We arrived early afternoon and were completely blown away by the beauty of this little island. The mostly untouched Greek gem is located in the midst of the Cycladic Islands and not sought out by the throngs of tourists that flock to the most popular Greek isles like Santorini and Mykonos. With a population of just 650, one cash machine and no bank, a handful of hotels, and parts of the island that are so authentic they still don’t even have electricity this island definitely has the bona fide Greek touch..! It really was stunning.
We were met by mum and dad at our hotel – the Polikandia, which was the nicest little family run establishment in Chora. Chora, pronounced Hor-ah, is the largest settlement on the island. Situated 200 meters above sea level, the white-washed buildings tumble down sheer cliffs and the narrow slate-paved lanes suddenly open into squares. Access is prohibited to all motor vehicles, so it’s easy to stroll along the lanes, wander in and out of the shops, and enjoy a quiet lunch amongst the shade of the trees.
After having a little wander through the town, we picked up some lunch preserves at the little supermarket before sitting out on the veranda with a cold beers, bread, cheese and tomatoes. That afternoon we all chilled out by the pool, had naps (me…) before getting ready for the evening ahead and the first event of the wedding time table – pre wedding drinks!
The Woodward family obviously got lost en route (never trust Nick Woodward’s navigation skills) so we took the, erm, scenic cliffside walk up across to the Rakentia Bar to meet up with the rest of the wedding guests.
We literally had the most fun evening spent out overlooking the beautiful coastline, sipping countless bottles of sparkling wine and, when we were all suitably merry, learning the basic Greek dancing moves ready for the wedding the next day! I of course fell over mid dance but that was simply due to enthusiastic jumping and certainly not because of too much fizz… Definitely not. Ryan and Noell (the bride and groom) did a lovely little speech which got us all very excited for the next couple of days to come.
Catriona and I, the classy sisters we are, ended out night sitting out in the main square with gyros in hands (oh and really authentic Greek cheesy chips), before bumping into our pals and crawling back to the villa at about 3am….
The next morning – the day of the wedding – we were woken up with cappuccinos in bed (Dad knew our struggle…) We dragged ourselves out and had a wander through the town before stopping off for strong coffees and breakfast at one of the cute little restaurants in the square; Araxe. We spent the remainder of the day chilling our by the pool, reading our books and soaking up the blazing Greek sun.
At about three o’clock we wandered up to the little restaurant; Pounta; which was located just down from our hotel. This place swiftly became one of our favourite spots on the island. It’s a family run spot, the Danish wife handmade all the pottery and the garden is absolutely beautiful. Even better, the food… it was delicious. Seeing as the wedding ceremony wasn’t until 7pm we thought it was probably sensible to eat something… We started off with tzatziki and roast aubergine dip. Mum and Catriona had chicken souvlaki, dad a Greek salad, and me – the most insanely delicious roast aubergine, tomato and feta dish I have ever eaten. Oh wow.
When we got back to the hotel, it was all hands on deck to get ready for the wedding. I learnt that I am quite the skilled hairdresser and shall swiftly be leaving law to focus on my new talents… Beginner’s luck I feel….
The wedding ceremony was taking place at the Church of Panagia which, located at the top of the hill, is accessible by a very steep (!) zigzagging pathway up to the top. There’s no denying it, in the blazing heat it’s definitely an interesting (”exhausting”) little walk. We all made it unscathed though…just slightly sweaty. You are however, treated to the most incredible views on the way up which gave us ample excuses to stop a few (hundred) times on the walk up.
The church was absolutely stunning; a traditional Greek Orthodox place of worship. It’s thought that the church was constructed on the ruins of an ancient temple. In fact, marble parts of the temple were used as building material for the church and you can still see the ancient inscriptions at the base of the statues in the interior and the courtyard of the church. The exact year of the construction of the church is not known. However, a marble sign says that it was renovated in 1687 and it took its present form in 1821.
Interestingly, the silver icon of Virgin Mary inside the church is believed to be miracle-working. The legend says that in 1790, 18 boats of Algerian pirates were about come ashore the island. The desperate residents of Folegandros ran up to the church to pray for their lives to Virgin Mary, when a strong northern wind blew and sank all the boats of the pirates, all of whom drowned. Since then, the locals consider Virgin Mary the protector of their island…
Noell was fashionably late for the wedding which gave us all plenty of time to soak up the surroundings and cool down a little. Poor Jill however (mother of the groom) was convinced that Noell had decided not to come ‘have you seen a bride?’ she was asking random joggers as they made their way up the hill. Catriona and I were set with the task, as good goddaughters, to calm her down… bless!
We soon saw movement at the bottom of the hill and were all ushered inside the church so we didn’t see Noell and her bridesmaids walking up. I mean, they must have all been power walking up because before we knew it they were at the church door. The entrance to the church is done slightly differently at Greek weddings. Ryan met Noell outside the church and then the bride and groom walk down the aisle together. We all knew she would of course, but Noell looked absolutely stunning – her dress! Ryan also didn’t scrub up too badly either….
