By Katherine Brubaker
Not regarded as the destination for vacations like Mykonos or Santorioni, I have found the island of Ios to be a hidden, glittering treasure in the Cyclades. The island manages a harmonious balance between being a secluded spot with a plethora of natural wonders, and a playground for young partiers to let loose every single day of the week. A small island with charming towns and luminous beaches, you can be fully acquainted with Ios, the locals, and other visitors in a few days.
The city of Chora, the main town on the island, is a classic cycladic village, painted white with accents of differing hues of blue. The village acts as a hub for vacationers to convene day and night. Delectable cafes, restaurants, and bars are sandwiched between glossy shops filled with chic clothing, bathing suits, and trinkets. Previously struggling due to the pandemic, the town’s businesses have been receiving a great deal of attention from vacationers as the country’s COVID-19 protocols and travel restrictions have been removed.
I stayed at a traditional, 100 year old Airbnb in the center of Chora during my week on Ios: a light blue door opened to a steep, narrow staircase, which led to the living area. Inside the house, there were tall ceilings, an intricate chandelier, and the iconic, stone floors with white sealing that cover the town’s passageways. While this was an authentic village-living experience, it was on the more expensive side. Many travelers alternatively stay at one of the hostels in Chora, such as Francesco’s or FarOut Beach Club. These are more affordable and a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world.
Chora has a myriad of mouth-watering spots to eat. If you are on a budget, here are my recommendations: for souvlaki, there are two places to stop. Situated directly next to each other, The Pigs and Yummy seem to vie for tourists’ attention daily. While there is debate regarding which of the two is better, I personally prefer The Pigs, because of their vegan gyro pita wrap - I probably ordered it five times during my stay on the island. Otherwise, the two places are comparable in terms of quality. For baked goods, you have to grab your coffee order, Greek baklava, and bread at Bakehouse, which is reasonably priced and never fails to satisfy your sweet tooth. I am always craving thai food, and if you can relate to this you must try Thai Smile - their food, and specifically pad thai and cheese balls, are delicious.
Ios has Greek Orthodox Churches at every turn: the two most notable are the Cathedral Church, standing graceful and tall in the center of Chora, and the Pangia Gremiotissa, situated at the top of a hill in town. Pangia Gremiotissa acts as an incredibly scenic lookout for sunset: you can see part of the Mylopotas beach to the left, the town of Chora sprawled out beneath you, and the glimmering port to the West. This hilltop is also where partygoers convene at around 5 am to keep the festivities alive and view the sunrise.
I would highly recommend renting either an ATV or scooter for a day or two while on the island. These modes of transportation are not for the faint of heart, but are extremely useful (especially in the summer heat) while hopping from one pristine beach to the next. I stumbled upon my favorite beach, Ios Diamoudia beach, while using an ATV: its shoreline has clear, blue water and is only accessible by taking mountainous backroads, which is probably why there are so few people that visit. The beach’s air of seclusion and other-worldliness is elicited by the towering, dramatic cliffs that cradle the cove.
At the end of June, which is when I was visiting Ios, the island’s party scene was not in full swing, according to locals. Clubs weren’t open and bars weren’t allowing indoor seating. The evenings, nevertheless, were lively. In Chora there is a square made up of multiple bars, commonly referred to as “The Square” by vacationers. This is where young partygoers convene for a night of drinking and mingling with other travelers in the outdoor seating areas of places like the Jar Bell, Louis Cafe, and Slammer.
The sprawling, idyllic beachfront of Mylopotas is studded with bars and restaurants. Here, I ate at Faros, which serves quality, Greek food (especially the homemade feta cheese) at reasonable prices. During my meal I started chatting with the waiter, who explained that while there were more vacationers on the island this month due to Greece lifting travel restrictions, it was not nearly as busy as it had been in previous years.
Mylopotas’ main attraction is FarOut Beach Club, which has a resort, hotel, camping area, a pool, and a myriad of restaurants and bars. The club acts as a hub for vacationers, and embraces its unofficial mantra of “eat, sleep, rave.”
On July 1st, Scorpion, another popular club on the island, opened for business. I was personally unable to pay it a visit, but the word on the street is that it is a necessary stop on the island.
For a slightly more expensive night out, consider trekking over to Pathos Club and Restaurant. Here, you will be enamoured by the visuals alone: with white stone, accents of colorful shapes, a dreamy infinity pool, whimsical sculptures and architecture, and a futuristic atmosphere, Pathos looks out over an unobscured view of the Aegean - though, you will glimpse the owner’s mansion sitting upon a private island in the distance.
While I was in Ios, the island maintained a few COVID precautions, but the general tone was of life post-pandemic: tourists came from all over, allowing for international friendships to blossom; the town was lively, and stores and restaurants were gaining traction, something they hadn't done for months. Still waking up from a year-long slumber, the sense of normalcy that permeates this island is a welcome change of pace, and it will only progress in the month of July.