Tinos: home of sculptors & farmers

Moonscape of Volax:

Enormous round boulders dot the plateau and the small village, giving the impression of an inhabited lunar landscape.

Tinos, dubbed by philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis as the “handmade island,” is the third largest in the Cyclades island group after Naxos and Andros and one of the most fertile. It has an area of 197 square kilometers, a coastline of 114 kilometers and a population of about 10,000. The island is the location of Greek Orthodox Christianity’s biggest annual religious fete, August 15, when thousands of pilgrims go to pay their respects at the country’s holiest shrine, which houses the icon of the Virgin Mary (Panaghia). The icon was found in the early days of the modern Greek state and is widely believed to be the source of numerous miracles. The shrine complex dominates the port town, Hora.

 

Despite its largely arid appearance in the summer, the island is also blessed with ample sources of water, to which it owes one of its ancient names, Hydroussa. Its farming sector retains much of its traditional vitality and the local cooperative operates a fresh milk- bottling facility for much of the seven tons of milk produced daily. Tinos is also rich in minerals, including marble, which has been used in the Louvre and Buckingham Palace. The beauty of the island is not immediately apparent. In fact, the first impression one gains upon arrival at the port is one of confusion and poor aesthetics in building styles. It is said that the Panaghia has saved Tinos from the excesses of the tourist industry by traditionally attracting only pilgrims to the shrine, located just uphill from the port, thus keeping the rest virtually unspoiled. But this has been changing fast over the last two decades or so and Tinos has been attracting increasing numbers of tourists who appreciate its “handmade” originality.

 

It is one of the few Cycladic islands to retain its rural authenticity and traditions. Volax is one of the best-known villages, due to a rare geological phenomenon: Enormous round boulders dot the plateau and the small village, giving the impression of a partly inhabited lunar landscape. Exombourgo and its medieval fort are situated atop a steep and imposing hill at 640 meters (the second-highest point on Tinos), with a panoramic view of the island. At the foot of the hill lies a Roman Catholic complex dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, which celebrates its fete in July. This is the island’s Catholic heartland and the seat of the regional archbishopric.

Tinos on the Map

Tinos has the largest community of Catholics in Greece and many are tempted to interpret the dedication to the Lady of Lourdes as reflecting a desire to rival the kudos of the Orthodox shrine. The lush villages of Kardiani and Ysternia, perched on a steep slope overlooking the Aegean about 20 kilometers from town, have traditionally attracted artists and intellectuals. Ktikado, a picturesque village 6 kilometers from town, has a superb view of the valley below to Kionia Beach – the island’s best. The 35- minute walk down a traditional country path to the beach is a must. One notes the age-old stone walls built on the side of the valley, showing how hardly an inch of land in this rough terrain was left uncultivated in the past.

Pyrgos, one of the largest and most picturesque villages on Tinos, 27 kilometers from the port, has been home to some of Greece’s most prominent artists, such as Giannoulis Halepas, Nikolaos Lytras and Dimitris Filippotis. A branch of the National School of Fine Arts, many marble workshops and a few small museums are located here. Panormos, a small seaside village near Pyrgos, has a picturesque port and is good for seafood and ouzo.  Another rewarding walk is down the lush valley from the village of Falatados to the isolated and beautiful Livada beach on the northeastern shore.

Tinos’s perhaps most unusual attraction is composed of the hundreds of unique dovecotes strewn about the island, combining ingenuity, artistic creation and aesthetics with ecological harmony. Their primary purpose, however, was essentially practical.  Over the last three centuries or so, the pigeons raised in them were a valuable supplement to the islanders’ diet and their meat was also exported preserved in jars. At the height of pigeon breeding, Tinos had a thousand pigeon lofts. Today, around 500 of these magnificent constructions remain, particularly near the villages of Tarambados, Agapi, Potamia, and Kardiani.

Where to Eat

Tinos cuisine is well-reputed.

In the port: Taverna Michalis and Tarsanas. A bit further inland, Ballis Winery does private tours and dinner.

In Kionia: Bourou and Tsampia.

In Ormos Aghios Yiannis: Konaki and Luma

In Ktikados village:Tavern Drosia

In Triantaros: Lefkes

In Panormos: Aghia Thalassa

In Dyo Choria: Sto Kapaki, great for brunch

Buy local cheese, honey, luza (the local prosciutto) and small almond cakes.

What to See

The Church of Evangelistria has an art gallery displaying works by Greek artists and a museum of religious art with icons. The folklore museum is housed in the Ursuline Convent in the village of Loutra.

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