Sophia Constant had barely even heard of Tinos before she travelled across for a stay at Xinara House; she came away wishing she could keep the secret to herself as long as possible.
Tinos is a Greek island that few have heard of. It’s only a 15-minute boat ride from Mykonos, yet sister islands can rarely have had such different fates: this is one of the last islands in the Cyclades to feel unspoilt, indeed, intrinsically Greek. Pilgrims underpin its reputation as ‘the religious island’ – they rarely venture beyond the churches.
Its best assets remain remarkably undiscovered: empty beaches, pretty hill-side villages and a thriving ‘slow-food’ scene celebrating traditional organic farming.
The final ingredient to this desirable mix? The island now has a wonderful place to stay in Xinara House. This newly-restored luxury villa, perfectly located for island exploration, sits on the high-slopes of Mt. Exombourgo.
Xinara looks out across the inky Aegean Sea from a classic Cycladic hamlet of white houses, ‘laundry’ blue shutters and red geraniums. It is wonderfully quiet. You will slip into a whisper for fear of interrupting the singing swallows, but the gentle activity of the dozen or so villagers’ gives it a beating heart. They potter between the chapels, ancient open-air laundries and amphitheatre, and the occasional old-boy clip-clops through on a steadfast mule.
At the heart of the village, Xinara House exudes colour and character, indoors and out, that is entirely singular thanks to the efforts of its British designers, Susan and Peter Marston. The couple embarked on their own personal odyssey in search of somewhere ‘real and raw’; they stumbled upon Tinos and fell in love with the island.
Tempted at first to find a simple dovecote pied-a-terre, they then couldn’t resist the potential of Xinara House, a dilapidated 17th Century home, begging to be restored. Their experience in furniture, fashion and gardening (Peter has a ‘Best in Show’ award from RHS Chelsea Flower Show) armed them with an extensive tool-set for taking on a creative challenge of such scale.
White-washed interiors are layered with pattern and bold colours; blue and white delftware plates, trinkets belonging to former inhabitants, and a mix of vintage and contemporary pieces fill this house. Art connoisseurs may recognise the Rachel Whiteread sofa, Dan Hillier painting, and Gilbert & George prints, to name a few.
Amongst the furniture collected from around the world, an antique four-poster bed, discovered at auction in Lisbon, is an enviable prize-find. In a nod to traditional Tinian style, local artisans were commissioned for the fanlights, hand-carved marble bathrooms and pebbled terrace. Particularly cosy is the cinema room, where children can slink off after dinner, away from adult chitter-chatter – while the adults can sit beneath the pergola and pop open another bottle. Bliss.
A beautiful, comfortable and peaceful escape, Xinara has pushed Tinos into the running for the smart new escape of the moment. It deserves to be a success; let’s hope that, should it come, its charms remain intact.
Prices for the whole house and The Blacksmiths’ sleeping up to 13 for a week range from €2,044 to €9,282. Prices for just Xinara House sleeping up to 10 range from €1,365 to €7,140. A week at The Blacksmiths’ ranges from Euros €679 to €2,142. See www.xinarahouse.com for more details.
Food and drink
When you want to stay in the villa you’ll be well catered for: one of the staff, Agnes, brings a warm bundle of bread each morning, preparing fruit salad from the garden and eggs to order. Local chefs can also be brought in via Tinos Farm To Table – but quite honestly, considering the garden is a bounty of lemon, fig and olive trees, rows of aromatic herbs and Mediterranean vegetables, one can happily pluck fresh produce from the garden, fire up the BBQ and enjoy homemade feasts on the terrace.
For something different, however, house manager Jenny (not to mention the owners) can recommend local restaurants and sundowner spots for a tipple of ouzo. You can experience true Tinian hospitality at family-run Teresa’s. The zero-fuss setting is part grocery store, part taverna, and tables are set beneath cluttered shelves of cleaning products, snacks and toys. Seasonal food is home-grown, reared or foraged by Teresa’s husband, cooked by Teresa, and served by their enchanting daughter, Maria. Try the rabbit ‘stifado’, lemon-soaked artichokes, and honey loukumathes.
More sophisticated is Thalassaki, serving delicious seafood on the waterfront and, famously, receiving guests from Mykonos who pop over by helicopter.
Finally, for a breathtaking sunset, visit newly renovated Marathia, offering innovative Greek dishes. Foodies should travel during the culinary festival ‘Tinos Food Paths’, which follows a different walking route each year, celebrating the island’s agricultural heritage. Locals serve homemade specialities along the trail and share family recipes over candle-lit feasts.
Things to do
For walking enthusiasts, Tinos’s countryside is heaven, particularly in spring when it’s a kaleidoscope of wildflowers. Well-restored ancient donkey trails connect the villages, beaches, churches, 18th Century dovecotes and venetian windmills.
Pop into Panagia Evangelistria church, where pilgrims often arrive on hands and knees to worship the ‘miracle-working’ icon. Visit Kadiani for hilltop views; explore Volax’s moonscape of granite boulders; and discover the history of craftmanship in marble-lathered Pyrgos, known for its intricately carved fountains and sculptures — not to mention the bus shelter!
There is creativity at every turn, and such artisans as ‘raw-wine’ maker, Jerome Binda, and antiques dealer, Carol Guinebert, claim their inspiration is drawn from the island. Indeed, fashion elite, Roberto Cavalli and Vivienne Westwood, are among regular visitors.
A hire-car is essential for exploring the beaches, which become wilder and more empty the further you travel from Hora. Kolibithra is a popular sheltered bay, with a bar in a converted Volkswagen van. If time allows, take a boat to the archaeological ruins of Delos, where English sculptor, Antony Gormley, is the first artist to ever have been leased the site for his exhibition.
The iconic writer Paddy Leigh Fermor and two of his friends in Greece – both artists, one a local man and
Some particularly attractive Greek wines deserve our attention, states Harry Eyres.