Ios or Nios, as the locals call it, is one of the most beautiful islands of the Cyclades, like a flower, as its name ‘Ion’ denotes. According to the ancient tradition, Ios was the homeland of Homer’s mother and the final resting place of the great epic poet.
On reaching the island, the view before you is magical. The main town Hora lies close to the harbour in Ormos and is built in an amphitheatre-like shape on the slope of a hill, on the top of which there are ruins of a mediaeval castle. This is a listed traditional village, one of the finest examples of Cycladic architecture. Snow-white little houses, picturesque arcade-covered alleys, windmills, churches with arched belfries and light blue domes create a unique residential area. Hora’s sheltered alleys is the stage where Kounia, an ancient local custom is performed every May: young men make swings for young women who rock themselves while listening to traditional love songs being sung to them in the form of a dialogue.
The most important of Ios’ 365 churches is Panagia Gremiotissa, standing on Hora’s highest spot. It is built literally on the edge of a cliff, affording an amazing view of the open sea. This place is the centre of one of the biggest religious festivals on the island, taking place on 15 August, and involving a procession in Hora with the icon of the Virgin Mary at the forefront. Later on, a traditional festival takes place with singing and dancing till dawn.
Skarkos is an excavated early Cycladic period settlement, (2,800 BC). A rich collection of finds from the settlement as well as other antiquities are on display in Hora’s excellent Archaeological Museum.
Palaiokastro stands on the northeast side of the island and was a fort during the Byzantine period, used to control the seaways from Constantinople down to Crete. The fort communicated via visual signals and fires with castles in neighbouring Naxos, Amorgos and Santorini.
Explore beaches and inland
Mylopotas, Manganari, Psathi, Yialos, Kalamos and Agia Theodoti beaches are known for their emerald waters. In order to explore the inland, follow the paths that shepherds prefer to take (Ayia Theodoti-Hora, Ayia Eirini-Valmaas Beach, Hora-Pyrgos-Psathi, Hora-Ayios Spyridonas-Perivolia-Ayios Prokopas-Pelekania) and discover the pristine natural beauty of Ios through scents and colours.
A feast of local tastes awaits visitors: chickpea balls, sun-dried picarel, tsimetia (stuffed vegetable marrow flowers), vegetable marrow omelette, dolmadakia using fresh vine leaves from the numerous vineyards where the famed niotiko wine is produced. Try also sougli with tsiarides (traditional breakfast), panada (home-made bread), and goat soup. For desert, try the local pumpkin pie made of sweet pumpkin, mosenta (watermelon pie) and pastota (dried figs with sesame seeds).
Don’t leave without trying some of the local cheeses like skotiri (soft goat cheese with herbs), local kefalotyri (hard salty yellow cheese) and myzithra (soft white creamy, almost sweet cheese) as well as some of the excellent thyme honey, pastelia (honeyed sesame bars), watermelon preserve, myzithra pie and pomegranate liqueur.
There is a ferry and speedboat connection with Piraeus and Rafina, Iraklion and Rethymno as well as with the rest of the Cyclades islands.