her cooking outshine all the other very great chams. A young couple at the next table is thrilled to be here- “We’ve been trying to stay at Kyria Odigitria’s for three years and finally we found an opening!” People make the places we visit, and Kimolos is no exception. Beautiful as the island may be, the character of the people will leave the most lasting impression.
What’s for breakfast? “Ladenia”- the island’s crisp, moist flatbread, topped with tomato and onion. This is a very dry island; whatever resourceful produce manages to thrive here, thrives in style, its flavors concentrated under the Cycladic sun. There’s also a selection of jams by her own hand, cheese from their own herd of goats, and rice pudding likewise from their own goats’ milk. We would like to linger. We can’t, and set off sated though the landscape.
We meet at the main church, with a familiar name- Panagia Odigitria The Holy Virgin as Spiritual Guide. Built in the 1870’s, it is proportionally and stylistically like Athens’ main cathedral, sized to the island. Throughout our stay, Panagia Odigitria will indeed guide us- its blue dome is visible from many spots.
The priest joins us on our tour, and opens the Chorio’s lovely churches to us. We end at the oldest- the Church of the Nativity, built in the 16th century. Christmas Eve here is said to be very special.
After this, we go the archaeological museum to learn more about the island’s history. A Cycladic figurine- a violin shaped human- is in a display case. The original is in the Archeology museum in Athens. There was lots of stuff here- accounts of travelers of centuries past talk of riches to find. And speaking of riches, we learn the other names of the island in the past- Echinoussa, and also Argentiera- land of silver- for the play of light of the setting sun on the chalk.
And more riches- this time of the sea. When you return from Kimolos, apparently people will ask you’ “Did you eat at Beba’s?” The restaurant Sardis is never called Sardis. As Kimolio Gi is known as Odigitria’s, Sardis is known as “Mpempa” (Beba) for the founding chef, who now oversees the place run by her son Themis, with his wife Anna in the kitchen, making both Beba’s well-known dishes – like the langoustine linguini – and her own additions.
Mussels in a creamy broth with star anise were subtle and sumptuous.
The shadows have grown a little long so we head to the beach- Mavrospilia- named for a cave that can be reached by a swim. The waters are choppy, but after some photos in the sea we decide to set off for it.
Surreal looking rock formations jut out from the water at a safe distance. Some of us turn back trying to round the first cove; the rest return safely after an hour.
Salty and glad, we descend on the hospitality of Kyrios Apostolos of “I Kali Kardia”- the good heart, indeed. An institution in Kimolos since 1920, it is famous for its home cooking- goat with “ladera” (vegetables cooked until melting with oil and tomato), and a moussaka of perfection.
We had said not to feed us too much after a long lunch and we just wanted to say hello. Kyrios Apostolos, generous and hospitable, did not listen to us, and filled the table. We are everything in sight it was so delicious.
Wind shapes the island’s days, ours no exception. We’re to tour the remote sections of coast by boat with Vangelis. Will we though? It’s put off until the following day, and we swap days instead.
The island is known for beaches. Like most of life’s best things, the better ones are the ones you have to work for. Or in this case walk for, after an exciting drive.
We’re in the hands of Fotis of the Kimolistes- a club enhances life on the island for both locals and visitors with a variety of initiatives.
Famished from the hike, we’d have been happy with something less refined than the dishes we find at Meltemi View and Taste, Young (really- he’s just 24) chef Augustos Galanos stuns us with refined, sophisticated dishes that faithfully showcase his island’s culinary traditions and ingredients, with an inventive twist.
True to its name, the view is wonderful, but we have only eyes for the gorgeous dishes in front of us.
Is it Vangelis, or a calm sea that remain elusive? The anticipated trip is again put off, and we set off for the Chorio instead.
We haven’t seen nearly enough of it yet, and it promises another elusive commodity- an internet connection (high winds play havoc with communication- even face to face, it is as though the thoughts are swept from our heads before they can reach our lips). We’re all bloggers and travel writers, so exotic as the setting is and as excellent a time as we’re having, we’re all at work too. Stavento’s, the film-set perfect café just outside the main church, becomes our office, and Stavros the owner our host. He’s playing Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and it’s a perfect fit for the island and the day. Some of us have had the foresight to dress well and do photoshoots in town.
Then we have the nicest visit with the Mayor, Konstantinos Ventouris.
