Milos – Island #24

Synchronicity first brought me to Milos over 10 years ago.  Travelling with 2 Brasilian friends, we flew to Athens and decided to take the first ferry out of Piraeus going anywhere none of us had been before. During the flight one of my friends dropped his wallet (full of holiday money) and was fortunate to be given it back by a friendly member of airport staff (still full of holiday money).  We asked this nice girl about her favourite island.  She told us it was Milos.  So we went to Milos!  On the ferry we overheard someone talking about Pollónia so when we arrived in Milos, we took a bus there. In Pollónia (pollOnia) we followed our intuition and a ‘House for Rent’ sign and were rewarded by the most beautiful little whitewashed Greek fisherman’s cottage I had ever seen complete with walled garden all for €30 a night – with homemade wine and grapes thrown in! We barbecued fish in the garden, drank wine on top of the wall and threw our olive stones into the sea below and generally had a fabulous time! I wondered what had become of it.

This time I headed for Piraeus on a bus from the airport with a vague idea of visiting some of the lesser-known islands of the Western Cyclades but when I saw Milos on the board outside the ticket office, I knew where I was going. I opted for the high speed hydrofoil option (3 hrs – €57) over the slower but cheaper ship option (7 hrs – €39), bought a one-way ticket and settled down in a bar with a frappé (iced coffee whipped into a delicious froth) to while away the 2 hour wait by people-watching and warding off the army of sunglass and selfie-stick salesmen.

Piraeus is a massive and unattractive port. Huge ships, ferries, hydrofoils and catamarans of all shapes and sizes are moving large numbers of people around the Greek islands and the mainland ports. It is hot, dirty and full of people, vehicles and luggage but unavoidable unless you fly directly to the islands. On the plus side, there’s a direct bus from the airport (X96 less than an hour €6). There are air-conditioned waiting rooms, a fantastic (and dirt cheap) souvlaki shop across the road and embarkation is swift and well-organised.

Seats on the hydrofoil are allocated so there is no need to rush to get on.  Milos is the southwesternmost island of the Cyclades chain and has 3 main satellite islands – Kimolos, anti-Milos and Poliegos of which only Kimolos is inhabited.  It is volcanic in origin and is crescent-shaped with the original crater forming the natural harbour in the centre where the capital Adamantas is now situated. Covering an area of approx 150 kms², the island is divided roughly into two halves – the western side is rugged and sparsely populated with its highest peak, Mount Profitis Elias, at 748 metres. These days car hire companies restrict access to the wilder parts of this half. Most of the settlements, both historically and currently are in the eastern part of the island and in particular towards the north which is fertile and green and, in the past, provided good visibility from the high points out to sea. Today there is still some volcanic activity and there are hot sulphurous springs and ground heat in places.

This ferry route stops at 7 islands and goes down as far as Santorini and Ios.  There must have been a couple of hundred passengers on board. Milos was the third stop after Sifnos and Serifos. I was talked out of my aisle seat by a Greek lady with an (alleged) bad knee and chatted to a friendly Greek American girl at the bar over more frappés. Seats are comfortable, it’s air-conditioned, you can charge your phone and buy food and drink at the bar – there are worse ways to travel!

We docked in Adamantas harbour in Milos around 6.30 pm.  Greece was in the grip of a heatwave and it was still about 35°.  I took a stroll around before deciding where to sleep that night – I don’t take much luggage.  Adamantas is a bustling place – boats line the waterfront during the evening, most of them touting for business for round-the-island tours and trips to parts of the island inaccessible by car, moped or quad bike.  Opposite the boats are a wide selection of bars and restaurants all with wooden pergolas painted white and pale green to keep the sun off the huge numbers of tables and chairs beneath. Behind the restaurants are all a tourist needs on a Greek island – banks; ticket offices for ferries, planes and island excursions; shops selling hats, suncream + postcards and a mini-market for bottles of water and beer, fruit, yoghurt and all other Greek staples necessary for a day at the beach.

Behind the front line shops, the town slopes uphill with various stairways leading from between the shops upwards to the huge white church with it’s blue-domed tower and stunning views over the port and the wider bay of Adamantas. Further around the bay, tiny Shirley-Valentine style fish restaurants occupy the space between the road and the sea and friendly waiters and glass cases full of the day’s catch attempt to lure you in for dinner.  (In Greece only tourists would consider eating as early as 7 pm. The Greeks eat later around 10pm).

I took the main whitewashed steps up to the church and walked across the top of the old town and down the steep steps on the other side, passing cocktail bars and swish-looking rooms for rent all with fabulous views of the sun setting over the bay. On the other side I found another little beach (Lagada) complete with its own geese and cats of all shapes and sizes! Oleander trees in full bloom line the road and white and pink blossoms mixed with bright red frangipani flowers provide shade for cats and cars.

