Se­cret Greek gem that’s like be­ing on an opera set

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

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

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