The summer of 2015 will be recalled by everyone as a latecomer. While waiting for the hot days to come, the eurogroups, the referendum and the capital controls outran them. All these sudden developments forced us to change our plans. The departure for Syros was postponed until after the referendum. We set off on 6th July, a little cheerless at first, but our mood quickly reversed as the time of arrival on the island was near.
Many things connect us to Syros and turn us back in 1991, when we first stepped foot on the island as newly appointed state teachers. We spent eight years of our lives in that place, which offered us great moments and strong relationships with people we met there. It’s them we are going to visit now!
As the boat approaches the northern part of the island and changes direction to the south, we are trying to identify the Chalandriani area, where more than 600 graves with grave goods were found (prehistoric). Shortly afterwards the bell of St. Dimitri is heard tolling and at the same time the whistle of the boat. Immediately after that we could see the characteristic hills of Ermoupolis and Ano Syros, and the pier with the Port Authority. The journey lasted for three and a half hours on Blue Star Ferry 2. A fast and comfortable journey let aside the strong wind blowing that day. There was the same feeling on our arrival, although six years have passed since our last visit. Everything was so familiar, as if we hadn’t missed anything! Matina and Michalis were waiting for us and hosted us in their home, high on the hill of the Resurrection, overlooking the stunning harbor and Agios Nikolaos church. We had so many things to talk about!
The following days we stayed in Vaggelio and Christos, in Azolimnos, the first village after Ermoupolis, to the south of the island. We have shared many years of our common life on the island. And how wonderful those years were!
So what can one do and see on an island like Syros?
It’s a small island with a long history that goes back to the 3rd millennium BC and through successive historical periods reached the prosperity of the early 19th century, when the population was growing rapidly, along with the commercial activity of the port. The outbreak of the revolution of 1821 and the massive influx of refugees from Chios, Smyrna, Psara, etc. changed the island immensely! From the settlement of Ano Syros, the activity was transferred to the port, Hermoupolis which, very quickly, became the largest urban, industrial and commercial center of free Greece. Rich, unique architectural buildings, decorated with ceiling paintings, spiritual and cultural development and the operation of the shipyards have characterized Ermoupolis for many years, for almost the entire 20th century, before its decline. From 1990 and onwards, a new flourishing period for tourism development began for the island. The city was ready with dozens of mansions, squares and historic buildings of the public to receive, as a living museum, visitors who admire its unique beauty that does not remind in any way the Cyclades. Characteristic is the harmonious coexistence of Catholics and Orthodox inhabitants on the island, since here is the most famous center of the Catholic Church in the country. (For the significant and very interesting history of the island, and particularly of Hermoupolis, one can search for information on the internet or be informed by a guidebook before his visit, something that, in my opinion, is necessary in order to see this place as it deserves to be seen!)
Let’s start with a city tour. The walks on the cobblestone streets of Syros are a “must”. Going up the street of St. Nicholas, from Miaoulis Square, in front of OTE, will offer you the opportunity to visit the old image of Syros. A few meters further on, we come to the famous theater “Apollo”. It was built in just two years, (1862 to 1864) on standards and influences from La Scala of Milan (among others), to meet the housing needs of a permanent theater for the city that then had an explosive spiritual movement and radiation. It enjoyed years of golden prosperity during the years of growth, hosting renowned artists and great theater groups. In 2000, the rehabilitation was completed after years of neglect. The old ceiling paintings and the famous wooden galleries that were not saved were replaced, restoring the old glamour of the theater. You can browse the floors and perhaps take a tour by volunteer high school students who have taken the role of tourist guides for the summer! We were delighted by that!!
Continuing the uphill road with the most typical mansions, architectural masterpieces, some restored and others abandoned, testifying the life during the glorious times of the island, we meet Velissaropoulos’ mansion on our right, now the Labour Centre of Cyclades. At the entrance, you can see the initial letters (G.D.V.) and you can visit it to admire its walls, decorated with frescoes and its impressive painted ceilings.
A few meters further up, a road to the right of the triangular garden with the monument, “Apollo” road, will lead you in a residential area with old family mansions, of renowned ship owners and wealthy merchants. Today they have turned them to luxury lodges and hotels. The road leads to the small square with the Cyclades Prefecture being the dominant building. There is a great story to be told for each one of them, if you want to look it up.
