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27/02/2019

Forget Mykonos and Santorini — Syros is the Greek Island You Must Visit This Summer

Syros may lack the white-sand wonders of its more popular neighbors. But for a certain kind of in-the-know traveler, that’s precisely its appeal.

asteria beach

ELENI N. GAGE FEBRUARY 26, 2019 source: www.travelandleisure.com

As my husband, Emilio, and I lay on the deck of our Airbnb, I realized I’d run out of time to shower before the symphony. Eyeing the ladder that descended into the Aegean, I told Emilio that I would just jump into the ocean instead.

“Any time you can say that, it’s a good day,” he replied.

Every summer, after visiting my relatives in northern Greece, my husband and our two young children — Amalia, 6, and Nico, 3 — set out to discover someplace in the country new to us. We’d been on the Cycladic island of Syros for only half an hour, but we could already tell we’d made a good choice. On other islands, such as Syros’s neighbor, Mykonos, we’d debated whether to stay in town or on the beach. Here, we were in the heart of Ermoúpolis, the Cyclades’ capital — an Italianate dream of palazzos, theaters, and cafés that is home to half the population of Syros — but the sea was steps from our front door.

While Syros is on the same ferry line as Mykonos, it sees a fraction of that island’s foreign pilgrims, perhaps because it was long viewed as a commercial and industrial hub with massive shipbuilding operations. With fewer spectacular beaches than some of the Cyclades, Syros doesn’t fit the lazy-whitewashed-village-atop-a-sandy-shore vision most Americans have of the islands. The visitors who do come — the majority are from France and Scandinavia — are drawn by the festivals and thriving art scene, the more than 1,300 Neoclassical buildings, and the incredible cuisine.

If Ermoúpolis keeps Syros from being thought of as a desert-isle dream, the fact that the island has a thriving city by the sea makes it alluring to those interested in life beyond the beach. Bobbing in the waves opposite our room, I gazed up at the row of palazzos. Nearby, teenagers cannonballed off the large dock that is the town swimming spot. Atop the hill that rose behind them was the blue and gold dome of the church of Agios Nikolaos, patron saint of sailors. The view of Ermoúpolis from the sea, I realized, is even more stunning than the view of the sea from the land.

That evening, I found myself staring up again — this time at the ceiling of the Apollon Theater, which opened in 1864 and was modeled after La Scala and other Italian theaters. We were attending the opening night of the Festival of the Aegean, a two-week celebration of opera, music, and dance held every July. Before picking up his baton, the Greek-American conductor Peter Tiboris, the festival’s founder, urged the audience to notice the frescoes. The outer ring shows Verdi, Bellini, Dante, and Mozart; the inner ring Homer, Aeschylus, and Euripides.

The ceiling of the Apollon Theater, in Ermoúpolis.Page #: 45

The ceiling is a diplomatic representation of the blending of cultures that continues to thrive on Syros. Modern Syros was settled by the descendants of Venetian merchants who put down roots in Ano Syros, a village high above the harbor, in the 13th century. After the Greek War of Independence in the 1820s, refugees from the battle-scarred islands poured into Ano Syros — only to be forced down to the harbor by the residents. The newcomers, mostly sailors and merchants, prospered and brought in the Neoclassical architects who transformed Ermoúpolis from a rocky port into an elegant city. Today, the descendants of the Italians and Greeks are intermixed, and local couples often have two weddings, one right after the other — the first in a Catholic church, the second in a Greek Orthodox one.

Ermoúpolis is still full of the aristocratic buildings the refugees commissioned, most notably the ornate 1876 town hall. It overlooks Miaouli Square, a supersize version of the classic Greek plateia. Since this is Syros — where the population is twice that of Mykonos, although the islands are roughly the same size — the square has more locals than tourists. Often there are also opera singers or a temporary screen for a film festival.

“We host 15 festivals per year,” Thomai Mendrinou, the vice-mayor of culture, told me. There are festivals devoted to the accordion, the organ, and the guitar; to tango, jazz, and video art. Aside from two events run by the municipality, Mendrinou noted, “all of them were started by nonresidents who fell in love with the island.”

It was a story I heard again and again — the visitor enchanted by Syros who found a way to stay by indulging his or her passion. Over coffee on the deck of the Hotel Ploes (doubles from $205), a waterfront palazzo filled with antiques and modern art, Lia Mastoraki described the moment she and her husband, who dreamed of opening a boutique property, visited Syros and saw the building. “It was a completely emotional decision,” she admitted.

I’d felt something similar during my pretheater bath in the Aegean. I realized that this must be why so many travelers I had met were repeat visitors. They’ve found a place where they feel at home.

