The is­land that mass tourism for­got

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

Have you ever won­dered what the world was like be­fore mass tourism made it nearly im­pos­si­ble to get “off the beaten track”? Back in the 17th and 18th cen­turies there was only the “Grand Tour”, un­der­taken solely by aris­to­crats and pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive. By 1939, Thomas Cook was of­fer­ing hol­i­day flights to the South of France but it was only in 1950 that ac­ces­si­ble mass tourism by air took off, when Rus­sian émi­gré Vladimir Raitz char­tered a weekly flight from Lon­don to Cor­sica.

Mod­ern travel is a boon, but it can be a night­mare. Jammed beaches, ugly ho­tels… I could go on. But trav­el­ling around the Greek is­lands, I’ve re­alised there are some des­ti­na­tions that have avoided the worst of mass tourism and of­fer a break from mod­ern life.

The Cy­cladic is­land of Ti­nos is a 30-minute ferry ride from Mykonos, the party is­land, but could be a mil­lion miles away. Greek pil­grims travel there twice a year, on March 25 and Aug 15 (avoid these dates), to walk half a mile from the har­bour to the church of Pana­gia Evan­ge­lis­tria on their knees. Per­haps be­cause the is­land is so im­por­tant to the or­tho­dox Greek and Catholic re­li­gions, this has put off main­stream tourism, and there are rigid con­trols against the con­struc­tion of ho­tels and swim­ming pools. The re­sult is some­thing of a mir­a­cle.

Every­thing you eat and drink in Ti­nos will have been grown there, and the cui­sine is su­perb. There are a lot of churches, wind­mills and, most fa­mous of all, dove­cotes that date back to the 18th cen­tury. There are more than 1,000 across the is­land.

I first en­coun­tered them at Taram­ba­dos – a mag­i­cal place. My wife and I were alone as we strolled along beau­ti­fully tended streets, through shad­owy arch­ways and past walls dec­o­rated with mar­ble plaques. No coaches. No sou­venirs. The vil­lage was a per­fectly pre­served time cap­sule. The only peo­ple we saw, in a tiny church, were long since cre­mated and stacked up in wooden boxes as if in some weird safety-de­posit vault.

We turned a cor­ner and saw a dozen dove­cotes across the hill­side. Orig­i­nally built to house pi­geons, not doves – the birds pro­vided meat and fer­tiliser – they are Vene­tian in style, like minia­ture palaces. Sur­rounded by or­ange and lemon trees, an­cient bridges, mys­te­ri­ous caves… it was as if we’d wan­dered into a Tolkien novel.

This was the first of a se­ries of unique vil­lages we vis­ited. In Kar­diani we watched a wed­ding be­ing pre­pared, and drank the lo­cal Nis­sos beer at Dim­i­tra, a café perched on the edge of a twist­ing al­ley­way. It was quite crowded, though. Three other peo­ple were there. Pyr­gos, the is­land’s largest vil­lage, has a clus­ter of bars and cafes in its ex­cep­tion­ally lovely square. We spent a few hours in Vo­lax, watch­ing a herb and cacti sales­man do­ing not a great deal of busi­ness while his fat dog went mad in the sun. This vil­lage is fa­mous for the bizarre rock for­ma­tions that sur­round it, huge boul­ders that could have been flicked there by the gods.

Ti­nos Town is worth a look-in, and Pana­gia Evan­ge­lis­tria is un­miss­able. Here, fi­nally, were the crowds. But with the chant­ing, mys­ti­cal light­ing and flick­er­ing can­dles, the at­mos­phere was in­tense, deeply re­li­gious.

Pana­gia Evan­ge­lis­tria in Ti­nos Town

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.