Greece never ceases to amaze, be it the sunsets, parea, idyllic beaches and the nights – that can merge into day and vice versa – as all sense of time gets lost. Losing oneself and losing a sense of time happens often in places such as Fournoi. Fournoi is paradise. This beautiful island is close to Ikaria and faces the edges of Turkey.
It is a hidden gem, well off the beaten track of more famous island getaways. This island of 1600 people was welcoming and tourist-free (almost) when I visited. The 25-minute ship ride from Ikaria to the small harbour hosting a few boats seemed like a throwback to the 1990s. I expected goats and sheep to run wild in the main town rather than on a menu at one of the tavernas and cafes by the water.
The island now actually boasts a second and new port. The town has a picturesque main street, lined with trees and shops as you walk away from the second/new port. I’m told by the locals that due to the wind that Poseidon occasionally unleashes, few boats come and go during the winter months. I can attest that Poseidon was an angry chappy during my visit, as it was windy for many days. Any visitor expecting a resort or four-star digs will be disappointed. However, the small number of hotels and rooms are all family-run, which means they receive special TLC.
In my case, the hotel owner had another hotel run by a sibling, all connected to a café. With a view from Bilios Apartments, I actually made friends with the gentleman tasked with fixing the wifi that Poseidon had knocked around. As is the case with everyone on the island, the men wear multiple hats. The charismatic Stavros was the radio announcer for years and, by all accounts, an excellent guy to drink with.
Being a small island, the people you meet on the first day, you will see again and again and have a drink. This included Teddy – who helped fix my wifi – and his wife Mary, who returned to the island from the United States whenever they could, regaling me with tales of what the island was like decades ago as An island that was quieter and just as beautiful. Electricity only arrived in 1979.
Teddy left Greece at 19 for the American Dream, which he found, but he always remembers his roots. Sitting at Bilios café, Giannis, whose two daughters run their own hotels while also keeping busy working the café with their mum, tells me he visited Australia in 1977 when he was on the ships.
One of his daughters is a theatre actor in Athens, having returned recently due to the Covid outbreak and to enjoy the slower pace of Fournoi. What makes Fournoi unique? I’m told about the beaches; when you find “Bali”, you must see them. Bali was a quiet, beautiful bay with several dwellings, a caravan, a dog and a beautiful view. You can end your holiday here, for just about every beach on the island has this excellent sense of tranquillity, flat water ideal for snorkelling and easy to traverse, even the ones down mountainsides.
Most roads are paved. After asking for my own God to deal with the wind and then Zeus just to be safe, Poseidon finally toned down his breathing, and I was able to catch a lift to see some other islands. The young Captain in waiting Mixalis of Cars & Bikes Koursaros and Koursaros to Skafos and his hospitable father took me on a boat tour to places most visitors will be blissfully unaware.
I also met the grandmother and sister, three generations working at the office. Starting with Thimena island, where 150 people reside in two settlements, I was told by Mixalis that the hilly island is named after thyme, which grows here. Another stop was Kisiria, a goat island.
Nearby is Arkoi island, where five people live, including a child who is the only student in class on the tiny island. We swung past Mikros Anthropofagos and then Megalos Anthropofagos, where Mixalis dove into the turquoise waters to catch lunch in a bay that is well out of reach from the nostrils of Poseidon. Our boat took us over some of the apparent 70 shipwrecks nearby. Can we blame Poseidon for this? These sites are a must for any diver, as they have yet to be fully explored.
Soon after, Mixalis and his Dad, Giorgos, took us to the secluded Agia Minas island after passing by smaller islets. Mixalis thought it would be fun to make me – a middle-aged, overweight man – climb what must have been a million stairs to the Church. We were greeted by workers repairing the Church. The view was, in a word, breathtaking. And not because the stairs or Poseidon had taken my breath from me. This little island, which technically has a population of three people, has a festival, and visitors regularly sail in to visit the Church. The tiny limani (port) hosted two small fishing vessels, taking a break from an arduous day of navigating Poseidon’s occasional big breaths.I stayed on Fournoi for almost a week.
At that time, I recharged my batteries. I learned the names of plenty of islanders, from Tony to Christos and everyone in between, who regularly enquired about which part of the island I was enjoying or had visited, providing unique tips.There are a dozen beach stops. You can visit Constantinos, Aggeliki and family who run the taverna on the beach at Almyra. Off-season, around week two of October, they gather about 200 kilos of olives with three other families.
Or get to the furthest beaches on the island, where it’s just you, the sea and Poseidon; I recommend Kasidaki or Blixada. Visit the small monastery before you head onto the village; you will inevitably encounter one or two more quiet monasteries on the one main road that connects the island.Giannis from Bilios café told me the island is only ever full of tourists in August. Outside, it is full of energy and welcoming weary travellers such as myself.For anyone wanting to recharge their batteries or wanting a romantic getaway, bring your loved one here, and they will fall in love again, maybe with Poseidon, maybe with you, though certainly with the island.
*Billy Cotsis is the author of The Aegean Seven Take Back The Stolen Marbles