Most of us have yielded to an island’s spell at one time in our lives, but it is surprising how many people claim that Tilos, a small island in the Dodecanese Archipelago, captured their heart immediately. Is it the first view of the harbour of Livadia, enwrapping you in its arms as the ferry approaches shore? Is it the joy and cacophony that erupts when the ferry arrives as people greet or say
goodbye to loved ones, as shipments are exchanged and transportation arranged? Or that one’s first steps on the island have you sailing past the entire ferry slip and fleet of yachts quayside and onto the path that leads into a small fig-bedecked square with a few restaurants and taverns dotted round it? That children’s voices playing on swings nearby or those of the Tilly-hatted hikers holding court at a taverna table are the only sounds you hear, apart from the odd truck rumbling up the hill past the square? That a series of stone alleys and staircases fanning out from the village square have you, in a leap and a bound, at your destination’s door? That the sheer bijoux-size of the island and Livadia says, “I’m embraceable. I’m approachable. Stay awhile.”
Livadia, the Village by the Sea
Perhaps the greatest attraction of Tilos for the seasoned traveller is that, apart from its reputation as a walker’s paradise, it is slightly off the tourist radar. Sure, its main town comes equipped with the usual smorgasborg of pensions, apart-hotels, restaurants, bakeries and mini-markets but the infrastructure is small and the scale is slight and inconspicuous, with white-washed hotels merging with
local residences in a harmonious gaggle of harbour-side buildings. A stone-lain, lamp-lit esplanade knits the sprawling harbour together and alongside it lies one of the most beautiful (Byzantine) churches as does a silversmith’s shop and a tourist information office. The latter is more in keeping with a park board office, informing you of the special protected ecological status of the island (SPA) due to the extraordinary diversity of the island’s flora and fauna, and rarity of a few of its nesting bird species.
“My Heart is Full of Thyme”
And the island’s magic does not stop portside. Two walks, one that peels north and one that peels south from the town, are groomed dirt tracks perched high on vertiginous hillsides with the jelloed blue-green layers of the Mediterranean below you, and hints of white sails and offshore islands beyond completing the panorama. Within a couple of kilometres the northern path has you descending to a secluded bay with a deserted beach spread before you, the southern finds you stumbling upon the ruins of an abandoned village. Given that there are 25 beaches only accessible by foot, seven Knights of Hospitaller castles, 300 chapels and three monasteries within the 12×5 mile dimensions of the island, walks on the island are richly rewarded, The two main roads on the island – one leading to its 100 person capital, and beyond that, a perfectly preserved Byzantine monastery, and the other to the island’s landfill – are virtually traffic-free giving hikers/bikers a couple of paved footpaths to add to the island’s rich lexicon of hi
kes and mountain bike trails. A
few days on the island can be lost to setting out with lunch and a water bottle, stopping to swim (au natural, if you wish!), converse with the island goats (whose bloodline is one of the purest in Greece), patronize an artist, ring a Greek church bell or two, swing precariously close to cliff’s edge atop castle walls, scout for vista-popping cafes for afternoon limonadas and Mythos (Greek beer), imagine the worlds that have travelled the donkey trails to and from the now mostly abandoned villages and listened to the songs of native-born poet Erinna 2500 years hence and basked in the same aromatherapy provided by the thyme & sage which still blanket the hillsides of Tilos.
Ghost Towns, Caves, Castles & Fortified Monasteries
Not to be missed is the now deserted village of Mikro Chorio – its buildings still largely erect but nestled almost imperceptibly
(apart from two beacons – the restored church, and the music bar that winds up in the summer) against a hillside not far from the main town; Harkadio Cave, where the remains of pygmy elephants were found; the ruins of the Knights Castle above
Megalo Horio which commands a fiercesome view of the surrounding sea and islands; and above all, the famed monastery Moni Agiou Panteleimona on the far northwestern side of the island. You will be astounded at the dramatic ruggedness of this part of the island, with the road to the monastery winding past one staggering view after another to the cliff and canyon-sided monastery high above the Mediterranean. A remarkable structure – apparently disguised as a castle to deter Barbarossa and other pirates –
the Byzantine beauty has been lovingly restored. Think complete hexagonal shapes with a multitude of red-tiled domes. Take in the hidden treasures; the wine room, the monk’s quarters, the chapel, the garden, the spring with the holiest water on the island, the resident cats and dog, and of course, the inimitable view. And if you are really ambitious, return to Livadia via a rigorous hike from the monastery to Eristos beach, or by road bike – down the traffic-free circuitous mountain road with its brakeworthy views at every turn.
Beset by Beauty
So, if you are looking for a place that is both beguiling and calming, that challenges the fittest amongst us, is a haven for birdwatchers and other naturalists, bubbles with untold stories, that is at the epicentre of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and 2 ½ hours by ferry to an island even richer in documented history and today with an international airport – Rhodes – that guarantees sunshine, warm Greek hospitality, savoury food, time-honoured traditions, and a Greek’s healthy respect for one’s rights and freedoms, then Tilos is for you! See you on the trails!