This year, the Cyclades, a group of islands in Greece's Aegean Sea, were crowned European Capital of Gastronomy. Beating the Basque Country in Spain and southern Italy – regions famed for dishes rich in local flavour – the Cyclades are now establishing themselves as foodie hotspots. And topping the bucket list is Tinos.
The island's landscape morphs from lush vineyards into barren boulder land and deep marble quarries. Thanks to this varied topography, it is able to offer the best locally sourced ingredients and endemic grape varieties. Even popular Athenian restaurants such as the gourmet Theio Tragi ditch their scorching city locations in the summer and establish pop-ups on the breezy island.
Tinos's villages and beaches vary dramatically, from Kolibithra, a surfers' paradise that boasts decent waves in the spring, to the tiny village of Volax at the heart of the island, distinguishable by the poetry inscribed on the outside of its pretty, geranium-shrouded homes. The island is made up of more than 50 photogenic villages (make sure to visit Agapi and Pyrgos) and is awash with pigeon houses. There are more than 1,000 of these distinctive two-storey structures on the island, which were used to house pigeons, Tinos's main export during the Venetian period of 1207-1715. The intricate buildings were a sign of wealth and power, and many been converted into accommodation. They are the reason one of Tinos's specialities is pigeon stew.
This is an island that invites exploration. Commit to at least five days here if you're truly up for discovering the very best food it has to offer and follow our gourmand's safari for some of the best dishes you'll find on the island.
Start your day
Greeks famously don’t do breakfast – generally, the closest you’re going to get to a good feeding before midday is a sugar-laden treat swilled down with a tarry Greek coffee. The Crossroads Inn at Tripotamos village, however, offers up a lavish – almost kingly – spread of home-made jams and marmalades, local cheeses, vine-ripened tomatoes, cold cuts and sourdough bread, along with Greek yoghurt, organic honey and walnuts. “Guests love our breakfast most of all,” says the inn’s owner Sofia Passa, who takes special care to source all components of this mighty morning feast from her neighbours in the village.
Alternatively, head to Pyrgos – known for its marble quarries – for breakfast in the village's most popular kafeneion, or traditional Greek cafe. O Megalos Kafenes at the heart of Pyrgos is fitted with traditional marble tables, black-and-white family portraits and antique oddities that lend the place an authentic vibe. It serves up the very best galaktoboureko on the island. This semolina custard pastry with a heavy sprinkling of cinnamon, swilled down with Greek coffee, will set you up for the day.
Gourmet lunch with a view
For lunch with a view and an expertly composed seafood menu, look to chef Antonia Zarpa's To Thalassaki – a passion project borne after Zarpa moved from Athens to Tinos to live the laid-back island life. It's perched right on the water's edge, so watch out for rogue waves splashing on to the wooden decking.
Yachts from Mykonos anchor up here solely for Zarpa's food. Set on the beach at Ormos Isternion on the south-west of the island, this restaurant will likely not have a free table if you chance it without a reservation.
Expect Mediterranean flavour with a refined twist. Smoked herring salad with a dainty garnish of red onion and dill is a must-order, as are the marinated anchovies on a bed of beans and the hearty linguine con le vongole (order this one as a sharing option because it's hefty). Leave room for a dessert of mastika ice cream with loukoumi (the Greek version of Turkish delight) – a genius balancing act of aromatic pine and syrup-sweet rosewater.
Then on to dinner …
Stick to the villages, however far out they might seem. Journey by car to Aetofolia, past land strewn with boulders that wouldn't look out of place in a sci-fi flick, to dine at the family-run taverna, Sta Fys'Aera. It sources everything locally, and serves up mezze dishes in a laid-back atmosphere, but with the flavour and finesse of a gourmet restaurant. Try the satiating courgette salad drizzled with in fresh lemon juice.
Otherwise, venture to the heart of the island into Ktikados village for the tiny home taverna Agnanti, run by pensioner Giannis Charikiopoulos's. This humble, whitewashed restaurant has just five tables and Charikiopoulos decides the menu daily, based on whatever Tinian produce he can get his hands on that day. If you're lucky enough for it to be in season, choose the giant butter bean stew and froutalia – a Tinian tortilla that is Charikiopoulos's signature dish.