Top 7 Things to do in Kalymnos, Greece

A boat in Kalymnos

When we stepped off the ferry in Kalymnos one sunny morning, we could instantly sense that it had a different vibe to the other islands we’d visited that week. Though the places we had been were undoubtedly beautiful, each one was bustling with holidaymakers, and we felt like we were hearing more English than Greek everywhere we went.

But in Kalymnos, for the first time, it didn’t feel as though the tourists outnumbered the locals. And as we sat down to consult our map, we started to catch glimpses of ‘real life’ as it slowly played out around us.

In a kafeneio across the road, people lingered over cups of strong Greek coffee, whilst motorbikes whizzed past, their owners driving fast and helmet-less.

Up the street, two elderly women, dressed in all black, sat quietly at the bus stop, whilst others nearby talked with an animation characteristic of Southern Europe as they went about their days.

On the corner a group of old men, with skin roughened by years of sun and salty air, absentmindedly flicked kombolói as they sat together and watched the world go by.

And for me, all these little pieces started to form a familiar picture. This was the Greece I’d been hearing about for years. 

Kalymnos is famous amongst climbers for its dramatic cliffs and rocky mountains. It is also renowned for its once flourishing (and dangerous) sponge diving industry. But these are certainly not the island’s only drawcards. Kalymnos is also the perfect place for those who want to relax, enjoy beautiful, rugged scenery, and immerse themselves in a way of life unique to this part of the world.

But don’t just take my word for it. Use this list of things to do in Kalymnos as a guide, and get to know the island for yourself.


1. Rent a set of wheels and explore

Road towards the ocean, Kalymnos
The blue of the Aegean from Kalymnos

Everywhere you go in Kalymnos, you will find brilliant vistas of rugged earth and endless sea. The ultramarine blue of the Aegean is the backdrop to everything, and no matter where you venture, the ocean will never be far from your mind.

I will never forget the day that we experienced this for ourselves, when we explored the island on a quad bike. Our round-trip journey took us past quiet beaches and tiny churches, through little villages and olive groves, and up a windswept mountain with breathtaking views, helping to acquaint us with the beautiful place that Zac’s grandparents once called home.

To get the most out of your time in Kalymnos, you really need your own way of getting around. Whilst there is a local bus service, this is relatively infrequent, so your best bet is to hire a quad bike (ATV) or moped and zip around at your leisure. The roads are decent, and relatively quiet outside the main town of Pothia. Fun fact: an ATV is known colloquially in Greek as a ‘gourouna,’ which means ‘sow’ (we asked a few people why this was the case, but no one seemed to know – so just roll with it).

We hired our ATV from a friendly guy at Kalymnos Scooter Rental in Masouri. It cost us €30 for the day, plus €4 for a petrol refill. You’ll see plenty of people getting around on mopeds, but if you’re looking to rent an ATV, it’s wise to book ahead in summer, as there are fewer available.

Quad bike in Kalymnos

Vathi from above
The little village of Vathi, as seen from above on our quad bike adventure

2. Take a boat to Telendos

Telendos, Kalymnos

Sleepy little Telendos lies one kilometre off the coast of Kalymnos and makes a great half-day trip. With no roads or cars and a population of around fifty people, it is incredibly quiet and the perfect place to unwind.

We spent a morning relaxing at two of its pebbly beaches, before grabbing a late lunch at one of the tavernas that overlooks the water. Try the marithes (fried whitebait), saganaki (fried cheese) and mermizeli (a Kalymnian version of a Greek salad with dried barley rusks) at To Kapsouli restaurant if you’re looking for the perfect meal. Just don’t feed any of it to the local cats, or they will swarm – I learned my lesson there!

To get to Telendos, simply catch the small taxi boat that leaves from the wharf at Myrties every half an hour (or when full). A one-way trip will set you back €2. From there, explore the few paths to the beaches and restaurants – it really is impossible to get lost.

Laneway in Telendos, Kalymnos

A beach in Telendos

A mermizeli in Telendos
A scrumptious mermizeli

3. Sip a frappe by the water in Vathi

Taverna overlooking the harbour in Vathi

How often do you just sit and watch the world go by? These days, it seems that we never get the chance to take pause, gather our thoughts, and truly embrace a moment of quiet. But this not the case in the lovely village of Vathi, where a few little tavernas down by the harbour cater to those looking to do just that.