At Peri Tinos(entrées $9–$57), right on the harbor, I acted like a tourist when I Instagrammed my ceviche, which was spread atop a breadstick dyed fuchsia with beet juice. But I felt like I was eating with family when the waiter taught our kids how to fillet a fish. At night, in Ano Syros, an old man sitting outside his door directed us to the main street (“just follow the music”), where we ate at Lili’s (30-2281-088-087; entrées $10–$32). The taverna is virtually unchanged since it opened in 1953, with portraits of the owner’s grandparents on the walls.

The next day, back in Ermoúpolis, I made a pilgrimage to the Assumption of the Virgin Church to see an El Greco icon “discovered” in 1982. It had hung there, unnoticed, since it was brought to the island more than a century earlier, likely by a Cretan refugee. The icon getting the most attention that day, however, was one of the Virgin Mary laden with votives and jewelry left by grateful supplicants. It turned out that a fellow visitor, a man in shorts, had left his Rolex before the icon the previous summer. “Elias, you’re back!” the bearded priest shouted, embracing him.

I could have happily stayed in Ermoúpolis. But I wanted to explore the rest of the island. So we moved to Villa Evelina, part of White Key Villas (from $12,710 per week), which overlooks Ampela Beach. White Key manages more than 300 privately owned villas in Greece. With an infinity pool, a Jacuzzi, tennis courts, and access to a chapel, this one made me envy the owners who get to call it home, but it was also sunny and cozy. Amalia learned to snorkel in the shallow water off Ampela, and Emilio ventured to the submerged cliffs he described as “an underwater Grand Canyon.”

On most Greek islands, people drive from beach to beach. On Syros, it’s from restaurant to restaurant.

Our favorite was Allou Yialou (entrées $11–$46), in the beach town of Kini. The marinated red mullet came served on seasoning “sand” dotted with shells. When the waiter spotted Nico napping on two chairs pushed together, he found a beach towel to serve as a pillow.

In our last hour, I deposited my family opposite the ferry landing and went in search of loukoumi ice cream, which was inspired by the island’s famous pink Turkish delight. Not finding any, I settled for pistachio. Then, turning back toward the dock, I noticed a hole-in-the-wall sweetshop with a small ice cream counter. There it was.

I threw my half-eaten pistachio in the trash and bought a cone of the rose-flavored loukoumi. A minor sin as far as waste and gluttony go, but out of character for a mom who counts calories and limits showers to four minutes. Like so many others, I had fallen in love with Syros and lost all common sense.

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  • Très jolie maison

    Francois Airbnb review for Fabbrica BnB

    Très jolie maison, idéalement située, la plage juste a coté, et d’une propreté impeccable. Thanos est un hôte très accueillant, très à l’écoute des voyageurs et prêt a rendre service. Super sejour!

    Francois
    Fabbrica BnB

    Excellent views to the sea

    Cynthia's review for Traditional House in Megas Gialos Syros

    We loved this place – it is a beautiful house with excellent views to the sea and great swimming options within five minutes walk. We found the house an excellent choice for two couples – there was plenty of room, with the large deck being our favourite eating space. Louis and Thanos were very helpful as we needed to hire a car and they sorted this out for us prior to arrival.

    The house is very clean and well appointed.

    Highly recommended.

    Cynthia
    Traditional House in Megas Gialos

    Σίγουρα θα ξαναπάμε! Tο σπίτι είναι πολύ όμορφο

    Σίγουρα θα ξαναπάμε! Tο σπίτι είναι πολύ όμορφο

    Εμείς ήμασταν τρία ζευγάρια με τρία μωρά, το σπίτι ήταν εξαιρετικό σε όλα τα επίπεδα, οι άνθρωποι μέχρι και παρκοκρέβατα μας είχαν, το σπίτι είναι πολύ όμορφο και μεγάλο με πολύ καλά στρώματα για ύπνο, σε πολύ ωραία τοποθεσία με θέα στη θάλασσα. Σίγουρα θα ξαναπάμε και μας άρεσε πολύ και το νησί!

    Dimitris
    Erato Suite in Megas Gialos

    The view is unforgettable

    tereza

    The view is unforgettable. Super comfortable spaces, fully equipped to the last detail. the beach is under the yard. We did not have to move the car to take a bath. The hosts were very friendly and helpful in everything we needed.

    Tereza
    Fabbrica BnB

    The house was spacious and fully equipped. Amazing sandy beach

    natasa

    The house was spacious and fully equipped with lots of sun light. Υou don’t have the impression that is semi-basement at all. There are windows all over the place. Εven though the temperature outside was over 30 degrees , we didn’t used the air condition because inside it’s keeping a nice and fresh atmosphere … Very clean and nicely decorated , Thanos and Louis they were very kind and always available for our needs. There is a small beach (almost private ! not sandy beach) 20 meters away and a big sandy beach caribbean style 100 meters away that you can just stay there all day and go with the flip flops at home to bring some food and continue! Thank you guys for your amazing home and hospitality we really enjoyed and we will see you definitely soon !!

