Sheira and I had heard about Folegandros a couple of years before we ever visited, so it had taken on a myth-like quality. A very close friend had been there for a dinner on the clifftops while cruising the Cyclades Islands on a friend’s superyacht. We share the same Greek personal trainer, Paul who coincidentally knew the island particularly well. In fact Folegandros is his favourite Greek island, he had returned many times and raved about how unspoilt and non-commercial it is. He sold me on so many great details, like going to a clifftop bar in the middle of the fields, walking the charming little village squares at night and staying at a wonderful guest house, the Anemomilos Apartments and becoming close friends with husband-and-wife owners, Cornelia and Dimitris Patelis.
I loved all the layers I kept hearing about, yet whenever we traveled and chatted with world travelers both in Australia and overseas we would only get blank stares at the mention of Folegandros - it was a mystery even to the Greeks. This appealed to me even more! To find anywhere in the world today that is remote yet still has infrastructure is getting harder and harder, and it’s in my nature to be curious. This could be our own Greek Odyssey!
The island stayed in my “to do file” for a few years until 2006, when we did a kids free trip combining Greece and Italy. I felt that Folegandros could be the perfect raw complement to the more polished, sophisticated but somewhat more commercial Santorini. Why not get a wonderful hit of the two types of experience on offer in the islands?
A lot of the islands in the Cyclades are easy to get to, NOT Folegandros. It has no airport or very deep-water port. It was never developed for mass tourism or cruise ships. The ferries from Athen’s main port, Piraeus aren’t as regular, but there are at least 5 services a week for the mostly Greek holidaymakers.
Because travel to this quieter island is still low key, I was more than happy to forgo the idea of a hip, Café del Mar kind of resort and stay in whatever little whitewashed hotel had the right views and vibe. My trainer Paul’s tip about the ANEMOMILOS APARTMENTS was that they treated him like family. The small, 16-room hotel has one suite, pretty much the only one on the island at that time, and an amazing cliffside location. I had wonderful conversations from home with the hotel owner- Cornelia, who was so warm and helpful. She loved hearing about Paul”s life since she had last seen him. There is no gym on the island and she said she would never forget seeing him lift rocks every morning to stay fit.
How strange to read on Trip Advisor from some random that they found her rude and brash. That traveler was probably best suited to stay at home!
When I said to Cornelia I could not see Sheira and myself whizzing around the island on motorbikes she booked one of the few cars on the island. I could tell that we would be taken care of and everything was set for a unique experience.
Our BA flight from Sydney to London had the perfect 3-hour connection - not too long yet time enough for our luggage to make it. Due to the so often delays at Heathrow we got into Athens so late that we missed our highspeed Jetcatl! This left us with one less night on the island, NOT HAPPY; and a hotel to sort out in Athens. Little did we know there was a major convention in town and all the 5- star hotels were booked.
Once again we were out of pocket by having to pay for an unexpected night in Athens. The airlines suggested we contact our insurance company (I THOUGHT THEY WERE RESPONSIBLE, but try push that point in an airport when you don’t speak Greek !). Sheira and I agree that if you followed up every logistical hiccup you would spend your whole life writing letters and be in constant conflict with corporations. I pick my battles. This is travel; unless it has cost you megabucks you have to roll with the punches occasionally. I advise letting your agent sort out any “it’s not fair” issues when you get home and never let company dramas ruin your holidays. When every minute counts, you have to make the most of it and not give in to “on the road rage.”
So the next day things were not getting any better. The morning JetCat was cancelled due to high winds, and the next ferry was not till 4.30pm. I was watching days slip by on Folegandros! While standing at the Acropolis, soaking up our ancient culture, we got an email on my BlackBerry from Cornelia to say that the boat had been moved back again to 1.30pm to avoid the afternoon winds. We literally had two hours to panic, get back to the hotel and pack, get to the port and buy tickets!
With some high speed and a little crazy Greek driving we just made it.
The next mission was buying the tickets! Everyone seemed to be converging on the poor ticket man, of course no orderly lines, shouting and jostling was the way to get a ticket! Little did we know that the journey onwards would be more like Dante’s seventh circle of hell (for Sheira)!