Just above the triangular garden lays the church of St. Nicholas (built in 1870). A symbol for the people of Ermoupolis, with its blue dome standing out, visible from afar, the church is impressive both inside and out, day or beautifully lit at night. Lined with historic pictures, priceless offerings and precious sacred vessels, with incredible marble iconostasis, an artwork of C. Vitali, is a sight you should definitely visit! What’s more, there is an organ that works and accompanies the services, an influence of the Catholic churches.
From Agios Nikolaos and as far as “Doxa”, walk uphill overlooking the sea, through the “Vaporia” district, which today retains its glamour, with its neoclassical mansions, bringing into life the aristocratic atmosphere of the era of prosperity. Especially those who face the beautiful bay (Asteria), formerly a fishing anchorage with makeshift shelters carved in the rocks. Today it’s one of the city’s “beaches”. Do not imagine sand, pebbles and such things. Two concrete piers with stairs, and a “beach bar” equipped with sun beds fill in the scenery. More like a Pool Bar! Only that the pool is natural! The sea itself!!! If you are an “early bird”, there is nothing more enjoyable than a morning coffee in “Asteria.” Just after the church of St. Nicholas, on the right, there is a road that goes down to the bay, where many locals take a swim, overlooking the beautiful neoclassical mansions, most of which have now been restored, changing owners or use. There we had our coffee one morning, away from the noise of every human activity, listening only to the sound of waves and a few whispers of bathers that reached our table, along with relaxing music in the cafe “Stars.” Of course, there is nothing keeping you from taking a swim in the crystal clear water in front of you! If you want to view the bay from above, choose one of the tables of All day Cafe-Restaurant «… sta vaporia…” (22810 76 486). You may have noticed it on your way down the stairs!
Getting on with our stroll in “Vaporia”, on the road that leads from Agios Nikolaos to “Doxa”, the same impressive, neoclassical mansions are located on parallel and perpendicular streets of the district. Huge buildings, with high-ceilinged rooms, impressive balconies with ornate corbels and fantastic sea view, luxury entrances with columns and knockers on the big wooden doors, a landscape of unique beauty with lush bougainvillea gushing from the walls that surround the gardens. It goes likes this as far as a mansion at the left right on the road turning, with characteristic palm trees in its garden.
For anyone who wants to continue further, the road leads to “Ai Dimitris” church and the desalination plant, through a dry and windswept mountain scenery. The view from there is unique! Tinos, Mykonos right in front of you. (If you plan to go and combine it with a walk in Vaporia, leave your car in the first parking of “Doxa”, go down to your strolling in Vaporia and return again to take it and continue). Another option is to turn left (by your car) towards” Dili” and “Vrontado” districts. You can follow this “horseshoe” type road, that leads to the other side of Syros (south) and separates Hermoupolis from Ano Syros. ‘A totally different world lays here! Old refugee- neibourhoods (although very few of the original houses have survived today), on the side of the city center with another church on the hilltop, the “Resurrection of Christ” (1909). Make a stop here. The panoramic view is of course unique!
In the historic center of Hermoupolis you should spend one more, maybe two days, or even better a morning and an evening so that you can see the city at all hours. If you are there during morning hours, drink your coffee in “Cafe Greek ‘, at the square, on the corner of Chios Street, (the street where all the grocery stores / fish shops and shops with traditional products are gathered). Excellent coffee, in the cool breeze under the arches, accompanied by fresh “louloumi” (Turkish delights) we bought from “Korres”, right opposite us (if you intent to buy loukoumia, and I’m sure you will because they are a famous local product, buy them from “Korres” in the square. They are unmatched! And of course you will also get nougats (halvadopites) made from Syros’ thyme honey and freshly baked almonds.)
And what a view! The Town Hall in Miaouli Square. The heart of Ermoupolis beats here. Most visitors and residents pass by the square many times daily. The square is one of the largest in Greece .The statue of Miaoulis (a hero of the 1821 revolution against the Turks) with the cannons on his feet and next to it the marble bandstand, where bands used to play and enjoy the locals, adorn the eastern part of the square that is visible from the port via El. Venizelos road. One side is full of tables where the cafes serve refreshments and ouzo under the arches of the old buildings while on the other side stands the Town Hall. Huge in size, with a marble staircase in the center, it is the work of the great architect E. Ziller (1898). Enter and admire the historic building with its impressive stairs, patios and ceiling paintings and tour the halls that host historical relics.p>
In the same building, follow the stairs leading to the City Clock, and there is the Archaeological Museum of Syros. Relatively small, it hosts representative samples of Cycladic vessels, figurines and other findings from Chalandriani, but other islands as well. On the other side of the building, with an entrance from the side of OTE, is the Cultural Center of Syros which hosts the Museum of Cycladic Art Replicas, following the example of Athens Goulandris Museum.
