On an Island

Crossing borders…

By Emily Arauz | August 22, 2017


  • …Waves roll
  • Lift us in blue
  • Drift us
  • Seep right through
  • And colour us blue…

excerpt from ‘The Blue', written by David Gilmour/Polly Samson, on D Gilmour’s On an Island album (2006)

David Gilmour’s album On an Island will forever be my summer soundtrack since I first laid eyes on the island of Meis last year and learned of the Pink Floyd’s member’s equal fascination with the island.

Just across the water from the Turkish resort of Kaş, this sleepy Greek island, known in Greek as both Megisti and Kastelorizo (a legacy of its Italian occupation during World War II), is the furthermost, eastern piece of Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. Interestingly, while Kaş means eyebrow in Turkish, Meis (the island's Turkish name) in fact derives from the Greek word for 'eye'. I have yet to learn the eponymous history as I am hesitant to reopen old wounds and so have not yet asked which came first, name or place, but looking at the map, the anthropomorphic relationship between these two geographical hideaways is clear.

For the most part, this island is the idyllic getaway alternative to the majority of over-visited Greek islands. Yet, be forewarned – due to its intimate proximity to the Turkish coast and the popular vacation spot of Kaş, everyday around 11am there is an influx of daytrippers, some of whom disastrously attempt to order ayran from the Greek waitresses, forgetting they had indeed crossed an international border and are no longer in Turkey. Filling out the tourist profile appear to be a steady supply of Italians, who seemed to have maintained a personal connection to this island since their presence in this corner of the Mediterranean seventy-odd years ago.

Despite the full ferries arriving every day, just a short walk away from the port, along the back streets or to the other side of the bay, all the tourists somehow disappear and you are left surrounded by the calming buzz of island life, interrupted only by the occasional appearance of the dragon-like head of a sea turtle taking its time to catch its breath and check out the world above the water or by an overly serious game of cards among a group of children at the local café.

 

Nevertheless, if it is your first trip to the island, the usual errands (as you are informed by the eager entrepreneurs waiting for you at the port) include hiring a sea taxi to take you out to the blue cave, before the tide rises, and over to the rocky island of St George (Agios Giorgios), where you will find with a chapel (above) chaises longues and a satisfactory restaurant (where they do not serve ayran)

After the water-borne adventures, it is your duty to return to the main island and explore its more land-based holdings, which include the Archaeological Museum Kastellorizo housed in the old fortress where you can learn the history of the island and compare its now sparse settlement to its once crowded visage. This view is of the harbour before the air raids of 1943.

Returning to the main port area in search of a frappe and other local delicacies, the last item I recommend is to wander the back streets and contemplate the availability of real estate for purchase by foreigners (versus the benefit of just buying a yacht to park in the harbour at leisure).

We found a lovely boutique hotel, Mediterraneo Kastelorizo, off the beaten track of booking.com, and owned by Marie, a French woman, whose love affair with the island and with a local man was her siren call to stay. With brilliant, Moroccan-coloured walls and furniture, the rooms, many of which come complete with a seaside view, enable the ultimate escapism experience.

On our first day, as we were free this time from the pressure of fitting all of the tourstic errands into the allotted five hours between ferries, we started with a Bougatsa (sweet cream filled börek-type pastry) and a frappe at Remezzo Café-Bar. There we found George ready with his sea taxi to take us over to St George island for the day. Evening was spent back on Megisti at one of the numerous fish taverna along the water followed by cocktail at the tip of the bay at the Faros Café-Bar.

The next day, after an early swim in the decently clean water of the bay, the leisurely morning was catered by Ismael and his wife, with delicious coffee, tea, baked goods, homemade jams, eggs and the usual Turkish/Greek breakfast fare. After refueling, we simply returned to the water and to the lounge chairs at the front of the hotel where we were later served a cool, lemon-mint tea.

All that was left to do with our new-found time on the island, as we had spent the previous day relaxing on the island of St George, was to stock up on the favorite Greek cuisine of gyros at Agora, just off the main thoroughfare, close to the port, purchase some Lemon Fanta from the local market, and pick up some last minute souvenirs to hold us over until next year.

    

To some of you, the island may unearth a cinematic memory. Kastelorizo was in fact the island of feature in the Academy Award-winning film, Mediterraneo¸ in 1991, winning for best foreign film.

  

The picturesque white houses from the film have now been updated with varying bright colors, striking visitors just arriving by boat. With this renewal of restoration, I question the future of this island, particularly as the growing interest and access to Kaş (after its new airport is finished) results in an overflow of people and investment into the nearby, EU neighbour across the water. For the time-being, before Kastelorizo becomes the next Obama-influenced Cuba, you have your chance to experience the island as-is, a quiet getaway, where, in the poetic notions of David Gilmour the title track On an Island, '…Sharing a dream, on an island, it felt right…'


How to get there:

  • – Daily ferries depart from Kaş, Turkey, leaving in the morning around 10am and return in the evenings around 4pm. Two nights a week, there are now Greek Taverna nights on the island with ferries returning to Kaş at 11pm. Note: Be sure to make your ferry reservation at least one day ahead of time as the companies collect passports the night prior for the international trip.
  • – One flight a day from Rhodes, Greece arrives to the small airport on the island early in the morning, with a return flight scheduled directly after.

Where to stay:

  • – A small number of options can be found on Booking.com
  • – A personal recommendation is the Mediterraneo Kastelorizo Hotel. Calling or emailing is necessary as they are not listed on Booking.com

What to eat:

  • – A number of the seaside taverna serve approximately the same fare, for similar prices. Picking based on personal aesthetics and friendly service won’t steer you too wrong. Unfortunately, Kastelorizo is still in need of a note-worthy culinary establishment.
  • – For a tasty and basic gyro, head to the Agora Restaurant, just one street back from the sea.
  • – For cocktails, beer or a coffee, Faros Café-Bar is a nice option at the tip of the bay for both daytime and nighttime.
  • – Remezzo seems to be one of the few bakeries on the island and its waterside tables are a perfect spot to sip a frappe and hang with the sea turtles.

What to do:

  • – Swim with the sea turtles in the bay. The seaside and lounge chairs are open to the public at the two ends of the bay – at the Megisti Hotel and in front of the Faros Café-Bar.
  • – Hire a water taxi to take you over to the St. George island and beach for the day for 5 Euro per person. Tip: Make sure to remember to set a pickup time with your driver! While there is a restaurant on the rocky outcrop, there is no hotel and you may be left with swimming back to the shores of the main island as your only option.
  • – Or take a detour at low tide and have them show you the blue cave around the back side of the island for an additional few Euros.
  • – Hike up the rocky back streets and visit the Archaeological Museum housed in the old fortress.
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