A briefer version of this piece appeared in Taste magazine's November 2015 issue.
Fifty kilometres from the Turkish coast, a craggy rock rises out of the Aegean. Of the Greek islands, Icaria is the one spoken of with the sense of knowing a secret. It is one of five UNESCO-designated Blue Zones; a place where the elderly live to be 100.
Defiantly self sufficient, having won their independence from the Turks, Icaria is an island of exiles and healing, with less than 10,000 residents, and community at its heart.
Next to where the breakwater tumbles into the sea at Therma, the rocks are furry with sulphur.
There, a clutch of people sits in the water under centuries of sediment, folded by history, carved by waves and topped with a twisted olive tree.
A moustache is talking politics. Where the hot springs emerge into the sea, words float.
“A crisis predicted by a latter-day prophet.”
Underfoot there are urchins, tucked amidst the purple lichen and magenta fuzz.
“There will be blood on the streets of Athens.”
The cave exhales: warm, salty breath.
Next door, the rock recedes into a hammam of raw stone with ravioli cutter edges, hemmed in by whitewash and tiled pools of opaque turquoise. Inside the earth, people sit on benches in the steam, flavoured with fresh eucaplytus.
Stern-faced Lemonia is keeping time: 20 minutes. Then a spray with a garden hose. Then 20 more in milky water: 60 degrees Celsius from the earth, mixed with cold tap.
Yiorgos is in black speedos, under the opaque swirl. He’s here five times a week when home for the summer.
I feel like a newborn, he grins.Read More