All work and no play makes for dull posts though, so we spend the afternoon at the Bonatsa beach together, doing more talking than swimming.
The Kimolia Gi party- Anthomeli and Eikones and Psithyroi- had left long before, so I shower (my first since our arrival- the salt is so pure I haven’t wanted to wash it off yet. Besides, the Cyclades inspire a Bohemian nonchalance) at the passion girls’ (Passion for Greece and Travel Passionate) homestead- Kimolia Blue.
It looks like a little Cycladic village, arranged around a chic swimming pool, close to Bonatsa beach. We convene at tables nestled in the sand at To Kyma, in the harbor at Psathi.
The tables have small white lamps and the effect of the white tablecloths against the sandy beach is elegant and romantic. As if more romance were necessary, the full moon rises over the sea just as we have our first cool sips of wine.
The food is perfect, authentic, and elegantly presented. The highlight is fried fresh red mullet- fresh like that day, tight there know the fisherman fresh. I lick the bones when I think no one is looking.
Vangelis and calm seas continue to elude us.
But there is another much anticipated item on our list- a stone formation popularly described as a giant mushroom, called “Skiadi”. It’s a strange formation. But, like most such destinations, it’s about the journey. Getting there is another challenge. One of our cars gets stuck on the gravel at a dangerous curve. To the rescue? None other than the deputy Mayor arrives to help us out of our predicament!
The hike is long but fairly even, an agreeable challenge with unbelievable scenery- we can see the sea on both sides at this narrow part of the island.
Oh- want to hear a Kimolean joke? Kyrios Dimitris Ventouris, our guide and friend, had us in stitches. We’re looking at Milos, and we can plainly make out the town of Apollonia. “Why is Apollonia called the prettiest village on Milos?” He asks us. “Because it has a view of Kimolos!”
Dusty, we head back to our side of the island, to try Prassa Beach, with sands, if possible, even whiter than others we have seen so far. We frolick and read and share note on our favorite things about Kimolos and the people. Everything, it turns out, has enchanted us, the spirit of the place most of all.
We have a special treat in the evening. The Kimolistes- that group who is dedicated to culture and beauty on the island that Fotis does- have arranged a screening of a film for us! Everyone is invited. Kilims cover stones to make benches and candles flicker from lanterns are strung up among the crumbling stone walls. On an excellent quality screen, we watch the French comedy Dinner Le Cons.
Charming Makis of Agora treats us to drinks in the evening at his delightful “Agora”, with candlelit tables nestled in the main small alley.
There’s something about the atmosphere of the island- maybe the wind? The relaxed and welcoming people? The delicious food? Anyway we have all totally forgotten what day it is. And we don’t care. I actually have a flight later today from Athens to Thessaloniki. I won’t be on it.
Instead, we greet a relatively calm morning sea with promise. We are going on a cruise. We depart for nearby Polyaigos- it means “many goats.” We see no goats. But we do see a shepherd, who makes some excellent cheese that we buy later that night- delicious proof of goats on Plyaigos.
We also put the anchor down in hidden coves- once with a mega yacht as our companion, but usually utterly, completely, blissfully alone. The colors of the water are so intense it looks like someone has been a little overly enthusiastic with photoshop. That’s the Kimolia Gi- the chalky earth blending with the white sand to make a white canvas to brighten the waters from beneath.
Rock formations are other-worldy- like unbelievably beautiful science fiction sets. It is the most peaceful and beautiful day any of us can remember, and we have all grown so close on the trip it is wonderful to share the experience.
More nice time together are ahead though! We were sorry to say goodbye to our kind hosts at the Kimolia Gi and the Kimolos Blue. But we are about to have the most special night of the trip – we are staying at the Afentakeio itself. Once the Afentakis Mansion, this great philanthropist of Kimolos intended it to be used as a retirement home. It served as a retirement home until recently, and now will continue to serve the community after a restoration. The building is full of character, commanding the greatest view of the sea from its veranda, with a shaded courtyard in back. It was an honor to stay in the home of the man whose generosity brought us to the island to share our experiences.
What do we do on our last night together on the island? We have a wonderful invitation- it is the celebration of Agios Apostolos, and Kyrios Apostolos has invited us again. It is a pleasure to celebrate with him!
We see him the next say when he treats us to farewell lunch at Postali- in view of the boat that will regrettably carry us away, until next time, which we all hope will be soon.
Text by Amber Charmei of Provocolate
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