If Santorini didn't exist, little, bare Folegandros would be world famous. Its gorgeous Cycladic main town of Chora, built between the walls of a Venetian fort, sits on the edge of a beetling precipice: this hilltop setting represents, with the exception of Santorini, the finest cliff-side scenery in the Cyclades. Beyond this, the island does not seem to have much to offer on paper—but in person it certainly does. Beautiful and authentic, it has become the secret island of Cyclades lovers, who find here a pure dose of the magic essence of the Aegean. Only 31 square km (12 square miles) in area and 64 km (40 miles) in circumference, it lacks ruins, villages, green valleys, trees, country houses, and graceful cafs at the edge of the sea. But what the island does have—one of the most stunning towns, deliberately downplayed touristic development, several good beaches, quiet evenings, traditional local food, and respectful visitors—make it addictive. There are no discos, no bank, but the sea is shining and, in spring, much of the island is redolent of thyme and oregano.

Visitors to Folegandros—historians are divided on whether the name immortalizes the Cretan explorer Pholegandrus or comes from the Phoenician term for "rock-strewn"—mostly stay in or near the main town, and hang around the town's three squares. A walk, a swim at the beach, a visit to the little Folklore Museum at Ano Meria, meeting other people who love the essence of the Greek islands: these require few arrangements. Unless you want to stop on the side of the road to look at views (the island does offer an array of interesting hiking trails), the bus is adequate. There are a number of beaches—Angali and Ayios Nikolaos are especially good. Because Folegandros is so small, it fills up fast in August, and despite the absence of raucous nightlife, it somewhat loses its special flavor.

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