Tilos is expecting you ... with nineteen beaches, twelve mountains with gushing natural springs, seven medieval castles, a Byzantine monastery, two hundred churches, a cave full of natural discoveries, a village that is a declared cultural monument, over a hundred bird species, hundreds of flora species and five hundred residents. Maintaining the physiognomy of the past, Tilos gives us the opportunity to rediscover Greece of times past.
Our steps around the island
Our journey begins at the port of Livadia on the east side of Tilos which is the main entry point for most visitors. The village of Livadia quietly hugs the shore next to the port. As you face eastward, the silhouette of the mountains of Turkey appear to rise out of the distant background, while early morning fishermen can be seen guiding their boats out of the harbor in order to catch the food of the day. As your gaze drifts upward to the sky, Agriosykia Castle emerges from the rocky mountaintop, as it has done unfailingly for the past six hundred years.
As the sun slowly rises, we are captivated by the changing pastel hues of the mountains above Livadia which stand in contrast to the unremarkable architecture prevailing in the village below. There are a few noticeable exceptions which include the gracefully sculpted Italian architecture of the Tilos Police Station building at the port, reminiscent of the Italian domination of the island from 1912 until 1948. Dotting the foothills of the mountainside we see scattered white, cubed buildings in which small, fully equipped apartments have been constructed and tastefully landscaped with spectacular views overlooking the bay.
Livadia Beach is 20 metres away from the port. It begins with pebbles and gradually becomes sand at its distant end. Whoever loves the sea will enjoy swimming and snorkeling in warm, crystal clear water, windsurfing, canoeing and sunbathing on comfortable lounge chairs that peak out from the welcome shade of tall pine trees scattered along the beach.
A multitude of small tavernas that overlook the beach or are tucked away in the village, fulfill our needs for food. Traditional Greek food and beverages satisfy every desire or habit.
Leaving Livadia, we have a sweet and calm feeling that is derived from its honest and eager residents, its relaxing atmosphere and the feeling that the village reflects the history of past ages.
After Livadia we head to the closest village, Mikro Horio, which was established in the 15th century in the hills above Livadia and abandoned after World War II by its residents. Some of them moved to Livadia to build a new life as business developed around the port. In this way, they built a hospitable village with small shops and cafes that serve its residents and tourists' needs during the entire year.
Eager to explore the rest of the island, we take the main road out of town toward the direction of Megalo Horio which is only a ten minute drive (7 km) from Livadia. We can select from a variety of transport options, including a car or scooter available for hire at the port, a surprisingly reliable city bus or a taxi, all of which are easy to procure. A petrol station is conveniently located on this road halfway between the two villages.
As we wind our way through Megalo Horio and the mountain, we marvel at the ancient stone walls made centuries ago to corral the animals, the plethora of tiny churches with their ruggedly rustic architecture barely perceptible against the stony hillsides and the twisted trunks of windswept oak and olive trees that guard the secrets of the island's past.
Those who enjoy nature walks will discover the two hundred Byzantine era churches scattered throughout the island with as many as forty one still retaining their original frescoes. The unmistakable presence of the past in the atmosphere surrounding the small churches is noticeable and charming. While walking on some of the nature trails filled with unspoiled flora and fauna that abound on this island, the pungent aroma of wild thyme and sage wafting through the air reminds one of the Greek myth explaining the island's name.
Continuing on toward the west side and the ancient capital of Tilos, we see ruins of the castle and fortress of Messaria, brimming with life during the 14th and 15th centuries. Beneath it, the cave of Charkadio is the site of recent excavations that surprised paleontologists when the skeletons of pygmy elephants dating back to 4,500 BC. were unearthed. There is an impressive presentation of this discovery in Megalo Horio.
Just three kilometers up the road, Megalo Horio begins to unfold on the steep slopes of St. Stefanos hill which is crowned by an ancient castle that dominates the skyline. There is a quiet charm inherent in this village that is built on tradition. Beginning in 1827, some of the ancient ruins were respectfully incorporated into the buildings we see today. The City Hall, the public school and library, the Pygmy Elephant Exhibit, the medical office and the general grocery store constitute examples of this traditional architecture. The adjoining main square offers heavenly dimensions of fragrance and color in this gardener's paradise filled with plumeria, bougainvillea and roses shaded by trees that overlook the valley and Eristos Bay to the south.
After our visit to Megalo Horio, we sense that those islanders who live close to this ancient capital feel strong bonds to their ancestors. This fact is reflected in their discussions about family chapels, preservation of the environment, the island hunting ban, the merits of organic farming and the importance of gravesite care. The conclusion from this is that the road between Livadia and Megalo Horio may physically connect the two towns but it cannot bridge the two different worlds.
The fertile valley below situated against the cool, blue backdrop of Eristos Bay tempts us to explore Eristos. This area is gifted with an abundance of natural spring water, cultivations of a dazzling array of fruits, almonds and vegetables. In springtime, this valley becomes a vibrantly colored canvas of wildflowers. Eristos Bay is followed by the most beautiful beach of the island, Eristos beach.
A few kilometers north of Megalo Horio at Plaka Bay we meet another fine and protected beach of Tilos. Before we reach Plaka, we come across at the north part of the island the picturesque St. Antonios Bay, with its small port, a few hotel rooms and a restaurant. The gravesite with fossilized human skeletons overlooking the bay is noteworthy for its historical value. The skeletons are only visible inside the sea.
From Plaka, we continue west along this scenic road with breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea, until we reach the monastery of St. Panteleimon that was built in 1470, restored in 1703 and 1824 and expanded in 1843. The palm-leafed entrance opens to a pebbled courtyard landscaped with flowers, trees, the traditional Greek basil and grapevines. The monastery is a walled complex consisting of the courtyard leading to the church whose inspiring, centuries-old frescoes have been restored following the plaster covering by the Turkish occupation. The monksβ€™ quarters are adjacent to the church. Following a little trail, we discover a tree-filled courtyard offering free space for those who want to relax, rest and quench one's thirst with the fresh spring water emanating from the stone wall inside the monastery courtyard entrance.
The monastery's zenith was reached during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when it printed bank notes used on the island, owned vast tracts of land with animal herds and served as a key economic as well as spiritual center.
Our journey concludes with our return to Livadia. Remembering the places we visited, we realize the natural beauty of the island, its respect for tradition, the preservation and presentation of its historical past and the tranquility which inspires thoughtful reflection. We think that it is really nice to preserve and present the historical past of a place and this is connected with natural environment beauty.