    Natasa
    Fabbrica BnB Guesthouse

    Best place on this wonderful island

    Airbnb Review of Markus

    Wonderful place in a rural surrounding. Quiet and with perfect privacy. The house is perfectly located close to wonderful beaches with a stunning sea view. It is very clean and well equipped. 4 cats became our friends during our stay. We met Louis who’s showed us everything and who is so caring and willing to help. We really loved our stay and can recommend this place without my Limitation – best place on this wonderful island.

    Markus
    Traditional House in Megas Gialos

    Amazing place and hosts! 

    Sofia
    Villa Alba in Azolimnos

    A lovely place to stay in Syros

    Karsten

    A lovely place to stay in Syros. But please consider renting a vehicle. Megas Gialos is nice, but is also small. Thanos is a very friendly host who is always reachable, when needed. House is very clean and has an amazing view over the sea. Would always come back if my ways will touch Syros again.

    Karsten
    Traditional house in Megas Gialos

    Spacious, lovely house with a beautiful view over the bay

    We had a wonderful 2 weeks in this spacious, lovely house with a beautiful view over the bay. Thanos was a great and communicative host. We are already contemplating coming back next summer. Recommended!

    Nadja
    Traditional house in Megas Gialos

    The views were breathtaking

    Dimitra's review on Airbnb

    Best place to go for a relaxing holiday! The cozy house was perfectly stocked and tastefully decorated. The views were breathtaking! Great location to enjoy a quiet place near the beach. I strongly recommend it and I will visit it again soon!

    Dimitra
    Fabbrica BnB

    Amazing hospitality

    Cristina

    The house overlooking the sea. Fantastic land scape. Amazing hospitality. Super holiday.

    Cristina
    Fabbrica BnB

    Πολύ όμορφο διαμέρισμα με ησυχία, θέα και ηρεμία

    Πολύ όμορφο διαμέρισμα με ησυχία

    Πολύ όμορφο διαμέρισμα με ησυχία, θέα και ηρεμία. Πολύ κοντά στην Ερμούπολη και σε υπέροχες παραλίες. Καλή σχέση ποιότητας και τιμής.

    Konstantina
    Fabbrica BnB

    The sea view is enchanting

    vagelis

    The sea view is enchanting in a fantastic quiet location to enjoy the sea and the sun in peace. The house is very comfortable, beautifully decorated and fully equipped. We had a fantastic time. Thanos and Louis welcomed us at the port and helped us with a car rental and gave us very useful information about the island. We recommend it to everyone and especially to those who love the sea as it is next to the beach.

    Vangelis
    Fabbrica BnB

    The House is amazing with great view

    The House is amazing with great view

    The House is amazing with great view. Thanos is also amazing and willing to assist in every way. Thank you for everything Thanos

    Akis
    Fabbrica BnB

    Love the house

    Lir's review

    Love the house! It is pretty much my dream home. 3 good size bedrooms, one ensuite and one extra bathroom. Glass fronted fireplace has been great for the winter stay. Huge light living area, plenty of sofa and table space – with the added bonus of having good television and playstation. Lovely kitchen with everything you need; huge fridge/freezer. Perfect patio with bougainvillea and view to sea, with great table, chairs and sun loungers. All built for comfortable living and lovely decor.

    Lir
    Fabbrica BnB

    Directly accessed from lovely private terrace overlooking the sea.

    Directly accessed from lovely private terrace overlooking the sea. Spacious apartment, just completed, tastefully equipped and furnished. Good quality kitchen and appliances. Powerful air conditioning, limitless hot water. Everything you need for a relaxing stay in beautiful Kini. Located between main Kini beach and smaller Lotos beach. Minutes from either.

    Julian
    Waterview Apartment near the beach

    Perfect beach 5 m walking

    Perfect beach 5 m walking

    Incredible house, really perfect beach 5 m walking.

    No doubt to repeat again, everything was perfect, you feel like at home in the moment you arrive.

    Antonio
    Traditional House in Megas Gialos

    Η αυλή καταπληκτική με υπέροχη θέα στη θάλασσα

    Το σπίτι είναι πολύ όμορφο. Η αυλή καταπληκτική με υπέροχη θέα στη θάλασσα.

    Το σπίτι είναι πολύ όμορφο. Η αυλή καταπληκτική με υπέροχη θέα στη θάλασσα. Όλοι οι χώροι είναι καλαίσθητοι και εξαιρετικά καθαροί.

    Μείναμε με τα τα δυο μικρά παιδιά μας και αποδείχθηκε πολυ λειτουργικό μιας και διαθέτει όλες τις ανέσεις.

    Ευχαριστούμε τον Louis & Thanos για τη φιλοξενία.

    Lefteris/Natasa
    Traditional House in Megas Gialos