Visiting a Greek island out of season was both an awesome and frustrating experience
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Early in October this year I flew to Athens in order to earn British Airways Executive Club status in just one trip. Athens is a fabulous, bustling city but having spent some time there last summer I was keen for some quiet beach time on one of its many beautiful islands.
You can take a ferry from Athens to just about anywhere in Greece so I settled on the island of Ios because it was consistently rated as having some of the best beaches in Greece and the weather forecast was looking great for my time there – low to mid 20’s celcius and sunny each day.
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I found a great deal on accommodation at a beautiful hotel overlooking the main beach on the island, booked my ferry ticket and off I went. The ferry was very empty which wasn’t surprising given it was the end of summer and still a pandemic. The ferry went via nearby Santorini where hundreds of passengers were waiting to leave the island and take the ferry back to Athens (via Ios).
As we arrived in Ios there were similarly plenty of people waiting on the dock to board the ferry and leave the island, but I was one of the only people disembarking the ferry.
This struck me as odd, but it was preferable to battling crowds and queues like I might have in Santorini. I found the local bus that met each ferry departure. There was only two other people on the bus and they asked me why I was visiting so late in the year.
I arrived at my hotel which was reasonably busy with people checking in and out. I waited by the pool and observed a couple next to me sit down to order lunch from the hotel restaurant. The waiter advised them they didn’t have most of the items on the menu. No draught beer. No rose. No seafood at all (we were about 10 metres from the water).
The couple eventually managed to find something in stock but their disappointment when they received their meal, which I believe was not freshly made warned me not to eat at my hotel if possible.
I checked in and entered my gorgeous room which had a beautiful view of the beautiful sandy beach below it as well as the enticing pool.
I tend to eat a gyros every day for lunch while in Greece so that was the first thing on my mind. On islands like Crete there are gyros shops about every 50 metres in the tourist areas. I headed along the beach promenade to find this delicious grilled treat.
There was a cafe serving up healthy salads and smoothies, as well as an upmarket fish restaurant near the hotel. Neither sold gyros so I kept looking.
There was not a single other place open to purchase lunch in the entire town. There were plenty of retailers right on the beach – cafes, bars, coffee shops, restaurants, gyros shops and even huge nightclubs.
But every single place was closed.
I settled on a very non-Greek and fairly disappointing salad from the cafe and asked about the lack of other open options. The staff advised me that the official tourist season had ended a few days earlier and most places were closed with the staff having also left for the mainland.
That night I called a well-rated restaurant up on the hill that Google maps assured me was still open.
I walked back through the town to check if anything that was closed for lunch had miraculously reopened for dinner.
Nope, still closed.
With so few food options, the cafe from my lunch had a queue out the door for dinner as all the tourists still in town, which remember was the main beach of the popular island, scrambled to find something to eat.
I went to the fancy seafood restaurant which was… fine. The service started with a long list of all of the menu items that were unavailable, including all draft beer as the kegs had been packed up and shipped off for the end of the season.
The next day, still craving my gyros I decided to walk to the main town on the island, which promised a multitude of dining options.
All closed. I had to settle for a spanakopita as a bakery was the only place that was open.
That night, with another queue out the door for the cafe, it was back to the pricey seafood restaurant for a fairly forgettable meal.
So was it all bad? Not at all.
I wasn’t there to party every night, though a fresh gyros for lunch carved straight off the spit and an ice cold draught beer to watch the sunset would have been nice.
Waking up each morning and walking along the mile long sandy beach without a single other person there was absolute heaven. Securing a prime sunbed in the perfect position to top up my end of summer fading tan was wonderful.
Other than the heaving cafe next door, there were no queues for anything because there were so few other tourists.
I only stayed in Ios for three days before heading to Santorini (which was much busier) and this time felt like just long enough – I left completely relaxed. If I had been there for a week I would have gone crazy with the lack of food and beverage options – I didn’t come all the way to Greece to eat mediocre overpriced meals at the same lifeless seafood restaurant every night no matter how relaxing the beach was.
As I left on the ferry a trickle of new tourists disembarked the ferry. I almost warned them to stock up on food at the convenience store at the port – both the cafe and the seafood restaurant near my hotel had warned me they were about to close for the season any day.
I believe the ferries back to Athens dropped down to just one per day from Ios just a few days after I left which was lucky as that would have made leaving the island quite difficult.
I managed to find my beloved gyros within an hour of arriving in Santorini.
I’m used to battling hordes or tourists in Greek islands in the middle of summer. Queues for everything. Waiting forever for a taxi. Expensive accommodation. Booked out restaurants.
Visiting Ios out of season was a completely different experience. I wouldn’t visit at this exact time again purely because of the lack of dining options. Had I visited about a week earlier it would have been the best of both worlds – fabulous heavily discounted accommodation, no crowds, wonderful weather but the chance to eat somewhere different each meal.
I avoid the Greek islands in August school holidays if I can, but I think late September is a sweet spot for this beautiful part of Europe.
Featured image by Ben Smithson / The Points Guy
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