IKARÍA, a narrow, windswept landmass between Sámos and Mýkonos, is comparatively little visited and sadly underestimated by many people. The name supposedly derives from Icarus, who in legend fell into the sea just offshore after the wax bindings on his wings melted. For years the only substantial tourism was generated by a few hot springs on the southeast coast; since the early 1990s, however, tourist facilities of some quantity and quality have sprung up in and around Armenistís, the only resort of note.
Ikaría, along with Thessaly, Lésvos and the Ionian islands, has traditionally been one of the Greek Left’s strongholds. This dates from long periods of right-wing domination in Greece, when, as in Byzantine times, the island was used as a place of exile for political dissidents, particularly Communists, who from 1946 to 1949 outnumbered native islanders. This house-arrest policy backfired, with the transportees (including Mikis Theodhorakis in 1946–47) favourably impressing their hosts as the most noble figures they had ever encountered, worthy of emulation. Earlier in the twentieth century, many Ikarians had emigrated to North America and ironically their capitalist remittances kept the island going for decades. Yet anti-establishment attitudes still predominate and local pride dictates that outside opinion matters little. Thus many Ikarians exhibit a lack of obsequiousness and a studied eccentricity, which some visitors mistake for hostility, making the island something of an acquired taste.
Except for forested portions in the northwest, it’s not a strikingly beautiful island, with most of the landscape being scrub-covered granite and schist put to use as building material. The mostly desolate south coast is overawed by steep cliffs, while the less sheer north face is furrowed by deep canyons creating hairpin road-bends extreme even by Greek-island standards.