by Massimiliano Cremascoli
Greece is an outstanding array of more than three thousands islands. There are six major archipelagos: the Ionian Islands, the Argo-Saronic Islands, the Sporades, the North-East Aegean Islands, the Cyclades and the Dodecanese. Having travelled throughout most of them, I consider the latter two as the most appealing thanks to the harmony between landscape and architecture and to the translucence of light.
Patmos is the northernmost island in the Dodecanese and I consider it the most beautiful island of the whole Greece; that’s not to say that other visually striking islands like Folegandros, Milos, Symi, Kythira, and Sifnos are less interesting. But Patmos probably has all or most of the features that one expects to find in a Greek island: a terrific chora (main town), with the crowning glory of St.John the Theologian’s monastery on top and some really outstanding 17th century houses surrounding it. Continuous attacks from pirates necessitated powerful fortified ramparts, so the monastery looks from the the outside like a mighty castle.
You could visit the monastery not only for the superb 360 degrees view of the Aegean (on clear days you can view Ikaria and the Fourni, Samos and the Turkish coast as well as Leros, Amorgos and Astypalea) but also for some superb paintings, notably some masterpieces by one of the Renaissance masters, El Greco. On the road to the chora you’ll find the Holy Monastery of the Apocalypse, built around the grotto where St.John heard the voice of God. It is a place of pilgrimage for both Orthodox and Catholic Christians.
The spiritual tone is confirmed by the annual Festival of Religious Music that is held during the first week of September in a hillside amphitheatre and featuring performers from the Balkans, Turkey, and Russia. For people who have no spiritual inclinations, there are amazing and indented bays with crystal clear waters, plus some major satellite islands like Lipsi, Arki, Marathi, and Agathonissi, provided only with basic or primitive facilities, but displaying superb beaches and lagoons.
As it is not easy to get to Patmos. The island lacks the crowd of its sister islands Mikonos, Ios or Santorini. No drunken rowdies, no beach bar open till the small hours. Actually, to reach the island you have to rely on the slow ferries coming from Piraeus, but it will take 8 to 9 hours before you can finally set foot on it. A shorter, but unreliable alternative is to take a 42-seater ATR from Athens to neighbouring Leros, but sometimes the plane is diverted to other airports due to strong winds and so you must take the ferry from Leros to Patmos anyway and it will take more or less the same time.
Notwithstanding, the island has attracted a crowd of artists and a posh clientele, among them the late Britons: painter Millington-Drake and travel writer Bruce Chatwin, the Aga Khan family as well as some European royal families, lending Patmos a genuinely cosmopolitan feel which is probably unique in the Dodecanese
This article originally appeared at Patmos: a Glimpse of the Dodecanese.