From churches and chapels and sunset beach bars to some of the most beautiful coastlines in Greece, Ios has come a long way from its partying past. Here’s why we think it’s essential that this lesser-known Greek island is on your travel bucket list.
There’s no place quite like Ios, the crown jewel of the Cycladic islands, snuggled between the glitz of Santorini and the glamour of Mykonos. Just 45 minutes by ferry from Santorini, it is an easy-to-reach island that’s still very much under wraps. Once known as a hippy hotspot and the place to go for a wild all-nighter, these days it’s more of a secluded treat and there are very few nods to its lively past.
The coastline here is dotted with signature Cycladic houses; it’s also home to some of the most idyllic beaches in Greece. A local favourite is Mylopotas, a Blue Flagged stretch of soft, honeycomb-coloured sand, where you can spend your days relaxing in a palm-topped cabana and dipping in and out of the sea. Take a break from basking and head for a bite to eat at Free Beach Bar along the front, where the Mediterranean platter is out of this world and will keep you full until dinner.
Free Beach Bar is a popular hangout at Mylopotas beach | Courtesy of Free Beach Bar
When it comes to places to stay, there are two hotels on this island that stand head and shoulders above the rest. Both belong to Athens-born entrepreneur Angelos Michalopoulos and his inspirational wife, Vasso, who purchased a third of the island around 15 years ago. Over the years, the couple have spent their time and money building ecofriendly, sustainable hotels, bars and resorts through their hospitality company, LuxurIOS.
Together, they have committed to only developing a small part of the island so the beauty and nature of Ios can be preserved for future generations to enjoy, unlike on overdeveloped neighbouring islands.
Angelos and Vasso’s most impressive hotel, Calilo, which stands for Create a Life [you can fall] in LOve [with], is a fine example of their passion for the island. A former Wall Street trader turned artist, Angelos is a creative genius, solely responsible for the unique and captivating design of this and every other hotel in the LuxurIOS brand. Every piece of art, every reflection, all the perfectly matched marble bathrooms and every signature sculpture across the entire island (and you will see a lot of them) is all because of Angelos.
Calilo is a unique boutique hotel experience on Ios | Courtesy of Calilo / Expedia
There are only suites at Calilo, each of which has been individually designed so guests can indulge in ultimate luxury and tranquillity. You’re guaranteed privacy, and the outdoor areas all feature their own cabanas so you can watch the sunset from the comfort of your own room amid tumbling waterfall features and spacious private pools. Each of the bathrooms has a huge sunken bath at its centre; they’re all lined with marble that have been intricately matched to create an eye-catching work of art.
You’re also only moments from a private cove, complete with cabanas, that’s only for hotel guests; facing the south of Kalamos, it’s the ideal spot to soak up the scenery and take a dip in between sipping on tropical cocktails and feasting on Greek tapas.
Calilo has its own private beach with cabanas | Courtesy of Calilo
Sustainability is at the heart of Calilo; the hotel uses solar power and there’s a reservoir that collects rain during the wet season for use throughout the summer months.
You’ll find beautiful, glossy olive tree trunks throughout each of the LuxurIOS properties, all thanks to a conservation project set up by the couple. The Elektra Olive Tree Project involved transporting and saving nearly 500 olive trees destined for the log pile. Angelos and Vasso have also planted more than 55,000 trees and bushes to replace those destroyed by deforestation and wildfires.
Pathos Beach Bar and Restaurant is a must for socialites visiting Ios | Courtesy of Pathos Beach Bar and Restaurant
Although Calilo is an absolute must, no trip to Ios is complete without stopping by Agalia Luxury Suites, another ecofriendly hotel opened by the LuxurIOS brand. With a totally different vibe to Calilo, this hotel is a great base for exploring the other side of the island. The hilltop location ensures jaw-dropping views, and you could easily spend a day watching the boats and ships cruise in and out of the bay from the comfort of your private terrace.
The unique design is, yet again, down to the creative mind of Angelos; neon lights border the bed frames and swinging sofas take centre stage in some of the suites, not to mention the private pools with views of the surrounding bay. If you’re lucky enough to stay in one of the premium suites at the top of the hotel, you’ll get a private jacuzzi overlooking the Aegean Sea and a secluded stone veranda fencing off a private garden.
Agalia Luxury Suites blends opulence with rustic charm to stunning effect | Courtesy of Agalia Luxury Suites
While you’re on this side of the island, make sure you spend an afternoon basking and swimming at Tzamaria beach. This little bay, the best-kept secret in Ios, is just a short walk from the hotel, and you’ll often have it to yourself. You can also wander down to Erego Beach Bar, about a seven-minute walk from Agalia. Here you can sip on cocktails in an infinity pool overlooking the distant sea or simply snooze on a cabana beachside. Dreamy.
Alternatively, it’s just a 15-minute walk to Pathos Beach Bar and Restaurant, where a perfectly timed song accompanies the sunset. Each seat here has an undisturbed view and, as the night gets livelier, you can expect a live DJ, dancing and a flow of cocktails and sushi.
Top tip: if you are planning to stay in Santorini before or after your trip to Ios, make sure you visit Grace Hotel, an Auberge Resorts Collection, in Imerovigli for dinner. The restaurant here offers a private clifftop dining experience with unbelievable views of the sunset – it’s ideal for a special occasion.
This five-star resort, set amid a stark, mountainous landscape, is really rather special. A stay at Calilo promises the utmost privacy and luxury; rooms are as unique as it gets and each comes with a private pool, tumbling waterfall features and striking interiors with ceilings featuring 72,000 mosaics, all fitted by hand. The private beach is dotted with palm-topped cabanas and, in the morning, the sun rises directly over the Aegean Sea.
Set amid the hilltops, just a five-minute drive from the port of Ios, Agalia is the epitome of laid-back luxury, with views that are hard to beat. Most of the rooms come with excellent panoramas of the surrounding bay and the nearby town, Chora. Some of the rooms also come with a private pool and jacuzzi, plus a secluded balcony or patio area so you can soak up the sun in privacy.