We said our farewells to Mykonos and boarded the ferry (our transfers from island to island were all highly efficient and can be booked in advance here) and began our next journey. For our longest stint in one place, we chose the rather remarkable island of Ios. Although probably not quite as famous as Mykonos or Santorini, we fell in love with its (relatively) unspoilt charm and natural beauty. It is known for beaches, of which they are plenty, but we also adored the town which perches precariously on top of a jagged hill. So sit back, relax and read on for the best places to visit, eat and stay in this magical haven.
Where to stay
I never start with where to stay… Never, ever! But D and I fell so head over heels for our hotel, that I’m just bursting to tell you about it. It made our stay so wonderful, and if this is your starting point for planning your Ios adventure then you’ll be bound to have a wonderful time too.
- Liostasi Spa & Hotel – I mean, just look at it! The Greek-style whitewashed walls played off the Moroccan design influences to make it feel like you were in the most tranquil and luxurious place in the world. There are a decent handle of rooms, big and small, and a collection of private villas too. The pool area is a haven and the staff couldn’t be more engaging or happier to help. They very ofter have deals e.g. 3 nights for the price of 2 on their website so make sure you do your research beofre you book. More photos here.
What to do
- Rent a car or quad bike: the island is too big to discover on foot and the beaches too good to miss, so head down to the port where you’ll a handful of places to rent cars or quads by the day. It should be about €30/day for a car and €20 for a quadbike so make sure you get a good deal. Then you’re free to drive up the hills and see the dark dark blue stretching for miles!
- Beach day: once you’ve acquired your chariot of choice, make a beeline for any of the wonderful beaches on the island. I would recommend Koumpara, Psathi and Valmas beaches as starting points, and all of these have at least one taverna very nearby so you can have a long, leisurely lunch or drink.
- Homer’s tomb: if, whilst casually knocking back that seventh cocktail, you have a sudden pang of guilt that you haven’t done anything remotely cultural since you’ve arrived in paradise then I’ve got just the not-too-strenuous outing for you. The illustrious Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, died and was buried on Ios, at the most northern tip of the island. It’s a pretty hairy drive up there but you get fantastic views and the chance to visit a little chapter of history.
- Agia Irini: the church to the right of the port (as you come in) is so beautiful and definitely worth a walk around. Liz at the Octopus Tree has the keys if you want to take a peek inside. From there you can carry on round to Valmas beach where there is a lovely little taverna run by a local family.
- Watch the sunset: it would be a waste not to watch the sun set every day you’re on Ios. If you’re staying at the Liostasi you’re sorted and need look no further than the bar/pool area with stunning views. If not, there are a couple of other options, namely Ios Club or Pathos lounge bar which are very different but equally good spots for a sundowner.
- Ios town: ah, where do I start with this delightful little gem of a town. We visited at least twice a day. Sometimes it would be bustly and atmospheric; other times it would be very sleepy and quiet. The paths make more of a maze than in Mykonos, even though it’s probably a third of the size. Washing hangs from one side of the street to the other as the sun beats down on the whitewashed walls and paved steps. There are three important colours in Greece: white, blue and the brightest pink imaginable of the bougainvillaea (that’s the beautiful flower you see in the photos below).
Where to eat/drink
- Alonistra Taverna: we had such a lovely lunch at this place just before you get to Psathi beach. We drove down having stopped at Homer’s tomb in the morning and soaked up the rays on the nearby pebble beach until our hunger dragged us here. Run by very friendly staff – and a couple of local felines – it serves up a great variation on a Greek salad and a whole array of seafood. A great spot if you have time.
- Grandma’s: the Liostasi’s in-house restaurant was a no-brainer for us, and people come from all over the island to sample the offerings. The cooking is to a really high standard and the tables are poolside which makes for a great evening vibe. I had the sea bream, and David had the lobster spaghetti – both were really sensational.
- The Nest: Ios town has a lot of offerings but the locals say this is one of the best. The interior is pretty much undecorated and the menu is nothing fancy (but it is very extensive) but if you want to enjoy real Greek food in the company of real Greek people, this is where to come. If it’s fully booked or doesn’t take your fancy, try the Mills right at the top of the hill.
- Polydors and Koumpara restaurant: both on the frills of Koumpara beach, either of these options are great for long, lazy lunches. Take a break for that arduous sunbathing and duck into the shade of these tavernas for fresh grilled fish and salads. Maybe don’t expect the fastest service but hey, what’s the rush?
- Lord Byron: for drinks, make a beeline for this place and don’t look back. It’s a fairly international watering hole so if you’re on the strictly ‘Greek’ tour this isn’t for you. But then you’d be missing out on Molly’s cocktails and that would be a ha-uuuuge mistake, trust me. The food is OK, but nothing to write home about. It’s what is behind the bar you should be focussing on!
- Pathos lounge bar: for an late afternoon/early evening club vibe, head to Pathos beach club for their all-day pool party thing they’ve got going on. Possibly not the most romantic setting in the world, with Dance Anthemz circa 2004 on repeat, but two things are for sure: the strawberry daiquiri is totally delicious and the sunset is breath-taking. If you’re there for more than a couple of nights, I definitely recommend this place for the half an hour before sunset.
- The Octopus Tree: this charming little café in the port is perfect for sipping a coffee and waiting for your ferry to come in to take you on to pastures new. This is exactly what we did in our last hour or so on this magical island so it was bittersweet; we couldn’t quite believe we were having to leave it all behind. It felt like home after only 3 days and it felt like the most foolish idea ever to turn our backs on it.
What came next was pretty spectacular – we were off to Santorini for the last 2 days of our trip – but there was something about Ios I couldn’t quite put my finger on which was truly unique. Santorini probably outshone it in terms of obvious beauty but Ios had so much charm, elegance and balance. It ticked all the boxes for me and of all the places we visited in Greece, I can’t wait to come back here.