Under the shade of bougainvillea Kimolos preserves a bygone era

Its beauty is in the classic Cycladic style: white houses, bare rocks and small protected inlets. Called «Argentiera» by the Venetians («silver,» from the color of some of its rocks), the island of Kimolos is a place that takes you back to a time that has disappeared forever from many Greek islands. For those whose memories don’t go back that far, a visit to the island is a voyage of discovery. Traditional architecture prevails in the scattered settlements, tin pots hang in courtyards, shop signs are hand-painted instead of neon-lit, locals have time to chat and grandmothers sit knitting in the shade of a bougainvillea. And everywhere are the red, pink, silver and white rocks, the inlets where boats are repaired, the beaches and windswept heights, walking paths and a lovely Venetian fortress in the main village, Horio (not Hora as on other islands). Horio is aesthetic simplicity itself. There are no «rooms to let» signs, no aluminum window frames. They are humble homes, whitewashed by the owners themselves, and they preserve a valuable architectural heritage. Most of the stores are locate in the village, but all are discreet – even the souvenir shops. The path to the upper part of the town passes buildings dating from the 13th century in Mesa Kastro. Many two-story Cycladic houses form the outer wall of the famed Exo Kastro. The Christ Church, the oldest on the island, is believed to have been built in the late 16th or early 17th century, but is only one of many very old churches in Horio. One of the most impressive, Aghios Ioannis Chrysostomos, is a post-Byzantine monument of the 17th century. As the days pass, visitors to the island begin to approach their day in a more leisurely manner, strolling through the place. Soon, they are leaving their watches in their rooms. One of the island’s greatest attractions is its cuisine. «Kolokythenia» is a kind of pumpkin pie, «ladenia» is the simplest and tastiest pizza in Greece, and there’s a wonderful tomato paste served as an appetizer with a special rose wine. The food on Kimolos is remarkable because the fresh ingredients make even the simplest dishes taste good. The local version of the ubiquitous «Greek salad» is served with local capers and cheese. There are small red tomatoes grown without chemical fertilizers, eggplants that melt in your mouth. Agriculture and livestock breeding are the only possible occupations in winter, when ships don’t often call. Most of the permanent residents are pensioners; the work force is occupied mostly in quarries on the island and on neighboring Milos. The job security has enabled them to preserve their traditional occupations rather than succumb to commercialized tourism. Yet there is nothing lacking, not even supermarkets. Of course, those shops stay open all year. Rocks and scrub Kimolos, like Milos, is an island of spectacular rock formations. One of the most impressive is the «skiadi,» as the locals call it. It is a rock that has a narrow base and is flat at the top, like a mushroom. Local high school children have compiled an excellent guide for hikers indicating routes through the mountains used for years by locals. The paths are graded according to difficulty, and places of interest are noted along with other useful information. Unfortunately, not many copies are available. It is a pity the local authorities have not gone through the trouble of reprinting it. This article appeared in the July issue of ECO, Kathimerini’s magazine on the environment.