Crossing Uneven Ground

Ikaria – Greek Island of Long Life


Dancing into the night. It is midnight and the party is just getting started. Ikarians live long and enjoy life.

Like many Greek islands, Ikaria is dry and wind swept, but it is isolated and is less visited than most. Legend has it that this is where Icarus plunged into the sea after flying so high and close to the sun that his waxy wings melted. More recently, Ikaria had been used as a place of exile. During the Greek civil war, 1945-47, the Greek government banished Communists here but it is they who may be having the last laugh. You see, people here tend to live abnormally long lives, one in three makes it to ninety and they tend to stay sharp until the end. This phenomenon is featured in a book about longevity by Dan Buettner called “Blue Zones.”

Armenistis at night

The village of Armenistis, on the north shore of Ikaria, is out of the way but worth finding if you’re seeking an unspoiled, traditional Greek experience.

Ikaria Beach

There are lots of lovely beaches and you might well have one all to yourself.

Why do they live so long? The diet is typically Mediterranean. Fresh veggies, fish, olive oil and dairy (mostly goat milk-based feta and yogurt) are what people eat. There is a lot of credit given to the “greens.” I think this means salads and the particular plants that grow wild around here. For one thing instead of plants like sneezy ragweed growing along the roadside, here herbs like rosemary and oregano grow wild. We also saw women gathering something that looked like arugula along the road. With this mild climate great produce is almost always available.

Father and son

Father and son operate the Paschalia Taverna on the main street of the small village of Armenistis.

We noticed people have a mostly nocturnal life style. They get up late and then take a nap from around 4 until 8pm and dinner starts much later. We ate at 10pm and we were the early birds. Old folks dance until the wee hours along with the young and very young. We noticed a real sense of joy and community.

Greek Musicians

Musicians in a garden at an Armenistis taverna get people in the mood to dance.


Entire families, from babies to seniors, get out and dance together.

Why do we like Ikaria? I don’t know, maybe because it seems authentically small town Greek and laid back. It’s a carefree, upbeat place where people watch out for one another. It is beautiful. Our inexpensive room at the Cavos Bay Hotel is perched right over the Aegean Sea. Joanne loved watching the intensely blue, clear water. It is easy and fun to exercise. By the end of each day we’d walked many kilometers and done some strenuous hill climbing but we didn’t mind. Here, at the end of the trail at a small Taverna (restaurant) there awaits a fresh Greek salad, fragrant sourdough bread and grilled seafood. Nearby some Swiss tourists have pushed aside the tables and are attempting some Greek dancing. Maybe they’ve found the secret for longevity too.

Cavos Bay Hotel

Joanne enjoyed the ambiance of the Cavos Bay hotel.


Flowers capture the morning light at the Cavos Bay Hotel in Armenistis

Ikaria Recommendations:
The Cavos Bay Hotel – Armenistis
Paschalia Taverna – On the main street in Armenistis
Reading: Here is a very good New York Times article called “The Island Where People Forget To Die” (great title!), about the Blue Zone concept.


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