If Santorini is the Hollywood leading lady of the Greek islands, Folegandros is the demure, younger sister, star of off-beat independent cinema. Built between the walls of a Venetian fort, its main town of Chora is pinch-yourself pretty, clinging to the edge of precipitous cliffs above brooding seas. An island for dedicated Cyclades lovers, small, bare Folegandros offers a pure dose of the magic essence of the Aegean. If it wasn't for the bright light shone by its sibling, Folegandros would surely be world famous.
A mere 13 km (8 miles) in length and 31 square km (12 square miles) in area, at first glance the island does not seem to have much to offer—it lacks archaeological sites and ruins, vibrant towns, verdant valleys, cultural diversions, and nightlife and it boasts of only one true road, two ATMs, and no airport. What it does have in abundance, however, are the simple authentic pleasures of Greek island life; a trio of laid-back unhurried villages, deliberately downplayed development catering to a well-heeled crowd, an array of lovely beaches, a traditional local food culture, and some of the finest cliffside scenery in the Cyclades.
Travelers to Folegandros—historians are divided over whether the name immortalizes the son of King Minos, Pholegander, or comes from the Phoenician term "iron hard" referring to the rock-strewn interior—mostly stay in Chora, the elevated main town; Karavastasi, the port; or Ano Meria, a village perched on the spine of the island that feels little changed from a century ago. Days are idled away with a walk, a swim at the beach, and a lengthy lunch; nights invariably end up in one of Chora's main squares. Out of season, Folegandros could never be described as crowded, with a mere 500 residents, but during July and August the island often appears so, mainly because the port and town are so small and struggle to cope. In truth, numbers are low compared to more popular neighbors and many are return visitors drawn by the relaxed atmosphere of this discrete little charmer.