In Greece: Ikaria – the “Island of Centenarians”

Ikaria is often called “Island of the Old”, “Island of the Centenarians” and sometimes even “Island of the Immortals”. And indeed, on the Greek island you see many people who are 100 years old and older. But what is the recipe for such a long life?

Anyone looking for the recipe for healthy aging should ask the Icariots. Honey, they will say, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, wild herbs and the local red wine. And they may also reveal that they take naps every day, chat with neighbors and take long walks across the hilly island. Some even dance, because you’re never too old for that, they say.

On Ikaria people are getting older than anywhere else in Europe

Whatever the reasons, the percentage of 90-year-olds on Ikaria is actually ten times higher than the European average. The island also has fewer cancers, heart attacks and dementia than most other regions of the world. When the New York Times published an article about Ikaria in 2012 entitled “The Island Where People Forget to Die”, the Aegean island made international headlines and became increasingly popular the focus of gerontologists (age researchers) and other medical professionals.

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One of the researchers who tried to solve the mystery of the old age of the Ikarioten was the Athenian cardiologist Christodoulos Stefanidis. He interviewed 284 men aged 65 to 99 on Ikaria. Eight out of ten stated that they were regularly sexually active, reports e.g. the Southwest Press. According to Stefanidis, the longevity of the Icariots can be attributed to other factors in addition to sex: lots of exercise, little stress and a healthy diet.

But apart from its elderly residents, Ikaria is also a holiday island – especially for people who are looking for beautiful beaches, peace and nature.

Ikaria – holiday destination without mass tourism

Ikaria, which belongs to the Southern Sporades and owes its name to the Icarus who once fell into the sea with self-made wings while escaping from prison on Crete, lies east of Mykonos and west of Samos. Although the island is not small with a length of at least 40 kilometers and a width of up to eight kilometers, it has so far been spared from mass tourism. Which may be because Ikaria doesn’t quite offer the infrastructure that tourists are used to. There is no international airport and the main attraction is nature. Others, on the other hand, are looking for exactly that and find peace on Ikaria and meet people who are living extremely relaxed towards their hundredth birthday.

The most beautiful beaches

You won’t find any action on Ikaria. But there are beautiful, quiet beaches in small or larger bays, with light sand and turquoise water. The most famous beaches are called Nas (located at the mouth of the Chalaris river), Livadi (near Armenistis, here you can also see sea turtles), Mesachti (near Gialiskari, the longest beach of Ikaria) and Kambos. On the south coast, near Manganatis, there is another fairly unknown beach where you are almost alone.

Visit to Armenitis and Gialaskari

On the way to the sea, detours to the island villages are worthwhile. To Armenistis in the northwest, for example. Not even 150 people live here. There are some pensions and hotels, many taverns where you can eat freshly caught fish, a supermarket, a bakery and even a disco. Gialiskari is about the same size and even quieter. The main attraction is the beautiful white and blue chapel that stands on a rocky promontory.

Hot springs in Therma

The main town on Ikaria is Agios Kirykos, which is located in the southeast of the island and has just over 2000 inhabitants. This is where most of the ferries arrive, as well as most shops and accommodation. But you don’t really get active until the evening, when all the residents head to the taverns or at least onto the streets. From Agios Kirykos it is worth taking a detour to the nearby village of Therma. The reason is the hot springs, which are said to help against arthrosis, rheumatism and other diseases. The ruins of the ancient city of Drakanos nearby are also worth seeing. Evdilos in the north of the island is also a bit larger and important as a port city. Ferries from Samos, Mykonos and Paros arrive here.

Christos Raches does not wake up until late in the evening

Finally, the place Christos Raches is particularly interesting. The pretty mountain village surrounded by pine forests was the place where the composer and politician Mikis Theodorakis was exiled in 1947. Anyone who visits “Raches” will experience a special kind of time difference, even in the high season: during the day the place is asleep and hardly anyone can be seen on the streets. The first shops only open at 9 p.m., the rest at midnight. Street musicians line up and the tables in the taverns fill up. It ends at 3 a.m. at the earliest.

Ikaria travel tips

Arrival: Flight to Athens, by bus E96 to Piraeus and then by ship to Evdilos or Agios Kirikos. Faster is the onward flight with Olympic Air or Aegean from Athens to Ikaria (the small airport is in the southeast of the island)
Climate: Mediterranean. Very dry between May and September, temperatures in summer around 30 degrees

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