The wedding ceremony was obviously in Greek so we didn’t necessarily have much idea about what was happening, however it was so interesting to watch. We heard the occasional ‘Ryan’ though which sounded quite funny in and amongst all the indiscernible language. At one stage little cones were passed around filled with rice. We all presumed that this was an equivalent to confetti and that we would shower them with it as they left the church. No no. We were soon all ushered out of the pews and up to the front where we were told in no uncertain terms to ‘throw’ the rice at the bride and groom. Obviously everyone enjoyed this part probably more than we should have – it was hilarious and we were all finding rice all over our persons for the next few hours to come.
Shortly after surviving the rice beating, the priest continued for a little while longer before Noell turned round to us and said ‘it’s done!’ – they were married!
We all spilled out into the church courtyard for some photos of the newly weds – some delicious sesame seed treats and huge measures of the extremely potent Greek liquor – Metaxa. Amazing!
Safe to say the walk back down the hill was a much more jolly affair than the walk up. The sun was also setting which gave the most incredible views out across the water!
Back on ground level we all congregated in Pounta square for prosecco to toast the newlyweds which was such good fun.
After a couple of drinks we all wandered into the main square in Chora which had been totally transformed into the most amazing venue for the reception. It was exactly like something out of Mamma Mia – fairy lights and lanterns were strung up and the long tables were adorned with the most beautiful flowers. The best part however was that it seemed like the entire town had come out to watch the wedding. People were literally perched on walls observing – it was like there was a proper audience – hilarious!
Seeing as Ryan and Noell have done so much travelling together they decided on countries for their table names. Catriona and I were on the ‘Singapore’ table (where Ryan and Noell lived for a couple of years) and we were sitting with the bridesmaids who are a great fun group of girls!
After Mr and Mrs Wollan’s grand entrance the food was brought out, and my God did we all eat. It was AMAZING. For starters we had split peas, tzatziki, eggplant salad, traditional cheese pie ‘kalasouna’, tomato bites, zucchini bites, octopus with wine and Kalamari stew. This was then followed by the salad course; traditional tomato salad with ‘souroto’ and green mixed salad. Next up was the mains; goat with potatoes on the oven and pork with rosemary and potatoes. This was all followed by orange cakes, chocolate cakes, ice cream and fruits. I mean, we ATE. This was of course all accompanied by plenty of wine. It was incredible.
After dinner it was time for the speeches. Ryan exceeded anyone’s expectations and did half of his speech (apparently perfectly) in Greek! He had been taking lessons especially leading up to the wedding. It was such a nice touch. The bridesmaid’s all created a song for the newlyweds to the tune of ‘can you feel the love tonight’. We were all given the words and told to sing along – it was fab!
The wedding then kicked off properly after the first dance. None of us left the dance floor pretty much all evening. It was literally the most fun. There were sparklers, traditional Greek dancing, plate smashing, and of course a little bar located just off the dance floor where the measure of spirit was 90% of the glass…. Kebabs and souvlaki were brought out at about 3am which was a TREAT after all that dancing.
We must have all been having the time of our lives as none of us particularly noticed that the sun had risen. In fact, I was alerted to the time when I got a call from my dad at 6.30am reminding me that Cat was meant to be on her ferry to Athens in an hour! We were still all going for it on the dance floor. Needless to say Catriona didn’t make her ferry back to Athens… nor did she make her flight back to London. The less said about that the better however…
I crawled into bed at some point after 7am…. what an incredible Wollan wedding!
The next morning (well, afternoon…. 3pm) I was woken up and treated (cured) with a huge lunch and all the watermelon juice back at Pounta. It didn’t half help… After lunch I wandered off and met some of the group and we sat outside having a couple of drinks in the garden before making our way across to the bus. Today we were all hoping on a boat and spending the day at the stunning Agios Nikoloas beach.
The beach was absolutely incredible and we had the lovelies day sitting out on the sand, sipping beers, swimming in the sea and eating left over souvlaki from the wedding. It was perfect! We literally spent the entire day there hopping back on a boat at about 9.30pm. It was great and the perfect wind down from the night before. The funniest thing about this beach was that it was apparently, for the locals, a nudist beach. Fair to say we caught more of a glimpse of some of the Greek men than we had anticipated…
Back on the main island, we all popped to Souvlaki for a last gyros and a couple of beers on the island. Exactly what we all needed after a strenuous day on the beach….
We all then headed back to the scene of the crime from the night before and sat out having a beer where the wedding reception had been held. Most people were heading back to Athens the next morning to catch flights home, so it was emotional goodbyes to everyone after all spending the most amazing three days together celebrating Ryan and Noell.
Mum, dad and I still had one day left on the island (we had received the news by this point that Cat had made it home safely to London – just…). The next morning we grabbed breakfast at the hotel (well, they did – I chose a lie in over breakfast). We then decided that we would take a bit more of a wander around the town to check out the incredible scenery. Ryan had recommended that we visit one particular area in Chora which is picture perfect stunning with the white washed buildings with the blue doors and beautiful flowers. It really was stunning and such a lovely little walk.
We then headed back to the main square for a couple of smoothies and a coffee before spending the rest of the day soaking up the last of the Foleghandros rays at the pool.
The hotel owner came out at one point and asked if we would like to try a traditional Greek dessert. It was almost like cheesecake, but made with yogurt. The jam on top had been made by her mother and was absolutely amazing!
That evening, our last on the island, the three of us popped out for one final meal on the island washed down with prosecco and cocktails to toast a fantastic time on the stunning island of Foleghandros. What a place!