I could already tell we were going to be sailing on the Good Ship Murphy’s Law. We couldn’t find our high-speed hydrofoil jetcat at first and struggled with a 50-deep queue, eventually getting word that today there was only a slow ferry - which was full by the way. I almost lost it. I am organized and just don’t do high stress travel. After an attack of the ‘poor me’s (Typical, I thought. Being a trendsetter has made life so complicated. Other people don’t get themselves in these positions because they cave in and go to famous places like Crete etc, etc) I just pushed our driver to pull miracles and get us on that boat, which was a massive ferry many stories high. After many hand gestures and heated monologues in Greek (they did invent theatre after all) he got us on.
DONT BE PUT OFF GOING TO FOLEGANDROS - THERE ARE EASIER WAYS TO GET THERE…KEEP ON READING!
Nothing is fast or organised in Italy or Greece (which is probably why they do lingering lunches so well), so boarding was not exactly brisk-Swiss-German style. We walked across the gangplank into the iron bowels of this huge monster, lugging massive bags, being barked at by the master of the boat, as if we were boarding a slave galley. As cars and tractor rumbled past Sheira and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at how left field our luxury travel was getting. When in doubt we tend to be laughers.
Forget bellboys in pillbox hats. I lugged 5 pieces of luggage up 4 enormous flights of steel stairs while Shiera looked for seats on umpteen levels. On each floor someone would rudely shout at me,- Sit down! The mood of the day dictated that Shiera was on the top level of course, clinging to the only seat she could find, which was in fact the lid of somebody’s drinks cooler. It was packed to the rafters. I don’t think anyone was feeling sorrier than Sheira at this point!
We had never had to travel like this before, and were definitely the oldest people on the boat, amongst all the young backpackers who rough it around Europe. We were next to some fellow Australians from Melbourne who were the first couple I met on the boat. I met a lot more over the ensuing hours I can tell you!
Getting on board starving (as we had missed lunch in the panic of getting to Pireaus) was a bad idea, because all we could find in the dining room of this enormous boat for (YES - An 8 HOUR FERRY RIDE TO FOLEGANDROS), were chocolate swivel sticks, chips, and washed down Diet Coke or black coffee.
Strangely I was really enjoying the moment, meeting young boys and girl. The wash of the ferry creating the backround sound and of course the incredible water ways of Greece passing us by. We were very much ‘in the moment’ on the top of the ferry. Although we were about to loose another night on Folegandros, our arrival was not till 4am in the morning ...I was strangely LOVING IT! I loved seeing the young kids chat amongst themselves, network, share stories and where better to watch this than the top level of a ferry in Greece!
We stopped at every port, seeing many beautiful villages and islands en route. Sheira reminding me that she was the only unhappy person on the boat, trapped in her own personal ‘Griswalds’ hell !!! Everybody else knew what they were in for: feasting on homemade meals, unrolling backpacks into beds, and settling in to sing and strum guitars under the stars. It brought back wonderful memories of the old days…young and totally carefree !
We didn’t take in much on arrival at the port - it was so dark. We arrived at the small port of Folegandros – Karavostasis, and met by the Cornelia’s son, Andreas on typical summer job family duty. I so remember our first drive up a very steep hill to the town of Hora ! Even though we were exhausted, discovering a new town for me no matter the time of day is so darn exciting!
There is little fuss or fanfare arriving at 4am, but what an amazing suprise to open the fridge in our suite and find beautiful meat and pickle sandwiches and other goodies that Cornelia had left for us. This was the welcome sight we were after at 4am!
Note: When we do Folegandros again, we will take the ferry from Santorini. Although there are less daily transfers than say from Piraeus in Athens...if I am going to miss a ferry or be stranded for a day or two, I would rather be stuck on Santorini !! The ferry ride between Folegandros and Santorini is only 2.5 hours, an easy beautiful ferry ride. This is my tip.
P.S. I have helped plan a dozen couples itineraries to Greece in the past 6 months combining Santorini & Folegandros. My suggestion is 2-4 nights in Santorini at Perivolas (Oia), and 6 nights in Folegandros at Anemomilos Apartments. Take me back !!!!!!!!