The charming island of Ios offers the cool sophistication of Mykonos and the stunning sunsets of Santorini without the crowds
Words Selma Day
It’s difficult to believe that the picture-postcard island of Ios – nestled between Santorini and Mykonos in the Aegean Sea – was once the “party island” of Greece. What was a hippy haven back in the Seventies has become more of a hipster hangout, with cool bars, fancy restaurants and glamorous beach clubs drawing a more sophisticated crowd.
There are the jaw-dropping sunsets of Santorini without the mass tourism, while white washed villages such as the hilltop capital of Chora retain an authentic feel.
The transformation of Ios, which boasts 25 miles of Cycladic coastline, is largely down to the vision of Greek- American entrepreneur Angelos Michalopoulos and his Athenian wife, Vassiliki Petridou, who in 2003 decided to buy one quarter of the island with the aim of preserving its natural and cultural heritage
The couple have invested millions in low-density developments and now run a cluster of hotels, villas, beach bars, restaurants and lounges under their LuxurIos brand.
The family-run project is born out of passion both for Greece – and for the island of Ios. Angelos’s private acquisition from 624 owners is considered to be the largest private holding of unspoiled coastal landscape ever purchased for conservation purposes in the Mediterranean.
The project has been a true labour of love – their passion for the native olive tree, which in Greece symbolises resurrection and hope – resulted in them transporting around 500 ancient olive trees from the Peloponnese that were about to be destroyed to Ios as well as the planting of more than 55,000 trees and bushes to restore habitats that were previously destroyed by deforestation and wild fires.
The last few years have seen the couple’s vision come to life – working closely with the local community and ensuring the use of environmentally- friendly construction principles in their developments which are largely carbon neutral as the owners insist on solar and geothermal energy.
Building materials for each of their developments (excluding glass, steel and wood) have been morphed out of the sites of each project – mostly marble or granite. These vast chunks of crystalline stone are then cut and carved by local master craftsmen. Even the swimming pools and patios are constructed by painstakingly adding thousands of marble pieces crafted by hand.
The most recent addition to the portfolio is the five-star Calilo – a luxury resort situated in a valley behind Papas Beach. With more than 300 metres of private beach in a remote 1,000-acre setting, it is one of the island’s most beautiful spots.
Most suites offer panoramic sea views and come with private open-air multi-level ponds that have been carved out of the rock and feature cascading waterfalls, bridges and submerged in-water loungers. Completing the laid- back luxury is a 50-metre swimming pool, dotted with various chill-out areas, including boat swings and tables in the water, where you can enjoy a lunchtime snack or drinks. Comfortable cabanas line the beach and, at the press of a buzzer, you’ll have a cocktail in hand within minutes.
The restaurant serves food all day, with a focus on fresh Mediterranean dishes using much home-grown produce from the resort’s own botanical garden.
For those who want to explore the rest of the island, there are plenty of other beautiful beaches included nearby, including Kalamos – perfect for snorkelling – and guests also have access through Calilo to three other small coves. The resort can organise tailor-made activities from a private picnics and beach barbecues to a wine tasting at the group’s own vineyard.
There are also 8kms of walking trails punctuated with shady places to rest, and a collection of sunken rock pools, allowing guests to cool off along the way. The resort offers a transfer service by car or boat (25 minutes) to Chora which has plenty of choice if you want to sample some of the local bars and restaurants.
The restaurant serves food all day, with a focus on fresh Mediterranean dishes using home grown produce from the resort’s botanical garden.
Be sure to visit the group’s Pathos Sunset Lounge and Restaurant – a lounge and club-restaurant to rival the best of nearby Mykonos. Set against a backdrop of the Aegean, there’s no better spot to sit and watch the spectacular sunsets the region is famous for. Legend has it that even Homer witnessed his last sunset on the island of Ios – he is said to have spent his last days here and is believed to have been buried at Plakoto, on the northernmost part of the island. It’s there you will find a simple marble tombstone carved with a bearded head of Greece’s epic poet.
Ios is 45 minutes by ferry from Santorini, Calilo can also provide private boat or helicopter transfers.