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About Folegandros island, Greece

The beautiful island of Folegandros is the most southern island of the western Cyclades. It is a typical Cycladic island situated between Sikinos (at a distance of 3 nautical miles to the Northeast) and the island of Melos (some 15 nautical miles to the Northwest). In fact, it is an oblong rock, thrown in the blue sea, looking like sailing between Melos and Sikinos. Its extent is 32 square kilometers, with a maximum length of 13 kilometers, maximum width of 3,5 to 4 kilometers, and a coastal line of more than 40 kilometers. The island gets very narrow at the middle, where its width hardly reaches 1000 meters. Two bays at both sides, the bay of Vathy and the bay of Plaka, entering deeply in the land, divide the island in two equal parts. The major part of the island is mountainous; the highest top is Aghios Eleftherios, at an altitude of 4 55 meters.

Only a small part of the land is cultivated, mostly in terraces made by dry stone walls. Although agricultural production is not considerable, the products are of high quality and excellent taste. Folegandros produces tasty olive oil, famous wines, juicy figs and very nice honey, from the wild flowers and herbs of the arid land. Few residents are also occupied in stock-breeding, mainly of goats, and produce small amounts of tasty meat and gorgeous local cheese.

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Folegandros is one of the final stops of migratory birds, which stop here in spring on their way from Africa to the cooler places of Europe, and in autumn, following the reverse route. The friends of birds and the bird watchers may see here several species of birds, some of them rare enough as “mavropetritis” and “aegeoglaros” as their local names are.

Being mountainous and rocky, Folegandros has several interesting schist stones, grayish marbles and various ores.

The island has a nice climate. Humidity is quite moderate, thanks to the dry northern winds, while heat never gets unsupportable, thanks to the sea. And in summer, the “meltemia” (the northern summer winds) make the atmosphere and the environment cool enough.

The pretty dry climate, in combination with the stony ground, makes a natural environment whose main feature is the scarcity of vegetation. Vegetation is also destroyed by the goats which graze at the open air, all around the island. However, in spring, when the climate is cooler and more humid, the visitor will see a great variety of low vegetation, mainly wild flowers, grass and herbs. In this period of the year the island is really magic, with its colors and the heady fragrances of the flowers in the air.

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The eastern part of the island has been integrated to the network of protected areas “NATURA 2000”, whereas the whole island is an important biotope of the birds of Greece.

The whole island constitutes the Community of Folegandros, which belongs to the province of Thira (Santorini) of the Cyclades’ Prefecture. From 1912 to 1998 the island had two communities, that of Chora and the one of Ano Meria. In 1998, following the “Capodistrias” plan of the unification of small communities, the two communities were banded together to one. Nowadays, Folegandros has less than 700 permanent residents, most of them living in the three bigger settlements (Chora, Ano Meria and –much less – Karavostassi(s)).

 

How to reach Folegandros – Moving around on the island

Folegandros has only one port, Karavostassi(s) (“the stop of the ships” in Greek) that you may reach by ferry-boats, departing from Piraeus, almost every day in summer. The distance is some 103 nautical miles and the duration of the journey varies from 4 – 5 hours, if you catch the high speed ships, to 9 – 12 hours, by conventional ferry boats. The duration of the journey also depends on the season, on the stops previewed and on the traffic of the ports. The island is connected with Piraeus all year round, but in winter connection is not daily and sometimes there are some problems in the regular service of the ships. Apart from Piraeus, Folegandros is connected in summer with the rest of the islands of the line, but also with the rest of Cyclades, the Dodecanese and Crete, as well as with some of the islands of northern Aegean.

The “veterans” of holidays on the island, those who had visited the island before 1984, when it had been accomplished the new port, will tell you stories about their disembarkation to the island, by the “ lantza”, the small boats, which would pick up the passengers from the ship and led them to the island. The visitors of …more remote past, will also tell you that the first car that arrived on the island was as late as in 1970!
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If you don’t like such long sea – journeys, or you prefer a more comfortable way, you may go to Santorini by plane and then catch the daily boat from Santorini to Folegandros.

If you have a yacht, the port of Karavostassi(s), offering some facilities, is available for mooring. For fuel supply, you should contact the gas station at Chora, while for water filling you should notify in advance the water wagon of the island.

The distances from one place to another within the island are very short, thus, you may go almost everywhere on foot. For instance, the village of Ano Meria is situated only 5 kilometers far from Chora (Folegandros town). Public buses with regular service will get you from Karavostassi(s) to Chora and Ano Meria. From Ano Meria there is a public bus to Angali at the western coast of the island. The road from Karavostassi(s) to Ano Meria is good enough, but in any case it is not worth to bring your private car along. A taxi is available for the visitors and you may also rent a car, a scooter or a motorbike.

In summer the most popular means of transportation is the boat. Excursion boats will get you to almost all the beaches, especially to those accessible only by boat. There are also excursion boats which make the tour of the island, stopping in some of the beaches for a quick dive or a longer swim. It is worth saying that it is only during this tour that you may see the famous Chrysospilia cave (“the golden cave”) as well as the cave of Georgitsi, a place where seals use to live.
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The Network of Footpaths

In past times, that is to say, up to some three decades ago, the path was the main type of road on the island. The locals went from one place to the other on foot or on mules’ or donkeys’ back. Fortunately, the majority of those old footpaths has been preserved up to now and is still in use. It is thought that the total length of this network was over 60 kilometers. The landmark of the change in the network of roads and the transportation means is 1970. It was then that the first car arrived to the island, which signaled the construction of roads and consequently tourist development. Half of the footpaths were transformed to roads (dirt tracks or sealed roads) which continue to extend and improve. Before 1970 the only ways to go from Karavostassi(s) to Chora and from there to Ano Meria was on foot or on mules’ back (the mules were the “heavy duty” animals) or on donkeys’ back. Even today at Ano Meria or at the beaches around, one can see professional mule drivers who carry on their animals’ back those who like this traditional means of transportation, or simply are curious to know how this looks like.

Apart from riding, walking was the commonest and most economic way to go from place to place. The elderly people remember that when they were children they had to set off very early and go to school on foot, no matter how long the route was. Following the paths passing by the dry stone walls, they arrived from Chora and Ano Meria to all the beaches of the island, non only for swimming but also for work: to work in their cultivation or stock breeding, to bring the local green stone from Vorina, or the red mine from Katergo, or, more often, to pull their boats from their shelters (the “syrmata”) and launch them back to the sea, at Angali, at Karavostassi(s) or at Aghios Georgios.
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However, progress is irreversible and the arrival of cars and of tourists signalled the process of destruction of several kilometres of paths, some of which were masterpieces of the traditional folk technique and led to the popular beaches of the island. It was around the 80s’ that the stone paved path leading to Angali was covered with concrete to serve access of cars to the beach. It was really a loss, as this path was of considerable technique: the stones were placed one to another in such a way that no extra joints or connective material was necessary for keeping them at their place. Although constructed some 100 to 200 years ago, the path stood there without any problem; clean and safe it was an easy way to reach Angali. Fortunately not all the stone paved paths have the destiny of that of Angali; several of them are still in use and well preserved. One of the best samples is the path leading from the cemetery of the village to the church of Panaghia upon the hill, at Paleokastro. The path, constructed a few centuries ago, is in fact carved in the rock; several “stratakia”, as the locals call the broad low steps lead to the church in a zigzag way.

Another interesting stone paved path is the “Kaldrerimi”, a wide stonepaved road departing from the cross road of Maraki square and leading to the belt road of Chora. The junction of the Kalderimi with the public road to Ano Meria is the meeting point of young people, as several youth hang outs are found in the area.

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Stone paved paths have also been preserved at Ano Meria. They depart from the public road and lead to various places: to the church of Stavros (Holy Cross), to the church of Aghios Georgios tou Aga and to the nice beach of Aghios Georgios. Stone paved parts are also preserved on the paths leading to Ambeli and to Livadaki. The rest of the easy paths are not stone paved, but of compact soil and they lead to the most popular beaches or to other areas around the island. Finally, there are the difficult paths leading to the remote beaches, as those leading from Livadi to Katergo, or the paths to Dendro and Avlaki.

Since distances from one place to another are pretty short, you may go almost everywhere on foot, following the paths. The good and detailed map of the island signalling all the paths will help you to find your way. The map is available in every store at Folegandros. However, the best you can do is to ask the locals to help you. They will willingly give you full instructions and you will enjoy the chat with them.

Despite the development, the path still is the safest way to go somewhere in case you are …in a hurry. When a young lady missed the bus to the port and the taxi was not available, she set off on foot, following the old route from Chora to Karavostassi(s) (which actually in the major part is the same with the sealed public road). Not only did she arrive on time to catch the ferry, but she also had time for a quick dive at Vardia! The enthusiasts of walking (and of trekking of course!) will find at Folegandros their place to be!

And, never forget to have a hut and take water with you. Have a nice walk!
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