Sunday, 12 August 2018


It took six and half hours to get to Ikaria from Pireus. Had we taken the boat that docks at Saint Kirikos, our destination, that would have taken eleven and a half hours. Instead, we chose to take the faster boat which arrives at Evdilos and then, an hour bus journey took us to St Kirikos which is where we stayed.

The port of Evdilos, where we docked and where we stayed for 6 hours on our way back to Pireus.

The port of Evdilos, where we docked and where we stayed for 6 hours on our way back to Pireus.

The port of Evdilos, where we docked and where we stayed for 6 hours on our way back to Pireus.

The island's isolation has allowed Ikaria to remain largely untouched by the fast-paced, consumer-driven Western lifestyle with its processed convenience foods, high levels of stress and chemicals. With no natural harbours and subject to high winds, Ikaria was excluded by the shipping industry, forcing its residents to become self-sufficient and ultimately immune to the ills of development and industrialisation.

The result? Ikaria is considered a Blue Zone, one of a short list of places throughout the world where people tend to live longer, healthier lives.  In fact, people here live on average 10 years longer than those in the rest of Europe and America - around one in three Ikarians lives into their 90s. Not only that, but they also have much lower rates of cancer and heart disease, suffer significantly less depression and dementia, maintain a sex life into old age, and remain physically active deep into their 90s.

The secret? There are a number of reasons.

First of all, their diet. Everything is grown organically on the island - they don't even put sulphur on the vines, something that vine growers have been doing for centuries. They eat very little meat, no more than once a week: a family will typically slaughter just one animal per year and ration the meat in small portions over several weeks or months. The Ikarian diet is notable for being nearly devoid of processed sugar, white flour and other refined, processed foods. Instead they eat a lot of beans, and organically-grown fruits and vegetables. They also drink a lot of herbal teas: packed with powerful antioxidants and health-restorative and protective compounds, these herbal brews add a medicinal component to their already healthy, mostly plant-based diet - for example, many of the herbs have diuretic effects, which may help keep the inhabitants' blood pressure naturally low by excreting excess sodium. Organic wine is another major part of their diet - they drink it with every meal, sometimes even for breakfast.

The people are extremely relaxed and chilled out. Their conception of time is totally different to that of the typical Western life-style. 'No-one really sets appointments here', one resident explained. 'It's more like 'see you in the morning, afternoon or evening'. We don't stress'. Even though we did not visit any of the villages up in the mountains, where longevity is at its highest, we saw evidence of this in the two towns/villages that we stayed in. There were a number of times where the bus we were waiting for did not materialise - Ikaria is well-known for its erratic bus schedules. The same happened with the little boat, caique, that travelled from Saint Kirikos to Therma and back. We were stranded quite a few times, and had to call a taxi.

A lot of exercise is also part of the secret of the longevity of Ikaria's residents. They walk everywhere: given that Ikaria is all mountains and hills, this is vigorous exercise. Working on the land is another major part of daily life.

The habit of taking afternoon naps may also extend life. One extensive study of Greek adults showed that regular napping reduced the risk of heart disease by almost 40%,

There is also a strong tradition of solidarity among Ikarians. During WWII, when the island was occupied by the Italians and Germans an instinct to share was developed. This was reinforced after the war, when thousands of communists and leftists were exiled to the island. The islanders describe their island 'as an us place, not a me place'. Mikis Theodorakis, the composer, was among the leftists exiled on the island in the late 1040s. Theodorakis later recalled the experience with pleasure. 'How could this be?' he asked. 'The answer is simple: it's the beauty of the island in combination with the warmth of the locals. They risked their lives to be generous to us, something that helped us more than anything to bear the burden of the hardship'.

Finally, at the heart of the island's social scene is a series of 24-hour festivals, known as paniyiri, which all age groups attend. They last right through the night and the centrepieces are mass dances in which everyone takes part. There were no festivals occurring during our 9-day stay. There was one on the day we left and we tried to extend our stay by one night, but could not find accommodation. But, it does not matter, as we will be returning to this incredible island very soon.

The island is named after Icarus, the young man in Greek mythology who flew too close to the sun whereby the wax that kept his wings to his body melted, and he consequently plunged into the sea close to Ikaria. The writing on the sea wall by the harbour in Saint Kirikos, reads 'Welcome to the island of Icarus'.

The journey to Ikaria from Pireus was long and tedious, but we were happy to finally arrive. Next time, we might fly.

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