Ikaria, also spelt Icaria, lies is the most southern of the North Aegean islands just off the Turkish coast about 20 kilometres south-west of the major island of Samos.
Since ancient times, Ikaria has been famous for it's dark red wine, its thermal springs and for the legend of Icarus who flew too close to the sun, melting his wings of feathers and wax.
Ikaria is a large island and unfairly neglected by holiday firms. It's not immediately appealing with a long mountain mass and steep mountain cliffs that plunge into the sea along a coastline that has few sheltered bays or good harbours.
But Ikaria has its strong adherents amongst tourists that do visit and, although few in number, the best of the Ikaria beaches can compare with any to be found in the Greek islands.
The larger villages are confined to Ikaria's coastal plains as the interior is rocky and rugged and its small mountain villages are remote and unkempt.
The best beaches are on the north coast and vary from long swathes of fine sand to sheltered coves of pebble and stone.
Ikaria is an island for those seeking a Greek holiday off the beaten track with a the taste of authentic old world Greece, away from the crowds.
Accommodation on Ikaria ranges from self contained villas to all-inclusive holiday hotels. Expect decent meals too in the many quality traditional tavernas to be found on the island.
Ikaria is an island blessed with some of the best beaches in the Aegean. They range from long sandy stretches with seasonal tourist attractions to deserted pebble coves. Visitors can expect peaceful landscapes and spectacular shores with a rugged mountain backdrop. The best sands are on the north coast but the south offers several beautiful and secluded coves.
Agios Kirikos is the island's main port and administrative centre on the north-east coast and, although well provided with trees and gardens, it's is not what the casual visitor might call picturesque.
Many buildings are relatively new and have a drab, utilitarian air. Most visitors are here only to book ferries or to catch the island bus.
To the east of the ferry quay is a small strip of pebble used more for beaching fishing boats than for sunbathing. In summer water taxis shuttle visitors to the hot springs at nearby Therma.
A small archaeological museum has free entry and houses many local finds including a well-preserved 500 BC gravestone .
About a kilometre west, just past a couple of nightclubs, is Tsoulka beach, popular with the local youngsters. The tree-fringed pebble beach is just off the main road and has a beach cantina.
A little further west is a long, narrow strip of rock and pebble at Xilosirtis, with a small jetty and a summer cantina. Access is down a stairway path at the lower end of the village.
About a kilometre east, on the coast road to Therma, is a secluded sand and pebble cove at Prioni with access down a very steep path
Boats in Agios Kirykos port offer excursion trips to the island of Fourni which has beaches, tavernas and good walking trails.
The resort at Therma, not much prettier than its neighbour Agios Kirikos, is set in a narrow rock cove with a row of cafes, the shore shaded by a line of attractive tamarisk trees and looking out over a small, quiet beach of sand and shingle split by a thin jetty.
A half a dozen or so hotels jostle together in the compact village which appears totally deserted out of season but is overrun with summer visitors to the hot mineral springs nearby.
Visitors pay for a half-hour dip in a stone tub filled with steaming mineral water said to help cure everything from arthritis to infertility.
A 10 minute walk east, along a waymarked footpath, ends at the ruins of ancient Therma where only the walls of the former Roman bath house remains.
The once prosperous ancient city thrived on the reputation of its waters but was hit by an earthquake in 205 BC and slid into the sea. Swimmers can glimpse the underwater ruins just offshore from the baths site.
Another derelict spa can be found at Therma Lefkadas, about three kilometres south-west of the Agios Kirikos, where hot springs bubble up into the sea and visitors can steam in a small rock pool.
The coastal resort of Fanari, also known as Faros, lies at the eastern tip of the island and has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity since a new road was built to the nearby airport.
It's a particular favourite weekend retreat for those living in Agios Kirikos. The sand and pebble beach runs for about two kilometres curving round the eastern headland.
Tamarisks provide natural shade alongside a couple of large tavernas and a beach bar. Windsurfing is very popular and rooms for rent lie behind the beach.
The airport road doesn't quite make it to the sands and visitors pass through the backyards of tavernas to get to the shore.
The island airport is completely invisible from the beach and flights are few enough to be more an interest than a nuisance. Nearby are the ancient ruins of Drakano with an acropolis among the remains of ancient walls and houses.
Below the Drakano Tower are the beach and coves of Agios Giorgios, a 20 minute walk from Faros along a rough track. Water taxis from Faros will also drop off here, but there are no facilities.
A track north from Faros leads to the remote Iero beach, in a deep cove with some rock formations that will appeal to snorkellers.
It's at the end of a deep horseshoe bay and mostly stone and shingle although it gets sandy out to sea. Despite having no facilities it can get quite crowded in the summer.
Evdilos is the north coast port of Ikaria, about 40 kilometres from Agios Kirikos and reached along the island's only main road.
The road climbs steeply over the scrub covered mountain ridge to the more attractive terraced slopes of the north coast.
It's one of the more traditional settlements on Ikaria with cafes on the harbour, stone houses, narrow streets and old mansions.
Evdilos is also home to the Hellenic Cultural Centre which runs courses for foreigners covering all things Greek, from language, literature and culture to cookery and dancing.
A small, quiet sand and stone beach is seldom visited except by the locals as it has no facilities. Better beaches are within walking distance both east and west.
The west, in particular, has a series of good sandy strips but visitors are warned of dangerous currents along this stretch of coast and care must be taken when swimming.
Akamatra is a beautiful village, just south of Evdilos, full of attractive houses with a very picturesque square, a folklore museum and several small chapels.
The central square has a 500 year-old oak tree, once used as a gallows. There are also several mansion houses in the village with fine balconies.