After wandering down the ‘main street’ where people sell jars of thyme honey and dry octopus on racks in the sun, stop at a restaurant by the water and grab a frappe for €2. Drink it slowly.

Take in the nautical scene around you, while you listen to the quiet conversations of passers-by. Watch boats come and go, and feel the warm summer breeze on your skin. Let your mind wander. Breathe. Enjoy life in the present.

We don’t do this nearly enough.

When we stopped at one of Vathi’s tavernas during our day of quad-biking, we were greeted by a guy with one of the broadest Aussie accents I’ve ever heard. As it turns out, he was raised in Darwin, but returned to his homeland as an adult. He told us that he was drawn back by a way of life that just couldn’t be replicated in Australia.

Come to Vathi, and you’ll see what he means.

Octopus drying on a rack in Vathi
A church in Vathi


4. Wander the streets of Pothia

Harbourfront in Pothia, Kalymnos

The Italianate architecture of Kalymnos’ main town makes for a picturesque harbour scene that you’ll notice the instant you arrive on the ferry. Grab a sweet treat or two from one of Pothia’s numerous Zacharoplasteion and set about exploring.

You’ll notice that some buildings look as though they are in need of a bit of TLC – the wind, the sun, and the salty air hasten the process of decay here. But the peeling paint in its various hues is part of Pothia’s charm, and reminds visitors once again of the inextricable connection between Kalymnos and the sea.

Spend some time strolling the narrow streets that meander away from the harbour, and let Kalymnian life reveal itself to you.

House in Pothia, Kalymnos

View of Pothia
Pothia from above

5. Take in the view at Agios Savvas

Agios Savvas

The monastery of Agios Savvas, dedicated to the patron saint of Kalymnos, sits high on a cliff overlooking the island. The church is beautiful in itself, but the grounds also offer spectacular views over Pothia and the ocean.

Given its position, it’s a steep hike to get here. We were lucky to get a lift from a cousin, but a walk up the hill can be a good idea, especially if you think you’ve been indulging in too much saganaki. If you decide to pay a visit, remember to dress appropriately – it is a church, after all.

Inside Agios Savvas
The view from Agios Savvas


6. Stop for lunch at Harry’s Paradise

Garden Path to Harry's Paradise

Situated in Emporios, Harry’s Paradise serves up traditional Greek fare with a twist in an idyllic garden setting. Everything on the menu is home-cooked and made with fresh, local ingredients – some even come straight from the garden!

This farm-to-table approach to cooking (which is not a fad, but a traditional way of life that has endured here into the 21st century) is what makes Greek food stand out. Ask any Greek and they will tell you that produce like tomatoes and red onions taste better in Greece than anywhere else – and they are absolutely right. Don’t believe me? I was sceptical at first too. All you can do is come here and taste the difference for yourself.

Harry’s is the perfect place to linger for an hour or two, before heading down for a swim in the crystal-clear waters of Emporios beach at the end of the road. There’s no better way to spend an afternoon than by enjoying good food, swimming, and taking a nap in the sun.

Garden table at Harry's Paradise

Emporios Beach
The beach at Emporios, just down the road from Harry’s Paradise

7. Watch the sunset in Myrties

Sunset in Myrties

When your hair is sufficiently windswept and your skin feels warm from a day of sunshine, there’s no better way to spend an evening than by sitting in Myrties and watching the day turn to night. There are many lovely restaurants here that overlook the ocean, but we opted to stay in a little apartment with a balcony, so we enjoyed the view from there. Grab a couple of beers and watch as the sun dips behind Telendos and throws a glittering path across the Aegean to the shore. It’s magic.


Need to Know:

  • Kalymnos lies in the Dodecanese islands and is easily accessible from the bigger tourist hubs of Kos and Rhodes.
  • A ferry from Kos is the cheapest way to go, with boats leaving every hour or two from Mastichari, which can be reached from Kos Town by bus for €3.20.
  • Once in Mastichari, ask at the kiosks on the pier for ferry timetables and prices. Our tickets on the Kalymnos Star cost €7.50 each.

