Secret Greek gem that’s like being on an opera set
So varied and wonderful are the Greek islands, sometimes I think I need never go anywhere else on holiday. One thing they have in common is the weather, near perfect from June to October. But there’s also the healthy diet, the low prices, the friendly people and the Aegean Sea with its warmth, cleanness and lack of anything that will sting or bite.
I had already visited Tinos, 40 minutes from Mykonos, but from there I continued another half an hour to Syros, an island I’d never heard of before. It is not a popular tourist destination – but that makes it all the more attractive.
In fact, Syros defined itself in the first moment of arrival. I was standing in the hold of the Seacat which had brought me from Tinos, feeling the engines vibrating under my feet and hearing the water churning. Slowly, the huge bow door began to open, forming an everexpanding square of light, which made me think of a cinema screen. But the image on the other side was not the typical quayside with its pretty bars and tavernas. Instead I was greeted by a massive, rusting dry dock surrounded by a dozen dilapidated cranes bowing towards it. This was the Neorion shipyard, industrial yet somehow far from ugly. It wasn’t at all what I had expected.
A 10-minute walk into the old town of Ermoupoli reminded me why I was here. I was surrounded by glorious neoclassical and Venetian architecture, with ornate balconies and shutters, cobbled streets, tiny squares and wrought-iron lamps; a world straight out of a 19th-century opera with little traffic and no tacky tourist shops to spoil the illusion.
The importance of Syros as a seat of 19th-century government has long gone, but the memories remain – particularly in the massive city hall and the church of St Nicholas with its pale yellow and blue fascia and two elegant towers dominating the skyline. Below the church, I came across the Apollo Theatre, another gem – although sadly the opera season had yet to begin. You can visit the theatre for a couple of euros and it has been perfectly restored – a recreation of La Scala or Covent Garden but on a miniature scale.
I was staying at the Apollonion Palace hotel (apollonionpalace.gr), booked at the last minute. It was a little faded, with some shabby sun loungers, but I had a lovely room in the eaves with a balcony and views over a glorious, horseshoe bay.
The Apollonion is one in a line of handsome hotels and apartments that back on to the water and are known as “Little Venice”. Swimming in the dark, silky water as the sun set was a unique experience. I’d recommend the hotel if only for the ever-helpful Ann and Athanasia, the mother and daughter team who run it.
Spend time in the main town and you can’t help but fall into the rhythm of Greece as it used to be. I could have sat for hours at Café Luigi in the main street, watching life go by. There are plenty of good restaurants, many of them grouped together just behind the seafront close to Androu Street. I had a great meal with plenty of organic food at Kouzina and was really surprised by Mammo right on
The neoclassical town of Ermoupoli, Syros