FOLEGANDROS – Imagine a place isolated enough that dissidents of the state were sent into exile there. Now, make that place so intoxicating that some exiles chose to settle there. That’s Folegandros, a rugged Greek island in the Aegean Sea. It is smaller, harder to reach and virtually unknown compared to many other Greek islands – think Crete, Myconos and Santorini – that draw tourists from around the world. It is harder to pronounce, too (fo-LE-gan-dross), and doesn’t boast any major ruins. It has no airport or deep-water port, and is reachable only by the passenger ferries and watercraft that link the Greek islands to each other and mainland Greece. Cruise ships don’t call. Most island-going tourists don’t either. That means Folegandros is left to those who spot it on a map. For the lucky few My wife and I were two of those lucky few, taking five days to soak up the sun’s steady rays, gobble the local specialities of sweet cheese and fresh-caught sea bream and ply the miles of goat paths that lead across hills of sage and chamomile. Its steep flanks shelter windless coves with gentle pebble-and-rock beaches. And its adolescent tourism industry offers sumptuous meals, comfortable guesthouses and on-time buses. Its past is crisply visible: The hillsides are spider-webbed with seemingly endless stone walls that frame the fields of the island’s farming forebears. Donkeys are still widely used by the year-round locals as beasts of burden. Folegandros is about 8 miles (13 kilometers) long, and traversing its length is a short car trip on the narrow, two-lane road that tiptoes across the island’s spine and connects the island’s three main villages. Just over 100 miles (160 kilometers) from Athens, it is one of the southernmost of the Cyclades Islands, between Santorini and Milos. We arrived after a four-hour ferry ride from the mainland port of Piraeus, near Athens. As all ferries do, ours came into the harbor at the village of Karavostasis, a spit of low-slung white buildings and beach curving around a modest inlet. With the silvery green sage and dusty red hills, the azure Aegean gives Folegandros a color wheel like few other places. The road from Karavostasis climbs to Hora, a quickly developing community that is home to the majority of restaurants and lodging establishments on the island. Hora is perched dramatically on a northern cliff. From some vantage points, the town – said to have begun as a Venetian fort in the 1200s – seems to hang over it. As in Karavostasis, the buildings are squat and whitewashed. The center of town is a maze of open-air squares with seating at a couple of dozen cafes and restaurants beneath tamarinds and other shade trees. At night, it pulses with the sounds of disco and whatever else emanates from the clubs, bars and drinking holes. Angali Beach Our first day, we caught the bus to Angali Beach – a trip that will steel your nerves for the rest of your stay. (It is also possible to rent a motorbike or car on the island, which we did on our last day.) The roads can be steep and narrow – uncomfortably so at times. Angali Beach is wedged between hills and cliffs, flanked by a handful of eateries and guesthouses. Like a number of other beaches on Folegandros, Angali fields the bulk of the island’s beachgoers because it is reached by a paved road. It is far more rewarding to take a boat or hiking path to Katergo and Livadaki beaches, where no road goes. We hiked back from Angali, picking our way along a rocky path, past a discretely tucked-away beach with nude frolickers and up a vast hillside high above the coastline. Much of the walk follows no distinguishable path until it reaches a small hillside church and a stone path leading back to the main road, near Hora. In the setting sun, the cliffs and stonewall terraces glowed copper and donkeys rested in the shade after a day of work, packs still lashed to their bodies. It was that walk back that brought the island’s fantastic past into sharp focus. The people of Folegandros for generations were as rugged as the parched island, collecting rainwater in cisterns and building miles of stone walls around fields of wheat and barley. This is the place exiles found when they arrived in the 1930s. Some decided they were suited to the tight-knit island community woven around a simple life. Their stories are kept in Folegandros’s historical archives, local guidebooks say. (Some histories say Folegandros was used as a place of exile for centuries up through the 1970s when Greece’s last dictatorship ended.) Life today That island is disappearing: Younger generations began leaving long ago. As a result, many of Folegandros’s fields are no longer cultivated. The main business is now tourism, drawing seasonal workers from Athens and other places. In the cooler months, just a few hundred natives are left, shopkeepers say. Back in Hora, we ate dinner at a restaurant in the square, as we did every night. The wind rushed through, making it chilly, but not unpleasant. There are tavernas that carry the usual Greek fare, such as stuffed peppers and «bifteki.» There are fish taverns that specialize in the day’s catch. There are also upscale restaurants that have menus stylized for foreigners, with dishes of goat, lamb and sea bream, a mild white fish caught locally. The next morning we took the bus to Folegandros’s third main village, Ano Meria, a quiet farming community strung across a chain of hilltops. It is notably home to the stunning Church of Profitis Ilias, with its sky-blue domes. A stone path at the far edge of the village led us a couple miles (some 3 kilometers) down to the secluded Livadaki Beach. The beach is a collection of bright, smooth stones that accentuate the crystal-clear water, which starts out emerald green and dissolves into the impossibly blue Aegean beyond. Swimming is easy in the protected inlet, and a broad shelf of rock just above the water offers shade and another place to stretch out. A boat service connects Livadaki to Angali. The next day we took on our most ambitious hike – 5 miles (8 kilometers) over the rolling fields south of Hora and down a steep bank to Katergo Beach. Katergo is a shallow sliver against the hillside carpeted variously by sand, pebbles and stones. The cove does not provide as natural a nook for swimming as at Livadaki, but the water is pleasant. The drill for getting out is similar here: You can hike out or you can hop a boat to Karavostasis. Whichever way you leave – you’ll find yourself looking back, wistfully.