Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a boutique marketing and event-planning agency. As a freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world.
Greece is made up of numerous small islands, the most famous of which are Santorini, Crete and Mykonos. But, there are so many other islands to explore and one of them is the small island of Folegandros. With 500 inhabitants, increasing to 5000 when the summer tourists arrive, it is a forty-five-minute boat ride from Santorini. Folegandros is an island that is still unspoiled by tourism and a place to get a true local Greek experience.
I heard about the island because it is the home of Ampelos Resort, which is related to the winery Ampelos Cellars in Santa Barbara, California. Ampelos Resort is a family run resort on Folegandros. Ampelos is owned and run by Anna and Fotis and their son Theo and his wife. Anna, who is Danish (her brother Peter is the owner and winemaker at Ampelos Cellars), first came to the island with her Greek husband Fotis in the 1980s. An artist, Anna has been bringing groups over from Europe and teaching art classes at the resort.
Ampelos Resort sits on a hill just outside the village of Hora. Hora, known as the “Balcony to the Aegean Sea,” is a 13th century fortress built 800 feet above the ocean on the side of the mountain. The rooms at Ampelos are simple, clean and basic with tile floors, a bed, a flat screen TV and wifi. Each room has a balcony with views of the village of Hora, the mountain monastery Panagia and the Aegean Sea. Ampelos also serves a simple breakfast of yogurt and honey, pastries and coffee, tea and juice, which can be enjoyed by the pool looking out at the view.
A day in Folegandros can be spent relaxing by the pool at Ampelos or heading by bike, moped or car to the beach five miles away. Or you can wander around the town of Hora, as I did. The center of Hora is a five-minute walk from Ampelos Resort. It is a quiet and picturesque town of white washed buildings and plazas and enjoyable to find a café to enjoy a fresh juice or frappe and watch the locals. Another great activity, which will build up your appetite, is to take the twenty-minute hike to the top of the hill to the monastery. It is the perfect way to start the day, as when you reach the top of the hill, you are rewarded with a 360-degree breathtaking view of the island.
WHERE TO EAT
Even though Folegandros is a small island, there are many little tavernas to eat in. As it is always best to ask the locals where to eat, Anna and her son Theo were more than helpful in suggesting a few restaurants.
Ouzeri To Gupi
There are only six tables in this little restaurant located in the first square in the town of Hora. A family business for eighteen years, Akis runs the restaurant and his mother does the cooking. Ouzeri means meze restaurant and gupi is a little fish and Ouzeri to Gupi specializes in small plates. Dishes include capered onions in olive oil served warm which melts in the mouth, perfect little meatballs that are light and crunchy on the outside and tender inside and cheese pies that look like empanadas. These little fried pockets are filled with the creamy warm souroto cheese, a local goat cheese.
Restaurant O Kritikos
Located in another town square in Hora, Restaurant O Kritikos was started as a grocery and butcher in 1960. Today Cristos runs the restaurant that his grandfather started and his mother, who is the sister of Akis' mother at Oyzep To Gupta, does a lot of the cooking. Here the veal burger with chunks of feta inside is the dish to try.
Kali Kardia (means The Good Heart)
On the other side of Folegandros, by the harbor is Kali Kardi, which means The Good Heart. While the harbor is vacant in the winter, during the summer the homes are occupied and the restaurants are open. This restaurant is run by mother and daughter duo Theodora and Maria Mpanani. This old Greek tavern was originally started by Maria’s great grandmother as a coffee shop. At 120-years-old, Kali Kardia is the oldest restaurant on the island.
A GLASS OF WINE
After a day of hiking, exploring and eating, enjoy a glass of wine. Just down the road from Ampelos, before you enter the town of Hora, is a wine bar called Merquri. Owned by Spiros Ventoris, Merquri offers 40-50 different wines from throughout Greece, as well as small plates. The outdoor patio is large and looks out at the town and up toward the hill with the church. Spiros opened the wine bar seven years ago and also makes his own wine. While he purchases grapes from other vineyards (assyrtiko from Santorini and muscat from the Pelponeese), Sprios also has a small vineyard planted of a local variety called Closaria. He makes about 2000 bottles.
Folegandros is a small enough island to only spend a couple nights. If you are looking for a quiet place to relax and soak up the sun, this is the island to visit.
Phone: +30 22860 41544 (Greece)