11 of the World’s Most Colourful Places

“With the brush we merely tint, while the imagination alone produces colour.” – Theodore Gericault

Nothing brings out the little kid in me faster than bright colours. I get all excited over blue skies and gardens of flowers, and even the shelves of paint bottles at the local art shop. So it’s no wonder that I was drawn to some of the world’s most colourful places when planning trips and itineraries. But whilst these places are undoubtedly beautiful, they each hold value beyond the paint that covers their walls – the history they hold, the stories they tell, and the insights they give imbue each of these places with greater meaning than a mere photo on Instagram can convey. So in this post I have put together a list of some of the most colourful places that Zac and I have been lucky enough to visit, and reflected on the ways that they made us think about both the past and the present. Hopefully it will pique your curiosity and ignite your imagination, as well as fuel your wanderlust. Because, as good old Gericault knew, it is our minds that truly colour the things that we see and experience.

1. Chefchaouen, Morocco

Blue Street in Chefchaouen

Tucked away in the Rif Mountains in northwest Morocco, the small town of Chefchaouen is almost impossibly beautiful, and makes the perfect escape from the frenetic pace of some of the country’s other tourist destinations (more on that here!). Hours can be spent wandering its little laneways, with postcard perfect scenes at every turn. I don’t know if it was the heat getting to our heads (it was early September and the temperature was pushing 40 degrees Celcius) but when we were there many of the town’s residents even seemed to don clothing in various shades of blue as they went about their days. But Chefchaouen isn’t just a pretty face – the town has an interesting history too, which stretches back to its founding in the 15th century. It has close ties to southern Spain, having served as a refuge for Muslims and Jews who fled when Christians reclaimed the Iberian Peninsula during the Middle Ages, and its location, its size and its past mean that Chefchaouen has a different vibe to other places in the country.

Chefchaouen Collage


2. Burano, Italy

Colourful Houses in Burano

Burano lies approximately 45 minutes from Venice proper and is well worth a visit, for obvious reasons.I think the way that I walked around on the sunny summer day when we came here would best be described as frolicking. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I snapped photo after photo of the rainbow rows of houses. I still find it hard to believe that a place can look so idyllic!

Though the island is no rival to San Marco and its surrounding sestieri in terms of history or grandeur, Burano does offer sea-village charm in a kaleidoscope of colours, and is a great place to go to escape the crowds and catch a glimpse of ‘real life’ in the Venetian lagoon. Wandering the streets, you will also come across numerous lace shops – these are the remaining traces of the island’s prestigious past, when Burano thrived as a lace-making centre that was renowned in Europe.

Colours of Burano
Green_House_Burano


3. San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico

Street in San Cristobal, Mexico

This colourful city lies in a small valley in Mexico’s Central Highlands, a region home to many indigenous communities. Whilst you can spend a fair amount of time wandering its brightly coloured streets and eating at the many and varied cafes and restaurants, San Cristóbal is also the perfect base for day-trips in the region. Whilst here, we spent a day with a guide who took us to two Tzotzil villages, Chamula and Zinacantan. This opened our eyes to cultures and customs that we previously knew very little about, and allowed us to get a little bit of an insight into the ways that traditional customs intertwine with realities of contemporary society in modern Mexico.

San Cristóbal is also part of the UNESCO Creative Cities network , which seeks to build relationships between cities that have identified creativity and cultural industries as key to their future development. In San Cristóbal, the focus is on folk art and handicrafts, particularly Maya textiles, and the city has been active in supporting local artisans and promoting their work, which I think is pretty cool!

Street in San Cristobal


4. Rajasthan, India

Blue street in Rajasthan, India

So, Rajasthan is an entire state rather than a single city, but how could I possibly pick between the ‘Blue City’ of Jodhpur, the ‘Pink City’ of Jaipur, or the alluring ‘Golden City’ of Jaisalmer? The region certainly has colour coordination down pat, and has an incredible history that spans thousands of years to boot. In addition to its cities of various hues, Rajasthan also brims with busy markets, in which goods of every conceivable colour and type can be bought and sold. There’s certainly no better way to immerse yourself in the chaotic pace of daily life here than by venturing into the marketplace.

