Icaria, the Greek island of legends

Icaria is an island of Greece located practically in the center of the Aegean Sea. It closes the archipelagos of the Dodecanese and the Cyclades to the north – without being part of them – and looks like a natural dike located halfway between the mainland coasts of Turkey and Greece.

The name comes from one of the best-known legends of Hellenic mythology: Daedalus and his son Icarus, prisoners on the island of Crete, made themselves wings with wax-fixed feathers to escape. They succeeded, but the young man ignored his father and flew too high, so the heat of the sun melted the artifact and he fell into the sea, dying. The land closest to the tragedy was designated by Daedalus as Icaria.

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Many travelers have set foot in Icaria attracted by this mythological passage. There they find a virtue-shaped island that is actually a mountain rising out of the sea. Its highest peak, Ateras, is 1,037 meters above sea level. A rugged landscape that generates canyons and gorges that will delight hiking and canyoning enthusiasts.

except weekend

Icaria moves at the agricultural pace of a population that is still primarily dedicated to the primary sector

Its relative proximity to Athens attracts a different kind of traveler, who wants to emulate Dionysus, the god of wine, who according to mythology was born here. But apart from the weekends of good weather, Icaria moves at the agricultural pace of a population that is still mainly dedicated to the primary sector and which is the protagonist of another myth: longevity.

The crystal clear waters of the Seychelles beach in Icaria

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Its devout affiliation with the purest Mediterranean diet, laden with vegetables, olive oil, bread, cheese, fish and wine; coupled with the fact that you have to walk to reach the fields and connect various places that have no roads, have fueled the legend that the Icarians are among the oldest citizens in the world. Indisputably, more than 30% of its nine thousand inhabitants are over 90 years old.

There are scientists who point out that the fact is not so significant on a small island in the Aegean Sea, and that the neighboring town of Samos, much more touristy and where healthy habits are in decline, presents similar statistics. But they also recognize that the percentage of Icarian nonagenarians is very high. And that there is a significant number of people who are over 100 years old.

except the week-end

Icaria moves at the agricultural pace of a population that is still primarily dedicated to the primary sector

The friends of the night hallucinate with Christos Raches, the second most important town of Icaria –although the registered inhabitants are only 300–. It has acquired the reputation of being a “24/24” city. That is, shops, restaurants and cafes serve at any time of the day. And if at this time the trader is sleeping or has gone out to perform some agricultural task, you just need to look at the price list, take what you need and leave the money in the basket provided.

They say that before this practice was very common throughout Ikaria, but with the arrival of tourists it is disappearing, because there are thieves who shop for free. At Christos Raches, however, they have realized that maintaining this tradition is what makes them distinctive. After all, the beaches are concentrated in the north, and in the inland cities, everything should be done to supplement the national economy.

A typical tavern on the Greek island of Icaria

A typical tavern on the Greek island of Icaria

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And it is that Icaria has historically gone its own way. Many Greeks still know it as the “Red Island”, because it resisted authority and invasion with determination. This was already the case when the Genoese and the Ottomans arrived. And during the dictatorship of the colonels it became the favorite destination of exiled communists. For five months of the year 1912, Icaria became independent from Greece. The war between the Ottoman Empire and the Balkan League reinstated it in the Hellenic administration.

The opening of an airport on the eastern outskirts of Ikaria in 1995 marked a change in lifestyle. Tourists no longer have to submit to unpredictable ferry schedules and sea conditions, and some seaside resorts have developed that can ruin the relaxed lifestyle and, therefore, the legendary longevity of the Icarians.

Welfare

Icaria is in the top 5 places with the best quality of life in the world

For now, however, Icaria continues to appear on the so-called blue list of places in the world where it is better to live, according to a study by the University of Athens. Only five were selected. With Icaria, enclaves of Sardinia, California, Costa Rica and Japan.

The university report also pointed to frequent bathing in the medicinal mineral springs that naturally gush at 32°C as another element to support the health condition of the Icarians. At Therma, just two kilometers from the capital of the island, Agios Kirykos, there are springs that flow directly into the sea, warming the nearby waters and creating an effect for those who bathe in them.

Coastal village of Evdilos on the island of Ikaria

Coastal village of Evdilos on the island of Icaria

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But there are those who point to what may be the definitive element in explaining the longevity of the Icarians: there, no one pays much attention to the clock. When two inhabitants meet, they say to each other: “See you that day, in the morning, in the afternoon or in the evening.

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