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Grand contrasts in the classy capital of the Cyclades

Syros

The capital of the Cyclades, Syros is an island of many faces. Even its main town, built on two hills, has a dual identity. Ermoupoli (Hermes’ town) is stately and grand, topped by an Orthodox church. And above it, Ano (Upper) Syros is a typically Cycladic village but crowned with Catholic monasteries and churches.

The contrasts blend attractively, from the marble-paved squares in the port to the fairy tale mansions of Dellagratsia. This is a place you could live in all year round, so much is there to do. You’ll find it easy to fit into the daily life, where the traditional and the classic are as sweet as a Syros loukoumi (Turkish delight).

What to do on Syros

Vaporia, the Mayfair of Syros

This is where the island’s captains of industry built their elegant townhouses, all with sweeping views of the Mediterranean. Back in the 19th century, they were the scene of glamorous receptions and lavish balls. Below them, the dome of Agios Nikolaos Church stands out. Step inside to find an interior that reflects the wealth of its patrons: a marble icon screen and pulpit, and chandeliers brought all the way from Trieste. With a little luck, you may hear the church choir that has been sweetening the breeze since the 1920s.

Ermoupoli, the queen of the Cyclades

You’ll never tire of this bustling yet a regal port town. In the capital of Syros, marble flagstones pave its spacious main square, presided over by the grandiose Town Hall, one of the 19th-century masterpieces of Ernst Ziller, the famous Saxon architect who became a Greek national. Graceful, high-ceilinged neoclassical buildings emit an aura of earlier prosperity, among them the restored Apollo Theatre (a miniature of Milan’s La Scala), the Hellas Club, the Pallas cinema and many more perfect examples of the urban architecture of yesteryear. Their interiors are just as impressive, with wonderful woodwork and delightful murals.

Ermoupoli’s beach

At Ermoupoli’s beach, you can find everything: cafe-bars, shops, tavernas and restaurants, even a casino housed in a mansion dating back to the 1830s. At the end of the coastal road, you’ll find the old transit storerooms and an imposing 19th-century customs house.

Traditional Syrian sweets

They’re called loukoumia in Greek, Turkish delight in English, but these soft and chewy sweets, flavoured with rosewater, pistachios, almonds and the like are a true speciality of Syros. The locals say it’s their water, not the sugar or the flavourings, that make them so exquisite. You may find them addictive, so don’t forget to take plenty with you when you leave. Try the nougat, too.

Ano Syros, where Greek blues meet Catholic monasteries

Ano Syros has all the features of a typical Cycladic village. Its white cubist houses snuggle together on a steep hillside, linked by alleys barely wide enough for two people and occasionally opening up onto spectacular terraces. Two things make it unusual: the Renaissance Cathedral of St George on its summit and the monasteries below, and the bouzouki tunes of Markos Vamvakaris still heard in its shops and squares. A native son of Syros, Vamvakaris was one of the country’s finest rebetika (blues) musicians. From up here, you’ll have a panoramic view of Ermoupoli.

The beaches

Remember these names: Galissas, Delfini, Kini, Finikas and Dellagratsia, where yesterday’s elite built their splendid villas. Their serene landscapes, sheltered waters and pretty coves are just right for a family holiday.

Hidden gems of Syros

The Industrial Museum

Part of the former industrial district has been turned into a museum. Wander among its buildings and you’ll see permanent exhibits on shipping, industry and the history of Ermoupoli, which will add to your appreciation of Syros today.

Easter on Syros

Easter anywhere in Greece is by definition special, but Good Friday on Syros is particularly moving. All the town’s noble houses are illuminated, increasing the evening procession’s solemnity and heightening the sense that you have just stepped into the 19th century.

Grammata and the Grey Cave

Grammata means writing and at Grammata Bay in northern Syros, there are letters scratched onto the rocks. Generations of sailors, washed up on this inhospitable coast, inscribed their wishes, prayers and names on them. Most of them date from Roman and Byzantine times. You can reach the bay and the Grey Cave near it by boat or on foot.

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