Although it has an airport, Syros has somehow missed out on becoming a destination, all the more surprising when one takes a close look at it. The other Cycladic islands are variations on a theme, based on the aesthetics of fishermen and peasants; the iconic cubic houses, cane roofs and whitewash are the stuff of poverty. Ironic when one considers what a house on Mykonos can cost.
Syros is different, yes, it has a medieval citadel with the usual twisting lanes and alleys, the usual whitewash and little terraces, yes, it has the cute fishing villages and small harbours, but it also has another face – that of prosperous 18th and 19th Century merchants, captains, and Venetian, French, Ottoman and British diplomats. They built mansions, noble villas and grand piazzas, a casino, and even a replica of La Scala where ballets and operas are still performed. The Syriani are aware of their heritage, and their manners and habits are milder and more courteous than elsewhere, their pride in their island and its food and traditions is palpable. As the capital of the Cyclades with 30,000 inhabitants, Syros is a proper island all year round, great for off season visits.
Ermoupolis, the capital, with its grand waterfront mansions, is the scene of this neo-classical splendour, and the town has 3 large cathedrals – two Orthodox ones down in the town, and one Catholic one up in Ano Syra, the medieval citadel – where, since Venetian and Genovese times, the Catholic community of Syros has lived and worshipped. Pragmatic as these long-lived mixed communities are, the locals have found a way to bridge the logistical details – mixed marriages take place once in each church; the first one is Catholic, as it is not recognised by the Orthodox, then followed by the Orthodox one, which doesn’t seem to upset the Catholics. Though the Catholic and Orthodox Easters are usually a couple of weeks apart, Easter on Syros is celebrated on the same day, this is because no-one wants to roast lamb and do Easter eggs for half the family while the other half is still fasting, then do it all again the next week for the other half… So if you are a mixed family, Syros is where to celebrate Easter.
Syros attracts a creative and classy kind of visitor, so summer guests tend to build their dream house, come every year, see their friends and treat the island as a second home. One of the waterfront Neo-classical mansions has just been bought and beautifully restored by a shipping magnate, who is is throwing a housewarming party week – the Shipping community will be out in force, several million tonnes of it, including a couple of cousins, floating outside the house. If you don’t have a suitable amount of tonnage and haven’t been invited, don’t worry, go for a cocktail to next door Vaporia on the old waterfront under the town walls as the sun goes down, and watch the party.
We have some fabulous new finds on Syros this year: First of all are two sister houses that we are proud to present, which have picturesque little Finikas as their nearest village, with its fishing boats and waterfront tavernas. The real appeal is their fabulous views, and the totally wonderful architecture and décor- the owners are architects and stylists themselves, one of them is a world famous hair stylist to celebrities, and his pretty house-manageress has by the far the most stylish crop and colour in the whole of the Cyclades. Her husband is the most resourceful man on Syros and acts as concierge arranging anything from trekking the island paths to deserted beaches, to sailing lessons and private launch transfers to Mykonos.
Our other new house is a very peaceful and beautiful retreat on the west coast, with nature all around and the cliffs and sea below. Watching the sunset gild the headland opposite is an evening ritual.
Within striking distance is Gallisos and the best restaurant on the island by far, called Vassiloilema- “Sunset”. No-one in the right mind would look at the sunset here as they should be paying full attention to chef Costas Bouyouris’ delicious creations – the seafood Risotto is to die for, but leave a little room for the lime yogurt afterwards.
Syros is perhaps a little low on beaches compared to some other islands, though Delfini and Comito are excellent, but to spend a fortnight here in the class, elegance and beauty of the island, and then hop over to Mykonos for a bit of bling and beach party, or Tinos for a bit of medieval meditation, would be a great combination. You too might become one of the summer residents that quietly return every year.