This Greek Island 30 Minutes From Mykonos Has All the Charm and None of the Crowds (Video)
For most people, hearing mention of the Greek islands typically conjures up images of hot spots like Mykonos and Santorini, with their recognizable windmills, winding streets, and white-and-blue-trimmed buildings. Islands like these can host up to two million tourists during the summer months. The thing about Greece is, there are 227 inhabited islands in the country — 6,000 in total — and, while the popular places continue to reign supreme over tourists and Instagram hashtags, the comforts of luxury hospitality and incredible sights, sans crowds, is possible elsewhere.
Tinos is a 30-minute ferry (15 if you get the high-speed boat) from Mykonos and happens to be experiencing a bit of a renaissance. Often dismissed as “the religious island” (the Panagia Evangelistria, a 190-year-old Greek Orthodox church that was built in honor of the Virgin Mary, is one of the island's most famous sites), Tinos has remained unspoiled by the hordes of tourists that flock out of airports and cruise ships toward other parts of the country.
There are 50 villages on the 75-square-mile island, and most them have at least one taverna where gorgeously simple, local dishes, like roasted eggplant with garlic and boiled artichoke with olive oil and lemon, are served up. Teréza’s Cafe in Myrsini, run by Teréza, her brother, and mother—who strips 200 wild artichokes found all over the island per day— offers a beef in tomato sauce dish teeming with flavor.
An especially exciting development within the revitalization of the island (which has more closely been associated with crawling pilgrimages than free-flowing ouzo, a Greek aperitif, at beach clubs) is Tinos Food Paths: a community of locals in the food and hospitality sectors to network and expand the island's gastronomic scene together. The group puts on several events during the year, with the most anticipated being its food festival in May. Organized by locals and expats, this interactive food festival celebrates Tinian traditions, cuisines, and lifestyles, inviting chefs from all over the country to come experiment with local ingredients and flavors.
While many may default to the port and “downtown” area called Chora for accommodation, a restored villa like Xinara House can provide a more authentic adventure. As one of the more luxurious properties on the quaint island, the 17th-century home is just a 15-minute drive up the hills from the port and transports you to another, simpler time: The sleepy village doesn't even have a taverna or bar (though that might change next summer). The house was built in the 1680s, though restored last year under the ownership of English designers Peter and Susan Marston.
At the back of the property, 10-terraces rising up will lead you to the base of Exomvourgo, a rugged mountain unique for the Cyclades that houses the ruins of a Venetian fortress and town and serves as a local source of potable spring water.
Kolibythra beach is a 15-minute drive down the north side of the hills with two picturesque sections, one free and one with paid beach loungers and a taverna. If you need help planning what to do, your accomodation can likely arrange activities for you, and some popular choices at Xinara House are sailboat excursions with your own personal captain and bringing a farm-to-table chef or a local cook in to make you a special meal.
Tourists on the island also enjoy horseback riding, in-home yoga classes, and hiking on one of the many Tinos Trails either with a tour guide or on their own. There are over 93 miles of trails that feel unexplored and undiscovered, and they're marked well so you can even traverse solo.
Whether you stay at the Xinara House or a hotel by the port, Tinos' eccentricity reverberates throughout the island and in the traditional art and food, letting you experience Greece like few others have.