It was a cold, soggy winter in Southampton when we found ourselves dreaming of an adventure. My friend Bryony and I had been struggling to find any inspiration in our grimy university accommodation and imagined spending long days painting on quiet beaches; I bought a map of the Cyclades and we began to highlight dots to aim for.
Milos was so beautiful that our island hopping adventure didn't end up as extensive as we imagined, but I haven't regretted it for a second.
We'd been told about a secret beach, not so far from where we were camping, and set off one morning to walk across to the Southern side of the island. From the cliffs it was invisible and to start with we were a little confused as to where we were supposed to be going...
Hidden in a gap, we found a series of rickety ladders and ropes to lower ourselves down with, which eventually came out on to one of the most minuscule yet stunning beaches I've ever seen. Surrounded by white cliffs and inaccessible to half the population, Tsigrado escapes crowding even at the weekend.
This was the first time either of us had ever had the pleasure of swimming in the Aegean Sea and after that trip I can never think of Milos in anything other than shades of turquoise and blue. We painted the cliffs and water, trying to take a little of the colour home, but I could never quite capture the vibrancy of real life.
Once we'd somehow had enough of Tsigrado, our journey home was cut short by another mini exploration of the continuing stunning coastline next door. Firiplaka, inhabited by a collection of nudists when we visited, is a long stretch of sand, pinpricked by strange eruptions of rock. In places the stone has more colour than elsewhere, but I wouldn't quiet believe the reports of coloured cliffs. We spent time collecting sparkling pebbles, sketching and thanking our lucky stars we hadn't yet succumbed to middle-aged spread.
An inadvisable failure of a walk to Kleftiko and finding something even more special...
Well, there is a place called Kleftiko on Milos that we had heard was supposed to be breath-taking. I still couldn't tell you for sure... We looked at our map and sighed- it's miles away from any bus route and there is no way we can afford a boat trip (my overdraft wasn't thanking me for that adventure). As the crow flies, it is about 10 miles from the nearest bus stop, so in typical blasé style we wondered if it was possible to walk and set off one morning with high hopes of eventually getting there.
By about three o'clock we had been walking in the Greek sunshine for well over four hours, around mountains, far above sea level, listening to the sound of goat bells and watching eagles swoop overhead (waiting for one of us to tire?)
Supplies were running low and though we'd been offered lifts much further back along the road, a massive language barrier and uncertain route meant we'd turned them down. By this point, we were seriously regretting our judgement. The road was getting much, much worse and we hadn't seen anyone for hours.
We discussed the possibility of sleeping under the shelter of some rocks, but our stomachs were growling and my slightly blurred vision told me not to ignore the dehydration. Eventually, just as we were beginning to realise we'd made a drastic mistake and probably both on the verge of sunstroke, we heard an engine from the distance.
When it came close we saw it was a motorbike. With luggage and no room on the back for both of us, especially in this kind of terrain, we looked forlornly without stick out our thumbs. He stopped regardless and told us that the walk down to Kleftiko actually took two hours from the road- so close and yet so far! We wouldn't get there and back before sun down and we were still miles and miles away from our campsite. Never had we thought of our tiny tent with such fondness.
The man, a German called Peter, walked up a small hill with us where he showed us Kleftiko in the distance. Peter seemed both astounded and concerned to find us there, saying that it was hard on his bike and probably about 20km from where we started?! He offered us a chocolate croissant and said he could take us one by one to a nearby beach where we might find a lift back. We weren't in a position to argue, so I watched as Bryony disappeared into the distance, greedily scoffing my pastry snack while I waited a seemingly infinite amount of time for his return.
Bryony was waiting on the largest of the Agios Ioannis beaches, which was a sight for sore eyes (the beach rather than Bryony who was fried to a crisp). Peter said that we should climb around to the next two bays which were even more amazing. He wasn't wrong. The climb down was quite committing over chalky rock that slipped away in our weakened hands, but we scrambled down without an accident.
There was barely a soul around and we swam in the sea surrounded by white cliffs, strange rock formations and sparkling turquoise water. It was such a relief to not be walking and we floated on our backs letting the waves cool our burnt skin.
To our enormous relief, the journey home was a simple conversation between Peter, our saviour, and a friendly Italian couple who offered us a ride.
Tripiti, the catacombs and an ancient
For a little history, traditional Greek buildings and food, we were forced to abandon the beaches every now and again. From the pretty village of Tripiti we walked to see the catacombs and nearby amphitheatre. Somehow it's still allowed to climb around the catacombs which were used by early Christians first as a burial site and later also as a place of worship and a refuge from persecution by the Romans between the first and fifth centuries.
The marble amphitheatre dates from the late eighteen-hundreds. With its cliff-side position, looking over to Milos' Inner Western coastline and complex carved details, I was reminded of a Roman sense of beauty which studying their rule had forced out of my mind.
The famous Ancient Greek statue, Venus de Milos, was also discovered here. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BC, she is thought to be Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (only known as Venus to the Romans). Unfortunately all you will find of her is a slightly ugly sign as, after being discovered by a peasant named Yorgos Kentrotasin in 1820, she was quickly snapped up by the French and currently resides in the Louvre, Paris.
Milos' laid back capital, Plaka is living proof that you don't need to survive the crowds of Santorini to admire that typical clean white and blue architecture you've been dreaming of. While we were there in September, we had the streets to ourselves and were free to explore in peace. Nothing is regularly shaped, curves and straight edges compliment each-other and the colour scheme fits perfectly with the national flag...
Looking out to sea, we spotted a tiny beach in the distance and decided to have a look.
Weird, red, volcanic looking sculptures lined our path, the air was dry and I could see the tiny islands of Arkadio and Akrathi in the distance. It was quite a hike and yet again we were both in flip-flops, but once we finally got down there the sea was predictably beautiful.
Neither of us had envisioned swimming that day, but with two fat naked Greek men further down the beach, it didn't seem too outrageous to go in in our underwear.
To avoid the hoards and mid-summer heat visit Milos in May, June or September.
Milos Camping isn't super cheap but it's right near the beach, has a swimming pool, wifi, friendly atmosphere and basically everything you might need.
You could also try wild camping, but would need a lot of water with you and I think it is actually illegal.
We hitchhiked/walked pretty much everywhere, but there are also busses between the main towns and some elsewhere (timetable at the campsite). Hitchhiking is relatively safe and people are very friendly on the island, but I wouldn't personally try it into/out of Athens right now.
To get to Milos from Athens, check times, leaving bay and prices online, then take the metro to Piraeus port.
You can read about our near disaster trying to leave Athens during the strikes and riots here.
For other beautiful islands try...
Other hitchhiking adventures you might enjoy: