Author Anastasia Miari takes us on a sensory tour of the lesser-known Greek island.
Wild, sun-scorched valleys, surfboard-studded waves and gleaming white villages of marble make the Greek island of Tinos a hidden gem in the Aegean. The landscape changes dramatically from North to South and East to West, punctuated by dramatic moonscapes dotted with cinematic boulders, between which grapevines flourish and sandy beaches are lapped at by inky blue waters. Tinos demands to be explored and experienced with all of the senses – here’s how…
Smell the Greek Coffee
Start your days at O Megalos Kafenes, the beating heart of Pyrgos village and one of the oldest kafeneions (a traditional Greek cafe) on the island. It’s here you’ll find moustached men playing backgammon at marble tables in the dappled sunlight. The rich, full scent of coffee floats out around the marble sculptures and the oak trees of the village. Try a silty Greek coffee (ask for it ‘metrio’ – with sugar) and hope a local might read your future in the grounds. Don’t miss the creamy, semolina-rich galaktoboureko pastry either, or the incredible portokalopita (orange cake) made by the owner’s mother, Kyria Penelope (Kyria Penelope’s recipe is featured in my new book, Yiayia: Time perfected recipes from Greece’s Grandmothers). This one’s reputedly the best on the island.
Taste the best of the Cyclades
While Greek food is best experienced in Greece, you might well find the cream of the nation’s culinary crop in Tinos. Dropped into the Aegean at the very heart of the Cycladic islands, Tinos is where the gastronomes of Athens head to once summer rolls around.
Uncharacteristic of most Greek lunch spots, To Thalassaki requires a booking – if you don’t ring up ahead, you risk being disappointed. Yachts sail here from Mykonos just for lunch. Set on the water at Ormos Isternion beach, this seafood restaurant (it’s swisher than your standard taverna) is well worth the extra bit of organisation. Expect Greek classics with a fine dining twist and a decent bottle of white wine – definitely try the T-Oinos Assyrtiko. Order the smoked herring taramasalata spiked with dill and the mussels cooked in ouzo.
See the villages
Tinos’ wild landscape demands exploration. Set out by car to visit as many of its villages as possible. On the way, it’s hard to miss the 1000 pigeon houses of the island, a souvenir left over from the conquering Venetians and the reason behind one of Tinos’ signature dishes, pigeon stew. Little huts with slate roofs that were once a symbol of wealth are decorated with folk art in the shapes of flowers, squares, triangles and diamonds and they are everywhere to be found here.
On your village hit-list should be Agapi (meaning ‘love’ in Greek) – with its narrow alleys and tiny white-washed houses dripping fuchsia bougainvillea – and Volax. Wander through the streets of the impossibly romantic Volax to take in passages of poetry and lines of verse painted neatly onto the exterior walls of its houses.
Feel the cool marble
Pyrgos is known as ‘the marble village’, nodding to Tinos’ history as a centre for the material. The marble quarry is still here for you to explore. After your morning coffee, make sure to stroll the stark white alleyways of the village to sculpture-spot. Handcrafted marble plates also sit above doorways in Pyrgos, and the village is home to the School of Fine Arts and the Marble Museum.
Hear the crash of the waves
A hot spot for the young Greek surf crowd, Kolimbithra beach is a turquoise bay that’s perfect for surfing once summer hits the island. Gifted with the meltemi wind, Tinos is becoming a hit with surfers who are bringing a relaxed, bohemian feel to Kolimbithra. You can grab an Acai bowl for breakfast here from the renovated VW van-come-canteen on the beach and party to reggae beats in the evening. One thing you can count on is the rhythmic crashing of the waves telling you that the surf is up.
Anastasia’s new book, Yiayia: Time-perfected Recipes from Greece’s Grandmothers, will be released on May 25th and is available to pre-order.