Milos is most famous for the statue of the Goddess Aphrodite, the ‘Venus de Milo’ (now in the Louvre) and consequently lots of things are named after her. I found Aphrodite of Milos Apartments a few hundred yards along the road – all white with light blue balconies (floors, doors, furniture) and a statue of its namesake. I’d seen it online and it looked nice (and cheap!). Nikos the friendly owner rented me a small and basic but spotlessly clean little (light blue) apartment with air-conditioning and a lovely balcony with a sea-view for €40 a night and gave me all sorts of helpful information about the town and the buses to other parts of the island.  He kindly tolerated my terrible Greek! I wondered back along the waterfront to the mini-market and did some shopping.  I sat on my balcony, sipping cold beer and eating a Greek salad – happy to have found my home for the next 3 days.

The next day I bought a hat, and took the bus to Pollónia.  After a frappé in a waterfront taverna, I went to see what had become of our beautiful fisherman’s cottage.  I found it easily but it was very different.  Our unassuming and charming little house is now called Villa Lord and is an upmarket, waterside villa with patios and balconies and a gate leading to the sea. Gone were the fishing nets out to dry and the shady olive trees in the private, walled garden. The traditional blue woodwork had been repainted a mustard yellow and the name is written on the outside wall in big letters – it all looked very manicured, exclusive and upmarket – I liked it much better before.

Pollónia on the north coast of Milos is a lovely little place – small fishing boats and yachts are moored in a wide sandy bay lined with shady tamarisk trees. On one side of the bay, taverna terraces perch on the edge of the quayside between the road and the water. On the other a tiny blue and white chapel marks the edge of the bay. Fishermen mend their nets and sell their fish directly from their boats to eager customers and the little car ferry to Kimolos makes several trips a day from the end of the dock.

I made the most of my second full day in Milos by taking the bus to Provatas beach on the south side of the island. The buses here are large air-conditioned coaches but, as it was still June, the summer service had not yet started and the timetable was limited. Two buses to the beach in the morning and two back in the afternoon. Buses here are surprisingly punctual, drivers are friendly and helpful, journeys seem to cost a flat rate of €1.80 and you pay as you leave the bus so as not to affect the punctual departure of the service. It works well. For a longer stay, you definitely need a car to explore more of the island but for a couple of days the bus is fine!

Although Provatas is not the most beautiful beach Milos has to offer (there are 70 others to choose from), the little bay of clean yellow sand is studded with tiny little white and blue boathouses built into the rocks, there are tamarisk trees for shade and some fairly impressive pink, yellow and white cliffs rise up from the sea on one side of the bay. The water was a beautiful light greeny turquoise colour – warm and clear but refreshing and, as it was about 37°, I spent most of the day in it!  It wasn’t crowded and the bus dropped us off and picked us up from the clifftop overlooking the beach, just behind a pretty little taverna – perfect!

That evening, I took the bus up to Plaka – the old capital – situated on a high point on the north of the island.  The bus drops passengers at the bottom end of town and a series of whitewashed stairways takes you up through the back end of the town and weaves its way past various churches and hillside houses to the old castle site – following signs for ‘Kastro’. The old castle is now in ruins and the site is occupied by a little chapel.  I was shocked to see some Greek people standing on top of the dome and inside the bell tower of one of the larger churches – like goats – showing more respect for the sunset that the church!

This proved to be a popular sunset-watching spot and quickly filled up with Greeks and other tourists touting cameras and phones, waiting for the sun to set over the sea and the little island of anti-Milos between us and the horizon.  I came down when it became impossible to take a picture without someone unwanted standing in the way!

The old town of Plaka is smart and elegant with upmarket boutiques and restaurants crammed into tiny pastel-coloured, two-storey buildings which line narrow, winding, white-washed alleyways. Crowded restaurant tables are squeezed into little squares and lined up against the walls of narrow streets. As the sun goes down, the town is atmospherically lit with lamps and candles. A beautiful church perches on the edge of town and the patio that surrounds it was full of more sunset watching, selfie-taking tourists and visitors. Old people and children sat on benches and the church steps enjoying the cool of the evening and the sea breeze. I peered through the door of the church to a dark and splendid interior of painted icons and glistening silverware twinkling in the light of hundreds of candles. The watchful, expressionless but distinctly unwelcoming face of the bearded Greek Orthodox priest stopped me from going in for a better look! Taxis were coming and going, dropping off smartly dressed people for sunset drinks and Greek-time dinner as I headed back down to catch the last bus home to Adamantas at 9.30 pm.

Back in Adamantas, shops were just closing at 10 pm and locals were rushing off home for their dinner as tourists finished eating and strolled along the waterfront, eating ice cream and chatting to the boat guys about tomorrow’s day trips. Back at Aphrodite of Milos, I joined my Greek and Spanish neighbours out on the balcony for a delicious dinner of Greek salad, Greek yoghurt with honey and juicy fresh peaches (and of course more cold beer) and to watch the lights twinkling from the boats in the distance and savour my last night in Milos.

I got up early the next day for a swim in the crystal clear and totally still sea at nearby Lagada beach (geese still sleeping) and to take some last minute photos before saying goodbye to friendly Nikos and walking the short distance to the port to make the quick hop to my next island. Milos is beautiful. I’ll be back for sure. Next time I will hire a car or a boat, stay in Pollonia not Adamantas, get off the beaten track and discover some new places.

 

NEXT ISLAND:  Kimolos

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