On Tinos, unlike it’s more famous neighbour, Mykonos, you won’t find too many celebrity bars and clubs full of fashionistas. There is though a strong food culture; the island prides itself on its distinct local cuisine and exceptional produce. The truly unique thing that you will only find on Tinos are their beautiful, elaborate dovecotes.
Forget the painted box on a pole that we think of in Britain – the Tinian dovecotes are more like small houses. In London, they’d probably be described as ‘detached, bijou residences’ – which in fact they are … It’s just that they’re for doves and pigeons. I’m going to drop the discrimination here, let’s face it, these birds are the same thing – it’s just that doves have better PR.
For centuries, Tinos was a colonised by Venice and the Venetians were very fond of eating pigeons. They also knew that pigeon droppings were incredibly valuable as a fertilizer. In the arid, stony terrain of Tinos, this fertilizer transformed farming. There was one big snag – only Venetian nobles were allowed to cultivate pigeons. When Venetian control ended, the people of Tinos took to pigeon keeping in a massive way. You remember how I said that Tinos reminded me of Yorkshire ? Well, I rest my case…
Here the people of Tinos are different from their soul-brothers in Yorkshire. Forget that pigeon loft made from a bit of wood and chicken wire. Tinians set to, and made the most elaborate, architecturally ‘embroidered’ constructions imaginable.
The hillsides and valleys of Tinos are speckled with dovecotes – there are over 600 of them. Some are derelict, although doves and pigeons still make nests in them and some are really well-maintained. The ground floor is used for storing tools and agricultural equipment. The upper floor, with their patterns of triangles and rhomboids, house the birds.
The best place to get up close and personal to these dovecotes, is the excellent signposted walk in the Tarambados Valley. This is such a fertile place with olive trees and pomegranates, wild greens and caper plants everywhere. And when you get close to a dovecote, the gentle, bubbling coos of the doves (or pigeons) is the perfect soundtrack.
In need of a spot of lunch, we head for the village of Aetofoliá and Kounariá, a taverna we’d heard a lot about. High up in the mountains, this little gem of a place is a family business. Zozefina and her husband, Christos, converted their old village house to a taverna in 2013, and they have achieved quite a reputation since.
The menu is based on traditional recipes and local, seasonal produce – so not everything on the menu is available everyday. The best menu is the one Zozefina tells you at the table, with her recommendations of what’s good that day. Pastitsada – a hearty casserole of braised cockerel, sounds really special. We have to try her kaparosaláta – pounded capers served with pungent, garlic dip, skordaliá, and her freshly fried cheese pies. Forget your Michelin stars, molecular gastronomy and fine dining. This is proper food made with warmth and attention to detail – Zozefina even cooks a portion of pasta just for us, as a side dish for the pastitsada.
Everything is perfect, and sitting on that balcony eating wonderful food, I’m not sure there’s a better place to spend a lazy lunchtime.
Driving back to town we see signs to a place called Agapi – Love – and there is a lot of love in this island. Love for the place, the traditions and a real love for doing things well. Agapi, just about sums it all up.
Where to stay:
Lithos – Zen-zone, boutique hotel in Tinos town. Fantastic breakfast, with homemade cakes, cookies and pies.
Where to eat:
Angkira – a really charming fish taverna in the main town – perfect fresh fish and mezé. Don’t miss the excellent taramosalata and fennel ‘doughnuts’, marathokeftédes.
Tsambia – a delightful family-run taverna just outside the town. Ask for the dishes of the day and hopefully you won’t miss the best lahanodolmádes ever. The house specialities are Revithia fricasée (chickpeas with spinach) and the traditional Tinian omelette, fourtalia, made with sausage and potatoes.
Kounariá – a gem of a taverna in Aetofolia. Perfect home cooking from chef, Zozefina and her family.
O Dinos – an upmarket fish taverna, sitting on the idyllic bay in the village of Kardiani. Extremely good fish mezé, and the complimentary cup of ‘kakavia’ (fish soup) is a nice touch. The portions are huge, so just note that the excellent prawn pasta ‘for two’ will probably serve at least four! The access by car from the main road is not for the faint-hearted.
People watch at:
Antilalos – Lovely café/bar/bookshop in one of the picturesque alleyways of Tinos town.
Ammos Beach Bar – seaside café/bar with a stunning sea view.
To Kentriko A traditional kafeneio in Panormos. Perfect spot to rest your legs in this gorgeous mountain village. Stop for a greek coffee or frappé and don’t miss the walnut cake or baklava.