While visiting the square, you can also take a walk through the market streets. All the shops are in the narrow alleys between the square and the coastal street and especially on Protopapadaki, St. Proiou and Thimaton Sperchiou streets. You’ll find handmade jewelry and decorative objects and local products. A really nice shop for traditional foods “Prekas” (22810 87556), at 4 Chios str.. Buy capers, “San Michalis” cheese, olives, sesame bars and anything else you find interesting!
If you find yourself there in the evening, the coastal street with numerous cafes, taverns and bars overlooking the harbor and the impressive building of the Customs with the transit warehouses, would be the best choice. We tried the “Plaza” (serves snacks / sweets-tel. 85 337 22810), the “Barola” and “Severo” cafe/bars. All the night life is concentrated there, particularly in the evening. However, in the mornings as well, although it’s bathed by the sun, it is equally beautiful. Walk along the sea wall, overlooking Tinos, Mykonos, “Gaidouronisi” with lighthouse and Vaporia, in the area of “Nisaki” , along the buildings of the Yacht Club and the School of Skippers.
Setting off from Hotel “Hermes” and taking coherently the streets “Th. Sperchion”, “Protopapadaki str.” And “St. Proiou” following a long straight road you can reach Neoreio and “Heroon” and the road leading out of town, to Manna and Azolimnos. At some point on St. Proiou str. you will encounter the church of “Assumption of Mary”. The “jewel” of the church is the icon of “Assumption”, an invaluable work of El Greco.
All these sights went back in the morning. We took photos of every corner that reminded us of the past and enjoyed beers on the beach with our old, good friends, tsipouro in the taverns in the narrow streets behind “Protopapadaki” str. (‘in Ithaca of Ai’), and a drink at the “Palace” owned by George Zormbanos in memory of the past !
While neoclassical Ermoupolis inspired writers and poets you are transferred yo a very different scene during your visit to Ano Syros which in turn inspired songwriters with its beauty. It is the first settlement created in the island centuries ago and the historic capital of the island.
The shape and position your city was dictated by the phenomenon of piracy that for centuries plagued the Aegean islands. Tight construction of whitewashed houses with colored doors and windows, arcades and narrow cobbled streets, facilitated the communication of residents without having to go out of their homes. Everywhere bougainvillea on the whitewashed walls, terraces of geraniums and countless steps leading to innumerable levels. And every now and then, an opening to reveal the blue of the Aegean. Two – three cafes and restaurants, with that of “Lili” standing out for us. We have spent many evenings in the “cellars” with the wine barrels in the winter, under the large portrait of Markos Vamvakaris (a song writer and bouzouki/baglama player), next to the old juke box! And in the summer, out on the terrace of the new shop, overlooking Ermoupoli.
You can enter the heart of the settlement through the Portara, which once used to close for safety, The settlement is inaccessible to cars. The road will lead you in front of the “Lilis” tavern, past the museum of M. Vamvakari where his personal belongings, photographs and manuscripts of the well-known rebetis are exhibited, and a little further to a small square,( looks more like a terrace), with a great view (there is a tavern). At the top of the hill stands the Cathedral and center of the Catholic diocese “St. George”. The church has gone through numerous vicissitudes during the centuries and has recently been restored. Catholic bishops who served the church are all listed, by their names on a marble slab in the arcade outside the temple.
You can reach more easily the church from the upper entrance of the settlement (entrance “Pano Terma”), near the windmill, the last windmill that has survived today, renovated and offered for rent. In both entrances there is limited space for parking.
TIP: For your stroll in Ano Syros, it is preferable to select evening hours, if the weather is too hot. However, in the morning it’s quite different and very beautiful! At 10:00 we were ready for coffee! Unfortunately, we did not find anything open at that time!
The road continues above “Pano Terma”, leading to the northern part of the island. For those who like to see the northern part will do so through narrow streets and chapels, huge capers, small settlements Foinikia the Mytakas the Kyperoussa the Lygeros the Plati Vouni. The springs of Syringas, giving tasty water sold in tanks, San Michalis who gave its name to the delicious cheese of Syros, and the archaeological site of Chalandriani …. Here is where the paths start that lead to the north beaches of the island (Letters, Lia, Eagle) isolated and not accessible by car. Alternatively and more easily you can visit them by boat from Kini. A unique experience!
