In our late teens, going to Ios for holidays was considered a milestone, like turning twenty. Going there meant you had done it all; you had partied hard –and survived. Ios is still affectionately called the “Island of Sin”. Every summer, throngs of teenagers from hard drinking countries (Scandinavian, Irish, British) flock to the island looking for some time in the sun, cheap drinks and uncomplicated happiness. Lately, local authorities have been trying to subtly change the image of the island in order to attract older –and less riotous– clientele. The island infrastructure has improved with some streets being paved and areas of interest restored. Ios too has featured in a movie; the Italian 2003 production Ginger and Cinnamon (original title Dillo con Parole Mie) in which two women of different age groups stop acting their age while holidaying on the island – a real shocker.
What to do
Most of the tourists who come to Ios are interested in the nightlife and never get to see Hora in the daytime; yet the capital is truly worth a day of exploring. In the narrow winding alleys women carry their groceries home followed by a hungry cat or two. In the small, tranquil squares old men sit at the traditional kafenio (coffee house) talking quietly. Housed in a neoclassical building the small Archaeological Museum (Tel: +30 22860 91246) exhibits prehistoric artefacts and inscriptions from the excavations conducted at the area of Skarkos, an impressive prehistoric settlement excavated at the top of a hill at the western part of the island. The tall walls of some buildings still survive, and archaeologists have collected a number of tools, pottery and other artefacts which have shed light at the long history of the island. In 2008, the restoration project was awarded the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage for its unobtrusive clean-up work, which highlighted the importance of the site without adding unnecessary buildings. The site is open to the public and has two entrances.
According to ancient Greek historian Herodotus, the famous poet Homer was buried in Ios, but there is no concrete evidence yet to support this claim. Nevertheless, locals will point to a tomb located at the northern edge of Ios, close to the beach of Plakotos. Just before you reach Plakoto, another path leads to an area where Hellenistic ruins were discovered. There’s a modern open air amphitheatre with amazing views of the island at the area of Tsoukalaria near Hora. The theatre, named after the Nobel prizewinning Greek poet Odysseas Elytis, was designed by German architect Peter Haupt and is built from local stones and marble. To find it, hike past the windmills of Hora. The theatre is rarely used, with the exception of an annual festival in honour of Homer.
Milopotas is a long sandy beach situated at the western coast of the island, in a deep cove. A light breeze creates ripples on the azure waters and if you are one of those rare types of tourist who wakes up before 2pm, you will probably have it all to yourself. In Milopotas (Milopotas Water Sports, Tel: +30 22860 91622, www.ios-sports.gr), Yalos and Manganari beach you can do scuba diving, wind-surfing, water-skiing, tubing, jet-skiing and wake boarding.
Yalos is the organised beach just right of the main port, Ormos, and is usually preferred by families and those who like water sports. If you continue walking for 20 more minutes, you will reach the much quieter Koumbara beach. Further out are the four coves that form Manganari beach, with shallow waters and a few thatched umbrellas. Close to Hora is the tiny cove of Valmas with enough sand to place five towels and a small taverna behind it to save the day when you feel hungry. To the north lies Agia Theodoti beach, a less crowded option, with sun loungers and cafés. At the hill behind the beach is Agia Theodoti church, dating from the 16th century. Taking the road towards Paleokastro, you will eventually reach the valley of Psathi and its isolated beach. If the wind is strong, you will definitely be joined by windsurfers, though the intense sunlight and glint of the sea makes it difficult to discern details of the sails bobbing up and down in the water. Kolitsani beach is halfway between the port and Milopotas. It used to be a nudist beach, but its increased popularity and the anchored yachts which seek haven from the winds have turned it more mainstream. You can walk there from the port or take the boat. If you have a car, drive past Milopotas and turn at the crossroads to find small Klima beach. The main road also leads to the Monastery of Kalamos and, after that, either to Kalamos beach, or Tris Ekklisies (Three Churches), both small and quiet. There are numerous isolated coves to enjoy, but getting there is very difficult unless you rent out a boat.
Where to eat
Escape restaurant seems like it is open 24/7. There’s breakfast (continental, eggs & beans), lunch and dinner, which are later followed by cocktails (Hora, Tel: +30 22860 92004). Korali restaurant at Yalos beach is part of the wonderful Korali hotel (Tel: +30 22860 91272) with tables spread out right next to the beach. The cook prepares pizzas in the wood burning oven as well as other Italian specialties, with some ingredients produced by the owner himself. Vilaeti taverna at the village of Pano Kambos (Tel: +30 22860 92072) is a place frequented by locals. Order the kontosouvli, or the pies and some local wine. Fiesta (Hora, Tel: +30 22860 91766) is a simple taverna cooking anything from hearty meat dishes to pizzas. At the one end of Milopotas beach is Drakos taverna (Tel: +30 22860 91281) serving fresh fish and excellent seafood like spaghetti with lobster and octopus cooked in three different ways.
The difference between the nightlife scene in Mykonos and the one in Ios is that the latter instituted the cheap-drinks/cheap-lodging type of tourism, while Mykonos targeted the more upmarket crowd. In Ios, people do not wait for the sun to set to start partying. Several beach cafés on Milopotas and Yalos beach organise events and themed parties as early as 4pm. Milopotas beach club is a classic hangout spot where athletic men and women in their swimsuits dance around the pool to the sound of the latest hits. Later on, the crowds bring their energy and naughty intentions to Hora, flooding the main square and narrow alleys around it. It is the place to look for the wildest parties and the friends one made at the beach this morning. Most venues play the type of music that keeps people dancing and drinking, while some bars organise mad drinking events giving new meaning to the phrase binge drinking. Bar Helios (Mobile: +30 6972234555) is a venue where customers can make their own music requests. The Sweet Irish Dream (Tel: +30 22860 91141) is packed with sweaty youngsters –not necessarily from Ireland– dancing through the night on the tables. Scorpion club (Tel: +30 6974528989) opens really late –when other bars close– and plays trance for its teenage and early 20s clientele. Close to the main square are Shamrock, Red Bull and Slammers, all crowded and just as noisy. Down one alley at the end of the village you will see Rehab Bar (that’s the place you’ll be heading to after Ios) and Shooters – you may guess what you order there. Lemon club is a disco, while Orange bar leans more towards rock and reggae (jelly shots are the specialty). Ios club is one of the few quiet bars on the island with superb views of the island. For some old-fashioned head banging go to Jonis Electric bar.
Ios Camping (Tel: +30 22860 92035) is well organised with a pool to keep everyone cool. Far Out Camping (Tel: +30 22860 91468) is an institution in Ios and through the years has welcomed generations of party lovers. Korali Hotel (Yalos, Tel: +30 22860 91272) has immaculate rooms, a pool and a perfect view of the sea. Ergina Apartments (Hora, Tel: +30 22860 91774) offer modern Cycladic style apartments with an amazing terrace. Kolitsani View (Kolitsani, Tel: +30 22860 91061) has clean rooms and a large open area with a pool overlooking Kolitsani beach.
There are daily ferry services connecting Ios to Piraeus and Rafina. By air, the island is served by local and some international airlines. For ferry and airline websites check the “Getting to and from the islands” section.