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Lesser Known Islands in Greece's Dodecanese

From Hora, on Patmos, we could see the island of Lipsi on the horizon. It’s called the Island of Churches, because there are 42 churches serving barely 700 souls. That’s one for every 16.6 (recurring) people on the island … although some of them are too small to hold even half that number. All are immaculately kept, all regularly painted in white, picked out in pale blue and nearly always with a blue dome. But, the reason for that apparent ecclesiastical overkill isn’t religious fervour. When the monks of the St. John Monastery on Patmos sold or rented land, they gave generous tax relief to those purchasers who erected a church on their property.

The blue and white theme continued throughout the little town on the slopes of the hills surrounding the harbour. Apparently, this practice dates from the days of the Ottoman Empire, when the islanders of the Dodecanese, forbidden to fly the Greek flag, painted their houses in its colours instead.

There was a frequent a bright splash of contrast from a bougainvillaea or a pot of blazing red geraniums, as I walked through the town up to a ruined windmill for a superb view of the harbour and the neighbouring islands. There was also an exquisite wind-borne scent of wild flowers and herbs.

Nearby Arki is Lipsi, in miniature. Again, blue and white seemed to be the favoured colour for many houses. There weren’t as many churches … but there aren’t so many people, either. Probably the most visited church is the one on top of the hill above the harbour, which I reached by ascending a rough track. The community it once served is now in ruins around it, but the church is still in good condition, and visitors make the climb for the views, and the wild flowers along the way.

Apart from that, there’s one shop – really a kiosk – by the harbour, and three ‘tavernas’, surrounding a delightful miniature plateia, or village square. But, visiting yachts often call at Arki, and the owner of ‘our’ taverna said, with a grin, that the other two are only there to take his overflow.

Tiny Marathi, just a loud shout across the water from Arki, isn’t the place to be if you’re the kind of person who complains about your neighbour’s wind-chimes; our reveille in the morning was the plangent clangour of goat-bells, accompanied by the crowing of a rooster.

The island is home to less than 30 people, sharing a church and three tavernas between them. The church lay on the spine of a low ridge, surrounded by the ruins of another abandoned village. From that old village, we looked westward at sunset … and were amply rewarded with a view to kill for.

We found the village threshing circle nearby, a reminder of Marathi’s agricultural past, the only other remnants of which are the goats, chickens and a little fishing.

There’s no mains electricity, and there’s truth in the saying that, when they shut the generator down for the night, the stars really come out.

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