And when it comes to swimming, where would you swim? While choosing a beach can take you around the island! The first beach, after Ermoupolis to the south, is Azolimnos, 4 km from Ermoupolis. Organized, with free sunbeds and many taverns if you want to combine dinner. The Beach Bar “Iguana” offers sun loungers free of charge (you only pay what you order). It serves waffles, pancakes, etc. For dinner “Philomela” would be a good choice. Then you meet the beach of Vari. It is also organized, with two restaurants / cafes on the beach, picked by young people. Crowded, therefore and more noisy (music, rackets, etc.). Rarely wavy.
On the next turn, “Achladi” beach, a little beach with a taverna and at 3 kilometers further “Megas Gialos” beach. On the road, sandy endowed with natural shade. After 17.30 it is half shaded. The other half is occupied by sunbeds. There are taverns, a mini market and a kiosk. Park on the road sides. A family beach with calm, shallow waters. Do not choose to swim here if a strong south wind is blowing. And we continue at 3 km., reaching the beautiful village of “Possidonia” (Della Grazia) with the impressive villas. You will notice them on your way to “Agathopes” beach surrounded by gardens with tall pines and palm trees. On the sharp downhill road turn left when you see the sea. Watch out for signs. The road leads to a beautiful beach with fine sand, organized (we were requested extra charge for umbrellas). There are few trees that shade some places. The old cafe / restaurant on the edge of the beach was under reconstruction. Passing the beach by car, following the road up the hill you will reach the quiet beach of “Komito”. This year there is a small, but very helpful beach bar, with loungers and umbrellas. Both beaches are open to the southwest.
Back at the intersection of “Posidonia”, if we turn left, after two/ three turns, you see from above the beach of “Phoenix”. It’s close to the road with trees shading it. Beautiful sea but you have to step on an extended stone slab to get in. Continuing on the right, at the end of the beach, the road leads north to Galissas. We reach the long sandy beach, well organized today, with the hotel complex of Dolphin Bay at the slope and the hill with the chapel “Agia Pakou” on the top. The sea is very shallow, for several meters from the coast and there are facilities for beach volley, beach soccer, water sports (A sports- tel. 6936342004). Several options for coffee and eating here. The cafe / bar «Argo” with its vivid colors on the walls and the nice music was our frequent choice back then. On this own part of the beach lays the only camping on the island.
What has changed a great deal since the last time we visited Syros is beautiful Kini, a village at the west part of the island. You can visit Kini if you take the street that goes past the hospital. Facing west, it offers a fantastic sunset! Once isolated, Kini is now visited by a lot of people, since it has improved the services to the visitors, offering an organized beach with sunbeds, free of charge, beach volley, locer cabins and many options for quality food / coffee / drinks. A tavern that stands out is “Allou gialou” (22810 71196/6938565865) and “… two cicadas on the tamarisks” (71 151 22810)Back in the days we were living on the island, we spent many Sunday afternoons with our friends at ‘Zalonis’.
For those who prefer a more tranquil beach, although the road that was built allows now more people to visit it than in the past, look for the way from Kini to “Dolphin”. You will be rewarded for your trouble. There is a tavern there, as well.
If you are in the mood, you can explore some beaches that are only accessible by boat. Remote beaches to the north / northwest of the island, like “Lia”,”Barbararoussa” and “Grammata” (= letters) that was named after the inscriptions carved on the rocks by seafarers hands, found there to protect themselves from rough seas or washed up shipwrecked on the small bay. It would be a unique experience ! The boats usually depart around 12:00 and return five hours later. You can inquire about here: Perla-I, Daily cruises (6947308580)
Many things bind us to Syros. And no matter how many years will pass, we always long for travelling there again. In fact, it’s not only the place. More than anything it’s the people we met there, tied with them for life.
SUGGEST IONS… ..for those who have the time or inclination for further exploration
• In the harbor, in front of the building of the Cyclades Region, there is an tourist information stand. You can obtain brochures with information and the association of tourist accommodation guide book that is distributed for free.
• Visit the “Industrial Museum of Syros”
• Drive to the inland villages of Syros. “Chroussa” and “Piskopeio” villages with the beautiful summer houses, built in huge estates. Once glamorous resorts in the mid and late last century, now crumbling to reveal the size of their wealth.
• There are a bunch of other coves with small beaches, almost prive, you can look for them if you want (“Santirinioi”,” Fabrica”,” Ambela”, “Kokkina”,”Armeos” ….)
• Look for the program of events “Syros Culture”. It is rich and variable and you will surely find something that interests you.