Jaipur Palace of the Winds
Rajasthan Collage
India market colours


5. Trinidad, Cuba

Colourful street in Trinidad, Cuba

Charming little Trinidad in central Cuba, with its cobbled streets and colonial architecture, is bursting with life and colour. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this town is steeped in Cuba’s colonial history, with the surrounding valley once a hub for the island’s sugar production. Plaza Mayor, with its bright yellow mansions, lies at the heart of the town’s historic centre, and transforms at night into Casa de la Musica, where crowds gather to drink mojitos and listen and dance to live salsa music. Though we were hesitant to join in on the dancing here for reasons of general physical awkwardness, we did enjoy the lively atmosphere.

Plaza Mayor

 Classic Car Trinidad


6. Symi, Greece

Symi Harbour

Just a quick hop from bustling Rhodes, picture-perfect little Symi was believed to be the birthplace of the Three Graces of charm, beauty and creativity in Greek mythology, and the modern-day island seems to have embodied these qualities: its harbour is flanked by steep hills dotted with beautifully painted neoclassical buildings that face out towards the sea. You can easily spend a sunny afternoon here wandering the pastel-coloured streets, before stopping for a frappe at local taverna and watching the world go by. Follow the road that meanders out of town and you’ll find many spots to roll out your towel and take a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean. It’s little wonder that this was one of our favourite Greek Islands.

Symi Collage


7. Cinque Terre, Italy

Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The UNESCO World Heritage listed villages of Cinque Terre attract thousands of visitors each year, and with good reason. Nestled on the cliffs of the Italian Riviera, the towns of pastel pinks, yellows and oranges look like perfect oil paintings on the aqua-blue backdrop of the Ligurian Sea. We spent a couple of days here walking the trails between the towns and admiring the incredible coastal landscape that has been distinctly shaped by those who have lived here over the past thousand years. In our downtime, we sat eating cones of fried seafood by the ocean, and tried to imagine what life here would have looked like over the centuries.

Riomaggiore Apartment View


8. Viñales, Cuba

Colourful street in Vinales, Cuba

Situated in Cuba’s west, the small rural town of Viñales draws many visitors seeking to explore the surrounding Viñales Valley, which was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999. The valley is famous for its traditional tobacco production, but the town deserves some attention too. Zac and I spent a humid afternoon here exploring the streets around our casa particular, where rows of brightly coloured bungalows pop against the lush green of the surrounding valley and limestone cliffs.

In a place like this, it’s worth thinking about the way that tourism has had an impact on the town’s development. It seemed that almost every house we passed was running as a casa particular or private homestay (in which a family rents out a room or two to tourists), which certainly boosts the local economy, though one resident we spoke to told us that the influx of holiday-makers has caused problems with resources and increased the cost of living. (Check out this post for more reflections on our Cuba and our adventures there.)


9. Madurai, India

Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai

This imposing structure, which forms part of the huge Meenakshi Amman Temple complex, is Madurai’s main attraction, and rightly so: it is believed that a temple has stood on this site for over two and a half thousand years. The facade of each of the complex’s 14 gopurams or gateway towers is covered brightly coloured figures of gods, goddesses, animals and demons. The place is a feast for the eyes, and with over 15,000 visitors daily, attests to the centrality of religion to the life of the city.

Madurai Collage


10. Puebla, Mexico

Puebla_Colour

Puebla’s historic downtown is another UNESCO World Heritage site to make this list. Founded in 1531, many colonial-era buildings still line its streets, and countless houses are adorned with beautifully patterned and coloured azulejos or tiles. After soaking up some history, by night you can head to the Arena Puebla to catch a hilarious Lucha Libre match, if you’re keen to see a very different, more modern side of the city.

