A traditional Panigyri – a religious festival – is a highlight of the season for Greeks and also for visitors who seek a truly authentic experience. Visiting a panigyri is a wonderful way to connect with the culture of Greece. These celebrations held in honor of a patron saint, the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, or the Virgin Mary are the occasions that Greeks often travel to the islands and their home villages for.
And of the many panigyria of summer, there is none to compare with that of the 15th of August – the Assumption of the Virgin. Join the locals at some of the most wonderful August 15th panigyria.
This easternmost beauty of the Cyclades is famous for both its varied natural beauty and for the fine character of its people. The landscape is extraordinary – an experience of contrasts of a rugged and mountainous side, and another with wonderful beaches. One can explore Amorgos fully via the famous network of hiking paths that traverse the island – there are over 15 trails connecting villages, religious sites, and other points of interest. There is something for everyone, as these trails vary in length and in the level of challenge. But Amorgos – a Greek insiders’ favorite – really stands out for its people, who are as pure-hearted and unspoiled as the landscape, known for being true to their local culture and traditions.
And that makes Amorgos an excellent place to experience the panigyri of the 15th of August. By the church of Panagia Eptachoriani (“The Virgin of the 7 villagers”) in Aigiali. The festivities begin on the eve of the holiday, with mass in the evening of the 14th, followed by “nistisima” (fasting) specialties. The next day begins with worship again, then special local meat dishes. This gives way to music and traditional dancing, lasting into the late hours.
Folegandros is another Cycladic island that is popular with Greeks who are looking for that famed Cycladic beauty with a more laid-back feel and far fewer visitors than some of its more famous neighbors. The dramatic mountainous island features terraced slopes with drystone walls, white-washed villages, and majestic vistas of the Aegean. Like on finds on Amorgos, hiking trails abound for those who want to get to enjoy these vistas on foot, discovering the beauty of the island in all its serenity. Beaches, naturally, are also a part of the pleasures of a summer holiday on Folegandros. The waters here are exquisite, and you can enjoy them without the crowds of some other Cycladic island beaches. Several of these are enclosed in small and enchanting bays.
The Chora – the main town of Folegandros – is perched 200 meters high on a cliff. Here is where the Assumption of the Virgin is celebrated. After mass, the town square fills with the faithful, where they -along with the very welcome visitors to the island – can enjoy local treats such as traditional cheese pies and meatballs. When the band starts up, you’ll also be hearing an old Cycladic sound. The “tsambouna” is the traditional bagpipe of the Cyclades, and its infectious music will tempt even the most shy of visitors to try the local dances. Truly a memorable evening!
And can you stay until the 21st? If so, you’ll be able to experience a unique food festival – the “Kaikokakavia”. A Kaiki is a boat, and kakavia is a traditional fish soup – as it sounds, during the festival the dish is prepared right on the boats by the fishermen themselves.
The “Butterfly”of the Aegean is indeed just that – this Dodecanese island in the west of the island group is in fact shaped just like a butterfly into two distinct sections, and is surrounded by tiny islets, wonderful to explore by boat.
The Chora – the capital – of Astypalia combines the Aegean Island charm of those sugarcube houses with something more – this hilltop hamlet is capped by a magnificent fortress, which is where you’ll find the Church of the Panagia Portaitissa. Here the Assumption of the Virgin celebrations begin on the evening of the 14th, with island meze for locals and visitors alike. Island specialties include Lambrianos – stuffed roasted goat, and, for something sweet, Xyrotigana – fried crisps of dough in lacy rolls, drenched with honey syrup.
Apart from the traditional celebrations, there is much to recommend Astypalia. This is truly a beach lovers’ haven, with excellent beaches of great variety – both wild, and organized. And the islets too have magnificent beaches, such as Koutsomytis and Kounoupi, with pearl white sands and vivid blue waters. For more relaxation, one can visit the classic fishing villages like Maltezana and Vathi.
And now for something truly wild. Nisyros, directly in the middle of the Dodecanese islands, is a volcanic island with an active volcano. This geological gem has an extraordinary landscape, almost lunar in some areas. You can hike along the volcanic craters – that’s plural, as there are three (Stephanos, Alexandros and Polyvotis). The volcano shapes the Nisyros experience, with black rock from it building the magnificent Palaiokastro (fortress). It also heats the waters – Nisyros has many natural hot springs, including an organized facility near Mandraki.
And speaking of Mandraki – this delightful little port town is full of simple charms. Greeks prize Nisyros for its “retro” feel – a place where time has stood sweetly still. Here above Mandraki, you’ll find the Panagia Spiliani, where the celebrations of the Assumption of the Virgin go on for nine days. There is also a celebration in the mountain village of Emporio in the north of the island.
The 15th of August in Greece
The 15th of August, wherever you happen to be in Greece, is the highlight of the Greek summer, a holiday celebrated with joy by all just as Easter and Christmas are. And especially on the Greek Islands. The mood is infectious and indeed welcoming – Greek hospitality is always legendary, and at such an important religious festival, even more so. You’ll truly feel like a local and take back a lasting memory. Have you ever been to Greece during this magical time?