Lipsi is our new favourite Greek island, and when we make that statement we’re not merely paying lip service to its charms.
We arrived on a small, passenger-only ferry called Patmos Star. It was a topsy-turvy trip. Once ashore in Lipsi town, the main port, we were greeted by an array of proprietors standing at the foot of the quay with photos of their lodgings. We looked at one that had too many steps, but had a view of a small bay that looked a lot like the waterhole where Irwin swam when he was a boy near Préfontaine. The only shade was from a row of tamarind trees and there were no chairs or ice-cream vendors, though we had a lovely time swimming there in the early evening after the sun had almost set. It’s cool at night, at times quite windy, much like on Patmos.
The island is small and unassuming. When we arrived around 11 am, it seemed eerily quiet. As noon gave way to a cooler afternoon and evening, restaurants started filling their open-air tables, all featuring fresh fish caught by the many fishermen whose small boats line the harbour.
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After examining two or three more options that left us wanting for space and a view, we happened upon Akrogiali Studios, facing the main bay, with sailboats heading out to sea, seagulls bobbling in the waves, and a pale blue cloudless sky above. Our room was big and airy with a small flat screen TV, good lighting, a kitchenette, and a balcony overlooking the sea.
Our small hotel was right next to the most popular restaurant in town, Yannis, owners of our hotel. Service and food are exceptional at Yannis: a whole fish and fries cooked in olive oil, and salad was 7euro ($10). The staff at Yannis welcomed us every night to feast on fish and mezes (appetizers). Other than eating and reading, we swam every day and sometimes twice a day at the “city” beach, a sandy expanse of water, wave-less, and shallow.
Lipsi has a year-round population of about 700 but it swells in the summer with visitors mainly from Italy, France and other parts of Greece.
We discovered the charming and extremely popular Traditional Bakery—a gathering spot for locals and visitors featuring homemade Italian ice cream, such Greek pastries as our favourite orange pie, and excellent filtered coffee with hot milk for 1.50 euros, about $2. We helped ourselves to yogurt from the fridge, just as we do in a grocery store. That second morning we had brought our own honey and almonds and created our own yogurt-based breakfast while sipping our coffees.
The entire island has an incredible vibe. Everyone is friendly. This is not a fancy place. No star sightings, and the financial crises that were wracking mainland Greece, Spain and Portugal were far from our minds.
On the third day, we took a boat ride to five islands, a trip that included swimming off the boat. The family in the room next to ours happened to be on the same cruise, but they were leaving Lipsi to go to Arki. Gilles 60, his wife, Marie, 16-year-old son Arthur and his friend Marc are from the Paris area (photo on far right). We got to know them on the boat we shared with 20 other passengers. We stopped to swim at various bays and at the last island, Arki, Gilles told us their special story over lunch.
Their daughter, Juliette, died of cancer when she was 9, two years before. Gilles showed us many beautiful pictures of her in Lipsi, where they would holiday every year, and of a beach nearby that she had called “paradise.” The mayor of the island had agreed that the family could create a miniature chapel (the size of a small dollhouse) in honour of Juliette at her favourite beach, Gialos.
The next day, we took a taxi out to that beach and found the little chapel on the road beside the beach. Juliette’s picture is inside. She was a beautiful child, and there are stuffed animals all around her photo and flowers growing around the chapel in patches of earth surrounded by rocks. You can look inside and see her face. It is a lovely memorial.
We swam at Juliette’s beach and then returned to our studio. We are planning to meet Juliette’s family next year in Lipsi.
At the restaurant at Juliette’s beach we met a young Greek couple, law professors from Thessaloniki, (pictured on the right) and shared a cab back to our village. We sat at our “Traditional Bakery” and exchanged life notes. He was very interested in the non-withstanding clause in our constitution. They talked about how their salaries had been cut by about 600 euro a month but other than that they seemed to be having good lives.
That evening we attended a wine festival held in the park across from the bakery, a fundraiser to buy audio-visual equipment for the primary school. The high school has 25 students with 23 teachers who may also teach at the primary school. The pupils from the school performed traditional Greek dances in costume, accompanied by two bazoukis and a violin, great entertainment that lasted into the wee hours. There were many toddlers dancing along and enjoying the souvlaki skewers. The mayor spoke at length about his successful efforts to create a wine industry on the island, to keep young people employed beyond the tourist season.
We left Lipsi on the Flying Dolphin, a crazy boat ride to Samos (it kind of flies over the water and is very bumpy) to see our old friends Jocelyn, of the Thannasis Sister’s Restaurant, and bubbly Sandy from New Zealand at her café bar. From Samos, we ferried to Chios and then to Lesvos, the climax of our island hop last summer.