Puebla_Collage
Colourful Buildings in Puebla, Mexico


11. Gamcheon Culture Village, Busan, South Korea

Gamcheon Culture Village

This area in the bustling metropolis of Busan began as a haphazard settlement for refugees of the Korean War in the 1950s. Infrastructure and other problems persisted until 2009, when the local government collaborated with town planners, artists and local residents to make a change. Nowadays, the colourful town is a good example of the effects of careful urban regeneration, and has become a centre for visual art, with many murals and other artworks adorning walls all over the neighbourhood. It has retained its character as a residential village despite its recent Instagram fame, though tourism has certainly had a positive effect on the local area.

And if you do come here, be sure to use a map to find your way around, rather than aimlessly wandering the labyrinth alleyways. Zac and I found ourselves lost in a series of deserted, narrow and incredibly steep streets as we attempted to get back to the subway, which made for some severe breathing difficulties when we found that we needed to make our way back uphill. Lesson learned!

Collage_Busan_4

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Staying in a Pink Castle: A Love Hotel in South Korea

Pink Castle South Korea

Picture this: You’ve been up since 5am. You’ve just spent the entire day at one of the world’s most heavily militarized borders, peering over into the most isolated nation on the planet. You’ve been briefed by the US military and signed a form acknowledging the possibility of your death that day, and you’ve listened to North Korean propaganda opera blaring out across the DMZ. Then, to top off what has already been a mind-boggling 12 hours, this has all taken place on the very same day that Donald Trump is elected US president.

Continue reading “Staying in a Pink Castle: A Love Hotel in South Korea”

Seoul Searching: Five Days in South Korea’s Capital

The first week of November was a funny week. On Monday we caught a cable car up to the fortress of Masada and spent the afternoon floating in the Dead Sea. On Tuesday we wandered through the streets of the Christian Quarter in Old Jerusalem before catching a plane to Athens. On Wednesday we spent our very last full day in Greece wandering the streets of Plaka and indulging in Greek cake and wine. Thursday morning we sipped freddo cappuccinos whilst gazing over the Acropolis, before heading to the airport once again. By Friday evening we had arrived in Seoul with enough time to grab some street food at the night market before bed. To say that we were dazed is perhaps a bit of an understatement.

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Jesus, Wine, and War: Nazareth and Beyond

Greek Orthodox Church in Nazareth, Israel

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know the name ‘Nazareth’. It is a name that echoes from my childhood and lingers in memories of Sunday school and Christmas songs. I’m not sure when I even realised that Nazareth was a real city that I could visit, rather than a seemingly mythical place I’d heard about at church all those years ago.

Alley in Nazareth

To visit a place that is so often mythologised is a fascinating experience in itself. The Nazareth of my imagination was always a cute little village in an indistinct desert landscape – an image no doubt evoked by the cartoons that adorned the pages of my children’s bible. Yet the real Nazareth in the 21st century is a bustling Arab city in northern Israel, brimming with restaurants and cafes and shops and bumper to bumper traffic.

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We booked to stay two nights at Fauzi Azar Inn, a 200 year old Arab mansion in the heart of Nazareth’s old city. The place was beautiful with its high, frescoed ceilings and old, creaky doors. On our first afternoon we visited the city’s main sight, the Basilica of the Annunciation, where the Catholic Church believes that the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would give birth to Son of God, before feasting on a scrumptious lunch at a restaurant nearby, which included my favourite dish – hummus.

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The next day, we opted to take a day trip to the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights with a few others staying at the guest house with us. After leaving Nazareth we first stopped at the ancient site of Capernaum, where Jesus is said to have lived after leaving Nazareth. Here, we stood at the edge of the Sea of Galilee in the quiet of the early morning and watched the sun sparkling on the water, wondering if Jesus admired a similar view two thousand years before us.

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Places like this are fascinating for anyone with a love of history. To think that one of the most influential figures in human history may have once stood on the ground before you is incredible – regardless of your religious beliefs. We wandered around for a little while, looking at the remains of a 4th century synagogue, which sits atop the basalt rock of an earlier synagogue from the time of Jesus. Then, we jumped back on the mini bus to head to the Mount of Beatitudes, believed to be the place where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, and afterwards, the Golan Heights, where we visited Banias Nature Reserve.

