In 2012, the year that naysayers (and the Mayans) predicted the world would come to an end, a new chapter began for Ikaria (known in Greek mythology as the land onto which Icarus landed when he flew too close to the sun), after American scientist Dan Buettner wrote a feature titled ‘Where People Forget To Die’ for The New York Times.
In his revelatory piece, Buettner expounded on his findings of the longevity and sturdy health of Ikaria’s inhabitants, naming the island one of the world’s four Blue Zones, geographical areas where the common health practices of residents led to scientifically provable consequences.
(Nicoya in Costa Rica, Okinawa in Japan and Sardinia in Italy were the other regions).
Since then, Ikaria has hardly changed, but its reputation has reached a global dimension.
From Florida pensioners to Beijing physicians, the island is now on the bucket list of health explorers of all varieties who long to drink from the northern Aegean island’s somewhat elusive fountain of youth. Meanwhile, a modern holistic wellness scene has begun to blossom on the island in recent years, with yoga, energy therapies and creative workshops drawing a new kind of visitor.
Crisis-hit like the rest of Greece but never yet desperate for touristic action, locals react to all the attention with mixed feelings, some believing that it has jinxed the island.
Located between Chios and Mykonos and utterly different from either on all fronts, Ikaria was known as the ‘Red Rock’ during the Greek Civil War. It became home to some 13,000 communist exiles, including many prodigious writers, composers and thinkers.
The political exiles are said to have influenced islanders by generating a substantial degree of creative expression and a profound intellectual outlook. Probably by consequence, from the late ‘70s on, Ikaria became hip among anarchists, bohemians and artists.
Although its people are known for their warmth, good humour and generosity, Ikaria has been the kind of island Jackie O’ would be photographed on.
It has never been touristic or accommodating to the ways of others to the extent of changing its inherent patterns.
It has a very distinct character in its dramatically rugged, lush landscape, in parts dotted with giant Neolithic-style rocks. In the same way, its inhabitants live, continuing customary rites for generation upon generation.
The Ikarian lifestyle is a simple, unassuming and personally gratifying one, based on daily hard work such as tending the land (the majority of households island-wide have their own organic food garden) and animals, mainly free-range (“rasko”) goats and maintaining a strong community bond.
The island’s notoriously kefi drenched Greek Panygiria, festivals dedicated to the village Saint. Locals eat and dance the day or night away and then pragmatically use the proceeds for building, mending or maintaining village infrastructure, which takes place almost daily from May to October.
These events, which show Ikarian’s wild character, actually reflect a meaningful tradition that spans back centuries, chiefly to keep family and neighbourly ties strong.
With the arrival of so many foreign visitors during the last decade especially, some locals protest that their Panygiria have become a tourist attraction rather than the intimate event they were. Still, they are very welcoming to visitors nonetheless.
Apart from a diet based on pure, organic, high-quality produce, they have wine, honey, olive oil, free-range goat’s milk, meat and cheeses, vegetables, and fruit. They add to this the highly oxygenated air of pine forests ozonic air of seaside life.
The numerous mineral hot springs on the southeast part of the island are rich in radion and have drawn health fans since antiquity.
They do not know how to the pressured by time restraints of the anxiety-ridden, hurried “modern world” and in some villages, like Christos, in Raches shops open when shop owners have wrapped up their daily chores.
In the evenings the locals fill up the village square to relax over food, drinks and backgammon and a spot of shopping.
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