Long and narrow with an often cloudy, mountainous backbone (up to 1000 m in elevation) Ikaria, with a population of 9100, is divided into northern and southern sections. Quite fertile, there are many pine and cypress trees as well as fruit and olive trees within its land mass of 255 sq. km and its coastline of 102 km. It lies 10 nautical miles southwest of Samos and is 114 nautical miles from Piraeus.
It posseses the most beneficial thermal springs in Europe. The best beaches are on the north coast. The islands apricot harvest is particularly favorful. Many still say that apricots from here are the best ever tasted.
If you are looking for a different type of island you should visit Ikaria. The island was a place of banishment for leftist dissidents during right-wing Greek regimes. It has definitely soaked up the liberal spirit–not just politically but in its daily life. Greeks are the primary visitors and many of them come to visit the island's thermal springs.
The wooded north has better sandy beaches. The more rugged south has pebbly beaches and rocks, and many mountain springs. It's often windy here. Some say it was the blustering wind, not the sun, that brought Icarus down here.
Ikaria is sometimes held up as a model of environmental and economic sustainability. Part of the reason this is possible is that tourism is fairly irrelevant here.
Aghios Kyrikos, or just Aghios, is the main port and commercial heart of the island. It retains many of its older store fronts unchanged since the 1930's with little concession to modernization. It is all the more charming for this. Each town dweller is required to cultivate their own garden so more trees than people exist and a delightful blaze of color is to be seen. Many stores are closed during the day and open only late afternoons until the wee hours. Most social activity takes place along the waterfront within the cafeneons. Sweet shops sell local island specialties and wonderfully thick local honey from thyme and koumaro bush fed bees. Island Ouzo and barrel wine is locally produced and of good quality. No credit cards are accepted on the island but at least the banks are open 8 am to 1:30 pm.
From its southern port and capital, Agh Kyrikos, a short taxi or boat ride away lies Therma Lefkada, site of the natural radioactive springs which have made the island famous. They bubble from the ground at a mean temperature between 32-56 C and are beneficial in the treatment of chronic arthritis, rheumatism, spondylitis and gout. There is also a sauna (Tel: 22202). The springs are the most radioactive in Europe and some are closed to the public due to their strength. One spring surpasses 790 degrees of radiation.
The North Coast and Evdilos
Evdilos is separated from Aghios Kyrikos by the proverbial 40 km of rough road! From Aghios Kyrikos a long winding road ascends east to the barren mountain pass, affording views of nearbt Fourni, Samos, Patmos, Naxos and Turkey. Once through, the road descends westward through the pine-covered slopes passing the several small villages of Monokambi, Aghios Pantas, Karavostamo and Keramio on its way to Evdilos, a stone-paved port linked four times a week with Piraeus and Samos.
The western portion of the north side of Ikaria is connected by another road from Evdilos which leads up towards the ruined Byzantine Fortress of Nikarias and its old stone church. In the nearby village of Pyrgi, Ikaria's finest frescoes may be seen in the Monastery of Theoktisi.
Ikaria's nicest beach is to be found at Gialiskari where free lance camping is permitted after the few local rooms are filled to capacity. The next nicest beach is at Armenitsis a small fishing village, and the island's biggest tourist resort.
Christos Raches and Nas
From Armenitsis travel to the beautiful mountain village of Christos Raches complete with its lake. It's known as the "Switzerland of Ikaria." Its 13th Century convent has wall paintings and icons on display. Christos Raches is famous for its very late hours and its old-fashioned shops and tavernas. Ten minutes further on is Nas, or Naos, the island's ancient city. The ancient harbor below is ideal for an all over tan, and just behind lies the 5th Century BC Temple of Artemis Tauropoulos. The statue of the goddess here had eyes that followed the viewer from every angle, enough reason to toss it in the kiln.
Drinking and Dining
For superior traditional cuisine try Kazais and Phtera (wings) on the slopes above Ag. Kyrikos. Harborside, Ekonomou & Klimataria are good basic tavernas.
Ikaria has had many names. It was called Dolichi (oblong) and Ichthyoessa (fishy) and Oenoe (wine) and Ikor (fishy). The island has been identified with the myth of Icarus since classical times. Ikaria is the island that the mythological Icarus' son crashed near when his wax wings melted but it was probably the winds that downed him.
It briefly declared itself an independent country in 1912. There was a tragic forest fire in 1993 in the hills west of Ag. Kyrikos.