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Church at the Mount of Beatitudes that looks out over the Sea of Galilee
Church at the Mount of Beatitudes that looks out over the Sea of Galilee

If you had little knowledge of modern history, you could easily walk along the green paths, admire the waterfall, and simply enjoy the beauty of your surroundings without giving this place a second thought. The little trail that meanders beside the stream is so peaceful that it is difficult to fathom how much conflict this region has seen in the past. The whole Golan Heights area once belonged to Syria, before the Six Day War of 1967, when a big chunk of it was captured by Israel.

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Exploring parts of this region was a good precursor to what the day brought next. In between a wine tasting at a boutique winery and taking a quick dip in the Sea of Galilee, we stopped briefly at a lookout at Mount Bental on the Syrian border, where we could take a look at an old Israeli bunker and grab a snack from the funky coffee shop if we so desired.

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As we stepped out to walk up to the lookout, we noticed that we were parked next to a vehicle marked ‘UN’. Then we heard an explosion in the distance, and instantly turned to each other with ‘Is that what I think it is?’ looks on our faces.

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At the top of the hill we looked out at the landscape before us. The foreground was lush and green; as it turns out, it is the site of an Israeli winery. Beyond it, the land looked vastly different: it was a dry brown colour dotted with clusters of tiny squares that made up towns and villages. The one closest to us was in ruins, destroyed during the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and never rebuilt. Beyond the old bunker on the hill, two UN Peacekeepers were stationed as part of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force who have supervised the ceasefire between Israel and Syria since the end of the war. In the distance, on the horizon, we could see columns of smoke rising.

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Syria
Syria

We hear of bombs and war every day on the news and seem to read an endless stream of statuses and articles about it as they pop up on our newsfeeds – so in many ways we’ve become desensitised to it. It’s always something that’s happening out there in the world, far away from us, and perhaps that’s why we were in a state of disbelief as we gazed out at the scene before us. There we were, mere kilometres from war, and we felt safe – all because of the invisible lines that humans draw in the sand, calling them borders. By chance I was born in Australia, and so, by virtue of my passport, I could stand on the safe side and look into the warzone without fear; I could leave the sight and sound of the bombs behind whenever I pleased. I could turn away and leave, and go somewhere else for a leisurely afternoon swim, whilst millions on the other side of that imaginary line are stuck in the danger zone, wishing they had the luck of someone like me.

That evening, we returned to our comfy guesthouse in Nazareth. We went out for a nice dinner and ordered way too much food. I remember thinking how strange it was that one day could serve up such dramatic contrasts – that you could walk around a historical site, visit a church, hike to a waterfall, taste some wine, watch some bombs go off, go for a swim – as if it was all normal. I’m not really sure what I should think or feel or say about it – except that we live in a crazy world and I am one of the incredibly lucky ones.

Gorgeous Samaria: Hiking Crete’s Most Famous Gorge

When the bus pulled up in the centre of Chania in the early morning, the four of us were greeted by Thomas, our ‘hiking guide’ for the day ahead. We were about to embark on a 16 kilometre hike of Samaria Gorge, one of the most famous places on the island of Crete and one of Europe’s longest gorges. It often features in lists of Greece’s top ten destinations because of its rugged natural beauty, so we arranged some transport to get there and back with a local travel agency. Continue reading “Gorgeous Samaria: Hiking Crete’s Most Famous Gorge”

Old Towns of Andalusia: Living the History of Southern Spain

It’s 8 o’clock and the sun is slowly heading for the horizon, its light dripping away from the olive trees growing on the distant yellow hills. The smell of vegetables roasting in the oven wafts towards us from the kitchen, where we’ve also got sangria cooling in the fridge. We still have a couple of hours before darkness falls, but all we want to do is sit here on our little fourth floor terrace taking in the world.

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Village Life in Folegandros

When the ferry zipped away after dropping us at the little port in Folegandros it was suddenly calm and very quiet. The teeny tiny island is home to only 700 or so people and its small-town vibe envelopes you as soon as you set foot on its shores. We immediately embraced the slow pace of life as we sat in the shade at the bus stop. We sipped Greek frappes whilst listening to the sea lap gently at the pebbly shore and watching the small boats moored at the wharf bob around on the crystal clear surface of the water.

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