Between 60,000 and 80,000 copies of a deluxe glossy German travel magazine have been spreading a gushingly empathetic eulogy of “The island of free spirits”. And according to the website of the monthly GEO Saison (‘GEO Season’) its readers are “exclusive, especially keen, spend-happy travellers who can afford quality and love luxury”.
“They’re equally open-minded and discerning and expect outstanding photography, first class texts and tips that are as surprising as they are reliable.”
The magazine lists some recent findings about their readers: 18% enjoyed staying in top hotels, 12% are regarded as experts for wellness offers, to 63% it’s important to get to know other countries and cultures and 75% indicate they’re ready to spend big on vacation.
Having fallen in love with Ikaria while spending 25 June days there in 2016 I share the eulogising on 12 pages of stunningly good photographs by Piraeus-based Christos Drazos and elegant writing by journalist and book author, Elsemarie Maletzke. The Visit Ikaria website people, Chrysanthi Zouva and Zacharias Zizis helped them with contacts and tips.
GEO SAISON costs €6.50 per issue so that I doubt – but, of course, could be completely wrong – that this story will pitch to the bulk of the kinds of tourists I encountered, who were not the “luxury loving” type at all; but it will undoubtedly attract the better-off.
In this age of growing authoritarianism and Trumpism, a lovely opening sentence makes you keen to find out more straight away: “Far away from Athens, in the eastern Aegean, the rebellious citizens of Ikaria have created a realm with its own rules. They open their shops when it suits them and party every chance they get. Visitors also fling themselves into the fun.”
“People stick together and don’t miss a single (village) feast” or “in Ikaria time is no criterion stinging people to hurry” and “the rebellious island was once a free state for five months” are some other observations.
Ikarian rebelliousness persists, reflected by the way the islanders vote. The Greek Communist Party (KKE) has a strong majority in the municipal council that governs the 8,431 islanders. As a local put it to me, “half of the locals want the 'development' of the island and the other half want it to stay as it is.” In the last national elections of September 2015, KKE gained 33.20%, SYRIZA, the other left grouping, 26.43%, of votes in the island, making an almost 60% left vote from Ikaria.
Ikaria’s remoteness made it easy for dictators to exile opponents there. The most prominent was world famous composer, Mikis Theodorakis, a lifelong leftist and resistance fighter, who’ll turn 92 on 29 July this year. He was one of 13,000 Greeks banned to Ikaria during the civil war from 1946 to 1949.
He wrote glowingly about the Ikarians’ hospitality, solidarity and sharing what little they had. “There was only one sore point in our relationship with the locals,” the GEO SAISON article quotes him, “we clarified that in the 10th commandment of our group rules: Any love relationship with a local girl or woman was forbidden. Our guiding thought was that we hadn’t gone into exile to have love adventures.”
The magazine team met Eleftheria Votanda, now 82, who met Theodorakis and his fellow exiles when she was 14. They lived in a simple stone house close to her family’s. She remembers him as “a very handsome young fellow. He had beautiful hair and beautiful eyes”.
Ikarians plan to make a museum of the house the exiles lived in, but they’re not in a hurry. I’m thinking some of the “spend-happy travellers who can afford quality and love luxury” might feel like throwing some money at the project to help it along.
The article mentions the frequent village feasts (panagiria), local foods and wine, hidden paths through breathtaking landscapes, women in business, village profiles, “best tips and addresses”, things to see and do.
Their lifestyle has carried the Ikarians into the socalled Blue Zone (see page 36), the article reads, “a place where people become very old because they eat a lot of vegetables, get regular exercise, keep away from stress and cultivate social cohesion.”
“Listen my friend,” says some writing on a cafenion table in the mountain village Akamatra, “this is the secret of youth: give up your old life and become an Ikariot.”
While there is still stock left, copies of the December issue can be ordered at http://shop.geo.de/reisen/geo-saison/einzelhefte/geo-saison-br-nr-12-2016-br-entdeckungen.html. €6.50 plus postage. When that site opens up there’s a green button with the message “In den Warenkorb” (Into the shopping basket).
Diet Simon, Hamburg
retired journalist, lover of Ikaria
Disclaimer: the content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of Visit Ikaria. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in this article lies entirely with the author.