Just to the south-east lies the area of Alama, where a stoned paved path leads through a dense woodland of towering plane trees, ancient water mills and past springs that supply water to the village.
At one spring is the Alama cave, full of stalactites and stalagmites, and at nearby Arethousa is the much photographed Theokepasti chapel which has been carved out of the rock. (see Sights)
Just west of Evdilos is the beach village of Kampos, once the ancient capital of Ikaria when the island was called Oino.
There are ruins nearby of a Roman odeon and the Archaeological Museum on the hilltop of Agia Irini and is well worth a visit.
Local legend has it that the first vine sprouted here, and today vines are cultivated to make a strong black local wine according to an ancient Kampos recipe.
The beach is long and sandy. Bamboo grows right to the water's edge fed by the fresh water river that crosses the plain at the back of the beach forming small pools.
A snack-bar opens in the summer and a popular bar and club lies behind the sands. Kampos village has an excellent museum with more than 250 exhibits, from Neolithic tools to carved headstones. It has rooms for rent, tavernas, a village mini-market and a cafe.
On the coast road west of Evdilos lie a string of good beaches with some of the best sands to be found on Ikaria.
The village of Gialiskaris is home to a huge white sand beach called Messakti where the water is as clear and blue as the Caribbean.
Two small rivers form fresh water lagoons at the back of the wide and long Messakti that is mostly pure sand. Shallow water makes it ideal for families but there are strong currents offshore.
At the eastern end of the beach, a traditional white and blue chapel sits at the end of an outcrop of rock. Tourist facilities here include toilets and changing rooms.
The popular beach has ranks of sunbeds, cantinas and the usual watersports but it's big enough to soak up visitors with ease.
Several beach volleyball and beach soccer tournaments are held on the sands during August.
The far end of Messakti sands blend into the beach is Livadi. The attractive setting is enhanced by a freshwater lagoon that adds lush vegetation to the shoreline scene.
Sunbeds line the sands in from of a beach cantina and the main road behind has a wide variety of restaurants and rooms to rent.
A picturesque offshore islet makes a challenging target for strong swimmers while the lagoon offers an interesting diversion with young turtles to watch but not touch, as they give a nasty nip.
Over the headland to the west and below the road as it snakes along the cliff is the tiny cove of Ammoudaki. The beach is sand and shingle and the water sparkling and clear.
Snorkellers can explore some small underwater caves but there are no facilities here and it's a steep climb down the cliffs.
The small fishing village of Armenistis is one of the more popular tourist resorts on Ikaria, thanks mainly to the necklace of nearby beaches described above.
The village consists of clusters of newly restored old houses that climb up the hillside overlooking the fishing boats in the harbour and a small patch of beach about 13 kilometres west of Evdilos.
The traditional old Greek village only has about 70 permanent residents but a n number of small hotels have been built recently. The village has a bakery, mini-market, tavernas and bars. There is also a small museum of Ikarian art.
Armenistis is surrounded by dense pine woods fed by abundant fresh water streams and this is the starting point for a number of good island walks.
The beautiful inland village of Christos Raches or Christos Rachiou, is about five kilometres from Armenistis and buried deep in mountain pine and oak woods and surrounded by vineyards.
The principle village of the region has only 350 living here but it has a school, police station and health centre as well as a number of small shops, tavernas and cafes around the central square.
There is an imposing church with a marble bellower, some pretty old houses lining narrow cobbled streets and the old ruin of a water mill, hidden in the pines which is being restored.
Sleepy and empty by day Christos Raches 'comes alive' in the evening when the locals come out to wine and dine in the tree-shaded cafes and tavernas.
In the evening visitors will seek out the nearby Litani, a rock with satisfying sunset views.
South of Christos Raches is the Pezi plateau where a tiny village of the same name sits on a flat, barren upland plain near a huge dam that was built in 1994 to create a reservoir.
It's bit of a change from other Ikarian villages, perched high on mountain sides or along fertile valleys; the Pezi area is more moonscape than landscape.
Apart from creating a refuge for local wildlife, the water from the dam irrigates the entire area of Christos Raches. In the 16th century Pezi once the main hideout refuge from plundering pirates.
Houses, so-called 'girotokamada' were built behind granite rocks for shelter and as hiding places. The village of Pezi has notable folklore interest and some traditional stone wine presses.
About five kilometres west of Armenistis is another of the more popular Ikaria beaches, known as Nas, which can be reached by a very attractive coastal walk.
It lies at the end of the Chalari Gorge where the river Chalaris flows into the beautiful deep inlet creating a deep freshwater beach pool.
The small bay of pebble and sand is enclosed by outcrops of rock but the water is prone to heavy swells and a rope is strung out for swimmers to grab if waves get too big.
Several tavernas offer outstanding views over the sea, particularly good at sunset and there are rooms to let in the village as well as camping nearby.
Near to Nas are the ruins of the ancient temple of Tavropolos Artemida and the dock of an ancient harbour, though only the temple foundations and couple of low walls are visible today.
The only other beach of note on Ikaria is on the south coast below the dramatic white cliffs of Seychelles, or Seichelle in one of Ikaria's most memorable settings.
Found on the south-west coast about 25 kilometers from Agios Kirikos, the pretty village of Manganitis is entered through a tunnel cut into the granite bluff.
The beach is down a very steep path that follows the river bed from the village to a shore of brilliant white stones huddled in a picturesque cove and couched by deeply carved limestone cliffs.
It's remote location and relatively difficult access makes Seychelles less often visited, but it doesn't take many to fill this small beach.
The stones make the beach blindingly white and turn the waters a deep azure turquoise. A large offshore rock offers a place to paddle but a steep shelf means children must be watched.
There are no facilities on the beach but there are tavernas and cafes in Manganitis.